Movers and shakers – Focusrite just bought ADAM [Analysis]

Focusrite went public in 2014, but this week brings its first major acquisition – and it’s a big deal. Monitor maker ADAM from Berlin joins the UK’s Focusrite / Novation / Ampify.

Publicly traded companies and fast growing business empires have a bit of a challenge in the music tech business – music creation is still specialized and places a high standard on quality. So ADAM is at least encouraging as a choice; the boutique maker is highly respected and many studio swear by their monitors.

The ongoing question here is really growth, but of course revenue growth isn’t necessarily limited to downmarket tools with thin margins. ADAM’s strength is building an upmarket, boutique product for music makers. And while the studio in the traditional sense has been in decline, “studio” as in independent producers has potential. Just as Eurorack and boutique synths have proven in the electronic arena, that growing population does have a portion of the market who will pay a premium for perceived quality – just as every market has luxury.

That may seem obvious, but I’ve been surprised that so many conversations about growth in our industry are focused at the low end or beginners. The problem with that commodity end is that competition gets fierce. I find it especially strange, because by contrast, you wouldn’t expect the automotive industry to focus exclusively on cheap cars and first-time buyers. Auto is perfectly comfortable describing engines as things only engineers understand, and marketing that specialization. And they make products for specific, high-end customers (think Formula One racing). And that in turn drives interest across the market, because it strengthens the brand (think Mercedes-Benz Group). But I digress.

Maybe the greater ambition in this acquisition is the talk of the two companies working together. I think it’s fair to be skeptical any time there’s talk of that in acquisitions – the reality is often far tougher. It’s unclear for now what Focusrite Group imagine that collaboration to look like, on what products, or if they’ll be able to deliver. But here’s Focusrite’s CEO Tim Carroll on that topic:

“ADAM Audio is undeniably a leader in the field of electroacoustics. The A7Xs and S3s have become standards in recording spaces across the globe. Even so, I know the team have no interest in resting on their laurels. We need to ensure they receive all the support they require to continue raising the sonic bar. That our two companies are so aligned from a cultural perspective reassures me that, as we increasingly work together, great things will happen. With so much expertise between us in acoustics, sound reproduction, DSP, and control, the opportunities are abundant to refine recording and production workflows together.”

For the time being, ADAM Audio stay in Berlin and keep Christian Hellinger in charge. The 20 year-old company are known for their A7X and S3, and now cover a range of potential markets with the T, AX, and S Series.

I’d actually love to see the kind of collaboration described above – and I’m sure the Focusrite Group engineers would love a trip to Berlin. (Come visit, please!) But while it’s not emphasized in the press release, I imagine the immediate benefit to ADAM will be Focusrite’s international marketing operation, which looks increasingly global with LA and Hong Kong alongside the UK. ADAM Audio already spans the Asian manufacturing world (Dongguan), Berlin’s ongoing dominance in engineering, and then the ever-lucrative US market – Nashville.

And oh yeah – Focusrite is traded on the AIM market, London Stock Exchange. So I imagine some reader of this site just had your stock go up. (No disclosure needed here for me; I would make that statement if I did.)

https://www.adam-audio.com/en/

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Teenage Engineering has a record label and a pocket modular pop music video

Dear young Buster: why do you look so sad and lonely? Don’t you know that having a yellow Teenage Engineering pocket modular is all the love you need?

Okay, so Buster is in fact Millenial Swedish pop star up and comer Emil Lennstrand, and he is the first face of a record label (really) from the perpetually-open-to-creative-distraction crew of Teenage Engineering. You see, having done cameras for IKEA and marketing campaigns and various synthesizers and … bicycles and lamps and other things … the Teenagers are now getting into a record label.

It’s surprisingly silky-smooth pop from this otherwise fairly hypernerdy and experimental Stockholm shop. But it does predictably feature Teenage Engineering instruments – in this case the pocket operator modular.

They bill the song as “partly produced” by that system 400 (what – the modular isn’t used on the vocals?). But it’s slick stuff, for sure.

The other star of the music video is this – TE’s pocket operator modular series.

So what’s up with the record label? It’s tough to tell from this one track, but here’s what the Teenagers say for themselves:

first teenage engineering started their own band to field test their instruments. now they are taking the next step starting a record label for songs made with teenage engineering products. there are just two rules, it needs to be a good song (easy) and have at least one of teenage engineerings instruments used in the song. the main distribution platform for their releases will be spotify.

Now that’s some serious Swedish loyalty, going Spotify only.

I’m slightly confused, but intrigued. To my mind, the OP-Z remains the best thing recently from Teenage Engineering hands down, but stay tuned for my explanation of why I feel that way.

And there’s more Teenage Engineering stuff to come, including me joining them in Barcelona during SONAR+D this summer – which means a chance to grill them for more information, of course.

https://teenage.engineering/

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No, Beatport’s subscription will not kill music – here’s how it really works

Pioneer and Beatport this week announced new streaming offerings for DJs. And then lots of people kind of freaked out. Let’s see what’s actually going on, if any of it is useful to DJs and music lovers, and what we should or shouldn’t worry about.

Artists, labels, and DJs are understandably on edge about digital music subscriptions – and thoughtless DJing. Independent music makers tend not to see any useful revenue or fan acquisition from streaming. So the fear is that a move to the kinds of pricing on Spotify, Amazon, and Apple services would be devastating.

And, well – that’s totally right, you obviously should be afraid of those things if you’re making music. Forget even getting rich – if big services take over, just getting heard could become an expensive endeavor, a trend we’ve already begun to see.

So I talked to Beatport to get some clarity on what they’re doing. We’re fortunate now that the person doing artist and label relations for Beatport is Heiko Hoffmann, who has an enormous resume in the trenches of the German electronic underground, including some 17 years under his belt as editor of Groove, which has had about as much a reputation as any German-language rag when it comes to credibility.

TL:DR

The skinny:

Beatport LINK: fifteen bucks a month, but aimed at beginners – 128k only. Use it for previews if you’re a serious Beatport user, recommend it to your friends bugging you about how they should start DJing, and otherwise don’t worry about it.

Beatport CLOUD: five bucks a month, gives you sync for your Beatport collection. Included in the other stuff here and – saves you losing your Beatport purchases and gives you previews. 128k only. Will work with Rekordbox in the fall, but you’ll want to pay extra for extra features (or stick with your existing download approach).

