Call it stimulated synesthesia: there’s something really satisfying when your brain sees and hears a connection between image and sound. And add some extra magic when the image is on an oscilloscope. A new video series on YouTube shows you how to make this effect yourself.
Jerobeam Fenderson has begun a series on so-called “oscilloscope music.” The oscilloscope isn’t making the sounds – that’s opposite to how an oscilloscope works, as a signal visualization device. But by designing some nice reactive eye candy for the oscilloscope, then connecting some appropriate, edgy minimal music signal, you get, well – this:
Oooh, my, that’s tasty. Like biting into a big, juicy ripe [vegetarian version] tomato [meat-lovers version] raw steak.
So in the tutorial series, Fenderson clues us in to how he makes all this happen. And this could be an economical thing to play around with, as you’ll often find vintage oscilloscopes around a studio or on sale used.
Don’t miss the description on YouTube – there are tons of resources in there; it’s practically a complete bibliography on the topic in itself.
SoundCloud’s CEO published a post saying SoundCloud is here to stay and uploads are safe. But it isn’t just SoundCloud’s business that’s troubled.
Okay, first – the one thing you shouldn’t worry about is music you’ve uploaded to SoundCloud. As I wrote at the end of last week, you should worry if you have media that’s important to you that’s located in any one place without backups, SoundCloud or otherwise. But while there have been plenty of signs SoundCloud’s business is seriously troubled, that doesn’t necessarily translate to any indication you’ll lose access to the service.
SoundCloud co-founder and CEO Alex Ljung was left scrambling in the wake of deep layoffs to assuage user fears. He took to the phones with at least one celebrity user, Chance the Rapper, who reported a “fruitful” call with the exec on Twitter Friday.
Also on Friday, Ljung posted a plea on the company’s blog:
The music you love on SoundCloud isn’t going away, the music you shared or uploaded isn’t going away, because SoundCloud is not going away. Not in 50 days, not in 80 days or anytime in the foreseeable future. Your music is safe.
Alex also refers dismissively to “an insane amount of noise” about the company.
But let’s back up. SoundCloud’s CEO can’t just shrug off fear and uncertainty when the company’s own messaging, actions, and even financial filings are largely responsible. Whatever’s going on with SoundCloud’s business, the company has lost control of its image. It’s hard not to view this “noise” as partly SoundCloud’s fault.
Co-founders Alex and Eric are each articulate and passionate advocates of music sharing. But the company has for years failed to articulate its business model. It’s talked about subscription services like SoundCloud Go, without being clear about how it can compete with entrenched competitors, and talked about advertising without being clear about how it will attract advertisers or how those ads will be effectively delivered. It’s been evasive about details of revenue and profit. It’s allowed bad press to accumulate, like allowing lavish office photos to spread just as financial filings were adding to concerns about its future. It has often failed to go on the record with press outlets (not mine, major press), while small rumor blogs flooded the narrative with leaked (and often inaccurate) information.
To see how badly SoundCloud’s media relations are going, look to recent reports by the likes of Forbes or even TechCrunch. That’s TechCrunch, who just last year were so bullish on SoundCloud that they said the company should be worth more than Spotify
The best SoundCloud could do by way of correction or response in this place was to say that the fourth quarter begins in 80 days, not 50, and that they meant they had money through the end of that quarter (that is, the end of the year) – but that means we’re not any further along than when Ljung initially made that same statement in a financial statement in January. You can watch the messy back and forth here: SoundCloud Responds to ‘Extensive Inaccuracies’ in Article Claiming It’s Almost Out of Money
[Indeed, TechCrunch has reason to complain here – SoundCloud doesn’t specify what it means by “extensive inaccuracies,” and actually appears to confirm some of the main gist of the article.]
Presumably these layoffs were planned for some time, so why did SoundCloud appear to be improvising its message to the press and its own staff?
