Today, we’re announcing MeeBlip cubit go – a unique USB MIDI interface with incredibly tight timing.
cubit go has the ports you most often need when mobile – one input, so you can perform, and four outputs, for sending notes and/or clock.
Here’s the twist: we’ve integrated hardware MIDI thru circuitry on the four outputs. Anything you send to the interface’s output goes to all four jacks simultaneously. There’s no software delay – you get rock-solid, ultra-tight timing.
That makes cubit go the perfect follow-up to our cubit splitter, introduced earlier this year. You still get four outs with identical timing – but now in a USB MIDI interface you can connect to your computer or mobile device.
Cubit go is driverless and USB powered, so it works with any desktop OS, but also on phones and tablets (with the appropriate cables, sold separately). And the jacks are top-mounted for convenience.
Just plug it in and use it – there’s nothing to install, no separate power supply needed, and nothing to worry about. cubit go is palm-sized, lightweight, rugged, performs perfectly, and is easy to use.
1×1 USB MIDI interface with integrated hardware MIDI Thru
Class-compliant USB MIDI – no drivers needed
One input jack
Four hardware-mirrored output jacks – no software lag
High performance 32-bit ARM Cortex processor
Bright green MIDI light flashes when sending or receiving data for easy troubleshooting
Size: 108 x 76 x 25 mm (4.25 x 3 x 1 inches), weighs 110 g (3.9 oz)
Includes 1 m (3 ft) USB cable
Works with macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android*
Made in Canada, available only direct
cubit go is available now for US$59.95, with free worldwide shipping for a limited time, along with our geode synthesizer.
The mission of MeeBlip is to get musicians – and CDM readers – playing instruments easily, whether they’re a beginner or expert. So if we help make sure stuff is plugged in and playing, the cubit tools are doing their job. Let us know what you think and if there’s more stuff you’d want to see.
As with our past products, we made something we want to use, too. I’m definitely using my cubits all the time, so I’m excited now we get some in your hands, too.
Arturia’s KeyStep was already appealing – a mobile MIDI keyboard with sequencer and arpeggiator. But the 1.1 update improves some details and adds major new musicality.
Let’s look at this in detail – though the sequence length and arp octaves alone already have me sold.
Three new features are now available from the KeyStep’s physical controls, as you play:
Sequence length. Hold Record, and press one of the MIDI Channel keys, and you set length of the sequence on the fly. This actually works from 1 – 64 steps, just by pressing a few keys in sequence.
Quantized tempo adjustment: Now you can hold shift and turn the tempo knob to move by increments of 1 bpm. That lets you round off bpms from the tap tempo or quickly dial in a bpm without winding up with something weird. (127.62, anyone?)
Arp Octaves: With the arpeggiator running, you can now shift notes you’re playing up or down the octave. (The Arturia site is a little unclear on this – it sounds like they mean just shifting the arpeggiator up and down by octave. It’s actually cooler than this.) So hold Shift+Octave + or -, and whichever notes you’re playing will be arpeggiated up or down by octave. Hit the +/- key multiple times for multiple octaves. I can’t think of anything that works quite like this; it’s really cool and performative, because it’s all on the fly.
Three modes are available in the updated MIDI Control Center software editor (so not onboard, but something you set in advance):
“Armed” clock. This gives you the option of using external sync, and passing it along, but controlling the KeyStep’s sequencer with the play button. There’s now a new parameter for switching on or off Arm to Start, which determines how the KeyStep responds to external clock.
Off is the original mode – the KeyStep Pro will just run or pause or stop with your external clock signal. But switch this to on, and the KeyStep lets you start and stop the sequencer as you see fit. You still pass the sync on to other gear. So for example, you could keep your drum machine running with the master clock, but turn on and off the sequencer on the keyboard, stop and jam for a second live, or whatever.