Beatport LINK PRO: the real news – but it’s not here yet. Works with Rekordbox, costs 40-60 bucks, but isn’t entirely unlimited. Won’t destroy music (uh, not saying something else won’t, but this won’t). The first sign of real streaming DJs – but the companies catering to serious DJs aren’t going to give away the farm the way Apple and Spotify have. In fact, if there’s any problem here, it’s that no one will buy this – but that’s Beatport’s problem, not yours (as it should be).

WeDJ streaming is for beginners, not Pioneer pros

This first point is probably the most important. Beatport (and SoundCloud) have each created a subscription offering that works exclusively with Pioneer’s WeDJ mobile DJ tool. That is, neither of these works with Rekordbox – not yet.

Just in case there’s any doubt, Pioneer has literally made the dominant product image photo some people DJing in their kitchen. So there you go: Rekordbox and and CDJ and TORAIZ equals nightclub, WeDJ equals countertop next to a pan of fajitas.

So yeah, SoundCloud streaming is now in a DJ app. And Beatport is offering its catalog of tracks for US$14.99 a month for the beta, which is a pretty phenomenally low price – and one that would rightfully scare labels and artists.

But it’s important this is in WeDJ as far as DJing. Pioneer aren’t planning on endangering their business ecosystem in Rekordbox, higher-end controllers, and standalone hardware like the CDJ. They’re trying to attract the beginners in the hopes that some of those people will expand the high end market down the road.

By the same token, it’d be incredibly short-sighted if Beatport were to give up on customers paying a hundred bucks a month or so on downloads just to chase growth. Instead, Beatport will split its offerings into a consumer/beginner product (LINK for WeDJ) and two products for serious DJs (LINK Pro and Beatport CLOUD).

And there’s reason to believe that what disrupts the consumer/beginner side might not make ripples when it comes to pros – as we’ve been there already. Spotify is in Algoriddim’s djay. It’s actually a really solid product. But the djay user base doesn’t impact what people use in the clubs, where the CDJ (or sometimes Serato or TRAKTOR) reign supreme. So if streaming in DJ software were going to crash the download market, you could argue it would have happened already.

That’s still a precarious situation, so let’s break down the different Beatport options, both to see how they’ll impact music makers’ business – and whether they’re something you might want to use yourself.

Ce n’est pas un CDJ.

Beatport LINK – the beginner one

First, that consumer service – yeah, it’s fifteen bucks a month and includes the Beatport catalog. But it’s quality-limited and works only in the WeDJ app (and with the fairly toy-like new DDJ-200 controller, which I’ll look at separately).

Who’s it for? “The Beginner DJs that are just starting out will have millions of tracks to practice and play with,” says Heiko. “Previously, a lot of this market would have been lost to piracy. The bit rate is 128kbs AAC and is not meant for public performance.”

But us serious Beatport users might want to mess around with it, too – it’s a place you can audition new tracks for a fairly low monthly fee. “It’s like having a record shop in your home,” says Heiko.

Just don’t think Beatport are making this their new subscription offering. If you think fifteen bucks a month for everything Beatport is a terrible business idea, don’t worry – Beatport agree. “This is the first of our Beatport LINK products,” says Heiko. “This is not a ‘Spotify for dance music.’ It’s a streaming service for DJs and makes Beatport’s extensive electronic music catalog available to stream audio into the WeDJ app.” And yeah, Spotify want more money for that, which is good – because you want more money charged for that as a producer or label. But before we get to that, let’s talk about the locker, the other thing available now:

WeDJ – a mobile gateway drug for DJs, or so Pioneer hopes. (NI and Algoriddim did it first; let’s see who does it better.)

Beatport CLOUD – the locker/sync one

Okay, so streaming may be destroying music but … you’ve probably still sometimes wanted to have access to digital downloads you’ve bought without having to worry about hard drive management or drive and laptop failures. And there’s the “locker” concept.

Some folks will remember that Beatport bought the major “locker” service for digital music – when it acquired Pulselocker. [link to our friends at DJ TechTools]

Beatport CLOUD is the sync/locker making a comeback, with €/$ 4.99 a month fee and no obligation or contract. It’s also included free in LINK – so for me, for instance, since I hate promos and like to dig for my own music even as press and DJ, I’m seriously thinking of the fifteen bucks to get full streaming previews, mixing in WeDJ, and CLOUD.

There are some other features here, too:

Re-download anything, unlimited. I heard from a friend – let’s call him Pietro Kerning – that maybe a stupid amount of music he’d (uh, or “she’d”) bought on Beatport was now scattered across a random assortment of hard drives. I would never do such a thing, because I organize everything immaculately in all aspects of my life in a manner becoming a true professional, but now this “friend” will easily be able to grab music anywhere in the event of that last-minute DJ gig.

By the same token you can:

Filter all your existing music in a cloud library. Not that I need to, perfectly organized individual, but you slobs need this, of course.

Needle-drop full previews. Hear 120 seconds from anywhere in a track – for better informed purchases. (Frankly, this makes me calmer as a label owner, even – I would totally rather you hear more of our music.)

There should be some obvious bad news here – this only works with Beatport purchased music. You can’t upload music the way some sync/locker services have worked in the past. But I think given the current legal landscape, if you want that, set up your own backup server.

What I like about this, at least, is that this store isn’t losing stuff you’ve bought from them. I think other download sites should consider something similar. (Bandcamp does a nice job in this respect – and of course it’s the store I use the most when not using Beatport.)

The new Beatport cloud.

Beatport LINK Pro – what’s coming

There are very few cases where someone says, “hey, good news – this will be expensive.” But music right now is a special case. And it’s good news that Beatport is launching a more expensive service.

For labels and artists, it means a serious chance to stay alive. (I mean, even for a label doing a tiny amount of download sales, this can mean that little bit of cash to pay the mastering engineer and the person who did the design for the cover, or to host a showcase in your local club.)

For serious users using that service, it means a higher quality way of getting music than other subscription services – and that you support the people who make the music you love, so they keep using it.

Or, at least, that’s the hope.

