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Monday, August 29th 2022

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Monday, August 29th 2022

How SZA and Integral Studio create at the moment of inspiration

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Greta Workman

@gretaworkman

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Grace Madlinger

@gmadlinger

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In 2017, Megh Vakharia chose Vercel and Next.js to create a website that would mirror the creativity of then-up-and-coming artist, SZA. Since then, his company, Integral Studio, has worked with Grammy-winning artists and the industry’s biggest labels, and SZA has become a superstar.

To celebrate the five-year anniversary and re-release of the album that garnered SZA five Grammy nominations, including Best New Artist, and spots on the Pitchfork, Time, and Rolling Stone’s Best Albums of 2017 list, Vakharia turned once again to Vercel for the digital experience.  

Music meets code with Integral and SymphonyOS

Integral is reinventing how artists like SZA, 21 Savage, and Future express both their music and themselves online. The agency initially launched direct-to-consumer sites for dozens of artists including several multi-platinum, Grammy award winning performers. Then in 2021, Integral launched SymphonyOS, a platform that democratizes music marketing for the artists who don’t have labels or professionals by their side.

By leveraging the power of Vercel and Next.js, Integral and SymphonyOS are shifting the way artists build their own businesses and interact with their communities. Artists can create at the moment of inspiration, and build the digital experience that augments their music.

The ease of deployment is directly related to the ease of creation—and when both are equal, you can ideate, make, and upload without boundaries, pushing up whatever you want, whenever you want.

Megh VakhariaCEO, SymphonyOS / CTO, Integral Studio

Starting with Next.js 1.2

Seeing independent artists gaining traction on SoundCloud and the combined success of companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Postmates, Vakharia quickly recognized the potential of a career that integrated music and tech. During an internship at Hulu, he met his future Integral co-founder, Chuka Chase, and decided he wanted to help artists utilize technology in new ways. One of his first clients: Travis Scott. 

After the success of Travis’ album and website, Top Dog Entertainment called the Integral team and introduced them to a new artist, SZA. She had big plans for an album and website, and they worked side-by-side to bring her vision to life, influencing each other to build the best website and the best album possible. 

Deploying on Vercel let them lean into the creative process—iterations on the site never slowed them down. With Vercel, it was easy for them to focus on creating and innovating alongside the artists. "That was the biggest thing with Vercel," says Vakharia. "You push one button, 10 keys on the keyboard, press enter, and have a new link to share around."

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Even in 2017 with Next.js 1.2, Vakharia was amazed by how quickly the website came together and loaded, especially for an immersive site like SZA’s. The launch and immediate success of SZA’s CTRL meant millions of views to her website, something that could have easily overwhelmed a traditional server setup. With Vercel, site performance remained constant.

Relaunching with Next.js 12.1

Five years later, CTRL still hasn’t left the Billboard charts. For the anniversary celebration and release of CTRL Deluxe, SZA and Integral knew Vercel was still right for the job. 

“The landscape has changed a lot in five years, as it tends to do in tech," says Vakharia. "But with Vercel and Next.js, it was just super easy to push up a website. So we stuck with it and never really looked back."

The commitment to backwards compatibility meant that it took only two hours for Vakharia to take the site from Next.js 1.2 to 12.1. For him, the process was seamless. "I was surprised by how smooth the upgrade was. It's been five years—there's been a lot of versions of Next.js since then. We got to take advantage of some of the new features, but nothing really broke. We probably made 100 to to 200 lines of code changes maximum to the website to update for this."

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Vercel has also changed over the years. Back when Integral launched SZA’s first site, Vercel wasn’t fully serverless. Instead, Integral’s team had their own custom server that tracked data and handled routing—a system they admit was over-engineered. While upgrading required leaving their old server behind, they were able to massively simplify their infrastructure needs. 

SZAs massive international success also meant the release of the deluxe album drew millions of visitors to the site. With Vercel’s serverless scalability and uptime guarantees, the team wasn’t worried: "It's nice to not have to change anything up and still have the same creativity and be able to just use one platform to deploy everything."

The Web platform: Creating a space for every artist

Even with TikTok and Instagram on the rise, SZA and Integral continue to recognize and celebrate the power of the Web to bring people together, and create unique experiences for fans. “It’s really the customizability of it all," explains Vakharia. "You can really build your own world on the Web.”

Integral’s experience working with artists like SZA, Travis Scott, 21 Savage over the past five years led to the realization that there’s a demand—by artists and fans alike—for a digital means to interact and connect, in a way that is customizable and unique to the artist experience. That’s why the Integral team will soon be launching SymphonyOS, a tool built on Vercel that gives artists of all sizes the ability to create sustainable businesses off of their music and reach new fans in the process.

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Vakharia recognizes the challenge. "How do we take everything we've learned from working with major label artists and bring it to the next million artists? That's what Symphony is. There are 10 million artists on Spotify and 1.1% of them are signed to record labels. Symphony empowers the 99% of artists who are independent with the tools to market themselves."

Integral currently has a label through Sony and an artist they’ve been developing with SymphonyOS, Aaryan Shah, went viral on TikTok for his song “Renegade.” His follower base grew from 500 to 15,000, with scores more viewers clicking on the Symphony link in his TikTok bio. According to Vakharia, Vercel was able to handle the TikTok level of fame—with no delays or crashes. 

By partnering with Vercel, Integral can scale and build tools for the next generation of independent artists—letting them create at the moment of inspiration and enjoy the stardom that follows. 

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