Pattern and Brownian Randomness. You can set randomness to Brownian Motion (“drunken walk) or “Pattern,” which creates randomized but repeating patterns. Pattern Mode is borrowed from Arturia’s MicroFreak synth.
Change LED brightness. Finally. No more blindness.
I still would love to see a KeyStep Pro, akin to the way the BeatStep Pro built on the original BeatStep. It’d be terrific to have a keyboard with some knobs for parameter controls. Having to use tiny DIP switches to set sync modes is a pain. And obviously there will be limits to how much Arturia can do with key combos (which already mean a little time spent cracking the manual), or software editor options. It’s not hard to imagine something that expanded this with extra features.
But for now, the KeyStep stays nice and compact – and you could always add a little box with some faders or knobs, since it is so small. Plus, even with some of its rivals, Arturia has a serious edge:
The keys feel great.
There’s MIDI DIN support for external gear.
There’s a standalone option (including a dedicated power plug).
It works with USB when you need it – no drivers required. (Hello, Linux/Raspi, etc., in addition to mobile, of course)
Its power consumption is low enough to work with iPad, etc., without additional power.
It’s stupidly affordable.
I think that with the additional performance options, this is the one to beat.
The Sensel Morph’s specialized touch control lets you apply both multi-touch position and force (how hard you press). Some new and recent videos make it clear how to customize that for your different tools.
The Morph isn’t alone in the force + multi-touch position game. The growth of MPE (MIDI Polyphonic Expression) depends on multiple controllers. But the Morph tool is uniquely adaptable, thanks to specialized overlays that let it adopt different layouts. So, as I’ve written before, you can swap between a musical control setup for a live show (say, with the Buchla Thunder overlay), and a different overlay for video editing (and fire up Premiere or Final Cut), and so on.
Peter Nyboer from Sensel is a perfect person to explain all this. Now we get to see his full presentation from Perfect Circuit in LA, right in the comfort of our own home. (The magic of the Internet – behold! It’s like we can be everywhere at once, instantly! Or something.)
Here’s his full talk on the overlays and how the customization software works – that last one being a big point, I know:
If you’re looking for a standalone control device, this isn’t it – it’s really more about being lightweight. But I do find the nice thing about the Morph is that it’s small enough you can put it in your backpack and forget about it – even more so than the iPad, and with greater accuracy and force sensing that the iPad lacks.
Sensel have also been busy with additional tutorials on how to work with the Morph. Bitwig Studio gets interesting because of its native MPE support – and there are custom control surface scripts there. (Bitwig seems well-suited to just this sort of tinkerer application.)
You don’t even need to buy a Bitwig Studio license to get started – there’s an included Studio 8-Track license included with the Morph.
It’s really the Buchla overlay that puts things over the top for me. Buchla himself had it right – this diagonal layout just ideally fits under the hand, especially for something performative.
And yeah, here’s the Buchla looking right at home with a modular setup – just as this controller was intended:
Mobile synth, meet wall of synths with knobs bigger than your hand. I got to take our new MeeBlip geode for a friendly visit with the legendary Hainbach and his lair of huge vintage analog gear. Here’s what happened.
Hainbach is my kind of YouTuber – his channel is a nonstop flow of creative use and misuse of vintage gear, from cassettes to test equipment, paired with thoughtful ambient and experimental music. And it’s clear his passion for that equipment is driven by an obsession with producing his unique musical sound.
I asked Hainbach if maybe we could show our MeeBlip synth and have a jam, and he invited me round his house – and this is the result. (That’s how the Internet should always work, I think!)
There’s not a whole lot of MIDI in his studio, so we made use of the inexpensive KORG SQ-1 step sequencer, which is also pint-sized like our MeeBlip. Most of the MeeBlip sounds you hear are dry, but there’s also some reverb and delay from the cult favorite Alesis Wedge.
