analysis

SoundCloud want to master your tracks for free

Video killed the radio star. Streaming killed downloads. Home taping is killing music. Is the cloud about to kill the mastering engineer?

Landr, the instant online mastering service, already looked a bit that way. The drag-and-drop service lets you download a track that is algorithmically mastered – no humans directly involved. The service says those algorithms were carefully tweaked not only by DSP engineers, but actual mastering engineers. It isn’t like the “mastering” preset on a compression plug-in your DAW; according to the developers, the system is adaptive and learns from analysis by genre of music uploaded. And it covers a lot of processes – multi-band compression, EQ, stereo enhancement, limiting, and aural excitation, with some manual adjustment provided to the user.

Now, there are various reasons why I wouldn’t trade a human mastering engineer for this – even if Landr sometimes achieves good results. I really rely on a human mastering engineer as a final pair of ears. That person may be the one who finds mistakes, or who judges professionally just how loud a track ought to sound in the first place. (The very existence of the manual controls here more or less eliminates its utility to me.)

But maybe Landr is finding its own place – one in which a mastering engineer actually can’t compare. And that’s its unique ability to happen instantly right when you upload a file. Like Instagram filters and the auto-contrast on your digicam, spell-check and the location finder in your Google maps app, Landr’s instantaneous, automatic operation is the whole point.

Let’s be honest: you upload something quickly to SoundCloud, you want it to sound loud (and good, but especially loud) right away.

Landr now links directly to SoundCloud to make that happen. Connect your SoundCloud account, and either log into Landr or create a new account (requires just an email and name).

SC_02_Share to SC

For me, at least, Landr gave me four free WAV downloads. I’m going to do some testing of that and get back to you. As for SoundCloud, you get unlimited free uploads “optimized” for that service. Since Landr is normally paid, that’s already a reasonable deal. The finished, mastered tracks are uploaded directly to your account.

The move may say as much about SoundCloud as it does about Landr or mastering. It’s clear the world’s leading sound upload service wants to continue to offer a complete solution for sharing noises. And while users panic about rumored changes to licensing or other hype (more on that in a separate story), there is some evidence that SoundCloud still has ideas for how to lure you to upload to their site specifically.

So, whither the mastering engineer? I don’t think so. Apart from the factors above, the mastering engineer’s service have already expanded from just sending you a stereo master, to being associated with digital distribution and vinyl cutting. Landr’s biggest competition may be not mastering engineers, but “turning up the knob on your compression plug-in” – and there, I think Landr has the edge.

But beyond that, pay attention to this one. It’s the latest evidence that the sharing of music online changes more than just how you listen. It does also change how you produce.

https://app.landr.com/

A free SoundCloud option is now available once you connect your account to Landr.

A free SoundCloud option is now available once you connect your account to Landr.

The post SoundCloud want to master your tracks for free appeared first on cdm createdigitalmusic.

These headphones will adapt their sound to how you hear

For all the changes in visual appearance, all the extra features and connections, what hasn’t changed much in headphones is how headphones work. That makes Nura, a product launching this week on Kickstarter, all the more interesting. Not only does it introduce a unique design for how the headphones physically deliver sound to your ears, but it’s also a pair of headphones that listens to your ears — even before you start listening to music.

One of the most fundamental things to know about human hearing is that all ears are different. You can give yourself some sense of this by playing with the flappy bits of your ears right now. (Don’t worry – I’m sure people around you won’t find it at all odd.) Move around your ears and you’ll notice sound changes – both your sense of the color and spatial location of what you hear will seem to change. That’s because your physical ear, from exterior to deep in the inner ear, produces a series of attenuations in frequency that impact what you hear.

In the world of analog sound, that meant that sound listening devices had to be made as generically as possible. From the sound produced itself to the physical form of devices like headphones, then, “personal” listening is really just a rough, lowest-common denominator approximation.

But we’re no longer in the world of exclusively analog sound. Thanks to computational technology, it’s possible to make “smarter” listening devices – headphones that automatically calibrate to your particular ears.

nura

Headphones that listen

The Nura headphones do just that. Using an app on the smartphone to do the analysis, they automatically calibrate frequency range to your particular hearing. The headphones measure your hearing – on their own in conjunction with the app, with no intervention from you – in about half a minute.

This is possible because your inner ear, in addition to “listening” to sound, also actually emits very low-intensity sounds (explained in this medical article), both on its own and (essential here) in response to particular sounds as stimuli. What the Nura headphones are able to do is measure those emissions as a way of detecting the way your particular ear hears. They produce That’s been used in medical applications before, but this is the first time the same technique was used to produce better headphones as a consumer product.

So, you plug these in, hear some sweeping tones for 30 seconds, and then your headphones “know” how to make your music sound better – really.

Nura Animation from Nura on Vimeo.

Once the half-miute sensing process is complete, your personal profile is then stored with the headphones for the most accurate sound reproduction in your listening. It’s even specific, as it must be, to each ear. If you share your pair of Nura headphones with someone else and don’t re-calibrate, in other words, you should realize something akin to trading prescription eyeglasses with someone else – you’ll recognize that they don’t hear/see the way you do.

There are some unique applications for this. First off, by default, Nura headphones should sound better than other headphones do. (That explains at least in part why pros do monitor on both cans and studio monitors, or why no one entirely agrees on their favorite headphones.)

I was curious how professional engineers responded, too. That will require a more extensive test and review, but so far the makers of Nura say musicians and engineers have responded positively, and that they’ll continue to collaborate with them as they refine the design – which can include both the software/analysis side as well as the cans themselves.

This also means data collection on hearing directly from your listening device. That could eventually I imagine have implications for hearing health, adjusting to changes in hearing over time, and other applications.

Oh, one weird and interesting possibility: you could actually download a profile for the person who engineered a record, and hear through their ears.

The unique physical design combines in-ear and over-ear designs into a single form factor.

The unique physical design combines in-ear and over-ear designs into a single form factor.

Physical design

The self-calibration routine isn’t the only innovation of the Nura headphones. Physical design is also new. For the first time, the makers say (and the first time I’ve ever seen), the headphones use a dual driver design.

Basically, imagine that this is a combination of earbuds and over-ear headphones. There’s a driver that sticks into your ear for high and mid frequencies and the over-ear for lows. And that solves some familiar problems. In-ear and over-ear designs normally each have unique benefits, both in terms of the outside sounds they block and the sounds that you hear most clearly. Hear, you get both at once.

Since that also means more passive noise cancellation (like covering and plugging your ears at the same time), you should hear less outside noise, which means you can listen at lower volumes, which means less hearing damage from headphone listening.

There are some nice physical features, too, including gel-filled tips that the makers say conform to your ears. And they look fairly nice.

Connections are entirely digital – Lightning (for iOS) and USB (for Android and computers). There’s no analog connector; those digital connectors also provide the power necessary for the headphones to operate. I think a lot of us in the pro market would like an analog option (with some other power solution); I’ve asked about that.

I haven’t gotten to test these yet; that’ll happen here in Berlin next week when the team arrive with prototypes at Music Tech Fest – itself a compelling place to find out about new gear. I’m looking forward to that, though. Let us know if you’ve got questions for the makers or something you want me to evaluate in the process.

I do think this is the future. Nura covers frequency attenuation; it’s still for stereo signal. But you can bet that other sensing capabilities in headphones will also become a major selling feature, from health (sensors that work with the ear, like temperature or pulse) to spatialization (self-calibration becomes even more essential if you want to deliver realistic 360-degree sound to the ears).

Nura is the first to bring that kind of functionality to market in a music device. And that’s big news. So stay tuned for more.

The Kickstarter reached its $100,000 goal on the first day and continues to plow forward as users buy up early-bird specials on the headphones.

More:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nura/nura-headphones-that-learn-and-adapt-to-your-uniqu

Disclosure: Create Digital Media is engaged in a consulting collaboration with Float PR, who have Nura as a client.

