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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Red Room Audio Giveaway: Subscribe to YouTube for a chance to win Palette

Red Room Audio YouTube Giveaway

Red Room Audio has announced it is giving away some copies of its Palette series of virtual instruments. Palette is a series of thematic professional orchestral and cinematic Kontakt virtual instruments for songwriters and media composers. It was recorded in a dedicated hall with world-renowned performers by a passionate and experienced team. It was a […]

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Novation’s latest videos “hack” advanced features out of their synths

I know a lot of the folks at Novation on a personal level well enough to say – they’re synth lovers, day job and after hours. What’s great about their latest video series is, some of that comes out.

Of course, yesterday we saw at least one user really hacking a Novation product, the Launchpad Pro, by modding the hardware using a firmware release from the company. And as one frustrated developer shouted at us in comments, that requires a bit of effort. (Not so much for you – you can download a file and use this easily – but modifying real-time firmware of hardware takes some practice!)

Hack a Launchpad Pro into a 16-channel step sequencer, free

This isn’t quite that. These “hacks” have more to do with creatively abusing some features to push the hardware synths to the limit – Circuit, Circuit Mono Station, and Peak. The Circuit in particular has a user community that proved surprisingly advanced, squeezing everything they can out of this budget-priced hardware. But lately the more recent Mono Station and Peak are finding an equally devoted following.

Here’s the whole playlist, which covers sound design techniques (like oscillator sync – okay, that’s more a conventional technique than a ‘hack’), approaches to performance (patch change), working with clock and CV, and other features.

This raises a question, though – these are recent Novation products, so it’s pretty easy to get the manufacturer to do some hot tips.

But which instruments would you like to see covered – new or old – and in what way? What’s missing in tutorials? Let us know in comments. (I realize I just self-selected the answers to that with people who own these Novation synths, so I’ll keep asking this … but also curious what other stuff you Novation lovers own, too!)

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Watch enchanting experimental live acts from Atonal’s control room

Berlin Atonal Festival wrapped up last week, and for all of the breathtaking impact of the power plant’s cavernous main room, as per usual, the sleeper hits came from the more intimate control room tucked next to the mainstage.

Once you’re done acting out your Homer Simpson fantasies on the controls, this room – staffed by the synthesis lovers of Schneidersladen – is home to more experimental acts and jam sessions and modular patching extravaganzas. And the crowd is different, too, more family style sound nerd reunion than festival scenesters.

Photo at top: Mark Verbos, modular builder, alongside Lady Starlight. Photo courtesy CTM Festival.

Our friends from FACT captured three performances. (Don’t watch on Facebook; that social network’s encoding is crap for some reason. YouTube seems fine.)

There were lots of great shows, but they also selected well with what they recorded, with two gorgeous ambient solo sets and one quirkier duo. (Also, anyone else noticed that laptops have just quietly reappeared alongside modulars? And why not – who cares what particular gear you’ve assembled, if you find some way to be expressive with it?)

There are some dropouts here and there, but it’s worth checking out anyway.

My favorite is object blue – all on Ableton Live/Push, but a kind of shuffled, irregular looping musique concrete:

London-based artist object blue has a bunch of great stuff in her discography:

https://objectblue.format.com/

Really digging this one, just out this year:

But then this is lovely, too, adding more vocal goodness, also a 2018 creation:

Hiro Kone (aka NYC’s Nicky Mao) is looking chill with her Elektrons and modulars, and with good reason – some chill sounds happening. Lounging in the control room, genau:

Nicky is one busy, multi-talented, insanely prolific touring musician. And she’s got a well-organized site to discover more of her music (we would all do well to learn from that, too… rarity these days):

https://hirokone.com/

She’s done a nice mix for Secret Thirteen recently too:

https://secretthirteen.org/stm-246-hiro-kone/

KILLER-OMA is the off-kilter, leftfield (and inter-generational) combo of Isao Suzuki and KILLER-BONG – yes, one bare chin on gear, and one long beard on contra bass.