For his part, Hainbach starts out with the lovely Roland SH-09 monosynth for that lush opening tone, then adds a cassette loop. But much of the sound is from the “wall of sound” full of test equipment. This oversized, gorgeous gear was – well, until we all popularized it online – pretty cheap to come by until recently. It’s now antiquated and past retirement age in industries like telecommunications for which it was originally intended – but as a synth, it can last forever. Hainbach has explained what it’s all about, and I’ve also previously described an open laboratory in Rotterdam specializing in the setup.
The fun part is really getting to put the two together. Hainbach is a focused listener and improviser, so he’s terrific to play with – and this is really one take, since he had to run to pick up his kid right after the shoot.
“There’s so much to play in there… impressively playable.” Thanks, sir. So we actually can compete with enormous vintage test boxes, I guess.
“Underground romantic engineering” is the motto of up-and-coming gearmaker SOMA Laboratory. Here’s a look at the Russian-Polish foundry creating wild new electronic instruments – and their latest creation.
Music store All For DJ has become a badly-needed new hub for Moscow’s electronic producers. Despite the name, they’re host to all kind of electronic instruments. I met the folks operating the retailer earlier this summer, and it’s an oasis – easy access to lots of gear, which had until recently sometimes been a challenge in Russia, and also tons of information (including a Russian-language blog).
And they’re producing documentaries, like this one looking at SOMA. It’ll definitely be up CDMers’ alley – Ukrainian-Russian creator Vlad Kreimer is the kind of mad scientist experimental musician we love. Now, his Lyra-8 has become a sought-after, one-of-a-kind instrument, and he’s teaming up with Vyacheslav Grigoriev (previously of VG-Line). (Vyacheslav joined me last year on a panel for Synthposium in Moscow, talking about his upbringing in electronics in the USSR.) The operation is growing, with operations both in Russia and Poland, as the electronic music community embraces exactly this sort of strange.
The film is a beautiful and intimate portrait of the creators and their ideas (subtitled in English):
The Lyra synth is like a “book, album, work of art that contains a message,” says Vlad. And there’s a new tome coming – the Pulsar-23, which brings the same ethos to drum machines. Its release is eagerly anticipated, with photos (seen here) showing it in final prototype state, about to hit production. (Advance buyers are apparently bugging them for that.)
Vlad showed off the new box at Superbooth in Berlin in May (which I missed, ironically, as I had to fly to St. Petersburg – positions keep swapping):
Selekta.fm did a hands-on, too, and – wow, that sound.
Selekta also did a full interview:
I hope I get to experience this drum machine in person, soon, as well. Best with the project to SOMA. Meanwhile, behold:
Novation are going patch crazy, with 1000 free artist patches for their Peak synth and newest Summit. And they come from some of our favorite artists.
“Presets,” “artists,” blah blah… but wait, the lineup here includes Legowelt, Craig Williams, Lightbath, Hinako Omori, Emily Sprague, and Shawn Rudiman, plus others to be announced.
Novation use their Components Web interface to deliver updates, content, and expanded functionality to their users, and they’ve been pioneers in innovative use of the tech for that role. That interface has sometimes been in need of a refresh, though, and so the other big news is that they’ve overhauled the UI.
Now you can see the Bank Editor next to content, you can filter presets, and you can choose to see your own stuff alongside Novation’s if you choose. Plus – mercifully – login isn’t mandatory any more (though you’ll need it to authenticate your own content you store online, of course).
Peak and Summit are well suited to some clever patch design, what with multiple synthesis methods simultaneously, modulation, and effects. It’ll be interested to see what they’ve cooked up.
Hardware or software? Yes. Modular synthesizers, of all things, are blurring the line between the two. The popular Vult line of software modules for VCV Rack is going hardware, just as Erica Synths offers its popular hardware in a free software form on the same platform.
VCV Rack has rapidly established itself as a platform for other modules in a way that nothing else has. The software modular is free, with a rich free ecosystem, with only useful add-ons (from the developer and third parties) costing money. It’s also strikingly approachable for developers as well as users.