The post These headphones will adapt their sound to how you hear appeared first on cdm createdigitalmusic.

These piano breakthroughs changed music forever

Yesterday was Piano Day – a day recently christened by composer/pianist Nils Frahm in order to celebrate that ubiquitous keyboard instrument. (It’s held on the eighty-eighth day of the month.) There are concerts, marathons, project, releases – and unlike Record Store Day, this event won’t clog the ability to produce piano music.

With that day as inspiration, I thought it was a good moment to look at some of the technology of and around the piano, to understand what has made this instrument special. That includes both strictly acoustic innovations as well as design features and breakthroughs that either inspired the electronic world, or helped bridge acoustic and digital.

The piano (and its organ counterparts) has had a tremendous impact on how we model musical information. The pianoforte, clavichord, and organ all helped produce a conceptual model where pitch could be abstracted from expression, and that’s been influential in digital and analog synthesis from the start.

But to begin with the piano’s influence, there’s only one place to start:

Met piano

One of the oldest remaining instruments by the pianoforte's presumed inventor, Cristofori. Visit it in NYC – it’s at the Met (accession # 89.4.1219).

Hammers. What makes a piano a piano is really the hammer mechanism. “Piano” is of course short for “pianoforte”; it means the name of the instrument itself advertises its big selling point, the ability to play loud and soft.

There reason that’s a thing is that chamber keyboard instruments at the turn of the 18th century, when the piano first emerged, weren’t able to pull off much in the way of dynamic range. Harpsichords are loud enough, but their plucking mechanism is more or less binary – either you plucked, or you didn’t. Clavichords have levers that strike the strings with small pieces of metal, which allows some dynamic range, but they’re very soft. There’s a reason you see these in paintings in small home chambers. Bartolomeo Cristofori is credited with solving the problem on his pianoforte by first devising a hammer.

The old way: clavichords can produce some dynamic, but not much. By Enfo - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29835325

The old way: clavichords can produce some dynamic, but not much. By EnfoOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29835325

The challenge: hit the string then, get out of the way again (so you don’t damp the sound – you can try this with your finger on a piano), and then get ready to do it all over again. That’s easy to do if you’re using a lever as on a clavichord, but much harder with a hammer. Cristofori got it right around the beginning of the 18th Century, and then others who researched his technique spread the concept. The 19th century then brought the invention of what’s called a double escapement action, which lets you hit multiple notes quickly by adding an additional lever. (You can see that working if you peer inside a piano and hit a note repeatedly.) The materials used on the hammer have been refined, too. But on a fundamental level, every piano has the basic mechanism that the Cristofori instruments did, making this a revolution in instrument building.

Wendy Powers has written a lovely overview of the Cristofori pianos for The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which is also one of the best places to see his invention in person.

The Piano: The Pianofortes of Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731)

Pedals: this changes everything. Photo by Michael Pardo.

Pedals: this changes everything. Photo by Michael Pardo.

Pedals. The piano might have been a forgotten invention had it not been for a German organ builder named Gottfried Silbermann. Just as today, music tech ideas in the 18th Century spread through a combination of research, writing, and building, transmitted to others (and ideally translated to their native language). Silbermann applied his experience in building other instruments to producing variations on Cristofori’s fortepiano. And he added one essential addition: the sustain pedal. That has utterly changed the piano’s playing technique and tone. The hammer makes the piano possible; the pedal makes it more desirable. We take it for granted to such an extent that almost any electronic keyboard instrument you find of any size will have a sustain pedal jack on the back. Leave it to an organ builder to figure out that you can add more to a keyboard instrument by having the musician use his or her feet.

pianoforte_strings

Wire and iron. If the Enlightenment gave us the idea of the piano, the Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century gave us the raucous, loud instrument we know best today. From a mechanical engineering perspective, the 19th Century piano is not completely unrelated to the Brooklyn Bridge. A cast iron frame supports wire strings under tremendous tension. Attach a tree (okay, something like a spruce soundboard), and you get an instrument like the enormous, very much not-portable Steinway D.

The Steinway frame can support up to 23 tons. And yes, if not cared for, those strings do sometimes break. The instrument quietly sitting in a living room is actually full of unseen forces.

(I will avoid the controversial issue of Steinway’s claims about low tension versus high tension scales; let’s leave it at … tension matters.)

Steinway Model D. Photo courtesy Steinway & Sons.

Steinway Model D. Photo courtesy Steinway & Sons.

Stringing. All the above give you the basics, but to me it’s the much subtler questions of stringing and the soundboard that actually make you fall in love with the piano. The use of strings that resonate when you play notes (another reason to use that sustain pedal) mean that each note contains not just the sound of a single string vibrating, but a rich resonant timbre around it.

Even if you know nothing about piano construction, you’ve probably admired the interlaced rows of strings inside the piano – and maybe even wondered why the pattern changes across registers. Cross-stringing (overlapping the strings) and the construction and disposition of the soundboard help define that unique character. By the end of the 19th Century, piano builders were perfecting techniques of Aliquot stringing, originated by Julius Blüthner in 1873.

These particular patterns are a bit part of what gives particular makes of piano their character. I don’t want to advertise Steinway & Sons specifically here. But, for example, when Steinway players speak lovingly of the “Steinway sustain,” part of what they’re talking about is the result of the tunable aliquots Theodore Steinway added to his instrument. Those strings produce a characteristic set of resonances in the higher octaves.

Player piano with roll. Photo (CC-BY) Les Chatfield.

Player piano with roll. Photo (CC-BY) Les Chatfield.

Player piano. Before the recording industry involved records, the piano was the original music industry. This was the technology that introduced the idea that you could recreate someone else’s performance in your own home. Barrel pianos, favored by street musicians, preceded the technology. But the player piano as we know it made its public debut at the 1876 Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia. That was a heck of an expo, featuring the first monorail, and Alexander Graham Bell exhibiting his first telephone, opposite Thomas Edison showing off the telegram. And you could try Heinz ketchup for the first time.

The player piano as product arrives at the beginning of the 20th Century. Hilariously, early adopters got stuck with rolls that became instantly obsolete when later models upgraded to 88 keys.

The player piano or pianola is itself an excursion in piano history, one that’s fascinating but obsolete today. But it gives us three major ideas:

1. Reproducible performance. Alongside recordings, the player piano is the breakthrough technology that helps people to imagine they don’t need a human around to appreciate a performance. And it in turn helps popularize the idea of robotic musical performance many artists today are exploring.

2. Copyright law. Believe it or not, it’s actually the pianola and not the phonograph that established one of the most important battles around copyright law that’s still relevant today – even when we’re talking SoundCloud and Spotify. You’ll hear copyright lawyers today talk about “mechanical” royalties, and wonder why the heck they’d use that term. Well, the pianola is why. The US copyright law that ruled most of the 20th Century overturned an associated Supreme Court decision. At hand, the question was whether a piano roll (as a mechanical object) qualified as a “copy” (in the way that sheet music would). The Supreme Court said Congress’ definition was too narrow and would have denied composers royalties. Congress rewrote the law in 1909, and the compulsory mechanical royalty was born.

3. Visualization of music. The “piano roll” (still frustratingly called by that name) is by far the dominant visual model for representing music on computer devices. And it’s not a bad choice. The mechanical logic employed by the piano roll makes for an intuitive spatial, visual picture of what’s happening in the music. Furthermore, because the piano roll is aligned to the piano keyboard, and many musicians learn pitch from playing the piano keyboard, the image corresponds to muscle and visual memory.

pianoroll

One other note on the copyright law question – there’s a great quote from a circuit court decision (by one Judge Colt) quoted by the Supreme Court a hundred years ago. You can find it in the full text on FindLaw:

‘I cannot convince myself that these perforated strips of paper are copies of sheet music within the meaning of the copyright law. They are not made to be addressed to the eye as sheet music, but they form part of a machine. They are not designed to be used for such purposes as sheet music, nor do they in any sense occupy the same field as sheet music. They are a mechanical invention made for the sole purpose of performing tunes mechanically upon a musical instrument.’