What Beatport is offering at the “pro” tiers does more and costs more. Just like Pioneer doesn’t want you to stop buying CDJs just because they have a cheap controller and app, Beatport doesn’t want you to stop spending money for music just because they have a subscription for that controller and app. Heiko explains:

With the upcoming Pioneer rekordbox integration, Beatport will roll out two new plans – Beatport LINK Pro and Beatport LINK Pro+ – with an offline locker and 256kbps AAC audio quality (which is equivalent to 320kbps MP3, but you’re the expert here). This will be club ready, but will be aimed at DJs who take their laptops to clubs, for now. They will cost €39,99/month and €59,99/month depending on how many tracks you can put in the offline locker (50 and 100 respectively).

You’ll get streaming inside Rekordbox with the basic LINK, too – but only at 128k. So it’ll work for previewing and trying out mixes, but the idea is you’ll still pay more for higher quality. (And of course that also still means paying more to work with CDJs, which is also a big deal.)

And yeah, Beatport agree with me. “We think streaming for professional DJ use should be priced higher,” says Heiko. “And we also need to be sure that this is not biting into the indie labels and artists (and therefore also Beatport’s own) revenues,” he says.

What Heiko doesn’t say is that this could increase spending, but I think it actually could. Looking at my own purchase habits and talking to others, a lot of times you look back and spend $100 for a big gig, but then lapse a few months. A subscription fee might actually encourage you to spend more and keep your catalog up to date gig to gig.

It’s also fair to hope this could be good for under-the-radar labels and artists even relative to the status quo. If serious DJs are locked into subscription plans, they might well take a chance on lesser known labels and artists since they’re already paying. I don’t want to be overly optimistic, though – a lot of this will be down to how Beatport handles its editorial offerings and UX on the site as this subscription grows. That means it’s good someone like Heiko is handling relations, though, as I expect he’ll be hearing from us.

Really, one very plausible scenario is that streaming DJing doesn’t catch on initially because it’s more expensive – and people in the DJ world may stick to downloads. A lot of that in turn depends on things like how 5G rolls out worldwide (which right now involves a major battle between the US government and Chinese hardware vendor Huawei, among other things), plus how Pioneer deals with a “Streaming CDJ.”

The point is, you shouldn’t have to worry about any of that. And there’s no rush – smart companies like Beatport will charge sustainable amounts of money for subscriptions and move slowly. The thing to be afraid of is if Apple or Spotify rush out a DJ product and, like, destroy independent music. If they try it, we should fight back.

Will labels and artists benefit?

If it sounds like I’m trying to be a cheerleader for Beatport, I’m really not. If you look at the top charts in genres, a lot of Beatport is, frankly, dreck – even with great editorial teams trying to guide consumers to good stuff. And centralization in general has a poor track record when it comes to underground music.

No, what I am biased toward is products that are real, shipping, and based on serious economics. So much as I’m interested in radical ideas for decentralizing music distribution, I think those services have yet to prove their feasibility.

And I think it’s fair to give Beatport some credit for being a business that’s real, based on actual revenue that’s shared between labels and artists. It may mean little to your speedcore goth neo-Baroque label (BLACK HYPERACID LEIPZIG INDUSTRIES, obviously – please let’s make that). But Beatport really is a cornerstone for a lot of the people making dance music now, on a unique scale.

The vision for LINK seems to be solid when it comes to revenue. Heiko again:

LINK will provide an additional revenue source to the labels and artists. The people who are buying downloads on Beatport are doing so because they want to DJ/perform with them. LINK is not there to replace that.

But I think for the reason I’ve already repeated – that the “serious” and “amateur”/wedding/beginner DJ gulf is real and not just a thing snobs talk about – LINK and WeDJ probably won’t disrupt label business, even that much to the positive. Look ahead to Rekordbox integration and the higher tiers. And yeah, I’m happy to spend the money, because I never get tired of listening to music – really.

And what if you don’t like this? Talk to your label and distributor. And really, you should be doing that anyway. Heiko explains:

Unlike other DSP’s, Beatport LINK has been conceived and developed in close cooperation with the labels and distributors on Beatport. Over the past year, new contracts were signed and all music used for LINK has been licensed by the right holders. However, if labels whose distributors have signed the new contract don’t want their catalog to be available for LINK they can opt out. But again: LINK is meant to provide an additional revenue source to the labels and artists.

Have a good weekend, and let us know if you have questions or comments. I’ll be looking at this for sure, as I think there isn’t enough perspective coming from serious producers who care about the details of technology.

https://www.beatport.com/get-link

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Harder software: Reason Rack Extensions, in actual hardware racks

Once upon a time, Propellerhead ran an ad showing a bunch of hardware synths in a trash bin to make a point. This time, we get the opposite – a KORG Polysix for Reason running back in hardware.

By now, these arguments about analog versus digital, software versus hardware are all surely irrelevant to music making. But recent developments go one step further: they produce an environment in which inventors and developers no longer have to care. The vision is, make your cool effects and synthesis code, then freely choose to run them inside a host (like Reason), inside hardware. or even on the Web.

Propellerhead showed me some of these possibilities of their Rack Extension technology when I visited them this winter and talked to their developers.

You can actually try the Web side of this right now – Europe for Reason runs in a browser. It’s not just a simulation or a demo; it’s the complete Rack Extension. That clearly offers a new take on try-as-you-buy, and allows new possibilities in teaching and documentation – all without threatening the sales model for the software:

https://www.propellerheads.com/europa

A browser may be a strange place to experience the possibility of Rack Extensions running in hardware, but it’s actually the same idea. ELK MusicOS from MINDMusicLabs allows the same tech to run on a Linux-based operating system, on any hardware you want. So if you want self-contained instruments with knobs and faders and buttons – and no distracting screens or awkward keyboards – you can do it.

It’s not so much post-PC as it is more PC than your PC. Computers should be capable of ultra-low latency, reliable operation, even running general purpose systems. The problem is, musicians aren’t the ones calling the shots.

MusicOS can cut latency below 1ms round-trip, runs on single Intel and ARM CPUs, and has official support for VST and Rack Extensions – plus full support for connectivity (USB, WiFi, Bluetooth, 4G mobile data, and MIDI).

What was cool at Superbooth was seeing some recognizable hardware prototypes using the technology. We saw a VST plug-in just before the show from Steinberg; for the Rack Extension side of things, you get a Eurorack module version of KORG’s Polysix, using their own Component Modeling Technology. (So it is a software model, but here with hands-on control and modular connectivity.)