But that’s in turn leading to some fascinating crossovers.
This week, developer Leonardo Laguna Ruiz announced that his Vult module, which existed only in VCV Rack virtually, is now up for preorders as actual hardware.
Vult Freak incorporates a bunch of different modules in one (thanks, code modeling):
Tangents – Steiner-Parker filter containing three different variations.
Lateralus – Ladder filter.
Nurage – Low pass gate / Borg filter.
Ferox – CMOS filter.
Vortex – Russian fitler.
Unstabile – Circuit bent State Variable filter.
Stabile – State Variable filter.
Rescomb – Resonant Comb filter.
Vorg – MS-20 style filter
I’ve used a lot of these in my own musical experiments in Rack, and do they sound good? Yes, they do. (Unstabile and Vortex are particularly delicious for those of us who enjoy rich, manic distortion.)
€225 buys you this stuff as physical device – and frees you from having to mouse around and worry about crashes or running out of CPU, natch.
Maybe it’s the story behind the device that’s just as compelling – a few years developing a language, a couple of years experimenting in VCV Rack, then making the leap into hardware. There’s a bug that bites people who get into buying Eurorack, but there’s one for development, too.
I don’t doubt that some of the loyal users of the software will splurge for the hardware, too. And rather than blowing cash on something, then bolting it into a rack and hoping you can figure it out, the software-first model means many people who do buy Vult Freak will already know how to use it.
With that in mind, it’s also worth mention that Latvian titan of modular Erica Synths, with their expansive catalog, have made their first steps into providing software editions. Head to the Library on the VCV site, and you can grab a collection of Erica modules:
They’re free of charge; just click ‘+ Free’ and update Rack and you’ll get them. Erica are a long way from porting everything they make in hardware – this is a tiny fraction of the full lineup. But they’re a decent taste of what Erica hardware can do. The Black Wavetable VCO is a uniquely capable oscillator with bitcrush and tons of wave modulation options. Octasource is a unique modulation oscillator, and its interface works differently from others, meaning having it in software form is really fantastic. DRUMS is ridiculously compact as is everything in the fascinating Pico series, but it’s a natural for cramming into virtual rigs.
I’ll be curious to see if this attracts some new Erica customers. Erica aren’t the first to do this, either – Befaco, Mutable Instruments (as Audible Instruments), and Music Thing (as Stellare) all offer software renditions of their hardware. It’s not hard to imagine at some point that VCV Rack will have a “buy hardware” button on the software. Softube Modular has software ports, too, of some big brands – Mutable Instruments again, the mighty Doepfer, Buchla, 4ms, and Intellijel all have software modules available.
The big difference is business model: VCV Rack is tending more toward either inexpensive paid modules as software, or free software that serves as a demo/preview of hardware.
A minority of electronic musicians live in a place where they can easily just run to a shop and try gear out. But more than that, software promises to create a new communications link between musicians and creators, year-round. We’ll see if that gives Vult a boost in the crowded modular world.
And if you want a hand getting started, the legendary Jim Aikin has written a free e-book that explains what Rack is and how to use it, plus (the bit I liked most) gives a guide to the jungle of modules out there:
It’s liberating – just take your phone or tablet, plug in a USB cable, and you can make music on this hardware synth anywhere. Here’s how to do that, with our MeeBlip geode, plus some tips on the best apps for both iOS and Android.
Inspiration is a funny thing, and somehow in the process of hunting around for interfaces and power sockets, you can wind up staring at a tangle of cables and no idea of what it was you were trying to do. So, I’m already finding it surprisingly empowering to be able to use the new USB port on the MeeBlip geode for both power and MIDI (sequencing notes and control). Every smartphone I’ve tested, plus the iPad, will gladly power the geode from the same connection.
Why not just use an app? Well, with the geode plugged in, you get some nice feeling knobs and switches, plus that grimy, dirty MeeBlip sound – and its screaming analog filter. To look at it the other way, all you need for different interfaces for playing this module, from step sequencers to touch keyboards, is your handy mobile gadget.