The original Yamaha player piano - with actual discs. Photo courtesy Yamaha Corporation.

The original Yamaha player piano – with actual discs. Photo courtesy Yamaha Corporation.

Digital piano interface. The piano and pianola were conceptual predecessors to everything that would happen in digital music. The instruments themselves, though, were a bit late to the party: the mechanical-acoustical world of the piano didn’t immediately interface with the analog or digital control schemes of the synthesizer.

That changed in 1982 when Yamaha released their first Player Piano (now called Disklavier. (That’s in reference to floppy discs; it was the 80s.) The instrument interfaces both input and output with the keys. For input, it uses electronic sensors, opening up the ability to record performances or transmit them to another instrument. For output, it uses electromechanical solenoids to move the keys, hammers, and pedals in place of your fingers.

Also worth mentioning is the Bob Moog Piano Bar. Whereas Yamaha’s solution required you buy an entirely new piano (good for Yamaha, possibly less ideal for you), the Piano Bar was non-invasive. Add the titular bar atop the keys, and sensors register as your fingers play. Moog joined in a historic collaboration with fellow synth pioneer Don Buchla to create the instrument. The product itself wasn’t a huge hit – better electronic pianos trumped heavier, pricier acoustic instruments in the market. But while an oddity, the Piano Bar deserves a place in music history for bringing together these minds.

Let's science the s*** out of this, then. From a 2003 paper by Giordano/Jiang.

Let’s science the s*** out of this, then. From a 2003 paper by Giordano/Jiang.

Physical modeling. All of these beautiful acoustic characteristics are something that electronic instruments don’t easily reproduce. Now, there are plenty of electronic pianos or “digital pianos” (Yamaha again being arguably the first commercial vendor). But these generally rely on simply sampling recordings of the instrument – and you can do that with any sound, so it doesn’t really count as a piano innovation

Alternatively, it’s possible to apply concepts of physical modeling to reproducing the very acoustic principles that give the piano its character. (You can read a 2003 paper on the subject to get nerdy. My favorite software piano instrument is Pianoteq, which is built around this principle.)

Physical modeling is a gift of the piano to the electronic world, because once you approximate the physics of an acoustic piano, you can then warp those rules to produce pianos that could never exist (or exist practically) in the real world.

The multi-touch keyboard. If you want a modern counterpart to the Cristofori fortepiano, I believe the Eaton-Moog Multi-Touch Sensitive Keyboard is a similarly important breakthrough. Now, technically, it’s not a piano – it’s an electronic keyboard controller. But just as Cristofori (and the clavichord) introduced the notion of velocity control, Bob Moog and John Eaton helped pioneer the idea of an electronic keyboard that would use an additional axis for more expression. This idea didn’t come out of the blue – the Martenot, for instance, layers expression atop a keyboard, as does an organ. But what makes the Moog-Eaton project special at this moment is that the idea seems destined to go mainstream. With instruments like the Haken Continuum and ROLI Seaboard taking up the mantle, and an effort to rewrite the MIDI specification to make it easier for hardware and software to communicate in this way, we seem destined to finally see this sort of expression reach a prime time audience.

Nils with Una Corda piano. Photo: Claudia Goedke.

Nils with Una Corda piano. Photo: Claudia Goedke.

And more innovation to come. You may have noticed that acoustic piano innovations reach a crescendo at the end of the 19th century, and then – they stop. The Steinway Model D, the one you’re likely to hear in a concert hall and one that has served as a template for most other brands, dates to 1884. The Bösendorfer Imperial, a “radical” outlier with 97 keys, is the young upstart — from 1900. That’s why someone like David Klavins is interesting. Klavins is a German piano builder who has rejected piano orthodoxy, creating instruments like a two-story piano accessible by staircase, or the beautiful, delicate Una Corda, with just one string per key.

And with physical models and new expressive interfaces at hand, I expect piano lovers will also find ways of translating inspiration from the piano to electronic and digital creations.

There’s no way to overstate this: digital music is what it is because of the piano.

The post These piano breakthroughs changed music forever appeared first on cdm createdigitalmusic.

Apple’s new iOS lineup is a gift to music developers, users

There’s a reason “mobile music” has become synonymous with iOS. Apple has been unmatched in terms of how appealing they make their mobile platform to developers.

Today’s announcements are likely to be heavily covered by tech and Apple-focused sites, but we can cover the music angle pretty easily. It’s now possible to buy a new phone or tablet very cheaply with high-end performance capable of running demanding music apps. And that means the platform is likely to continue to attract both users and developers, in a continuous cycle.

An entry-level iPhone that's just as powerful as the 6S flagship - that's big news for developers. Photo courtesy Apple.

An entry-level iPhone that’s just as powerful as the 6S flagship – that’s big news for developers. Photo courtesy Apple.

On the phone side, a 16GB iPhone 6SE starts at US$399, without a contract. (16GB is too small, so swap “$499” for that.) That in itself may not sound impressive, except for this: the SE has the same performance as a 6S. This is stuff that wasn’t even available in the top-of-range iPad up to fairly recently, and it now exceeds what was not so long ago laptop performance. That means that putting serious instruments and recording software on your phone is now easy to do even for the “budget” iPhone.

Think about that for a second. The “entry level” Apple iPhone now has exactly the same horsepower as the 6S flagship. And since that’s a phone Apple sells in big quantities, that means the installed user base with that horsepower will increase in a hurry. No Android maker is able to do that – and that’s even before the problems Android has with OS fragmentation and never-arriving OS updates.

Most likely, the people who were waiting to get an iPad Pro after seeing the first one where waiting for this.

Most likely, the people who were waiting to get an iPad Pro after seeing the first one where waiting for this.

The tablet side I expect is equally disruptive. The new 9.7″-display iPad Pro isn’t exactly cheap at US$599, but it is both more portable and more affordable than last year’s iPad Pro in a way that I expect will start to attract users.

I think that’s a big deal, because while the bigger iPad Pro was strictly a niche device (literally the only people I knew who bought one were iOS developers), this looks like a tablet that could be both mainstream and a primary music device.

I expect some would-be iPad Pro customers will wait for the bigger one to come down in price (and/or get the new features on the smaller model), but that’s also an inevitability.

It’s also significant that this hits the middle price range and works with a really nice pencil input device. That’s huge for anyone who works in notation: the combination of iOS with low-latency, accurate stylus input is a huge boon to songwriters, composers, and the like. A lot of us were dreaming of something like this since the very first time we laid eyes on a computer.

screenshot_284

In other words: look out, laptop. While the laptop is likely to remain the workhorse machine for DAWs and finishing tracks, the iPad in general is growing in appeal as a powerful synthesizer, recording device, song-starter, and as a writing/theory/practice tool that can actually sit comfortably on a music stand or piano desk.

Oh, and, according to Apple’s promo video (pictured), the new iPad Pro will also let you jam by candlelight while adjusting the screen so you don’t have a blue glare. In fact, maybe solving the “blue glare” problem should itself make these things less unfriendly onstage (just in case you don’t want your face to look like it came out of a dystopian scifi movie).

Light some candles, make some music. Sounds like a nice evening in to us. Photo courtesy Apple.

Light some candles, make some music. Sounds like a nice evening in to us. Photo courtesy Apple.

Now, if you don’t need the Pencil (for scoring, in particular), the whole iPad range has in turn commoditized further. This means the baseline for performance is now higher. I expect this will mean a new generation of apps that push horsepower more than they have in the past, which can be relevant to more CPU-expensive effects and synths. And it also means you can run more apps together on one device, which is the other reason this trend may lead more people to try out production on the iPad.

Finally, plug in USB stuff and keep your iPad Pro powered all at once.

Finally, plug in USB stuff and keep your iPad Pro powered all at once.