And this problem isn’t a new one in summer. Way back in January, the apparent failure of revenue plans to keep pace with growing costs were fueling acquisition predictions. Now we have vague platitudes from the CEO that the company intends to remain independent, without any material on how they will do that. (That is, even after 40% staffing cuts, they’re still not talking about having money after the fourth quarter, unless by “foreseeable future” Ljung only means he can forsee 2017!) Here’s Fortune back at the end of the year; we actually know very little new information since then: Here’s Why SoundCloud Will Likely Look to Be Acquired Soon [Fortune]
I know SoundCloud can do better, having covered the company since its 2008 founding. I know its founders can do a better job of messaging than this, too, having known them almost as long. Rather than simply imploring its users to help, they need to provide a better picture as soon as possible as to how revenue growth will work versus costs – particularly now, having cut some of the staff who were responsible for making that revenue growth happen.
That said, I think SoundCloud are unfairly bearing the brunt of bad press and angry musicians.
Let’s not mince words: right now, the whole model of streaming appears economically broken, and surely all the major players deserve some share of the blame.
Talk about a rock and a hard place – maybe “buried under a pile of rubble” is more apt.
Content creators and owners believe they should get paid for music being streamed. So you’ve got the industry that represents them asking for higher royalty rates.
The problem is where the revenue to pay those royalties is coming from. Listeners don’t appear to want to pay much for subscription fees. That’s at least partly why Spotify and SoundCloud and others aren’t showing profitable results. Even if you don’t buy their arguments (lavish offices and huge headcount being evidence), there’s still a fundamental problem here. If users pay a flat fee for a subscription, then the company loses money the more they listen to the service – because royalty costs accrue. SoundCloud here actually has an edge, in that not all of the music uploaded requires a license – think spoken word and unreleased music. But SoundCloud hasn’t yet proven that they can make this work, either. (We’ll see if those staff cuts or other budget trimming helps.)
Advertising is the one thing that will grow with increased listening, at least in theory – more listening means more revenue for ads. But listeners and even content creators have been resistant to advertising. And selling ads in sufficient volume and with significant value means you need to have a talented staff able to liaise with big agencies and advertisers. Google is the one tech company who seem to have built a significant competency in the ad business, but they claim they’re not making money on ads, either.
And it gets worse. Largely missed in all the coverage of SoundCloud last week (but observed by some CDM readers), it’s really YouTube that dominates streaming. The Washington Post has just painted a bleak picture of the value of those YouTube plays to music.
In a pot-calls-kettle-black argument, YouTube weirdly warns of the dangers of consolidation in big players:
“The industry should be really, really careful because they could close their eyes and wake up with their revenue really concentrated in two, three sources,” said Lyor Cohen, YouTube’s global head of music, referring to Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Prime Music.
Right, so it’s better if it’s concentrated in four, and the fourth is Google? Huh?
The real danger here seems to be a race to the bottom. Apple, Amazon, and Google can all afford to lose money on streaming, turning it into loss-leader business for other revenue streams. SoundCloud, Spotify, and other tech companies can afford to lose money by repeatedly turning to outside investment. (It’s absurd that we’re still calling this “runway” with those companies, as the business is now around a decade old at least. The runway metaphor only works if you take off at some point. A “hole in the ground into which you throw money” metaphor is what we seem to have here.)
I wouldn’t normally compliment the record industry, but to the credit of groups like the RIAA, at least they’re exerting some pressure up. The problem is, even a $7 royalty per 1000 streams may prove negligible to smaller artists and labels – and if the business that pays that royalty can’t survive, it’s a moot point anyway.
So, uh, how’s everyone feeling? Super… happy? No?
Of course, the buzzword that everyone seems to be running to at the moment is the blockchain – offering decentralized content and paying creators more directly. But describing one part of a larger solution isn’t the same as describing the whole solution. Will listeners embrace micropayments for music, or will they find it a hassle? What will make them migrate from services they’re already accustomed to using – and in which they’ve already assembled playlists and preferences? What about the fact that services like Apple’s are already integrated with the listening devices they own? How do you convince listeners to change their mind about what music should cost, when they’ve already grown accustomed to $10 monthly fees – or, very often, no fee whatsoever?
It isn’t all bad news. People are listening to more music. Streaming isn’t a nonexistent business – it’s US$7.7 billion in the United States alone. Someone, somewhere is actually earning money.
Also, because of the cost of PR and building fanbases, and the potential revenue earned from paying live (or selling physical goods), a lot of musicians I’ve talked to really do appreciate the promotional value of online streams. There are plenty of cases where giving away streaming music is viable – because you might then sell people vinyl, for instance.