That also led me on a search for the best apps that support MIDI out. Not all do, Apple’s own GarageBand for iOS being notably incapable of the feat (unlike its Mac sibling). I also spoke with Ashley Elsdon, our resident mobile geek, for additional tips. So these apps will be working with lots of my other MIDI gear, too. And while I thought the Huawei Android handheld that I just got to replace my iPhone would leave me disappointed as far as music apps, I was glad to find some excellent Android-platform stuff, too. (For once, we don’t have to leave y’all out.)
First, here are a couple of jams on iOS, audio straight from the out jack of the MeeBlip. And these two I think count as my two favorite live performance tools for iOS (so far):
StepPolyArp may have been one of the first music apps I got for the iPad, actually. It’s an intuitive, deep combination of a piano roll editor for graphically drawing patterns, an arpeggiator, and a step sequencer. It syncs to Ableton Link, though I’ve also used plain MIDI clock. And yes, you can get grimy sounds out of geode, in case you didn’t know that.
Arpeggionome Pro has a unique grid (influenced by the likes of the Tenori-On), and runs on both iPhone and iPad – it’s great handheld. Because of its particular approach to harmony and rhythm, it can lead you to some patterns you’d never play on a normal arpeggiator, let alone on a keyboard (unless you’re seriously some kind of pinball wizard). And yes, it also boasts Ableton Link support, so you can wireless sync up to another app or computer running lots of different software (not just Ableton Live).
It’s also on iOS, though ARPIO is an Android port from the original developer, and just lacks MIDI support – please, please!
More app ideas
On Android, there’s a powerful MIDI sequencer/arpeggiator toolkit that lets you build your own patterns:
Wildly enough, you can even use the Virtual ANS, a reimagining of a vintage Soviet synth, with MIDI output. The developer tells me he’s working on bringing that same MIDI output to his excellent tracker/production tool SunVox, where it makes more sense:
Various production tools on Android also do MIDI output, though perhaps the easiest to use would be Touch DAW, which simply acts as a general-purpose MIDI controller for everything – including a keyboard.
iOS is as usual richer with options. Ashley / Palm Sounds recommends considering MIDI plug-ins, too.
Rozeta sequencer suite from our friend Ruismaker (or if you want to get really fancy, try scripting your own MIDI with Mozaic)
And there’s Fugue Machine, also from Alexandernaut who built Arpeggionome above, which could be wild. I might have to try that with multiple MeeBlips, uh, fuguing. Stay tuned.
Or think of Modstep, a powerful sequencer with scene triggering
What do you need for the connection?
On many new Android devices, you can actually plug a cable directly between your phone (USB-C) and the MeeBlip (USB-B). Otherwise, you’ll need a USB OTG adapter. These run about ten bucks (ah, this obviously isn’t from Apple).
On iOS with only Lightning connections, you need an adapter. The best of these is Apple’s Lightning to USB3 Camera Connection Kit. It’s pricey, but it gives you both a USB-A and a separate Lightning breakout, so you can power your iPad or iPhone and connect USB at the same time, rather than drain the battery. It’s reliable enough to use live onstage, and it’s what you’ll see me using in these images.
Of course, on a computer with a standard USB connection, you don’t need any special adapters.
Regardless, you’re sure to be able to quickly connect your MeeBlip in the studio or at home, and you can even mess around with ideas on the go or busk at the park or picnic.
Sony’s Walkman turned 40 earlier this month. But look to the TC-50 before it for some of the technology and usability innovations that changed the world – and joined the Apollo mission – plus a glimpse of where music might boldly go next.
Sony’s story will sound familiar to a lot of today’s sound DIYers, synth makers, and Eurorack inventors. The operation began with a cheap disused space and a few people learning on the job by repairing electronics. The company might be known for transforming cassettes, but earlier projects involved a rice cooker and an electric cushion.
