This post is about a startup I’ve co-founded in 2012: Mixblocks B.V.

Before getting to the details, we have created a short video to illustrate how Mixblocks works:

Video preview

In this post I will shortly explain what Mixblocks is, how it works and why we decided to pull the plug after 2 years.

What is Mixblocks?

Everyone is a photographer with Instagram. Everyone is a filmmaker with Youtube and everyone is a breaking-news reporter with Twitter. So we thought: now it’s time to make an app that makes everyone a musician! Mixblocks are musical building blocks that will turn everyone into a musician. Without the need of musical skills or knowledge.

This documentary was a great inspiration for us:

Video preview

Background

This project started as a hobby project (more on that later) to see if we could use computers to compensate for the lack of musical skills. Together with Joris Helming, Frits Nossbaum and Roland Meijs we set out to create a proof of concept for this idea. This has evolved into the iPhone app you have just seen in the video.

In short: How Mixblocks works

Without diving into too many details, this is how Mixblocks works:

  1. Play: You get a collection of musical samples that you can stack (up to 3 simultaneous samples). All the complicating factors such as music theory, tempo and timing are automatically solved for you by the app. You can literally make music by trial-and-error.
  2. Record: If you find a combination of samples that sounds good to you, you can combine them into a sequence of samples: a song. You can re-arrange this combination at any time.
  3. Share: You can involve a friend in the music making process by sharing the song with him/her. Your friend has the same music samples on the iPhone, so the only thing you’re sharing is how those samples are combined. If you don’t have any friends using Mixblocks, you can also make it available to the Mixblocks community.
  4. Remix: Once you’ve shared your song, the other person can modify the song and share his version again. This results in cooperative music making by a back-and-forth sharing of mixes. We have seen some very creative songs being made like this.

The development process

This project started with a prototype in Ableton Live:

Video preview

After that, we have created several versions of the interface to get the most fluent user experience possible. As you can see in the images below, we went from a landscape orientation to a portrait orientation, refining the UI/UX and the graphics along the way:

Milestones

  • February 2011: Initial idea
  • April 2011: First prototype
  • November 2011: First iOS app
  • February 2012: First industry contact
  • September 2012: Admitted to the StartersLift Incubator
  • May 2013: Founded Mixblocks B.V.
  • June 2013: Published “Mix Bunty” app in the iOS App Store
  • October 2014: Stopped active development

Why we pulled the plug

This project started as a hobby project and ended as one. We started as a group of enthusiastic designers, developers and seasoned entrepreneurs with a technical challenge. Our main advantage was the lack of initial costs: designing and developing the app, getting a marketing website up and running and setting up the company could all be done by the 4 founders.

After setting up a proof of concept we could convince others with, we set out to explore the market. We teamed up with musicians willing to share their music with us (like Kraak & Smaak) and with business developers at Heineken and Universal Music to see if we could talk business.

There are only so many ways to make money with an app. We wanted to keep the app as open as possible and didn’t believe a paid app would be the way to go. We have explored several scenarios to use Mixblocks as music promotion, music event promotion or a brand promotion tool. Unfortunately, we found that our solution was too complicated and therefore expensive for this (competing with promotional merchandise such as free bracelets). You have to remember this was in 2011. After 2 years, we failed at finding a convincing business model that was accepted by the market and decided to keep this project for fun.

How I was involved

  • Co-founder
  • Project Management
  • UI Design / Development
  • iOS Development (User Experience)
  • User Testing

More information

Mixblocks

Notable press coverage

Sources

  • Image courtesy: Todd Owyoung, 2013