Karim Morsy is the CEO of Algoriddim, the German software developer responsible for the famous music app djay. In less than a decade, he went from being an intern at Apple to leading one of their most praised app developers. Algoriddim is also one of zplane’s licensing clients, so we sat down for a brief chat with Karim to talk about his company’s work and the ways in which they’ve benefited from our software solutions.
– Hi Karim. Thanks for sitting down to speak with us. Before talking about the work Algoriddim and zplane have done, let’s start with some background on you. How did you get your start in the music industry?
I started playing piano as a kid and later became a DJ as a teenager. Coding became an interest at university, so all my early endeavors had a music and tech component. For example, my first digital audio project as a student was to create a virtual orchestra with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, which was very exciting. The possibilities offered by intersecting music and technology became fascinating to me from then on.
– Can you tell us about your internship at Apple and how that experience influenced your later career?
I worked in Cupertino from 2006 to 2007, building the new iMovie at the time. It was an exciting period to be at Apple, and the iPhone coming out a year later pretty much changed everything. In terms of influence, the internship opened my mind to a lot of things, like how to build software that’s both easy to use and loved by millions of people, whilst being rich in features and compelling on the tech side.
– What do you remember about the early days of Algoriddim?
Well, we launched djay on the Mac before iOS, which is something many people don’t know. Back in 2010, it wasn’t clear how developers would program for the iPad, and djay was one of the first to showcase the possibilities of a full blown app running on a mobile device. It proved that the iPad was more than just a bigger version of the iPhone – it was a powerful device capable of running tasks similar to a desktop computer, and I think that was exciting for people to see.
– Once you ported djay to the iPhone, how long did it take to see a spike in mobile users? Was that immediate?
Yes, it was. We’d already become popular among Mac users, but it was clear that touchscreen functionality would change everything for a DJ app. I remember getting messages from some of our Mac users saying, “djay would be perfect on a touch screen. When are you porting it over from the Mac?“. So our iOS version was highly anticipated and ended up becoming an overnight success when we hit #1 overall on the App Store.
– Did you launch djay on the first version of the iPhone, or did you have to wait until later releases?
You couldn’t really build apps for the iPhone when it first came out, so we had to wait a few years. Also, it was difficult for DJ software to offer a good user experience when you couldn’t access any music libraries. You had to import your tracks manually, and it wasn’t until iOS 4.2 that Apple finally allowed access to the iPod library. So once iOS 4.2 was released in late 2010, we could finally deliver the app we’d envisioned.
– You recently renamed the iOS versions of “djay Pro” to “djay Pro AI”. Why this rebrand for the iOS devices, and how much did Apple’s new chips have to do with that?
The iOS versions of djay have our newest AI features built in, which we feel are cutting edge. We think AI is going to be really important because it opens up possibilities similar to how digital audio did 20-30 years ago. If you can build more powerful tools, it changes everything for manufacturers, developers and ultimately artists, and we think machine learning represents the next paradigm shift for that.
Apple’s new Bionic chip prompted a return to the drawing board to rethink every feature of our app. Previously, certain processing tasks could only be done by sending them to a server and waiting on the results to come back, which wasn’t viable for a live performance app that needs to be quick and responsive. So we couldn’t include those features in previous versions, but the Bionic chip is so powerful in how it handles machine learning that it finally let us add those features to the latest Mac versions. Hence the renaming to “djay Pro AI”.
– Is it true that djay Pro has been downloaded over 50 million times?
Yes, between the consumer and professional versions on desktop and mobile, we’ve seen over 50 million downloads since we first launched. Our vision wasn’t only to cater to professional DJs, but to introduce DJing to a wider audience, and I think that’s reflected in the market penetration.
– Does djay have any notable users?
Yes it does. Laidback Luke controls his decks remotely by running djay on his phone because of it’s portability and the Neural Mix feature. He’s known to use our software when playing for thousands of people. We also have users like Taylor James, who’s Justin Bieber’s DJ.
– Algoriddim has been working with zplane for over a decade by licensing our software products. Can you speak on how the relationship came about?
The first version of djay was released as a freeware app in 2006, but we quickly got feedback from users asking for things like key detection and sound improvements, so we started speaking with you guys in 2008 to find a solution. zplane caught our interest because you license readily available software components, which is exactly what we needed. As developers, it freed us up to focus on things like UX and UI design, as well as improving user experience, which is where Algoriddim does its best work. We’ve received some of the industry’s highest honors for things like that, like winning the Apple Design Awards twice. So licensing certain components from zplane has allowed us to focus on our strengths, which worked out great.
I also want to add that some DSP developers don’t really know much beyond the realm of signal processing theory, whereas you guys understand things like how live music software should run in front of an audience, and the need for it to be both stable and fast. So that’s always been incredibly helpful as well.
– Thanks for the kind words Karim. Is there anything you’d point to as being the most helpful in our partnerships over the years?
zplane’s customer support has always stood out for being incredibly responsive and consistent, which is a reputation you had even in 2008. We’ve found that zplane goes the extra mile to address our questions, whether it involves getting on the phone or doing performance improvements. You also offer customizations to better integrate your technology with client’s existing products. For example, if a new processor comes out, we might have to react quickly and build a new version of our app, and zplane’s responsiveness helps with that. After all, someone who runs djay on a $50 Android phone will have different needs than somebody running it on a $1000 Mac. Both machines have different specs and processing power, so the version of djay that runs on the desktop contains processing and effects that a cheaper mobile device can no longer handle. zplane’s flexible approach to building its technology helps to address that issue and lets us serve the broadest possible range of customers. Things like that is why we’ve continued working with you over the years.
– It’s great to hear that Algoriddim is happy with our services. Thanks for sharing that. Let’s wrap up by looking at some of the technology you’ve licensed.
One of the first things we licensed was AUFTAKT for beat-tracking and TONART for key detection. We’ve looked at different solutions for that at first, but Auftakt and Tonart simply delivered better results. We also use the METERING SDK and resampler. We initially licensed FXPACK as well, but eventually built our own engine for offline analysis and rendering, which let us develop our own effects. But the product that really stands out the most is ELASTIQUE PRO, and it’s played a key role in our app. DJs obviously need reliable time-stretching so the music doesn’t suffer from a chipmunk effect when you speed up the tempo. It’s hard to find quality time-stretching algorithms that perform well on both mobile and desktop devices, and that sound good on both. Even though we’ve looked at other competitors, we always found ELASTIQUE PRO to be the best option.
To be honest, I sometimes struggle to remember all of the zplane products we’ve licensed, which is a sign of great technology – it just works so well that you don’t even think about it.
– Are there features that Algoriddim would like to include in djay that perhaps zplane should keep in mind for the future?
Key detection is a common feature in most DJ software, but Algoriddim were the first to introduce key matching, which lets you pitch-shift a song in order to match keys with the track that’s playing. We came out with that over a decade ago, but it’s not a perfected technology yet. By the time you shift a song one octave up, you’re stuck with the chipmunk effect, so if you guys can do anything about that, it would be very interesting to see. I understand that digital artefacts are unavoidable using the current technology, so perhaps you’d have to reinvent things, but if anyone can do it, it’s zplane.
– We’ll see what we can do. Thanks for talking to us Karim. What’s next for Algoriddim in the coming year?
Well, there’s a whole generation out there who started DJing on their phones because of our software and I think they’re waiting for the next big thing from us. We already pioneered automatic mixing for music that’s played on streaming services, so we’re actively working to develop more creative ways to shape how our users mix their music. We have some exciting things coming in that space.