For now, it’s just a prototype. But Rack Extension support, like VST, is officially part of MusicOS. Now it’s just up to hardware makers to take the plunge. Based on interest we saw from CDM readers and heard around the show, there is serious market potential here.

In other words, this could be the sign of things to come. ELK’s tech works i such a way that more or less the same code can target custom hardware as desktop software. And compatible systems on a chip start around ten bucks – meaning this could be an effective platform for a lot of people. (I’m not clear on how much licensing costs; ELK ask interested developers to ‘get in touch’ so it may be negotiated case by case.)

https://www.mindmusiclabs.com/powered-by-elk-eurorack-synth/

https://www.mindmusiclabs.com/

Previously:

Hardware VST? Steinberg Retrologue plug-in gets physical version

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Welcome to YouTube Hell: A MIDI pack reseller silences criticism

YouTube is elevating new voices to prominence in music technology as in other fields. But the platform’s esoteric rules are also ripe for abuse – as one YouTube host claims.

The story begins with around a product, the Unison MIDI Chord Pack. This US$67 pack is already, on its surface, a bit strange. Understandably, users without musical training may like the idea of drag-and-drop chords and harmony – nothing wrong with that. But the actual product appears to be just a set of folders full of MIDI files … of, like, chords. Not real presets, but just raw MIDI chords. They even demo the product in Ableton Live, which already contains built-in chord and arpeggiator tools.

You can watch the demo video on their product page – at first, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. They claim that this will help you to create chords “with the right notes, in the right order” without theory background – except most of the drag-and-drop material is made up of root position triads, labeled via terminology you’d need some theory to even read.

It’d be a little bit like someone selling you a Build Your Own House Construction Set that was made up of a bag of nails… and the nails were just ones they’d found lying on the ground. Maybe I’m missing something, but I definitely can’t figure out this product from their documentation.

Ave Mcree aka Traptendo, a well-known YouTube host, decided to take on the developers. Calling the product a “scam,” he says he pointed to other, free sources for the same MIDI content – meaning that, as it wasn’t actually original, at best the Unison product amounts to plagiarism.

As if it weren’t already strange enough that these developers were selling MIDI files of chords, they then responded to Ave Mcree’s video by filing a copyright claim. At this point, our story is picked up by Tim Webb at the excellent Discchord blog, who choose a nice, succinct headline:

Fuck Unison Audio [Discchord]

I’ve reached out to Unison for further comment.

Ave writes:

A video about Unison Audio copyright striking my “Unison Audio Chord MIDI Pack Scam” video! This is a channel strike which is affects my monetization rights and could get my channel deleted. I don’t care if that happens because I’m not going to stand for people hustling you. It’s sad that YouTube allows shills and dishonest companies to strike honest reviewers. It’s censorship at it finest! YouTube as a company has lost all of it’s charm when it stop caring about the community on here. Do I like doing videos like these? No, but it’s necessary when people are using their influence for the wrong things. I’m not knocking their hustle by NO MEANS, but offer a product that is 100% YOURS!!!!!

What makes this story so disturbing: not only is YouTube’s lax structure vulnerable to abuse, it seems to actively encourage scammers.

The copyright claim appears to be based on the the pack included for demonstration purposes in his video. While I’m not a lawyer, this should fall dead center under the doctrine of fair use as well as the royalty free license provided by the developers themselves.

Here’s where YouTube’s scale and automation, though, collide with the intricacies of copyright law requirements (mainly in the USA, but possibly soon impacted by changes in the European Union). It’s easy to file a copyright claim, but hard to get videos reinstated once that claim is filed.

As a result: there’s almost nothing stopping someone from filing a fraudulent copyright claim just because they don’t like your video. In this case, Unison can simply use a made-up copyright claim as a tool to kill a video they didn’t like.

You can read up on this world of hurt on Google’s own site:

Copyright strike basics

After all the recent fears about the EU and filtering, automated filtering doesn’t result in a strike – strikes require an explicit request. The problem is, creators have little recourse once that strike is processed. They can contact whomever made the complaint and get them to reverse it – which doesn’t work here, if Unison’s whole goal was removing the video. They can wait 90 days – an eternity in Internet time. Or they can file a “counter notification” – but even this is slow:

After we process your counter notification by forwarding it to the claimant, the claimant has 10 business days to provide us with evidence that they have initiated a court action to keep the content down. This time period is a requirement of copyright law, so please be patient.

Counter Notification Basics [Google Support]

It was only a matter of time before music and music tech encountered the problems with this system, as YouTube grows. Other online media – including CDM – are subject to liability for copyright and libel, as we should be. But legal systems are also set up to prevent frivolous claims, or attempts to use these rules simply to gag your critics. That’s not the case with YouTube; Google has an incentive to protect itself more than its creators, and it’s clear the system they’ve set up has inadequate protections against abuse.

What kind of abuse?

Fuck Jerry, the Instagram “influencer” agency that ripped off memes and helped build the ill-fated Fyre Festival, used copyright strikes to remove a video critical of its operation.

And the system has produced a swarm of copyright trolls.

And it gets worse from there: the system can result in outright extortion, with Google proving unresponsive to complains. The Verge reported on this phenomenon earlier this year, and while Google claimed to be working on the problem, observed that even major channels needed their woes to go viral before even getting a response from the company:

YouTube’s copyright strikes have become a tool for extortion

This isn’t the only problem on YouTube’s platform for music and music technology. While the service is promoting new personalities, disclosure around their relationships with sponsors are often opaque. Traptendo also observes that videos touting various tutorials on working with harmony may be sponsored by Unison Audio, with little or no acknowledgement of that relationship.

That same complaint has been leveled at CDM and me not to mention… okay, all the print magazines I’ve ever written for. But we at least have to answer for our credibility, or lose you as readers. (And sometimes losing you as readers is exactly what happens.) YouTube’s automated algorithms, by contrast, mean videos that simply mention the right keywords or appeal to particular machine heuristics can be promoted without any of that human judgment.

YouTube has unquestionable value, and to pretend otherwise would be foolhardy. Traptendo’s videos are great; I hope this one that was removed gets reinstated.

At the same time, we need to be aware of some of the downsides of this platform. And I’m concerned that we’ve become dependent on a single platform from a single vendor – which also means if anything goes wrong, creators are just as quickly de-platformed.