The best news in the announcement today, though, you could be forgiven for missing. The iPad Pro (both models) gets an accessory that’s called this:

Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter

Let me translate that into English for you. It’s a
“Lightning to USB audio and MIDI accessory adapter that doesn’t drain your battery while you use it because you can finally plug in a #$*(&ing power supply at the same time”

The “Camera” adapters for iOS are some of the most useful devices on the platform, because all sorts of audio and MIDI gadgets work with them. But since they use up the Lightning port, until now, you have to watch your battery when you used them. This fixes that – and it’s a reason to buy the iPad Pro already. We’ll have to do some research to see how much power it provides and what accessories work with it, but it’s good news.

The downside today, of course, is that Apple’s aggressive upgrade cycle can always spell trouble for people hanging on to older devices. Apple is quick to talk about how new their customers’ devices are and how they’ve achieved 80% adoption for their latest OS. But there’s a reason their environmental stance is about disposal – that does leave a lot of stuff behind. Fortunately, music developers have been a uniquely resourceful bunch and have done more than the rest of much of the App Store to support older devices. (We almost need a guide just to those apps – sounds like homework for CDM.)

One final note: I’m sad that music apps (apart from that fleeting GarageBand shot) are largely left out of the use cases for the iPad Pro. I suspect that there may even be some marketing numbers behind that; Apple leaves little to chance. Are there really more people doing 3D rendering than music? (Music was left out completely from the product pages.)

On the other hand, musicians are such a rabid bunch when it comes to Apple OS loyalty, it may simply be that Apple doesn’t need to do much to make the case to musicians – something people like me are doing right now.

But the bottom line is, free phones on contract and entry-level iPads costing less than $300 now give you high-end performance, run multiple music apps at once, and have powerful sound generation features previously only on laptops. And for a little more, you can replace your manuscript notebook. I’d call that news – and I’m still waiting to see enough people purchase any other tablet or phone to make a real competitive play for the Apple mobile juggernaut. (Though I do plan to try to get a Surface for a while to test, and know some curious iOS developers.)

The post Apple’s new iOS lineup is a gift to music developers, users appeared first on cdm createdigitalmusic.

Inside SoundCloud, the move to revenue begins

SoundCloud has become a popular punching bag for the music press. The formula runs something like this: choose a screaming headline predicting the company’s doom, run some out-of-context business numbers and some negative quotes by an unnamed source, then (presumably) rake in clicks.

How bad is it? Well, bad enough that FACT chose to run two articles on the same day. (One was in linkbait listicle form, for bonus points!)

It seems there are three big factors in creating this climate. One, SoundCloud is popular – really popular. For producers and DJs, the site runs near total ubiquity in the same way YouTube does for video. Indeed, whatever high–profile departures from the site you may have seen or impassioned calls to go to competitors, the site has continued to grow. I’m still hard-pressed to find DJs sharing a MixCloud link, let alone something on a more obscure site. Some people love sites like Bandcamp, sure – and they post their Bandcamp releases on SoundCloud to promote them.

Two, user experience has sometimes suffered when the machinery of licensing has failed. No one is going to be happy if they get a takedown notice, least of all in cases where there’s a false positive. This is hardly news – if anything, it seems the situation has improved – but until there’s a solid licensing structure in place, it’s likely to leave users uneasy.

Three, and perhaps most importantly, there’s a vacuum of information about SoundCloud. The company made headlines recently because some 2014 financial numbers were available. But these didn’t present a complete picture, and they’re (obviously) over a full year out of date. The company won’t comment on licensing deals with labels, of course, but they’re also silent on even seemingly basic information like how many producers pay for Pro accounts. Into that empty space, then, it’s easy to pour speculation and hearsay, or to simply make stuff up.

I don’t think SoundCloud is, or should be, the tool for every job. But it remains the most important streaming service on which producers can share music for others to discover. So it’s important to get accurate information – even if that means less than a complete image. Here’s the latest.

New Chief Revenue Officer Alison Moore. Photo courtesy SoundCloud.

New Chief Revenue Officer Alison Moore. Photo courtesy SoundCloud.

SoundCloud has a new Revenue Officer

It says something about the Internet age that a business several years into being would add an executive job position for overseeing actually making money – but that’s the world we live in.

That said, there’s reason to take the Chief Revenue Officer hire at SoundCloud seriously. Alison Moore who fills the position in SoundCloud’s New York office has a huge resume. (Anyone complaining about SoundCloud spending lots of money on salary, this is the kind of highly-qualified person they’re then able to afford.)

Alison Moore seems like the sort of person SoundCloud would dream of having. Her early experience was SVP of Digital Products for HBO, where she handled everything from consumer experience to audience development for the hugely successful HBO GO. And she oversaw the now-defunct DailyCandy, the women’s lifestyle brand (meaning she has some credibility in working on the Internet’s guy bias). What likely got her the SoundCloud gig was overseeing (as GM and SVP) TV Everywhere, NBC Universal’s streaming product.

And if you think working out streaming revenue in music is a nightmare, try TV, with its tangled morass of cable operator interests and entrenched and lucrative broadcast advertising and complex rights ownership. NBC has had some success with TV Everywhere – it’s arguably been (along with HBO GO) a trailblazer and model for the rest of the TV industry. If anyone ought to be able to work out how to make SoundCloud make money, it’s this person.

Back to that absence of information: with SoundCloud mum on what they’re actually doing, and nothing unveiled so far, you could imagine that it’s quiet in the company. But you could also wind up criticizing the SoundCloud of 2014 rather than the SoundCloud of 2016.

For its part, SoundCloud in their statement about Moore claims that “the company expands at a rapid pace.” And they make clear where all of this “revenue” is coming from: “capitalizing on its massive user scale to drive revenue growth via consumer subscriptions and a diversified advertising product offering.”

Last week, I had the pleasure to meet SoundCloud’s new design chief, Prarthana Johnson, at an event called Musiktrends auf der Spree (it was on a boat, enjoying the … uh … March weather in Berlin). Johnson has also recently joined the company (hired late last year), and I understand she’s reporting to Moore. Johnson also has an impressive resume, managing user experience for Microsoft (on Skype) and rising to Skype’s Principal Design Manager.

Focusing on revenue at every level of the product seems to be high on the agenda, and this year looks like whatever SoundCloud has been promising finally gets rolled out.

So what does that mean for the site?

SoundCloud's base of creators - that's you - are one reason it isn't going anywhere. But now it needs to finally get its business model in order.

SoundCloud’s base of creators – that’s you – are one reason it isn’t going anywhere. But now it needs to finally get its business model in order.

The business of being SoundCloud

SoundCloud has publicly said it’s revenue plans involved two basic concepts: one, advertising support, and two, a subscription model.

The company has been saying that for some time; what’s changed is that later 2016 appears to be the timeline. Moore’s hiring certainly points to that, though the company didn’t make any mention of when something would happen in their statement.

Digital Music News has sources that point to October. (In January, DMN’s sources predicted July.) Fall sounds about right to me.

But from there on out, I’m not sure DMN is getting things right. They call the rollout a “transformation,” implying that the future of the company depends on users paying for content.

I think that’s simply dead wrong. SoundCloud has always talked about taking both advertising-based offering (read: free, ad-supported) and a subscription model. Indeed, you’ll see wording in the Moore announcement explicitly says revenue is coming from (1) “consumer subscriptions” and (2) “a diversified advertising product offering.”

Now, that could be ads launched on a subscription-only service. But weirdly, DMN also implies that NBC’s TV Everywhere and HBO GO represent NBC and HBO “struggling companies have been struggling to bring their massive, mainstay content businesses into the digital era, with mixed results getting users to pay.” In fact, NBC’s TV Everywhere launched without any additional subscription fee – ad-supported – meaning this statement is a non sequitur. (HBO GO, now HBO Now, for its part may not have struggled because users don’t want to pay, but rather because HBO viewers are often already paying for cable and haven’t cut the cord, or are busy paying for Netflix, or simply waiting for a new Game of Thrones season to start. Remember when I said TV isn’t the same as music?)

