Ben Bowler has spent “years being around studios and musicians”. When he was young, his father trained him up as a jazz and funk drummer, and a career in and around the music industry followed. But there’s another common thread in Bowler’s life and career. He is a lifelong “techy”. When he wasn’t playing drums as a teenager, he was usually hacking computers. With his new app, Aux, he has brought the two strands together.
With so many different recorded takes, musical ideas stuck at dead ends and a sea of voice notes, musicians tend to deal with hundreds, if not thousands, of files when creating new music projects. Making sense of them can take over their lives, taking more time than actually singing and playing their instruments. Bowler casts the Aux app as an AI-driven solution, intended to streamline the workflow of creatives by providing advanced file management, syncing and remote collaboration. Just as the old techniques of elaborate studios and reels of tape gave way to basement soundrooms and digital hard-drives, Bowler sees Aux’s smart creation process as the next stage of music making.
Bowler was visiting a friend’s studio in Hackney, east London, when “the idea really crystallised.” He noticed the sheer mass of files his friend had to handle in the making of his first release and began considering ways to streamline the task. “He took me through the process, looking at his workflow. For his ten-track album he had thousands of files, manually stored in hundreds folders, on a hard drive, connected to his laptop.” The sheer effort of scrolling through them convinced Bowler there was a better way and that integrating the latest AI technologies could help provide the answer.
Having come across Innovate UK in a previous life in the music industry where he had heard about its work while on a trade mission with UK Trade and Investment, the UK government body that promotes UK exports, he applied for a Smart Grant, only to be turned down. Looking back, he agreed that at the time, it would have been a “massive step up”, but the application process taught him a lot. Then he heard via the Prince’s Trust about the Young Innovators Award. Undeterred by the previous setback, he applied, and this time was successful, not only being selected in the 2020 cohort of Young Innovators but going on in June 2020 to win the Young Innovators Next Steps 2020 award.
The real benefit of the Young Innovators award, he says, was giving him access to a mentor whose advice and support has paid real dividends. “The mentoring was fantastic, truly invaluable,” Bowler says. Perhaps surprising, given that Bowler, 30, was already by that stage something of a serial entrepreneur – Aux is the third business to have spun out of his software firm. But he is adamant that had it not been from his mentor’s sage advice, he would have missed out an opportunity to exit one of his previous businesses, a live-streaming service he sold to a US company for a seven-figure sum, cash which came in handy when he needed a way of funding Aux. “We are still in touch,” he says. “It gave me support and confidence. I really appreciated having someone to sense check what I have been thinking.”
Bowler also has nothing but praise for the networking programme, which has introduced to him to other young entrepreneurs that he would not to otherwise have met. “It is really inspiring,” he says, citing the example of a fellow business creator who is growing algae to capture carbon and combat climate change. And it’s not just that connections are good for business: they’re good for morale too. “Being in contact with other founders,” he says, “is always nice.” He likens conversations with other music entrepreneurs to having “a sounding board for ideas.”
And AI-driven file management opened up other avenues. “With my developer hat on, I saw a big opportunity there in how artists can collaborate,” he says. Aux identifies artists working in similar styles all around the world and connects them. “It will build a profile by analysing artists’ tracks, and then match them with other artists and also businesses like record labels.” While there are other apps for musical collaboration, Bowler emphasises the integration with project management and the use of AI. He says Aux is unique because, unlike competitors, it is “creating a world studio.”
The business is still in its early stages, but Bowler is aiming to launch the majority of core features by October this year. / [with Bowler having just launched the majority of core features in October 2022. ]The £50,000 Innovate UK is providing through the Next Steps Programme is allowing the team to focus on further developing the potential of their AI application – the grant is specifically for that purpose. As a result, Aux is able to think ahead, working to a three-year plan, so that when the time comes to look outwards for commercial funding, they have built the business and product up to the point where they can approach VCs from a position of strength. Looking back over his experience, he realises that you can sell a business too early. This time, he believes they can take things at their own pace.
Bowler employs a small team of six full time employees. Like him, all of the Aux staff dabble in music making, with various levels of experience. The company’s social media marketer is an award-winning acapella artist and winner of the BBC 2 reality music show The Naked Choir, while the primary developer is currently in the early stages of learning to play the keyboard. Alongside their software and sales skills, that brings added enthusiasm to the company. “When you’re making a creative product, it helps to understand how the creative process works,” he says.
Perhaps more importantly, the funding has allowed Aux to be quick and flexible in its early phase. “Agility is a core part of our identity as a business,” says Bowler. “We have two-week sprints now, from idea to completion within a month. That’s two weeks to plan and spec, two weeks to develop.” Having worked for large companies in the music industry before he became an entrepreneur, Bowler is all too familiar with grand but slow-moving projects. “You don’t get to innovate quickly in that environment,” he says. Now he is embracing the quicker pace at Aux: “The amount of progress we’ve made in 3 months with the funding is amazing.” He is looking to go for investment next year, when the core features have all been launched.
Bowler’s quirky approach will work, he thinks, because “we’re not a business, we’re a start-up. We’re an idea in search of a business model.” He is reassured by his many links in the creative arts. “I’ve been working in the music industry for about ten years, so I have a baseline network in the industry.”
His use of networking expands beyond the music industry: “I enjoy conversations with anyone who is doing something in the world of business.” They can help with the pressing questions of the business’s future, like hiring more AI talent. That’s a “key challenge”, but for now, he is focused on that October launch date, and the business’s central mission to “wildly increase the ability for creativity around the world.”
To try out the open Beta of the Aux app, sign up today at https://aux.app. And if you’re interested in partnerships or investment, you can contact Ben directly email@example.com.