And regardless of what’s going on with YouTube, it’s also important for humans to spread the word – at least to say, friends don’t let friends spend their money on … chords.

I don’t believe all music “needs to be free,” but I would least say triads are. Actually, wait… I could use some spare spending money. Excuse me, I’m going to slip into the night to go sell some all-interval tetrachords on the black market.

Here’s Traptendo showing you how to mess with harmony in FL Studio – minus the overpriced “pack”:

Oh yeah and – check out Ave’s site on the open Web, complete with full blog:

https://djavemcree.net/

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A plea to DJs: make sharing part of digging

Many DJs still believe track lists and track IDs are proprietary information to be guarded … for some reason. But however defensible this position may have been in the past, opening up information matters now like never before.

The issue blew up again in the past 24 hours as The Black Madonna and other responded to Developer, the label chief for Modularz. Developer argued that people should “find their own gems” and he had no interest in sharing track listings or track IDs because he spent “hours” digging for tracks. He has since deleted those tweets (including one reply to me suggesting I go use Shazam), and didn’t respond to my request for comment. He did, however, leave up various retweets of people defending the position.

But this isn’t about Developer – and on the contrary, I’d rather he and others changed their minds. I totally agree with his learn to hunt idea. But what I don’t understand is why you’d brag about hiding tracks in the first place. So there’s clearly some disconnect here.

Some DJs I quite like keep doing … this every time someone asks for a damned track ID:

Noncompliant puts it succinctly:

This is about producers. Electronic music is now flooded with new people DJing, new people making music, and new people becoming music fans. That should be a healthy combination, one that supports the people making music.

Making music involves a heck of a lot of vulnerability. A lot of artists are desperate just to be heard – not widely, to be heard and appreciated in some real way even once often means a lot. They fight depression and insecurity and day jobs and the need to do tax accounting to put music out there for an audience that often ignores them.

Total obscurity is toxic to expression. It robs makers of fans, and fans of experiencing something unique. And there’s a lot of music being condemned to that fate. Music streaming isn’t just lowering the value of music returned to creators; it’s raising the cost of getting your music heard – because it’s being consolidated in the hands of a few major companies (Apple, Google, Spotify) who then fix algorithms and channels based on mainstream tastes and inward-turning circles of machine learning. Meanwhile, independent journalism has dwindled, dominated by large corporate interests and pay-for-play schemes even at smaller sites and … okay, I’ll just stop. It’s not all bad, but there are some major challenges out there that can be devastating to some great music.

With streaming poised to take over DJ booths, far from defending the exclusivity of DJing, we are fighting against a possible future where most DJs select music based on algorithms and Instagram influencers. (There’s some better scenarios here, but some of them are indeed scary.)

But then that makes me utterly mystified why DJs would pick this moment to get precious about their playlists.

So, okay, let me address that crew now, even if it means I have to duck into a phone booth (kids, ask your parents) and change into my not-at-all-secret superhero identity – [Disney Marvel Studios presents] CAPTAIN OBVIOUS!

Photo (CC-BY) jlggb.

You don’t have to answer pests. I get it – there’s that person at a club who ought to be dancing who won’t leave you alone. I’m not talking about any of them; that’s fine to refuse them. And if your Facebook page or Instagram inbox is overflowing with requests, I get that, too. Don’t stress; you’re free to ignore them.

But don’t sell yourself short. Come on. What DJ has ever only made a mark only based on picking obscure secret weapons? You’re a good DJ (or you’re not, but then you really shouldn’t be arguing here). It’s about mixing and placement and edits and adjustment and reading the crowd and the narrative of the evening and the moment and … are you seriously arguing you’re giving away something if you tell someone the name of a track you liked? I’m sorry, I’m still mystified as to why I’m even having to write this, but here we are.

That said …

These tracks aren’t yours to protect. Okay, apart from if you made the track yourself, in which case this resistance is exceedingly weird, what the Hell are you doing? Someone made a track that you played and someone loves it. Don’t you owe it to the person who made that track to give them credit? And speaking of which –

Encouraging people to buy music is great. I found it especially odd that DJs were complaining about people going and buying $2 downloads. Uh… that’s not normally something labels and artists are opposed to having happen more often.

But you know, even apart from that:

We’re lucky to share our passion with other people, right? I talked to Noncompliant who talked about enjoying showing people record sleeves back in the day. Hell, I’ve had the most fun in the booth when people do ask me for IDs or I wind up striking up a conversation with a friend who’s playing. Sometimes those tracks are rare; sometimes they’re totally obvious but still lovable.

We’re living in scary times. The solution to protecting the value of the DJ is not to hide your tracks – because that will only accelerate a trend where music is unknowable and left to unseen forces, and those unseen forces are not benign. It ought to be a privilege to play other people’s music, not a burden to share the authorship of that music. And if DJs go and dig up rare and obscure sounds, nothing will illustrate that like letting people know.

No high tech solutions needed. There are plenty of interesting techie solutions to publishing playlists via Twitter or Pioneer’s servers or Richie Hawtin’s servers or Skynet or whatever, but I’ll leave that for another time.

You can show people record sleeves. You can hit the INFO button on a CDJ someone can see (thanks again to Noncompliant for both of those). You can tell someone or write them a note. You can share playlists manually on Facebook or Twitter or your website, as many people now do, and then you won’t get nagged.

But it’s not just me saying this. And this isn’t just “kids today” wanting all their information free so they can talk about it through fancy Snapchat filters while they eat Tide Pods. In fact, I’m totally biased as a producer first and an independent label and generally a pain in the ass. So here are some other people saying it, using fewer words because they’re not me.

Look, I’m not here to make a point. I really do hope this message spreads.

We need you, DJs – every ID, every listener makes a difference.

#digandshare

Photo at top: CC-BY Irma Daidone.

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MidiWrist aids instrumentalists by giving Siri and Apple Watch control

Grabbing the mouse, keyboard, or other controller while playing an instrument is no fun. Developer Geert Bevin has a solution: put an Apple Watch or (soon) iPhone’s Siri voice command in control.

We’ve been watching MidiWrist evolve over the past weeks. It’s a classic story of what happens when a developer is also a musician, making a tool for themselves. Geert has long been an advocate for combining traditional instrumental technique and futuristic electronic instruments; in this case, he’s applying his musicianship and developer chops to solving a practical issue.