SoundCloud declined CDM’s request to add additional comment for this story on their specific revenue plans. But we can look at past statements. CTO Eric Wahlforss talked in no uncertain terms when I hosted a panel with him at Berlin’s Tech Open Air about balancing both ad-based and subscription-based models.

Also missing from DMN’s gossip stories, SoundCloud is unique in that unlike a service like Spotify or Apple Music, its producer/DJ members do already often pay for the service. (I do, and maybe you do. SoundCloud once comped my subscription early on; I now pay out of pocket because its invaluable.) SoundCloud won’t comment on the number of paid subscribers, unfortunately, saying through a spokesperson only that “there are over 18 million creators using the platform, sharing well over 110 million tracks, and reaching 175 million monthly active listeners.”

There’s reason to think an ad model might work. While Spotify’s ad efforts have arguably stumbled, Beatport’s new streaming offering has already attracted advertising, at least in the US. That suggests more focused offerings might be just the thing to attract ads. And speaking in the highly biased capacity as editor of CDM, I believe a savvy, producer-centered market is more valuable to advertisers than generic listeners alone.

What’s the hold-up? Likely, it’s the challenge of balancing two tasks at once. SoundCloud must both restructure the site and business in order to allow for ads and subscriptions, and get the licensing deals in place to facilitate that. It’s a chicken-and-egg sort of situation, except you don’t have the luxury of anything other than both simultaneously.

SoundCloud did share a statement about their progress with CDM, though:

Over the past year, we’ve continued to bring partners from the music industry onto SoundCloud. We’ve signed deals with PRS and UMG/UMPG, to add to the nearly 200 deals we’ve already signed, including those with Warner Music, Merlin and NMPA, as well as MCNs and independent creators. We’re focussing on enabling creators to get paid for their creativity, and on building a financially sustainable platform that our community can enjoy for years to come.

About that whole cash thing

Lastly, let’s deal with this idea that SoundCloud is about to close shop because they’re out of cash. Guess who – DMN – was trumpeting this story way back in July. (I have no idea why there’s a guy dancing in front of a fire in the picture.)

Then, in February, news outlets like FACT seized on a filing of 2014 accounts, which report US$44 million in losses.

Basically, SoundCloud requires investment to keep operating – it’s growing fast, and revenue is delayed. This would be cause for alarm, except that SoundCloud’s massive user success has meant it keeps attracting that needed capital. In a statement provided to CDM, SoundCloud notes it has both incremental capital and credit at its disposal:

SoundCloud filed its 2014 accounts with Companies House in February 2016. Beyond the full-year financials for 2014, which reflect those of a company in a strong growth stage, they show that, in 2015, we secured $77m of incremental capital, some of which came from our existing investors, demonstrating their belief in the future of the company, and the rest of which is a flexible credit line from Tennenbaum Capital Partners, an attractive option for companies like SoundCloud, who have a solid credit rating and are on a clear path to global success.

Anyway, you can’t report about the uncertainty of running out of 2015 cash based on 2014 numbers … in 2016. It’s clear that what remains is for SoundCloud’s ad- and subscriber-based model to roll out, and that it has to be successful.

Why this could benefit SoundCloud users

There’s been a sort of populist thread through discussions I’ve seen that assumes that the more successful SoundCloud is as a business, the less useful it is to its members.

I rather think that the past years have proved exactly the opposite. The whole utility of SoundCloud to someone like me (or you, probably) is to have music and sounds reach a wide audience. It’s been massive investment that makes that possible, from plumbing like a massively scalable infrastructure to the money spent on UX and design and audience development that racks up listens.

And when SoundCloud fails as a business, we suffer. The whole point of the agony of getting takedown notices, of not being able to post DJ mixes, of having false positives identify our music as infringement – this is what happens when a site doesn’t have licensing deals in place. Not to mention, if SoundCloud fails as a business and becomes a significantly different company in an acquisition (or even shuts down), it fails everyone who found utility on the service. Look at social media: I think musicians actually still struggle because Facebook doesn’t make music players prominent in the way MySpace did.

That’s not to say SoundCloud doesn’t deserve competition. A monoculture is not necessarily healthy, either, so I think any conversation about freeing ourselves from reliance on one service is a good thing. At the same time, for a lot of us the ideal involves both a healthy SoundCloud and healthy alternatives.

For now, SoundCloud points us to a study by comScore that shows SoundCloud is the eighth most popular app among USA-based millennials (that’s anyone born 1980 or after). Whatever interesting alternatives may be, that makes SoundCloud simply one of the most popular things on the Internet. And if you’re in the business of making sounds on the Internet, that means your business is tied to theirs.

The post Inside SoundCloud, the move to revenue begins appeared first on cdm createdigitalmusic.

Inside SoundCloud, the move to revenue begins

SoundCloud has become a popular punching bag for the music press. The formula runs something like this: choose a screaming headline predicting the company’s doom, run some out-of-context business numbers and some negative quotes by an unnamed source, then (presumably) rake in clicks.

How bad is it? Well, bad enough that FACT chose to run two articles on the same day. (One was in linkbait listicle form, for bonus points!)

It seems there are three big factors in creating this climate. One, SoundCloud is popular – really popular. For producers and DJs, the site runs near total ubiquity in the same way YouTube does for video. Indeed, whatever high–profile departures from the site you may have seen or impassioned calls to go to competitors, the site has continued to grow. I’m still hard-pressed to find DJs sharing a MixCloud link, let alone something on a more obscure site. Some people love sites like Bandcamp, sure – and they post their Bandcamp releases on SoundCloud to promote them.

Two, user experience has sometimes suffered when the machinery of licensing has failed. No one is going to be happy if they get a takedown notice, least of all in cases where there’s a false positive. This is hardly news – if anything, it seems the situation has improved – but until there’s a solid licensing structure in place, it’s likely to leave users uneasy.

Three, and perhaps most importantly, there’s a vacuum of information about SoundCloud. The company made headlines recently because some 2014 financial numbers were available. But these didn’t present a complete picture, and they’re (obviously) over a full year out of date. The company won’t comment on licensing deals with labels, of course, but they’re also silent on even seemingly basic information like how many producers pay for Pro accounts. Into that empty space, then, it’s easy to pour speculation and hearsay, or to simply make stuff up.

I don’t think SoundCloud is, or should be, the tool for every job. But it remains the most important streaming service on which producers can share music for others to discover. So it’s important to get accurate information – even if that means less than a complete image. Here’s the latest.

New Chief Revenue Officer Alison Moore. Photo courtesy SoundCloud.

New Chief Revenue Officer Alison Moore. Photo courtesy SoundCloud.

SoundCloud has a new Revenue Officer

It says something about the Internet age that a business several years into being would add an executive job position for overseeing actually making money – but that’s the world we live in.

That said, there’s reason to take the Chief Revenue Officer hire at SoundCloud seriously. Alison Moore who fills the position in SoundCloud’s New York office has a huge resume. (Anyone complaining about SoundCloud spending lots of money on salary, this is the kind of highly-qualified person they’re then able to afford.)

Alison Moore seems like the sort of person SoundCloud would dream of having. Her early experience was SVP of Digital Products for HBO, where she handled everything from consumer experience to audience development for the hugely successful HBO GO. And she oversaw the now-defunct DailyCandy, the women’s lifestyle brand (meaning she has some credibility in working on the Internet’s guy bias). What likely got her the SoundCloud gig was overseeing (as GM and SVP) TV Everywhere, NBC Universal’s streaming product.

And if you think working out streaming revenue in music is a nightmare, try TV, with its tangled morass of cable operator interests and entrenched and lucrative broadcast advertising and complex rights ownership. NBC has had some success with TV Everywhere – it’s arguably been (along with HBO GO) a trailblazer and model for the rest of the TV industry. If anyone ought to be able to work out how to make SoundCloud make money, it’s this person.