But long before Apple, it was Sony that introduced the world – and especially the lucrative American market – to the idea of miniaturized portable electronics. That included the TR series transistor radio. (Oh, note the other similarity – yes, it’s a safe bet that Roland’s Western-friendly brand name and XX-NNN product names are inspired by the likes of Sony and Sanyo.)
And that brings us to the TC series cassette recorders. There’s really a lot in these devices that predicts not only the Walkman, but devices like the iPhone, as well. As with transistor radios, miniaturized electronics enable a design that becomes personal and portable, which changes the whole relationship of user to device.
The 1968 TC-50 looks elegant and modern even by today’s standards. It combines a number of key innovations that make that possible – not necessarily invented by Sony or by the TC-50, but combined in a single product in a way that transforms that technology into user experience:
Integrated circuits. ICs are what has brought us the entire consumer electronics – and musical electronics – revolution. The chip replaces whole circuits of separate components. On the TC-50, that lets the design revolve around the user’s hand, the controls, the mic, and the cassette – everything else more or less disappears. Sony began in the 50s designing its own components, thanks to tech it had licensed from Bell.
Compact component mounting. This is actually equally as big a deal – each component’s mounts are also reduced, which further miniaturizes the design.
Built-in microphone. This is the innovation that’s the reason the TC-50 went into space – and while we take it for granted now, it’s what cleared a pathway for the likes of the iPhone. Sony’s custom mic design is small, integrated with the device, but still records high-quality audio. When NASA equipped its astronauts with the TC-50, it was for personal memo recording, not mix tapes (though more on the latter in a moment). That personal functionality also establishes the handheld device as a portable companion. If that seems a stretch when talking about the iPhone (even with “phone” in the title), I might also observe that Apple has told me its Voice Memos app is one of its most popular.
One-handed, wireless operation. Here’s the other big innovation that brings it all together. The entire design – placement and operation of buttons, form factor – is built to enable one-handed operation. Just as with so many accessibility innovations, that in turn yields unexpected advantages. In the case of the TC-50, it meant astronauts could record audio while wearing their bulky spacesuit gloves, starting with Apollo 7 and most famously on the Apollo 11 moon voyage. That kind of usability thinking would go on to inspire companies like Apple, and it’s always worth revisiting. (When I worked on WretchUp with Mouse on Mars, I did a lot of adjustment work with Andi to design gestural controls that you could use with a single hand, and even without looking closely at the device, for onstage use.)
Natural industrial design, focused on materials. You can almost hear Jony Ive marveling at the luxurious, exposed “aluminium” – and yes, years before he met Ive, Steve Jobs also saw Sony as a personal design inspiration (alongside Braun and Mercedes-Benz). The TC-50 came too soon to benefit from the 21st Century’s economy of scale, so you can bet the “luxury” of that aluminum surface had a price tag attached. But Sony excelled at modern adoption of these material processes, which had allowed it to work with companies like watchmaker Bulova back to the TR-55 transistor radio. And so it is that today’s smartphones also telegraph their use of strong materials. See also this excellent story on the 1972 TC-55, which starts to look more like a Walkman, and moves public perception from “cheap plastic” to “fine metal.”
Apollo and the TC-50
NASA astronauts definitely used portable cassette recorders, the Sony TC-50 being one. They also made famous use of a modified Hasselblad 70mm film camera, including on the lunar landing during Apollo 11 (see National Air and Space Museum).
I found some differing accounts of which missions the recorder was aboard. Sony themselves note the TC-50 debuted on Apollo 7, the mission that was the first Apollo to carry a crew (and the first human spaceflight mission after the conclusion of Gemini and the tragic Apollo 1 launchpad fire). The TC-50 also got pretty close to the moon on Apollo 10, the key mission that simulated the lunar descent.