If you’ve got an iPhone but no watch – like me – there are some solutions coming (more on that in a bit). But Apple Watch is really ideally suited to the task. The fact that you have the controller strapped to your body already means controls are at hand. Haptic feedback on the digital crown means you can adjust parameters without even having to look at the display. (The digital crown is the dial on the side of the watch that was used to wind and/or set time on analog watches. Haptic feedback uses sound to give physical feedback in the way a tangible control would, both on that crown and the touch surface of the watch face – what Apple calls “taptic” feedback since it works with the existing touch interface. Even if you’re not a fan of the Apple Watch, it’s a fascinating design feature.)

How this works in practice: you can use the transport and even overdub new tracks easily, here pictured in Logic Pro X:

Just seeing the Digital Crown mapped as a new physical control is a compelling tech demo – and very useful to mobile apps, which tend to lack physical feedback. Here it is in a pre-release demo with the Minimoog Model D on iPhone:

Or here it is with the Eventide H9 (though, yeah, you could just put the pedal on a table and get the same impact):

Here it is with IK Multimedia’s UNO synth, though this rather makes me wish the iPhone just had its own Digital Crown:

Version 1.1 will include voice control via Siri. That’ll work with iPhones, too, so you don’t necessarily need an Apple Watch. With voice-controlled interfaces coming to various home devices, it’s not hard to imagine sitting at home and recording ideas right when the mood strikes you, Star Trek: The Next Generation style.

Geert, please, can we set up a DAW that lets us dictate melodies like this?

It’s a simple app at its core, but you see it really embodies three features: wearable interfaces, hands-free control (with voice), and haptic feedback. And here are lots of options for custom control, MIDI functionality, and connectivity. Check it out – this really is insane for just a watch app:

Four knobs can be controlled with the digital crown
Macro control over multiple synth parameters from the digital crown
Remotely Play / Stop / Record / Rewind your DAW from your Watch
Knobs can be controlled individually or simultaneously
Knobs can be linked to preserve their offsets
Four buttons can be toggled by tapping the Watch
Buttons can either be stateful or momentary
Program changes through the digital crown or by tapping the Watch
Transport control over Midi Machine Control (MMC)
XY pad with individual messages for each axis
Optional haptic feedback for all Watch interactions
Optional value display on the Watch
Configurable colors for all knobs and buttons
Configurable MIDI channels and CC numbers
Save your configurations to preset for easy retrieval
MIDI learn for easy controller configuration
MIDI input to sync the state of the controllers with the controlled synths
Advertise as a Bluetooth MIDI device
Connect to other Bluetooth MIDI devices
Monitor the MIDI values on the iPhone
Low latency and fast response

http://uwyn.com/midiwrist/

All of this really does make me want a dedicated DIY haptic device. I had an extended conversation with the engineers at Native Instruments about their haptic efforts with TRAKTOR; I personally believe there’s a lot of potential for human-machine interfaces for music with this approach. But that will depend in the long run on more hardware adopting haptic interfaces beyond just the passive haptics of nice-feeling knobs and faders and whatnot.

It’s a good space to keep an eye on. (I almost wrote “a good space to watch.” No. That’s not the point. You know.)

Geert shares a bit about development here:

Fun anecdote — in a way, this app has been more than three years in the making. I got the first Apple Watch in the hope of creating this, but the technology was way too slow without a direct real-time communication protocol between the Watch and the iPhone. I’ve been watching every Watch release (teehee) up until the last one, the Series 4. The customer reception was so good overall that I decided to give this another go, and only after a few hours of prototyping, I could see that this would now work and feel great. I did buy a Watch Series 3 afterwards also to include in my testing during development.

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SoundCloud will now handle distributing your music – and give you a 100% cut

SoundCloud has a new pitch to creators: upload your music not just to SoundCloud, but to all major music services, too. Distribution is launching in a new beta as part of Premier service, and the terms look appealing.

Okay, first, to understand what digital distribution is, let’s go back in time. Digital music for many years meant primarily CDs and … well, piracy, despite some early (fairly horrible) stores. Then along came Apple’s iTunes Music Store. When it launched, you needed to have a label deal of some kind to make your music available; Apple dealt with those labels much as brick and mortar stores deal with labels and distributors. The first loophole was CDBaby – the name is a reminder that at the time, independent music producers were still largely duplicating releases on CDs. Pay for CDBaby, and you get your music on iTunes for sale.

Now, the landscape is different. Apart from DJs and specialists, most people get their music through streaming services. But the only major destination where you can upload music directly these days has been SoundCloud (though Apple and Spotify may soon change that).

So if you want your music on other services, you typically sign a distribution deal. Some of these are pay-once or subscription services open to anyone. More traditional distributors require multi-year contracts you can’t get out of – though they may offer personal relationships with curators at online stores, and the promise, at least, of getting you placed as “featured music” or on playlists.

If you just want to get your music out there, the issue is that the distribution costs can actually cost more than you bring in.

SoundCloud’s offering, then, could be at least cheap and convenient. Here’s how it works:

Qualified users with a SoundCloud Pro or Pro Unlimited account can sign up for an open beta right now.

You can select original music to distribute to a range of services, including Amazon Music, Apple Music, Instagram, Spotify, Tencent (the leading Chinese network), and YouTube Music, inside your SoundCloud account.

Then you keep 100% “of your rights” (need to read the fine print on that), plus 100% of distribution royalties from third-party services. There’s no additional cost for distribution.

Most other services either take a cut of royalties, or charge fees for distribution; here, what you’re paying already for your account already covers those costs.

So wait, what’s in it for SoundCloud if you get all the money? It seems the main goal is to attract users to their subscription services and provide monetization options to keep them there. In fact, you don’t have to include your music on SoundCloud or monetize it there if for some reason you don’t want to – like if for some reason you want it just on Apple or just on Spotify or some other combination. SoundCloud hopes you will, though; a spokeperson for the company tells us, “Monetizing tracks through SoundCloud Premier monetization gets creators the best revenue share rate on SoundCloud and fast payouts.”