Back to that absence of information: with SoundCloud mum on what they’re actually doing, and nothing unveiled so far, you could imagine that it’s quiet in the company. But you could also wind up criticizing the SoundCloud of 2014 rather than the SoundCloud of 2016.

For its part, SoundCloud in their statement about Moore claims that “the company expands at a rapid pace.” And they make clear where all of this “revenue” is coming from: “capitalizing on its massive user scale to drive revenue growth via consumer subscriptions and a diversified advertising product offering.”

Last week, I had the pleasure to meet SoundCloud’s new design chief, Prarthana Johnson, at an event called Musiktrends auf der Spree (it was on a boat, enjoying the … uh … March weather in Berlin). Johnson has also recently joined the company (hired late last year), and I understand she’s reporting to Moore. Johnson also has an impressive resume, managing user experience for Microsoft (on Skype) and rising to Skype’s Principal Design Manager.

Focusing on revenue at every level of the product seems to be high on the agenda, and this year looks like whatever SoundCloud has been promising finally gets rolled out.

So what does that mean for the site?

SoundCloud's base of creators - that's you - are one reason it isn't going anywhere. But now it needs to finally get its business model in order.

SoundCloud’s base of creators – that’s you – are one reason it isn’t going anywhere. But now it needs to finally get its business model in order.

The business of being SoundCloud

SoundCloud has publicly said it’s revenue plans involved two basic concepts: one, advertising support, and two, a subscription model.

The company has been saying that for some time; what’s changed is that later 2016 appears to be the timeline. Moore’s hiring certainly points to that, though the company didn’t make any mention of when something would happen in their statement.

Digital Music News has sources that point to October. (In January, DMN’s sources predicted July.) Fall sounds about right to me.

But from there on out, I’m not sure DMN is getting things right. They call the rollout a “transformation,” implying that the future of the company depends on users paying for content.

I think that’s simply dead wrong. SoundCloud has always talked about taking both advertising-based offering (read: free, ad-supported) and a subscription model. Indeed, you’ll see wording in the Moore announcement explicitly says revenue is coming from (1) “consumer subscriptions” and (2) “a diversified advertising product offering.”

Now, that could be ads launched on a subscription-only service. But weirdly, DMN also implies that NBC’s TV Everywhere and HBO GO represent NBC and HBO “struggling companies have been struggling to bring their massive, mainstay content businesses into the digital era, with mixed results getting users to pay.” In fact, NBC’s TV Everywhere launched without any additional subscription fee – ad-supported – meaning this statement is a non sequitur. (HBO GO, now HBO Now, for its part may not have struggled because users don’t want to pay, but rather because HBO viewers are often already paying for cable and haven’t cut the cord, or are busy paying for Netflix, or simply waiting for a new Game of Thrones season to start. Remember when I said TV isn’t the same as music?)

SoundCloud declined CDM’s request to add additional comment for this story on their specific revenue plans. But we can look at past statements. CTO Eric Wahlforss talked in no uncertain terms when I hosted a panel with him at Berlin’s Tech Open Air about balancing both ad-based and subscription-based models.

Also missing from DMN’s gossip stories, SoundCloud is unique in that unlike a service like Spotify or Apple Music, its producer/DJ members do already often pay for the service. (I do, and maybe you do. SoundCloud once comped my subscription early on; I now pay out of pocket because its invaluable.) SoundCloud won’t comment on the number of paid subscribers, unfortunately, saying through a spokesperson only that “there are over 18 million creators using the platform, sharing well over 110 million tracks, and reaching 175 million monthly active listeners.”

There’s reason to think an ad model might work. While Spotify’s ad efforts have arguably stumbled, Beatport’s new streaming offering has already attracted advertising, at least in the US. That suggests more focused offerings might be just the thing to attract ads. And speaking in the highly biased capacity as editor of CDM, I believe a savvy, producer-centered market is more valuable to advertisers than generic listeners alone.

What’s the hold-up? Likely, it’s the challenge of balancing two tasks at once. SoundCloud must both restructure the site and business in order to allow for ads and subscriptions, and get the licensing deals in place to facilitate that. It’s a chicken-and-egg sort of situation, except you don’t have the luxury of anything other than both simultaneously.

SoundCloud did share a statement about their progress with CDM, though:

Over the past year, we’ve continued to bring partners from the music industry onto SoundCloud. We’ve signed deals with PRS and UMG/UMPG, to add to the nearly 200 deals we’ve already signed, including those with Warner Music, Merlin and NMPA, as well as MCNs and independent creators. We’re focussing on enabling creators to get paid for their creativity, and on building a financially sustainable platform that our community can enjoy for years to come.

About that whole cash thing

Lastly, let’s deal with this idea that SoundCloud is about to close shop because they’re out of cash. Guess who – DMN – was trumpeting this story way back in July. (I have no idea why there’s a guy dancing in front of a fire in the picture.)

Then, in February, news outlets like FACT seized on a filing of 2014 accounts, which report US$44 million in losses.

Basically, SoundCloud requires investment to keep operating – it’s growing fast, and revenue is delayed. This would be cause for alarm, except that SoundCloud’s massive user success has meant it keeps attracting that needed capital. In a statement provided to CDM, SoundCloud notes it has both incremental capital and credit at its disposal:

SoundCloud filed its 2014 accounts with Companies House in February 2016. Beyond the full-year financials for 2014, which reflect those of a company in a strong growth stage, they show that, in 2015, we secured $77m of incremental capital, some of which came from our existing investors, demonstrating their belief in the future of the company, and the rest of which is a flexible credit line from Tennenbaum Capital Partners, an attractive option for companies like SoundCloud, who have a solid credit rating and are on a clear path to global success.

Anyway, you can’t report about the uncertainty of running out of 2015 cash based on 2014 numbers … in 2016. It’s clear that what remains is for SoundCloud’s ad- and subscriber-based model to roll out, and that it has to be successful.

Why this could benefit SoundCloud users

There’s been a sort of populist thread through discussions I’ve seen that assumes that the more successful SoundCloud is as a business, the less useful it is to its members.

I rather think that the past years have proved exactly the opposite. The whole utility of SoundCloud to someone like me (or you, probably) is to have music and sounds reach a wide audience. It’s been massive investment that makes that possible, from plumbing like a massively scalable infrastructure to the money spent on UX and design and audience development that racks up listens.

And when SoundCloud fails as a business, we suffer. The whole point of the agony of getting takedown notices, of not being able to post DJ mixes, of having false positives identify our music as infringement – this is what happens when a site doesn’t have licensing deals in place. Not to mention, if SoundCloud fails as a business and becomes a significantly different company in an acquisition (or even shuts down), it fails everyone who found utility on the service. Look at social media: I think musicians actually still struggle because Facebook doesn’t make music players prominent in the way MySpace did.

That’s not to say SoundCloud doesn’t deserve competition. A monoculture is not necessarily healthy, either, so I think any conversation about freeing ourselves from reliance on one service is a good thing. At the same time, for a lot of us the ideal involves both a healthy SoundCloud and healthy alternatives.

For now, SoundCloud points us to a study by comScore that shows SoundCloud is the eighth most popular app among USA-based millennials (that’s anyone born 1980 or after). Whatever interesting alternatives may be, that makes SoundCloud simply one of the most popular things on the Internet. And if you’re in the business of making sounds on the Internet, that means your business is tied to theirs.

The post Inside SoundCloud, the move to revenue begins appeared first on cdm createdigitalmusic.

OK Go get their own KORG volca sample

okgo 4

Okay, OK Go fans – now there’s synth hardware as quirky and charming as the band’s Internet-viral synth-pop.