And, look, while all of this shakes out, musicians and labels continue to pursue a strategy that caters to building relations on all these services. Some of them have great success stories with YouTube, with SoundCloud, with Spotify.
But maybe that’s the point. It seems to be the businesses in between that are non-functioning – or (in the case of futuristic blockchain propositions) just not ready for primetime.
Musicians and labels keep doing the hard work of making the music and fighting to get it heard. Yet investment and attention pours into the middleware between us and listeners – and that middleware really isn’t working terribly well.
At the very least, it seems totally valid to me that people who make music have reason to be frustrated. I think we should continue talking about our own solutions. And I’d like to see the captains of industry – music industry and tech industry alike – take some greater responsibility for what’s gone wrong and how it might go better. Well… one can dream, anyway.
Everything about the iPad is about portability. Thinness. Ever-changing interfaces. Functionality hidden behind a pane of glass.
But, hey, now that you’ve slimmed down your computational device, why not go hog wild with tangible controls and a sprawling DIY MIDI controller?
That’s what Jakob Haq, the nearest thing to an iOS music celebrity we’ve got, has done with his rig. He’s got a video showing off a very simple, easy, friendly-to-everyone solution that fits in your pocket — versus a one-of-a-kind custom creation that will fit in your pocket if you’re wearing a camping tent.
Let’s look at each of those.
First, KORG have an exceptionally useful interface called plugKEY MIDI. Via one Lightning connection to your iPhone or iPad, you get audio out (via jack connections), headphone out, MIDI input, and charging (via standard microUSB). My only complaint is, you don’t get MIDI output, so you can’t use this for sequencing – you’ll need a different interface for that. But it’s still one of the handier options out there.
That is, this seems a quick way to get audio out, charging, and MIDI in. For more I/O, you have the iConnectMIDI offerings, or my current go-to solution, IK’s iRIG Pro Duo (which does audio in and out and MIDI in and out).
It’s what Jakob is doing with that MIDI in that’s most interesting, though.
It says something about the post-PC age. The iPad is thin, and barely there, but it does give you visuals. By connecting Jakob’s monster MIDI controller to the input, he can get as much physical control as he would hardware.
The video with the KORG shows a bit about that, but have a look, too, at how he got there:
Heavy stuff. And beautiful – a merging of the computer and GUI interface with more conventional physical controls.
As usual, I can’t wait to see what Jakob cooks up next. More links in his YouTube channel.
It happens. You get older. Slower. You wake up one day, and you’re definitely not a YouTube star with your own Patreon account and free sound pack downloads to go with it. You didn’t even figure out that there was a big trend involving something called fidget toys, “spinners” and “cubes” that kids use to … fidget … with. And already that trend is big enough that someone is making music with them.
This story might be about me. It might be about you. But it’s okay – because Andrew Huang is there. His followers are telling him about the fidget toys. He’s turning that trend into sweet, sweet music.
You can fake it, too. You can download his Ableton pack, and show it off to your friends, then roll your eyes in disgust when they say they’ve no idea what any of this stuff is – as if. Youth restored.
Or you can pick up some tips. (Basically, use some EQ to filter out pitched sound from noise, use Sampler/Simpler in Ableton or something similar to play these up and down the keyboard. Now, this is 80s sampler stuff. I even was there for the 80s. Advantage: gen X and above.) And maybe you’re on top of the next Internet meme. Better watch closely, though – don’t flinch just because the President of the United States is tweeting. Stay on your game.
Or just sit back with a cool drink and watch the YouTube. Life is good. We live in the future.
Elektron’s Octatrack has been around since 2010, with Digitakt about to make its launch. But it remains a bedrock of a lot of live rigs. And there’s something that’s still special about it. It’s a sampler, yes, but with eight tracks and a built-in sequencer. It’s got a deep effects section and loads of I/O. In other words, it’s a digital box that assumes a lot of the collection of functions that are the reason to lug along a laptop. It does that job of playing tracks, sequences, and effects in an improvisatory way – whether closer to live playing or DJing.
The trick is understanding how to do that. And while loading up tracks and pressing play may sound boring, that could free you up to actually experiment with effects and transitions over top rather than just the busywork of reinventing the same material. (That’s especially important if you want to play the stuff people expect from your record.)