I suspect SoundCloud does hope to use this offering to help build up their catalog, of course – which makes sense for them. The big challenge SoundCloud’s business faces is, while the service has a lot of original music the likes of Spotify and Apple lack, their catalog still lags the major music a lot of people want to listen to. And they’re in the unique position of wanting to attract both creators and listeners. That could be good in the long run for us as creators, but so far it’s meant that we tend to use SoundCloud as a way of building audience for other services (and for a lot of us, trying to convince people to buy downloads or physical music).

SoundCloud’s creator-facing tools are essentially unparalleled; the limited tools on Spotify and Apple are fairly weak and confusing. The real pitfalls here aren’t so much about SoundCloud as they are about streaming – streaming revenue for a lot of smaller artists is disappointing or even nonexistent. And this won’t help your music get playlisted or found on those services; it’ll just get you over the initial barrier of distribution.

In other words, I think generally the pricier services for distribution that just dump music on streaming are going to get run out of business, in favor of offerings like SoundCloud’s. But that leaves opportunities for distributors who do work on promotion, as well as the “we’re not dead yet” strangeness of cassette tapes and vinyl still being viable distribution formats in 2019.

Do you qualify?

The open beta requires a SoundCloud Pro / Pro Unlimited subscription, and you have to be an adult (18+ or age of majority).

You have to control all the rights to your music. So if you’ve signed music to a label, for instance, or you have an existing distribution deal, you can’t upload even your own music – technically, you’ve signed away the right to do so.

You also can’t have any copyright strikes against you on SoundCloud. That’s a dicey issue, I know, though SoundCloud points CDM readers to copyright@soundcloud.com if you’ve got a question about copyright policy or you have a strike against you.

And you need at least 1000 plays in countries that have advertising available – US, UK, Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, New Zealand.

It seems you don’t necessarily have to be living in one of those countries, however.

When do you get data or get paid?

This is the part I really like.

You get monthly reporting of numbers from all the services where you’re distributing.

There are monthly royalty payments, with no minimums.

This is a big break from the truly terrible way the industry often operates, which is to lock you into long-term contracts, take a big slice of the money you’ve earned, and then make data hard to retrieve and slow, and hold up what money is left based on weird payment schedules or minimum thresholds.

So the appeal of just logging into a SoundCloud account and taking care of all of this – leaving time for you to go figure out who to talk to to make your music popular – that’s hugely appealing.

There’s a separate music ecosystem of DJ services like Beatport and Traxsource, plus of course the isolatedbut artist-friendly world of Bandcamp. I hope to check in with both those services soon.

And there will still be room for distributors who offer more advanced customer service and relationships with those outlets, or bundle distribution with other services (including label management).

For everything else, though, the new SoundCloud offering looks like a significant breakthrough. I’ll be testing the beta, for my own music – even though the label we operate, Establishment, has a few weeks left on one of those terrible contracts I mentioned. Let us know if you have questions about this and we can ask our Berlin neighbors at SoundCloud.

For more or to sign up:

creators.soundcloud.com/premier
@creatorsonSC on Twitter

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The Technics SL-1200 is back, and this time for DJs again

First it was dead. Then, it came back but … inexplicably cost four thousand bucks and seemed to be for audiophiles, not DJs. Now, at last, the iconic* Technics SL-1200 turntable is back, and in a newly-manufactured form that might actually suit DJs.

The pitch: take advanced tech, learned from Blu-ray players, and turn it into an accessible turntable that delivers the performance and playing style of traditional players, with greater reliability and better sound.

If you don’t particularly need the name “Technics” on your turntable, of course, this may not even qualify as news. Manufacturers from Pioneer to Reloop now make reasonably affordable turntables that expand on the legacy of the Technics turntable and enable DJs to play decks like an instrument.

A couple of years ago when Panasonic revised the SL-1200 name, it at first seemed the company was surrendering the DJ market to those rivals. The first SL-1200GAE/1200G was a heavy, expensive machine engineered to within an inch of its life for vinyl consumers and deep-pocketed audiophiles. (Okay, I want to say “suckers.” At least people with money to burn.) Bizarrely, there wasn’t much mention of the DJs or hip hop producers who made the SL series famous in the first place. (Wired got the first preview; Vinyl Factory commented on the company’s explanation of that $4000 sticker shock.)

Now, it seems, we’re back to reality. The new SL-1200MK7 has specs more like a normal SL-1200, has marketing and specs intended for DJs, and while we don’t know the price, at least returns to a normal weight (just under 10kg).

The SL-1200MK7 (aka the SL-1210MK7 in Europe) then can be fairly dubbed the first Matsushita/Panasonic turntable for DJs to come off the assembly line in nine years – and the first in nine years to be a direct successor to the 1972 original 1200.

Onboard, some new engineering, now again in the service of DJs:

Coreless direct drive motor – okay, first, Panasonic are again making a new motor, apparently even after the 2016 audiophile take on this. It’s a direct drive motor like the original, but Technics promises the torque of the MK5, but without the iron core that can cause cogging (inconsistencies that impact audio quality).

To put it more briefly – this is the kind of more reliable motor Technics was pushing, but this time not so damned heavy and expensive.

Also new:

Reverse it. Provided you have a compatible phono cartridge, you can enable a reverse play function accessed by hitting the speed selector and Start/Stop at the same time.

Scratch-friendly – with computer control. Here’s the surprise: you get new motor control Panasonic have borrowed from the development of Blu-ray drives, using microprocessors to keep the motor operating smoothly. The MK7 tunes that relationship, says Technics, to work across playing styles – including DJing. What else does that mean?

Pitch is digitally controlled. Greater accuracy of pitch adjustment is another side benefit, because the motor can respond interactively as you play.

Well, apparently the original silver color is now reserved for audiophiles.

But there’s no question this is a sign of the times. Where as the digital age first seemed to jettison old brands and old technologies, all of them are back with a vengeance, from film photography to turntables to synthesizers. And finally even the likes of Japanese titan Panasonic, Technics parent company, are getting the memo. Just like a violinist wants particular features out of a violin, a DJ has expectations of what a turntable should be – not only appearance or moniker, but engineering.

And, let’s be honest, there is something nice about seeing new Technics in production.

Now the question is, can Panasonic trickle down new advanced tech in motors and control, inherited from advanced Blu-ray players, to the traditional turntable? If they can, they might just be able to best some of the other commodity turntables on the market.

Full details:
https://www.technics.com/us/news/20190107-sl-1200mk7/ [Press release]

[Product page]

A timeline of Technics turntables

The SP-10 started it all – at least introducing the world to direct drive turntables. But notice it didn’t even have its own integrated tonearm.