We got our hands on a very limited edition KORG volca sample made especially for OK Go. This is the battery-powered sample unit with grungy digital sound playback and loads of knobs for manipulating sound, plus the usual touch strip step sequencer for making patterns. It’s fun to play, a unique collectors’ item even if you just want an extra sample playback instrument around. And the built-in samples can be terrific, as you can hear in our playlist.

okgo

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okgo 9

Japanese synth maker KORG have done limited editions before. The microKORG has gotten a few – black and red keys and even camouflage. And Novation have done an artist edition – a synthesizer with Giorgio Moroder’s shades and mustache, to be specific, plus Moroder-inspired presets.

But those are spendy options. The volca sample is more of a reasonable impulse buy. In fact, having more than one volca sample is appealing, because you can load them up with your own sounds (via desktop app or mobile transfer).

It’s both interesting and unsurprising to see OK Go do this. The band, who once told Wired that “nerds are the new rockstars”, are ninjas at mastering Internet promotion and clever music videos to get their music in the spotlight, in what Hypebot dubbed the “YouTube shortcut to the top of the charts”.

If you haven’t done that before, it’s ridiculously good fun. Trigger sounds with your fingers, sequence them together, then squash and re-pitch them, cram them into snappy-short envelopes, or leave them in the cavernous reverb.

The OK Go edition looks different. You get a nice numbered booklet with signatures by the band, and credits to designed Tatsuya Takahashi and the Tokyo-based team. There are bright colorful graphics and a cheeky “OKGO” logo on the back (nearly an anagram for KORG), all designed by Taku Sakuguchi, the Osaka-based graphic designer [Instagram].

But it also sounds different. The full sample bank is loaded up with bits of their album Hungry Ghosts. You aren’t stuck with those sounds in the promo, either, since you can off-load and restore the default sample bank.

And it sounds fantastic. This is actually a nicely-voiced set of samples that you can make sound very much unlike OK Go.

How good? Here’s CDM’s David Abravanel going to town with some patterns:

3000 of these will be made. For us small builders, that’s not such a small number, but it’s pretty limited for a company the size of KORG.

Pricing and availability information we’ll update once we have it.

Now, more pr0n. Knooooooobs.

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The post OK Go get their own KORG volca sample appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Pioneer XDJ-700 is the $699 touchscreen CDJ to take home

xdj-700-front

We know Pioneer is dominant in the clubs. (Heck, as a brand, Pioneer is almost more of a sure thing than even Red Bull.) But as the global DJ population booms, is it something people will also take home?

Pioneer sure does seem to hope so – and as it gears itself toward DJs outside clubs, it’s starting to look more like a direct rival to Traktor and Serato and their ecosystems.

rekordboxdj-main

First off, there’s rekordbox DJ. rekordbox was already a ubiquitous tool for DJs to do before-the-gig set management – a kind of pre-flight tool for your USB stick before you headed into the dank nightlife underground and plugged into a USB stick. But lately, that same tool is looking, well, a whole lot like a cleaned-up Pioneer rival to Traktor. They’ve got the blue color-coded waveforms. They’ve got the same multi-pane interface. They’ve copied Traktor’s library view, down to the narrow rectangular artwork previews. Heck, Pioneer, a Japanese company, is even taking to spelling things with a ‘k’ – auf Deutsch. And, taking a page from the Serato/NI playbook, Pioneer is at last making their own “native” USB controllers designed especially for rekordbox – like the DDJ-RX.

That’s not to say rekordbox DJ is a slavish clone, either – which really ought to have NI even more worried. There’s multi-screen support, a clever way of chaining effects on pads, and simpler recording.

That said, DJs really associate Pioneer with standalone hardware. Playing on a CDJ, frankly, can be less stressful than DJing on a laptop, and feel more like working with decks in the traditional sense.

So, next up, there’s Pioneer’s play for getting you to take the whole CDJ home with you, too. (Okay, fine, “XDJ,” but let’s face it – anything with a circle on it that says Pioneer will now forever be known to DJs as “CDJ’s.”)

xdj-700-main

xdj-700-back

Enter the XDJ-7000. It’s a current-generation Pioneer deck with most of the bells and whistles – but skipping some stuff you probably don’t need in order to shave some weight, size, and cost off the unit.

That’s not to say it’s stripped down. For the price of a premium controller – heck, the price of a new NI deck that doesn’t do anything without being attached to a computer – you get a reasonable set of features:

  • A 7″ color touchscreen. Touch means you can both type searches into the browser (remember, no laptop), and zoom in on waves, show beat countdowns, etc.
  • Set up loops and cues in rekordbox, then trigger them here, plus see rekordbox metadata (this is a Pioneer box, after all).
  • Lots o’ quantization, in case you ain’t got rhythm: loops, cues, Beat Sync, the usual.
  • Load music via USB key, or USB/wifi connection to a computer (or iOS/Android via Pioneer’s rekordbox app).

What you lose: you don’t get that spinning display in the center of the wheel, and the wheel is smaller.

Upgrade to the $999 XDJ-1000, and you get that wheel, plus a dedicated reverse button and a Vinyl Speed Adjust knob, plus a minijack audio output labeled “control” (most likely for your headphones). I’m also curious to see these units in person to evaluate build and finish. Whatever the difference there, you’ll pay $300 and an extra kilogram for the privilege. (That speed adjust knob to me is the one thing you’d be most likely to miss.)

Now, if you are a laptop DJ but want to prepare in order to do an occasional CDJ (uh, XDJ) set, this might also be an option. USB-HID and MIDI support means the same hardware will double as a controller.

The XDJ isn’t exactly cheap – since we’re talking about two grand by the time you spend the cash for two XDJs and a mixer. But for those who do want to bring a CDJ home, this is one they might for the first time actually carry around. It’s 238 x 308 x 106 mm (W x D x H), and comes with a stand you can remove to reduce the height to 70mm.

xdj-700-side

xdj-700-left-nofeet

Also, Pro DJ Link connects this generation of players via LAN cable. That’s useful for syncing, but could also mean DJs could pool together their XDJs for multi-deck setups.

And you should note the trends here. Pioneer is getting slimmer than ever, more affordable than ever, and more computer-friendly than ever. As DJ controller gear for laptops is simultaneously getting fancier and pricier and bigger, I think that could mean the first real stand-off between the computer and dedicated player approaches.

That said, maybe someone can explain to me why Traktor is always the butt of jokes about “stupid DJs,” when XDJs now have exactly the same features as far as synchronization and quantization – and then some. Just how many visual references do you need to keep things in sync? These things are starting to look like the instrument landing on an Airbus.

My guess is, whatever trash talking may be going on, a lot of DJs will eye on the 700 for their home setups, even sometimes in conjunction with laptops. Or they’ll pick up older CDJs as clubs and DJs unload them.

News: http://www.pioneerdj.com/en/news/2015/xdj-700

Product page: (hmm, suggests a color other than black is coming, huh?)

The post Pioneer XDJ-700 is the $699 touchscreen CDJ to take home appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Let’s make sense of Apple’s new iPad lineup – with charts!

ipadchart

The iPad isn’t just a gadget any more. There’s now enough of an app ecosystem that investing in an iPad is investing in a creative platform that turns into lots of other things. That is, it really is like another computer.

For music, that means a lot. An iPad is a drum machine, or a vocal processor. It’s a practice aid, a simulated guitar amp. It’s an extension of your desktop music software, too, whether controlling instruments and transport in Logic or live sets in Ableton. It’s a DJ tool.

Of course, the same is true of a computer. And with computers and hardware (keyboards, stompboxes, Eurorack) competing for your wallet’s attention, the iPad has to justify itself. What it isn’t – which it is for a lot of the general public – is just a window through which you watch Orange is the New Black on Netflix. And so, if the tablet is plateauing for the general public, there is a reason to think the iPad means something different to a creative person.

Apple must think so, too, given it just unveiled a top-of-range iPad called “Pro.” But here’s the trick to it: the iPad Pro is turning out to be really an iPad Big. The introduction of fancy exclusive accessories (Pencil and a keyboard cover) disguise the fact that you can get similar accessories from third parties for less.