From the accounts I’ve read, it sounds as though there was a TC-50 on Apollo 11, but it probably didn’t go “to the moon” in that it seems it stayed aboard the Apollo Command Module, not the Lunar Module that made the trip to the moon’s surface. And Buzz Aldrin did request a mix of music for the trip, dubbed to the compact cassette format of the TC-50.
Vanity Fair learned the details of the Apollo 11 mixtape from record exec Mickey Kapp in an interview late last year:
They made the essential playlist for Spotify, natch:
One Aldrin favorite, now featured in the upcoming documentary on the mission, is this poignant – and self-critical, self-aware, hardly jingoistic – John Stewart release:
There’s nothing particularly cosmic in the mix; the choices are sentimental, personal. When they go to the lunar theme, they’re lush and romantic as much as trippy. And they’re singular; this isn’t background music. I think that says something about our connection to music, something that generative tunes or machine learning are unlikely ever to replace – they’re still, you know, songs.
The mix for Buzz was made in a living room, reports VF, complete with mistakes. That’s something that’s been unquestionably lost, and even at the time must have stood in contrast to the mission-critical clockwork of a space mission.
I wonder, though, if the TC-50 doesn’t point us to a fresh perspective on music. Right now, so much of our thinking about how music should be shared is stuck in the past. Whether lamenting the loss of tangible media and record stores, or defending them by stalwartly DJing with “vinyl only” sets, the whole conversation is framed by what was.
The TC-50, apart from having been aboard humankind’s most audacious mission yet out of our planet’s orbit, isn’t bound by any of that past. It’s informed by watchmaking-quality metals and the iteration of electronics. But it’s designed anew around the best quality of each of those disciplines. It looks familiar and inevitable to us only because we are the children of the age it shaped.
That is to say, maybe the first and most reasonable answer to the question of “what should music listening look like in the future” might well be I don’t know. The people at Sony didn’t know right away. They cut their teeth on rice cookers in the wreckage of a ruined empire, dug deep into the latest advances from Bell in the USA, and spent incalculable hours just disassembling someone else’s electronics, and putting them back together so they worked again. Sony’s first introduction to the cassette was hitting on a technology that improved on primitive wire recorders they’d seen in military use. Apollo for its part was built on iterations from missiles and ran on computers whose memory was woven together, literally, by textile workers.
We live in an era that values fast answers and quick financial returns, but the very breakthroughs that make those people so rich weren’t brainstormed in a coworking center on a whiteboard by someone microdosing LSD. They were crafted over years through hands-on, sweat and tears work on physical materials and engineering.
Maybe we don’t need new devices or new physical media for sound – that’s possible. We’ll certainly need devices to record sound and to play music; anything that must be touched can’t simply be streamed.
I suspect, too, that we may see new devices for listening, built around new developments in immersive sound.
I also think it’s telling that the TC-50 was a recording and creation device as well as listening device, and that those functions were ultimately linked. The smartphone fits that mold, of course – but other as-yet-undreamt-of devices could go there, as well, in ways the smartphone can’t.
So why not return to some of that day-in, day-out engineering and craft to find the next big thing?
Some of the TC-50s still work, too:
Image at top – Dave Scott peeks out of the Apollo 10 Command Module, in this photo shot by Rusty Schweickart as the Lunar Module was docked, in a “dress rehearsal” of Apollo 11. Photo: NASA.
PS – I have no idea what kind of audio or film equipment was used aboard Soviet missions of this period, so maybe my Russian friends or space buffs can answer that.
DIY marketplace Etsy has announced plans for a massive $275 million acquisition of used music instrument market Reverb.com. That’s likely to turn heads both in online retail and musical instruments.
As reported by VentureBeat, the deal has an approximate $275 million value, in cash, as the NYC-based Etsy buys out Chicago’s Reverb.com.
It’s a massive bet on the value of the used market. It might prove risky, too. Facebook is pushing its own market offerings, leveraged by its epic (and politically controversial) power of user data and the market. And it seems the market is vulnerable to music store giants (like Thomann in Europe) who can offer used product (and service) alongside new distribution.
