Music Conducting

by Natalie Miller • @natalieatWIS

Music Mastermind improves performance and scale with hybrid cloud

Published July 14, 2014


Recording hit singles was once reserved for garage bands and teams of studio musicians, but today, thanks to the one-of-a-kind mobile game, Zya, music making is in the hands of the masses.

Founded in 2008, Music Mastermind is breaking down the barriers to music creation and expression with its flagship product Zya. Zya is a music creation game that allows anyone to make songs from scratch—even those without any musical knowledge or complex understanding of musical theory, says Bo Bazylevsky, Co-Founder and President of Music Mastermind. 

To bring the power of music creation to the widest array of global users requires the power of mobile and a sophisticated digital 3D workstation. Music Mastermind deployed a hybrid cloud solution to propel Zya to the world. Using IBM SoftLayer and iDataPlex systems, the company can quickly scale its high-value cloud infrastructure to meet growing demand for the mobile game.

Company At a Glance >>


  • Company Name: Music Mastermind
  • Headquarters: Calabasas, California
  • Industry: Entertainment and technology
  • Employees: 29
  • Founded: 2008
  • Website:

Company Details: Music Mastermind is an entertainment and technology company. Founded in 2008, the company is dedicated to developing technologies that break down the barriers to music creation and expression. Music Mastermind is a venture and angel-backed startup whose investors include Intel Capital, Liberty Global, and Shea Ventures.

IBM solutions:IBM SoftLayer
IBM iDataPlex
IBM Storwize V7000 Unified storage system

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The technology startup launched the game on Apple iOS devices in December 2013 after four-and-a-half years of development. The game’s popularity has quickly grown to include over 400,000 users in 155 countries. These users create their own musical masterpieces by playing their way through the game. They “rely on visual cues to let them know what sort of music that they want to make,” Bazylevsky explains. “So using just voice or touch, users can simply put together a musical composition in minutes. They either sing into [the tablet or phone], hum into it, speak into it, or just by making any sound, get to create a studio-quality song. Once they are done with their creation, they can remix it as many times as they want. They can mash up and bring in components of famous songs too, while respecting the rights of the original songwriters and artists.”

PODCAST: Music Mastermind CTO James Mitchell talks about this project in more detail, from vetting to implementing the hybrid cloud platform, and speaks to the challenges and benefits.

The cloud platform combines elements of interactive entertainment, music production tools, and social interaction to give players the ability to create original songs and share them with their friends. “When we started the company we always wanted to get into mobile to reach everybody, no matter where they are, because most people get musical inspiration on the fly,” says Bazylevsky. “We always talk about the kid on the back of the bus; being able to let someone express themselves musically whenever and wherever the musical inspiration hits.”

The music engine was originally built on a PC to accommodate the constant rendering associated with a non-static system. “We needed super-fast rendering speeds to be able to crunch all these algorithms not once, but repeatedly, and be able to also deliver the visuals associated with that music just as robustly,” explains Bazylevsky. “So the idea is that users expect the output, especially for a musical application like this, to be really low latency—otherwise you ruin the experience. In order to do that we first had to build everything on a very thick PC client and then we pushed all of that heavy tech into cloud. So all the rendering—the audio and visual rending that produces music actually heard on the iPhone or iPad—now happens on our IBM hybrid cloud, and is able to hit even the lowest RAM mobile device (within reason).”

The move from the PC to the cloud-based processes has positioned Music Mastermind to adapt and successfully manage the increasing demand and unexpected spikes in traffic, as well as continue to grow the Zya product.

Start small with known cost
It was always Music Mastermind’s intention to deploy a hybrid cloud system, says Chief Technology Officer James Mitchell.

“By taking all the heavy work and putting that into our cloud environment, we can deliver a compelling experience that gives customers what we call a ‘digital audio work station in the cloud.’ We’re offering really professional tools for music creation wrapped in a game environment that makes it very entertaining for people to casually dip in and out, or take it a little bit more seriously and create music of their own,” says Mitchell.

By taking all the heavy work and putting that into our cloud environment, we can deliver a compelling experience that gives customers what we call a ‘digital audio work station in the cloud.’

James Mitchell, Chief Technology Officer at Music Mastermind

The Zya Cloud is set up on private IBM iDataPlex servers in two data centers in San Jose, CA, and Ashburn, VA. Music Mastermind made selection of these servers the first step of the hybrid implementation that began in 2011, when the team was just starting to grow. “We wanted to make sure we had very high-powered servers that could get us the response times that we needed and that would be able to handle the throughput,” explains Bazylevsky. The private cloud also supplied a known cost, which was important for the beginning stages of the project when user numbers were just starting to populate. 

Each center’s cloud is used to create 160 virtual instances. Music Mastermind also uses the IBM Storwize V7000 Unified storage system to help manage the mounting data volumes generated by its rapidly expanding user base. The high-end disk system manages the company’s databases as well as provisioning for its Zya mobile game.

“The obvious benefit [of the private cloud] is that we have a known capacity, and we can serve a certain number of customers before we need to worry about capacity—and that is done at a fixed monthly cost,” says Mitchell. “But anyone that’s been in the scalability space very long knows that if your product happens to take off, your private environment is going to be pretty inflexible. You’re going to have to order more equipment, you’re going to have to get that installed, configured and spooled up, and that could take days or weeks—by which time your customers have gotten frustrated and gone away.”

Therefore, when Zya was ready to reach international stardom, Music Mastermind moved to a public cloud as well. Originally on various public cloud systems, Music Mastermind eventually deployed IBM SoftLayer’s high-speed network, which has the ability to create 1,000 virtual servers in each of its locations and is expected to be able to host and deliver Zya from 40 data centers in 15 countries and five continents globally by the end of 2015.