Cuckoo continues his terrific series of video tutorial videos with a comprehensive starter’s guide to doing just that.
The first few minutes are just the basics – the backing track bit. But about nine minutes in, you start to get to the interesting stuff. That includes making the whole setup playable, using effects like beat repeat creatively, and employing the Octatrack’s unique onboard crossfader as “scene slider.”
Of course, the other advantage of automating some of this stuff is that it allows the Octatrack to be effective at the center of a rig with other gear – or even that computer, in fact.
Have a look:
If you want more, he’s got a whole series of videos on how to use the Octatrack – and some live jams of his own. It winds up being somehow better than even Elektron’s documentation – but I think it will always be important to have tutorial content from artists’ perspectives.
Getting in the zone is a beautiful thing – that feeling when music seems to almost play itself, when it really feels new.
Just like you do a lot of preparation and practice as a musician to get there, when you make instruments, you’re endlessly learning how to make help people find that zone. And that’s ultimately why I feel lucky to be involved in making instruments as well as making music – with CDM generally, and with our own toes in the water, MeeBlip.
Now, as it happens, people are making amazing things with the MeeBlip (alongside the other gear we talk about). Who says there’s too much music or too many musicians – or too many synths? Watching this, we want more of all of it.
And so here you go – out of all the many jams, here are a few favorites that surprised us and that might inspire you.
Don’t forget to join in. We ship MeeBlip worldwide direct from the workbench, where they’re tested and assembled by the person who designed them (James Grahame).
In addition to our just-announced free editor, we’re offering a deal on everything you need for triode – cables and USB MIDI interface (Mac/Windows/Linux) – in a bundle, now with $40 off.
Someone got into a trance state on, like, their porch — with just MeeBlip, transforming their backyard into a sort of alien ritual of sound:
Here’s MeeBlip anode being sequenced by Forever Beats – a MIDI sequencer I would otherwise not know about, honestly! (Looks great – buying!)
I hoped someone would use the Millennium Falcon-shaped Casio XW-PD1 as a sequencer, and here’s wonderful, melodic, trippy music doing just that —
Casio XW-PD1 sequencing the Twisted Electron AY3 and the Meeblip Anode. The AY3 gets a Behringer RV600 verb treatment, and the Anode gets a Moozikpro analog delay treatment. Drums coming from the XW-PD1. 8 patterns in all.
MegaMorph is a new prototype project with powerful, musical transformations between scenes. Here, MeeBlip is sounding plenty grimy atop a hypnotic, dreamy synth sea (subscribing and watching for more on this project):
Live demonstration of MegaMorph prototype for controlling and morphing complete setups via midi, here including
triode, volca and mfb sound parameters, XR-18 mixer levels and x0x bio-arpeggiator settings.
Sequencing: x0xb0x (own “bioarp” OS) + volca fm arpeggiator
Control: MegaMorph (midi fighter twister + matlab scripts on minix mini pc + iConnect mio10), miditech keyboard
I’m going to close again with Olivier, whose inspired others to jam along by championing Jamuary. And I think that’s the whole point. While the rest of the industry worries how to produce stars, we can all learn from one another.
The Internet: it’s still doing crazy things with MIDI.
Just in the last few days, we’ve seen MIDI musical inventions go freshly viral. And keep reading even if you’ve seen some of that, as we’ve got a little bonus for you to get in on the fun.
It started with producer Aleksander Vinter, aka Savant – whose work extends to popular game scores. He created patterns like this one that double both as recognizable picture (a bird, reminiscent of vintage text art), and as compelling musical figuration. Behold:
Alexander Huang also gave us a clever tutorial, of course, so you can try this yourself:
What makes this particularly unique is really that the musical patterns generated are all tonal – doodling images that double as contrapuntal fantasy. But maybe that leaves you wanting something more, well, primal.
Erson Rybod writes CDM to share his own tool for just that. (He even gives us a quick bio, “i have no face, i also like to play with hacks.” Our kinda person/alien/thing/whatever, Erson is.
Erson urges us to “see no evil” (really, that’s in the email) but to download a free Mac-compatible app for making your own black MIDI:
i uploaded my diy app i made to turn any picture into midi file (black midi)
you can download it here i also puted a midi exemple with aliens