Etsy does seem up to the challenge. The company has some real experience in handling fragmented markets, and in building relationships with sellers – a key to this business. The one sure-fire outcome for the moment is that Etsy and Reverb appear to score some serious cash – Reverb, when the deal is expected to close later in 2019, and Etsy, whose stock price was flying high already and gets pushed still higher with this deal.
If it worries anyone, this could pose concern for independent manufacturers. Eurorack makers have long expressed a fear that a modular “bubble” could make it difficult for new products to compete with used equivalents. The modular market is presumed to be especially vulnerable to that phenomenon, because if modular makers don’t continue to find new customers, the amount of used gear begins to accumulate faster than would-be customers for the new stuff. At least modular buyers have proven deep pocketed and interested in new stuff. The desktop market faces the dual pressure of loads of used gear and cheap mass-market products and clones. I wouldn’t panic yet, though – this danger exists with or without Etsy and Reverb. And I’m personally glad at least music gear finds new love rather than winding up in landfills like so many electronic items.
Reverb already offers the potential of being a storefront for music gear – something Etsy has tried for musical instrument makers on and off over the years. (See my personal notes at the end.) So it might even be that Reverb will court these very manufacturers outside of the usual gear distribution channels.
I think the real trends to watch are how investors are valuing areas of musical instruments, and just a importantly, where value in the communications chain may lie. Facebook at the moment is poised to dominate musical life and the business transactions around it, from artists posting Instagram pics to Facebook Groups to its own marketplace. That includes intangible value (artist buzz) and tangible (if you buy a used synth directly through Facebook, which is possible already).
Reverb might advertise heavily on Facebook-owned properties to acquire customers, but they’ve also built a sticky destination site all their own. They’ve added significant editorial content and community features around the marketplace, too. Indeed, if independent music tech publishing has declined, the integrated editorial-marketplace seems to be the wave of the future. Etsy says they will (wisely) continue to operate Reverb independently as a site and brand, serving an audience of musicians whose interests are far from the “put a bird on it” ethos of Etsy. Even as Reverb advertises on Facebook- and Google-owned properties, they have an opportunity to create value chains for musicians outside of the dominance of those two companies, whether individual musicians, DIY enthusiasts, or smallish manufacturers.
The issue with this as with all acquisitions of this size is whether the hunger for growth will outstrip the actual demand for the product, and whether Reverb.com will continue to innovate post-acquisition. (I’ll try to talk to Reverb’s management during the transition, once things settle down. I did read in one report that there will be a new CEO at Reverb, but I’ve yet to confirm that.) It’s certainly a big moment in our industry, though. And it seems a smart move, if an awfully big number (without knowing the existing data or projections behind that).
CDM has some history with Etsy, going back to their early days. I knew co-founder Jared Tarbell first through his generative creative coding before his Etsy adventure in the really early days, and I started the MusicMakers series in Etsy’s offices in Brooklyn with partner MAKE Magazine. (We re-dubbed the series Handmade Music for a time, and Etsy stayed involved until I relocated to Berlin.) We even had some attendees get stuck in Etsy’s antiquated elevator during an event. Bre Pettis showed up before starting MakerBot, known mainly to us as a vlogger who worked with Etsy, back when “vlogger” was a word because YouTube wasn’t yet dominant.
None of this is terribly relevant, other than to say times have changed. And it’s also safe to say the “maker movement” isn’t exactly at a high point. Maker Media, of Make Magazine and Maker Faire, abruptly imploded this year, though founder Dale Dougherty is working to get some version of the community back. Etsy, too, has refocused as a market for vintage and personalized products, not just handmade.
The ongoing question for CDM and friends – and one I’d love to hear from you about – is how best to support the DIY end of this spectrum. I think ultimately it’s a distinct niche from what Etsy or Reverb – or perhaps even MAKE – were able to serve.