If you have ever been to a concert, party, festival – if you have ever sought out an audio experience – you know how important atmosphere is. If you are the one creating that experience, you know that atmosphere is everything. It’s a tricky thing to get just right.
Ever since I was a kid, I loved mixing music, creating atmosphere. I was ten years old when I played my first mixtape. (It was a party in my fifth-grade classroom, but I still consider this my first crack at DJing.)
I moved to L.A. from Israel when I was fourteen. I still had an itch for mixing music. So I got a job at my uncle’s theatre to save up for a mixer and two CD players. When I played at random events (house parties, weddings, bat mitzvahs – you know, the kind that halfway-decent small-time musicians play), I couldn’t afford speakers or amps, so I had to rent them.
I went by Deejay YT. (YT was just my initials. I wasn’t super creative with my words, but I’d like to think my mixing skills made up for it.)
Fast forward to 2019: Shpongle comes to town. And it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before.
Shpongle is a psychedelic electronic music project from England that formed in 1996. The group includes Simon Posford (aka Hallucinogen) and Raja Ram (one of three in The Infinity Project). The group is credited as one of the founders of the Psybient genre – a genre combining world music with psychedelic trance and ambient.
As Israel has a strong foundation in electronic and psychedelic music, I was naturally drawn to Shpongle. I mean, they describe their music as “nothing you’ve ever heard before.” Throughout my life, though, I’d never had the chance to hear them live. It was a real wrong place, wrong time situation.
Suddenly, there I was: standing in the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, having an experience I’d wanted for just about my entire life.
While their music was like nothing I’d heard before, the show itself was like nothing I’d ever felt before. I was completely encased in music, a part of something more than myself.
The live show was charged with an energy incapable of being expressed through music alone. Music wasn’t just music; sounds were only part of the whole.
The group had designed a visual set to go with the audio set, for imagery and soundscape to blend together and into our senses. I felt wrapped up in the scene, like I was part of the artistry just because I was so immersed in it.
And then I went home.
The magic of the night before faded as most things do. I couldn’t hold onto it. But I wanted to.
I couldn’t shake the idea that a DJ – any DJ, any person, even – should be able to create astounding visuals like the ones I had seen the night before. Anyone should be able to create and hang out within the immersive atmosphere that I had been in.
Like any good DJ, I took to the internet, looking for software that could create visuals to go with my audio sets. I’m the kind of guy who’s particular about what he wants, and so I knew what I was looking for. I wanted a tool that was stupid easy to use and didn’t set me back a couple hundred dollars and countless hours.
There was nothing out there that was exactly what I needed: software that could create dynamic visuals and smooth transition at the push of a button, without me having to do anything. There wasn’t software out there that let me and my listeners just sit back and enjoy ourselves. There was nothing, really, that allowed me to create a seamless atmosphere, the perfect vibe, the one I had felt at that Shpongle show.
I didn’t have a lot of time or money to dedicate to new equipment. (Translation: I live like ninety percent of the DJ/musician community.)
Money and time are just about the biggest barriers to doing something you really want to do.
I’ve never had very much of either. So had my dreams of creating a holistic listening experience just up and died?
Not quite. I am a relentless person, for better and for worse.
And that’s how the idea of a completely automated, AI-powered music visualizer was born.
The idea itself was solid: a piece of software that could be downloaded, then take audio input from anywhere: a mixer, a desktop audio player, a URL, and create visuals with nothing more than clicking “start”. It would be an app. It would be able to work on any screen. Music would be visualized at concerts, festivals, house parties, restaurants, even meditation sessions. Streamers, music listeners, vibe setters in general, would no longer have to put in any level of effort to learn how to create music visualizations or set the mood.
Music would be visualized anywhere, by anyone. Me, my friends in the DJ community, even my kids (the oldest was ten when I first came up with the idea).
Music is accessible to almost everyone. Music visualizations should be, too.
While the idea was solid, there was a problem: I am not actually a developer. Not at all.
To create something like this, you needed to have good developer chops. The software had to listen and react to what was being played in real time. If it didn’t, the visuals would be off. The immersion would be broken.
I didn’t have the ability to make this thing, so I had to find the person (or people) that could. I had to find creators to try out and write about the software. And find writers to provide meaningful content for DJs and music lovers.
In all honesty, it went pretty bad at first. I struggled to find the right people to help take my idea and turn it into a reality. At one point, we had to scrap six months’ worth of code after a developer jumped ship and a new one started working on the project.
But like anything you really want to see come to life, you pick yourself when you fall. You scrape your knees, for sure. But you dust the dirt off of them and keep going.
Finally, after working with five separate developers, I found my people.
My main developer, of course, was a DJ.
My head content writer, of course, loves EDM music and wants to mix music.
Then I found another developer, who, of course, is into music production.
And then it clicked:
It takes more than a good idea to create something. It takes good people.
Listening to music is a shared experience. People gravitate towards it. Music fills people with passion, and passionate people fill their surroundings with music.
It had to be the same when creating this software. I couldn’t hire just anyone to work on this project. No matter what your role was on the team, you had to love music and believe in the value of the listening experience; if we didn’t all see the value of an immersive listening experience, this thing (which did eventually become a desktop and cloud-based app) would have never gotten off the ground.
SYQEL: What It Stands For, and What We Stand For
SYQEL: A play on a few words. It has the root of SQL, a popular data management software syntax. It also sounds like the start of psychedelic, the kind of music and experience that sparked the idea of a music visualizer in the first place.
We at SYQEL have put out a desktop app, radio app, and web browser app. The web browser app allows anyone with Wi-Fi to play music from any source and watch their music portrayed on any computer screen. The desktop app allows DJs to produce crystal clear visuals when streaming. Musicians also use the desktop app as a background when filming music. And the radio app allows anyone to listen to over five hundred radio stations from around the world.
The visuals themselves are several thousand high-quality popular visuals, including Milkdrop visuals, that have been imported into our vast library. We have imported them and have made them ready for you to use. We will innovate on previous creators’ work as we begin to develop our own content libraries. Our new libraries will be completely made up of visuals made by individual creators.
Why the heavy focus on creating such accessible software? Because at SYQEL, we believe that anyone should be able to have a beautiful, immersive experience when playing or hearing music. The magic shouldn’t be limited to those who can afford lofty products, or by those who have more software knowledge.
Music is a shared, equitable experience: Music visuals should be the same way.
Where We’re Headed: “It’s always Day One here.”
While our up-and-running apps are no small accomplishment, this is only like…five percent of SYQEL’s full potential. Driven by our vision – for anyone, anywhere to be able to create and share visuals, to have your senses completely submerged in music – we are working towards the following: Android/iOS apps, Smart TV apps, and online music library connections. As mentioned before, we also want to have visual creators develop their own visuals and transitions, and place them on a content marketplace for others to use. We will launch a 3D visual generation feature, so creators can push their visualization capabilities to new heights.
We are pretty much starting with the idea that music and art are communal, and working from there.
We work with the “Day One” mentality. We are always working to innovate on our products, to develop new tools and ways for others to connect. We are always working to keep up with the needs and interests of DJs, artists, and music lovers alike.
SYQEL, DJs, and COVID-19:
The musical world changed overnight. Artists had to adapt, and we were there to help. We focused a lot on our desktop app’s streaming capabilities, because DJs and musicians have turned towards streaming as a way to perform in front of an audience.