DJ Kool Herc was far enough ahead of the curve that he started on the 1971 SL-1100, not the SL-1200.

1970: SP-10
World’s first direct drive turntable (the enabling technology that would enable DJing technique and scratching)

1971: SL-1100
Starts to look like the turntables we know (integrated tonearm and platter). Used by hip-hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc.

1972: SL-1200/SL-1210
You’d feel at home cueing and beatmatching on this, but – note that the speed control was on a dial. (The 1210 variation of this is a Euro-friendly model with voltage selection and black, not silver.)

1979: SL-1200MK2
The SL-1200 was already a standard, but the MK2 looks more like the template DJs recognize today. Influenced by a field trip to Chicago clubs, the engineers unveiled the MK2 with Quartz Lock, a big pitch fader (whew!), and other details like a vibration-soaking cabinet and rubber.

Later revisions added other minor improvements, but it was really the MK2 that looks like the template for all DJ turntables to come – particularly thanks to pitch being on a fader and not a tiny knob (once Japanese engineers worked out how artists in Chicago were using pitch).

1989: SL-1200MK3
Improvements largely around vibration.

1997: SL-1200MK3D
The end of the center click pitch controller (so you could get hairline adjustments around zero more accurately).

2000: SL-1200MK5
Sort of the gold standard here, based on tiny performance enhancements and details like brake speed adjustment. See also the MK5G variation, 2002.

2019: SL-1200MK7/SL-120MK7
All-new motor, digitally-controlled pitch, reverse play.

And yes, I agree with my colleague James Grahame of MeeBlip in thinking this is all becoming a bit like the modern Spitfire kit remake planes, the Submarine Spitfires.

All photos courtesy Technics.

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Resident Advisor shuts down comments; what’s the forum for non-toxic chat?

Resident Advisor announced today it’s shuttering comments on its site, closing on-article commentary on one of the world’s leading venues for electronic music information.

Comments are already closed on the article, so — sorry, toxic commenters, no chance for you to chime in! But many of the comments on Twitter are in the “’bout time” category:

Hateful comments aren’t victimless, and the victims are disproportionately women, minorities, and LGBTQ members of the community. That means shutting down comments could have a major positive impact for those people. And note the link above – the conversation continues elsewhere.

But that raises a question: how do you make online conversation more productive and inclusive and less hurtful? The editorial announcing the change seems to blame comments for being antiquated:

Social media introduced a more broadly accepted way for people to communicate online. Comments sections served an ever-smaller portion of users, not just on RA but across the internet.

That raises a question, however: did social media absorb mainstream conversation, leaving toxic commenters in threads on articles? Or has social media itself inflamed ever-lower standards of interaction? Haven’t social media channels been blamed for exactly the same sort of toxic chatter?

When RA’s own Will Lynch singled out sexism in comments a couple of years ago, it was Facebook, not article comments on RA, were originally the case in point:

Opinion: Misogyny and mob mentality

And that’s just one case; countless others have seen Twitter, comments on Facebook posts, comments on Facebook and YouTube videos. Maybe comments on articles serve few enough readers to warrant turning them off. But toxicity is alive and well on mainstream social media.

RA for their part promise “new ways of fostering community that are more in line with the times and, most importantly, that are welcoming and inclusive to everyone.” For now, we can’t really fault them or credit them, not knowing what they have in mind or how it will work.

In the meantime, there are no shortage of ways of communicating with RA. Part of the challenge of a site today is the sheer magnitude of moderating all those social media channels. But note that all those channels are operated by large corporations, each of which sets the rules for how moderation works.

RA in the same editorial encourage readers to communicate with them on “Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.” For the record, that’s:

Facebook, Inc.: California-based, publicly-traded corporation, 2.2 billion active users (01/18), established 2004.
Google, LLC: California-based, publicly-traded corporation. (YouTube LLC is the California-based subsidiary, established 2005).
Facebook… again.
and Twitter, California-based, publicly-traded corporation, 300+ million active users monthly, established 2006.

I don’t mean to implicate RA here – far from it. I started writing online (and in print) in the early 2000s. RA was established in 2001; CDM in 2004, publishing regularly starting early 2005. You can see the problem from the dates above: YouTube and Twitter didn’t even exist yet. Google had recently gotten into blogging with Blogger. Facebook existed but was still limited to campuses. Now the world has changed. And while this is a topic for a different article, I think it’s fair to implicate these large corporations for worsening the problem, by resisting moderation (especially human moderation), and emphasizing “engagement” in the interest of rapid growth and corporate profits. That “engagement” often translates to turning up noise and down signal.

I’ve certainly made major missteps running CDM (mostly single-handedly – mea culpa). I’ve failed at administering online forums – twice. I’ve had the site overrun with spam – numerous occasions – and even once compromised by a right-wing European group. (That was an interesting day.) I’ve screwed up on major social media sites, too.

Comments will continue here, but we’re fortunate to have built up a community here over 14 years. I know a lot of regular readers personally now. And this site is obviously on a much smaller scale than RA. I’ve stepped in when comments turned ugly. I believe firmly in moderation, and as I hope CDM does expand its community offerings some time in the future, that means designing moderation into it.

In fact, let me pause and say this – thank you. This site got its start partly thanks to what you’ve written in comments – your ideas, your corrections, heck, your copy editing, your constructive criticism, your tips. If anything, I think I owe it to the readers to find new ways of creating online community because you’ve demonstrated what that community can be. And if that’s because this site is small and niche, well, maybe there are some good things about small and niche.

But this is about more than this site. I hope we can make a platform to start to discuss what online community can look like – technologically and culturally. This is surely as much a part of music technology today as a drum machine or a DAW. And it’s also been a place with arguably the least innovation, in a field dominated by those massive transnational information megacorporations that now dominate traffic on the Internet.

I’m glad to see RA comments go. But we all need to come together to create something better – and we can’t count on Silicon Valley to do it for us.

Worth reading:

Opinion: Why we’re closing comments

I welcome your … comments. Still open below. What should future discussion look like? And is there a place for comments on articles at least on smaller sites like this one? (Okay, selection bias there, but sound off!)

Try not to call me or anyone else names. Actually, me, I can take it – just not anyone else. Thanks.

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