Welcome to MiSynth’s Thought Leadership series, in which leaders in the music tech industry give exclusive interviews about the development and future impact of MiSynth. This week, MiSynth’s founder and CEO, Senaida Ng, answers questions from what MiSynth is, to how she balances being a student and a CEO.
What is MiSynth?
At MiSynth, our mission is to create tools for musicians to unlock the full potential of their creativity through their imagination. We create music software plugins that bridge the gap between brain-computer interfaces and digital audio workstations to help musicians work more efficiently and effectively.
How did you come up with the name?
When I first started this project, I imagined that it would be similar to a digital synthesizer. MiSynth is a combination of the word “mind” and “synth” because we’re turning your mind into a synthesizer!
What gave you the inspiration to start MiSynth?
MiSynth began as a fictional business proposal that I was doing for a class during the first semester of my freshman year. The class was called “Are Friends Electric? Music, Science & Futurism in the 21st Century” and it was taught by Errol Kolosine. I immediately fell in love with the class, where we learnt about emerging technologies and possible applications for them in the music industry. I was particularly drawn to an article that I read about Elon Musk’s Neuralink. I began thinking about the possibilities of mind-control and being able to trigger sounds using brainwaves. So, for my final project, I did a presentation for a new product called MiSynth. After doing more research into brain-computer interfaces, I realized that this was actually beginning to take shape in the market so I thought now was the perfect time to execute this project.
What is your educational background?
I began as a classically-trained pianist at the age of 4 and throughout my childhood, I competed in numerous national and international piano competitions. At the age of 16, I performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City and had already received my Associate Diploma in Piano Performance (ARCT) from the Royal Conservatory of Music. I attended Havergal College, an all-girls private school, in Toronto, Canada before coming to New York University to study at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. I’m very much an artist-producer, songwriter and creative entrepreneur, and being at NYU has given me so many opportunities to learn and grow as an artist and an innovator. I’ve always been interested in emerging technologies and computers. My dad has ran his own IT consulting agency for over 20 years, and I grew up around technology. Eventually, I took a few coding classes and taught myself web development and online marketing.
How long did it take from when you first got the idea, to when the project kicked off the ground?
The biggest turning point has to be when we participated in the NYC Media Lab x ASCAP Immersive Studio Challenge, a 12-week program sponsored by ASCAP to explore emerging technologies and their application in the music industry. I didn’t have any expectations of having any success before applying to the program because I had only been working on MiSynth for about a month, and all I had was a rough presentation. However, the program coordinators saw something in us and decided to let us join the program, along with three other teams. The program met every week and we’d have to give weekly updates on our progress. There was a level of accountability and expectation to create something that would help benefit the songwriter and publisher community at ASCAP. They also told us that by the end of the 12 weeks, we would have to present our projects at a Demo Day. So, we got to work building our proof-of-concept. We explored different research-grade BCIs, collected data at Cornell Tech and hired more team members. Eventually, we came up with a great presentation that blew the panel of judges away!
What resources do you wish you had when you first started? What resources did you have that you found the most helpful?
One thing I wish I knew more about before starting this venture would be the business management and finance aspects of starting your own company. There was just so much I didn’t know about operating a business because I had always been a freelancer or worked on my own. But every step of the way, I consult many mentors and ask for their advice, and I learn as much as I can about the things they share. I’m very much a person who learns by doing, and so having this hands-on experience is very beneficial to me. My mentors are my most important resources because they each have a wealth of knowledge in their various fields of expertise, and I can learn all of those things from them.
Who are your biggest inspirations when it comes to the music tech business?
I remember vividly watching a video of Steve Duda at an Ableton Conference a few years ago, and being so inspired by his ability to pivot and do both music production and tech at the same time. Steve Duda is a DJ, music producer, and the creator of a very popular music-software plugin called Serum. His plugin was a game-changer for digital wavetable synthesis, and he didn’t have a coding background. However, he needed a tool like that so he taught himself how to make a plugin and commissioned a designer to complete the user interface. Imogen Heap is another music technologist I look up to. She started out as a film composer and producer in the UK, and now she’s working on her Miu Miu Gloves, which use haptics and movement to control parameters in Ableton, and her new project, The Creative Passport.
What are your goals for MiSynth 1 year from now? 5 years? 10 years?
The big milestone we’re working towards is getting into alpha testing by the summer of next year. I believe that you learn the most from your customers by seeing how they interact and feel with your product so we’ll be focusing a lot on creating the optimal experience and tool for music creators. Our plan is to launch the product 4-5 years from now, when commercial brain-computer interfaces begin becoming adopted. As for 10 years from now, we plan on creating a suite of plug-ins for brain-computer interfaces, and maybe even a mobile app! The possibilities are endless, but I just hope that I’ll still be making music that I love and be able to work with talented artists and entrepreneurs.
How do you balance being a full-time student and a CEO?
Time management is quite tough, because I’m taking 6 courses this semester and on top of that, I also work for WNYU 89.1 FM. However, I always chunk out my week and plan how many hours I’m going to spend on school work as opposed to the work for MiSynth. I’m not finding it too stressful because I tend to get things done relatively quickly and I’m very organized. I’ve still been able to find time to go to concerts, parties, or just watch TV at home with my boyfriend!
Is there anything else you would like to share regarding MiSynth?
For me, MiSynth isn’t just about creating a product that people with no music experience can use to create music, it’s more about the form of creative expression that MiSynth utilizes, which is your mind. We typically think that we use our minds to create and do things, but the notes we put down and the melodies we pick are often intentional, whereas when the music is coming straight from your brainwaves, there is no distinction between the intentional and the accidental. Many other factors come into play here, including your mood, appetite, sleep and subconscious thoughts. As I like to say to many people, MiSynth is a new form of musical expression through the imagination and we’re close to creating music that comes from another part of ourselves: our subconscious.