SoftLayer; the game changer
“Because we created Zya to reach music lovers all over the world, we needed it to be able to scale quickly, meeting global traffic demands while still maintaining strong bandwidth to deploy new features and continually enrich the player’s experience,” said Matt Serletic, Co-Founder and CEO of Music Mastermind. “Using IBM’s cloud solution has given us the capacity to grow, scale, and host our networks in their most appropriate environments, freeing up extraneous expenses and labor that we can devote to ongoing innovation.”

Zya had a brief stint on IBM’s SmartCloud before Big Blue purchased SoftLayer in 2013. During that acquisition and subsequent migration, the Zya project experienced a “little bit of a stutter step,” says Mitchell. “But IBM and our partner Micro Strategies [an IBM Business Partner] helped us through that, so there wasn’t much of an impact and we were able to move over to what everyone agrees is a far superior solution.”

SoftLayer is a global public cloud solution that is integrated, explains Bazylevsky. “We were always hoping to have one solution from IBM,” he says. “When SoftLayer came into the picture, our testing showed significantly improved results versus not only SmartCloud, but all other public cloud services we tested.”

The openness of SoftLayer’s cloud platform was a big draw. Based on OpenStack, IBM’s open standards-based cloud approach offers interoperability and collaboration. “We wanted to provision great equipment that would be able to handle the rendering the same way our private cloud does,” he says. “We wanted security and scale. Obviously with the scale piece comes the service piece, and making sure we really have a working cloud around the world. That’s why we went with IBM.”

Security is a big factor, since Music Mastermind has deals with major record labels and publishers in order to allow Zya users to mash in popular tracks—and part of that deal is secure IP. “That’s contractual for us and we take it very seriously, so we had to make sure our cloud is secure and that the musical IP these publishers own is kept secure as well,” says Bazylevsky.

Cost, control, and flexibility
The ability to burst out onto the public cloud when user activity spikes and then return back to the private cloud when levels fall gives Music Mastermind certainty of cost as well as the flexibility to serve its customers in a way that’s going to appeal to them, explains Mitchell.

“It’s a music app and people expect an instantaneous response. They want low latency. They want something that feels like it’s happening right there on their device, even though it’s really happening hundreds or thousands of miles away first,” he says. “Using SoftLayer as a global broadband network—in the U.S. it’s about 20GBs per second and internationally it’s 10—people all over the world could feel like they are having a local device experience even though the data is being held in San Francisco or in Virginia or wherever else.”

Because we created Zya to reach music lovers all over the world, we needed it to be able to scale quickly, meeting global traffic demands while still maintaining strong bandwidth to deploy new features and continually enrich the player’s experience.

Matt Serletic, Co-Founder and CEO of Music Mastermind

The hybrid cloud is a cost-effective alternative to either a straight public cloud or other solutions, and it also gives Music Mastermind maximum control and flexibility. With a robust private cloud that can host hardware and firmware configurations and testing, the company can better understand the capabilities of the underlying hardware as well as their own and third-party software. The public cloud can then replicate that consistently and repeatedly, to give the kind of scale we need, explains Mitchell. 

Consumers expect a robust service. “We have to match their expectations, and if we don’t then we lose our user base pretty quickly,” says Bazylevsky. “So it’s a credit to IBM that we’ve maintained these users and get them coming back repeatedly.”

The path to a hybrid cloud
While developing the Zya platform that exists today, Music Mastermind did experience some hiccups along the way, and credits the challenges faced to the pains of doing something new.

“No one else has ever really done anything like this before, so a lot of the development that we do initially is very primary R&D [research and development],” says Mitchell. “We’re trying new music technologies. We’re trying to push the state of the art, in terms of hardware, software, and scalability.

“A lot of the technologies around auto-scaling or automation of cloud environments are still, if not in their infancy, then in their adolescence,” he explains. “So we found that we were running into several roadblocks having to work with vendors to patch their applications to make them work as intended and the way that we needed them to work. So that took what should have been a four- or five-month public cloud project and turned it into probably an eight- or nine-months. We’ve been running in that hybrid environment now for about eight months now, and it’s been working extremely well; very robust, very reliable, the handovers work very well, but it is still a fairly manual process.” 

Music Mastermind’s Zya setup was a challenge in itself, due to the need to bridge networks with different numbering and naming structures and handle security issues across those. “When you’re doing something that’s very novel, you’re going to run into a lot of unforeseeables, and the price you pay is typically in time,” he explains. “We have tight deadlines to get to market, and every day [Zya didn’t get pushed out] led to a day that we’re not in front of customers. One of the big lessons we learned was that with a lot of these technologies, the vending process upfront has to be a lot more thorough than with more established technologies.”

The next stage for Zya is to make good on the promise of automation and start using tools like SaltStack to take a lot of the manual work away from Music Mastermind’s internal resources, says Mitchell, and then make it more of a self-service type of infrastructure, which is the ultimate goal.

Another version of the game is also getting ready to hit the Apple App Store, and will maximize the current individual play and social sharing to a far more of a competitive-type of game experience. Music Mastermind is also expecting to continue to grow its user base, which may necessitate the use of the public clouds indefinitely.

“When we hit [a certain] number of million users, we will overflow the private cloud to the extent that we’re running in the public cloud virtually 24 hours a day year round, and at that point we will revisit and make a decision,” explains Mitchell.

“There will always be a role for both the public and the private, but what that specific role is I think is going to evolve. Like most of these things, the market tells you what you’re going to be and what you’re needs are. Ninety percent of our traffic sitting in the public cloud will be the world telling us where we need to be.”



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