No, Apple has really evened out the iPad line. And that means what you’re really buying is two things: size and speed.

ipads_pro

What the lineup has in common…

Each iPad in the current line has a Retina Display. (The iPad Pro bumps the resolution to 2732×2048, which developers will have to support, but screen density stays the same.) Each has the same Lightning port. Each has the same basic underlying 64-bit architecture. Each has the same aspect ratio (cough, Android).

There’s one generational difference. The iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, and iPad Pro all have a new laminated, antireflective display that should look a bit better, a fingerprint reader that’s a whole lot more secure and convenient, and newer-generation processors. They also have true, side-by-side multitasking – what Apple calls Split View. Not even all developers I’ve talked to agree, but I think that’ll be a big boon to productivity in music production. (The other current models do support a Slide Over mode.)

So, which should you get?

That depends on what you want. I’ve made some handy charts.

I had to cheat a little. I think no one should buy a 16GB iPad – you won’t even have enough room for your apps, and if you’re a musician, you’re also likely to need some audio. 32GB for most applications is fine, because at some point, you’re probably tethering to a computer. Depending on model, either a 32GB or 64GB model is what’s available as what I think ought to be the entry level. (If you intend to DJ with an iPad, or record a lot of audio, then maybe a 128GB model makes sense – just be ready to pay for it).

In the first chart, you see screen size versus cost (relative speed is represented by circle size). And you see that screen size is what you really pay for. The trend line – and that’s a real power-based trend line – also clearly delineates the generational gap I mentioned earlier.

If speed is your main priority, well – you’ll get the iPad Pro. It’s an order of magnitude faster than the others, which in music could have big implications for people who want their whole workflow on the iPad. It means you can multitask and use Audiobus and not run out of steam. On the other hand, budgeting a little extra for the new generation in the smaller sizes also gives you more computing room, if you can’t stomach the Pro (or can’t wait until November):

speedversuscost

What I think is most interesting is how much you pay for screen size. Personally, I love the mini. It has the highest screen density of any iPad, so it looks terrific. Basically, any app will run on it. It’s all down to the size of your hands – but that ultra-compact size means it’s easier to carry and easier to fit into a stage rig and easier to hold in your hand. And it unquestionably delivers the most performance for money.

In fact, to me, the sweet spot right now is the new 64GB iPad mini 4. It does multitasking, it’s really reasonably fast with an A8 processor, and it’s not so hard to afford. But… I have small hands and I like things to be small, so I expect that iPad Air (the original) will also look like a good entry point to a lot of people.

Here’s how the three stack up visually (photo courtesy Apple):

ipadsize

Enter the Pro

On the other hand, you also see that the iPad Pro could be a great lasting investment. And I think it’s going to wind up being a hit with musicians for an unexpected reason.

A lot of musicians still have older iPads banging around. That means they’ve been saving up. A single machine gives them everything – a vastly-faster processor that keeps up with laptops, a huge screen, true multitasking (and a screen where it makes sense), and all the latest hardware enhancements Apple has gradually worked out over the years. It’s brutally expensive for a tablet, of course, but the reality is that a lot of laptops are doing just fine, so I could see people investing in this and delaying the laptop purchase. I have no doubt this is going to cannibalize sales of Mac (and PC) laptops, not as a replacement, but because those machines are doing just fine.

And all of this means the iPad line is starting to look more appealing to app developers. Unlike other markets, musicians have been happy to spend $40 or $50 for an app if they really want it. And they’ve also been willing to use apps that do less but focus more on iOS than the feature-overloaded desktop counterparts.

Will developers immediately start investing huge amounts of resources in this? Of course not.

But two things will happen: one, developers are all going to be buying iPads Pro for themselves, and trying them out, and two, since it isn’t much work to port existing iOS apps to a new screen resolution, you’ll see some app updates. And beyond that, who knows.

surfacepro

And the competition…

While I’m breaking down iPad value, don’t think for a second that I think this diminishes the PC as we traditionally know it.

I wonder if Microsoft’s Surface and the PC touch ilk will see some new attention. The main problem there is a lack of touch-driven apps. But now that it’s clear Apple sees iPads as things with touch and MacBooks as things without, maybe more developers will experiment on the PC. I also think touch machines on the PC side are reaching a critical mass to support an ecosystem – though it needs a lot more support from Microsoft, and supporting developers and pros is clearly an area where Apple has an edge.

With Microsoft set to make some big announcements at the beginning of October, any Windows fans there should definitely wait. (I have to admit, I love the idea of a machine that’s a tablet that runs vvvv and FL Studio and SONAR on it, too.)

Apple did its own MacBook line a huge favor by failing to add a new port to the Pro (like the expected USB-C port). The iPad Pro simply can’t stand on its own – literally or figuratively (cough, kickstand). Even in the new big size, it’s still going to be a satellite to a laptop for most people. Laptops remain faster for the money, they still have more storage and expandability and configurability, and they’re still necessary for our most essential apps.

It just might be that you squeeze life out of your desktop PCs and laptops a little longer and see if you can budget for that iPad Pro. Though… wait, look at this synthesizer…

Data courtesy Apple; find more comparisons on their new site (just without my graphical aids):

http://www.apple.com/ipad/compare/

The post Let’s make sense of Apple’s new iPad lineup – with charts! appeared first on Create Digital Music.

iPhone app for making cover songs, a sign of a changing music world

wurrly

The music industry is fantastic at hindsight. We’ve obsessed over the spread of online piracy, the death of the CD, then the impact of streams. But every measure of the business model is somehow framed around acquiring records. And it’s about passive consumption.

We have to remember, though, that passive consumption is itself really the outlier. Until the dawn of recording, music only existed when you played it. Our current copyright and licensing system was first structured around sheet music. And that world never went away. Precise recordings can give you the experience of listening, but no technology can give you the feeling of singing.

So it’s time to start thinking about business models that involve active participation. We saw that earlier this month with label Ninja Tune embracing remixing in an app and Launchpad sound packs. Here’s a more conventional approach.

Wurrly is an app for recording covers of popular songs. It starts with a song store (and links to the originals on iTunes), but instead of tapping to download, you tap to sing. Choose a pre-made accompaniment (full band, piano, or guitar), set the key and tempo, and record. The cleverest part of the app is probably the interface for adding finishing touches: you get a simple fader for mixing and Instagram-style effects. (I’m sure we’ll keep hearing about an “Instagram for music” or “Instagram for sound” until someone really nails it.)

Of course, this is all paired with social sharing features and featured songs. I’m impressed, some of the recordings are pretty good – there are some talented singers, not just karaoke fare. I find the arrangements themselves to be a little dry; I think the app would benefit from original stems coming from the artists.

And yes, theoretically, this sort of thing could be a revenue stream – though again rates set for statutory licensing are key. A spokesperson for the developer tells CDM:

We have deals with all of the majors and we have blanket licenses on their content. As you know, songs these days can have multiple co-publishers, so we go directly to the stakeholders to get permission. We pay them royalties based on the seconds of usage in the app, quarterly. We also have encryption within the app so that users cannot manipulate it.

Think of this as the pop song / singer analog to Native Instruments’ Stems, and you begin to see where the landscape might shift.

It’s tough to tell what will be a hit and what won’t, in apps as in music itself. But looking beyond just acquiring music directly is wise. The beauty of the shift from devices like the iPod or Walkman to those like the iPhone or tablet is that it’s far easier to engage the user in a creative, active experience. And just as the phone made people feel better about taking more photos by making them look better, there’s no question that making people happy with the way they sound is a key motivation for encouraging musicianship.

Of course, in the past I made this prediction about music games, and that trend lost some steam. But I think we’re still in early days. Watch this space.

Wurrly_customize_song

Wurrly_explore

Wurrly_review_edit

https://www.wurrly.com/

The post iPhone app for making cover songs, a sign of a changing music world appeared first on Create Digital Music.