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The mechanics of inspiration: insights from Ableton’s Loop conference

Niklas Kroeger from Ableton at the Community Leadership Summit #2

Niklas Kroeger leads developing, curating and producing creative formats and stories for Ableton’s films and events, including its annual musicians' summit, Loop.

In this talk at the Community Leadership Summit #2, Niklas delves on the challenges of bringing the experience of the physical gathering online and accessible to the whole community to ensure inspiration.


I would like to start by sharing an observation with you that I've made over the course of eight years making documentary films for Ableton. We shot documentaries with a very diverse set of musicians all around the world. One thing that we realized is that the musicians all have the same problems. 

Imagine a hip hop producer in New York. She faces the same struggles on a daily basis as a singer-songwriter in Finland or a techno producer in India. The problems that I'm thinking about are stuff like starting a song, finding your own sound or maybe even finishing tracks. And while these problems seem to be universal, some musicians have come up with very individual solutions to these challenges.

One of the things we try to do today with Loop is to bring these people together and give them a platform to inspire each other and share workarounds that they found over the course of years.

Relying on social media

What is Loop? Loop is a summit for music makers. It's a weekend where roughly a thousand people gather. We have a program of talks, panel discussions, performances, and installations, but there's also quite a bit of room for one to one conversations. There are open zones. There are music making setups for people to gather around and make music on the day. 

The music maker in me always comes back super inspired from this weekend. However, unfortunately I also come back with the same problem of trying to translate this inspirational experience into the digital world. Only a very small fraction of our community can actually be at the summit. Therefore it is really important for us to make the experience available online. But how do you surface inspiration and themes and ideas online? 

This really comes with a couple of challenges. Ableton started as a music software company in 1999. Although we're doing a lot of different things today, the company is still very much perceived as being a music software company. The problem that we face with this perception is that people don't naturally gravitate to our website if they want to be inspired. That's why we are really relying on social media to get this done. 

Inspiration and social media doesn’t work well together

There are a couple of things when it comes to inspiration and social media, which make the two not really work very well for us. The first thing is that we don't really know what inspires you. And I would argue that you, yourself probably don't really know what inspires you until it actually happens. So it's really hard to predict inspiration.

At Loop you might run into a situation where to your right there's a guy working on AI in the music making process for Google Magenta and on the other side there is an Argentinian, ex-comedian folk singer. The two of them are talking about the future of music and their conversation is so captivating that you forget to order your beer. 

There are so many interesting people and conversations, that it is an experience of abundance. The abundance ensures that all the participants come back inspired, but if you move the abundance into the digital world, into social media, it becomes spam. If we would show 50 videos to you every day, asking you if it inspires you,  you’d probably not say thank you, you’d say say back off, leave me alone.

Algorithms work against you

The second sticky point that we face is if people are actually going to see the stuff we share. For instance, the hiphop producer in New York, might have a really interesting way of finishing her tracks. Her approach might be super interesting to me, but the question is if I am actually going to see any of her content? 

While we share a community of practice, we don't necessarily overlap in digital communities. There is no easy way for me to really find her stuff  natively. The algorithms don't really work in favour here either because they really just continue my previous behavior. They only surface stuff that I already know and basically work in the opposite direction of actually getting me outside of my comfort zone and get inspired. Furthermore, algorithms are not sensitive to underlying similarities, shared problems and creative strategies.

You need to make it relatable

Even if I saw the content I would probably not interact with it. For me to be inspired by the content two factors are required. 

  1. The content needs to be relatable so I can actually connect with it in the first place 
  2. And then there needs to be something that is distinctly different from what I'm doing today in order to get me to take the next step. 

So how might we overcome this? To be honest, we don't really know yet, but I will share two quick examples with you which seem to lead in the right direction for us.

One is formats and series. We have developed formats on topics and themes and invite a very diverse set of artists to comment on them so we create entry points into their communities and get their people excited about the topics and themes we want to talk about. 

The second thing is meaningful interaction. The event is happening on just one weekend and we've opened it up this year to people from the outside world to collaborate with it. They could download a sample, create a track within 12 hours and share at the summit what they've done and how they've done it, and then see their own track being played on stage in a live stream with their approach being discussed. That has been the biggest engagement we've ever seen with 800 submissions from all around the world. And that was really the biggest leap we've taken so far

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