More from them:

Check out their release on Bandcamp for Tokyo’s Black Smoker:

https://blacksmokerrecords.bandcamp.com/album/killer-oma

Mixed feelings about the live stream age, actually – and something to think about, as CDM revisits how to work with live performing friends. (I’d go for higher quality audio, no? Thoughts?) At the same time, a live stream is a nice place to introduce people, and it’s great to see what people are doing – if we can sort those occasional sound dropouts. Open to ideas for what you’d like to see, especially as a community of music makers.

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Bastl TV: Patching and looping and Nikol teaches complex envelopes

Czech builder Bastl Instruments are working simultaneously in modular and desktop instruments. But it’s not about choosing one or the other – it’s getting inspired to play musically, either way.

So Patchení s Nikol is back, with Nikol to show you some serious patching techniques. And yes, of course, this is a nice showcase of Bastl’s own skiff of modules. But it’s also a nice example of what you can do with modulated envelopes – adding modulation to an amplitude envelope to give it a more complicated shape than just attack and release and so on. You could certainly apply this to other modular environments.

Actually, one of my favorite modules Bastl have put out lately is this one: Hendrikson is designed just to make it easier to add stomp box and external effects to your modular rig. It gives you easy-access jacks for patching in your pedal or pedal chain, some handy knobs, and all-important wet/dry mix. Plus, you can patch control into that wet/dry to automate wet dry controls with your modular if you like.

https://www.bastl-instruments.com/modular/hendrikson/

They’re obviously having a lot of fun with this:

Hendrikson

Speaking of economizing, how about that Zoom MultiStomp you see in the middle of the video? It’s got a whole massive list of different effects, all of which you control, and a street price of around $100 right now.

Vaclav I believe turned me on to that Zoom. And now switching to the desktop hardware they make, here’s a personal testimonial about how much he’s appreciating their THYME looper – seen here played live and with some destructive looping.

Vaclav tells us: “I have been playing the THYME for quite a while and has a certain instrumental quality that is quite hard to master – as with any other instrument… it really became one of the most essential pieces of musical gear that I use all the time. I am really proud of it being a real instrument now and not just a dream that I had more than 3 years ago!”

I’m here in Moscow now for Synthposium where we’ll see Bastl at the Expo and in a talk on music gear business in the online age. Stay tuned.

https://www.bastl-instruments.com/

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Learn synth basics live with Novation – and more synth-y resources

Novation are hosting live video to teach you synthesis using their range of gear today. And they’ve got some other useful resources and artist interviews (Orbital!), so let’s have a look.

First up, Novation are broadcasting their Beats and Bytes series to their YouTube channel on a range of topics using their in-house specialists – the folks who make the gear, telling you how to use it. (Not bad: it used to be manufacturers would go to your retail to do trainings, and then you’d go to the retailer and … well, hopefully get something useful, though in lesser stores, people would just sort of stare at you from across the room.)

That starts afternoon time in the Americas, evening in Europe and Africa, and … weird hours elsewhere.

Technology Evangelist Enrique Martinez will be hosting the live stream. Novation tell CDM this will be “very basic sound design techniques” – so beginners (up to intermediate users), feel welcome!

It’s for Novation hardware, but they also say you’ll be able to apply this to other instruments, like your soft synth plug-in you’re trying to learn.

4PM Pacific (9PM NYC / 3AM Berlin) you can tune into the broadcast live, or catch the replay whenever you like. On the menu – this looks like a very useful episode:

(00:00 – 10:00) Making Drum Sounds w/ Circuit Mono Station

(10:00 – 20:00) Making Bass Sounds w/ Bass Station II

(20:00 – 30:00) Making Pad Sounds w/ Peak

(30:00 – 35:00) Putting it all Together

(35:00 – 40:00) Q & A

Wait… drums and bass and pads — I don’t know. It could be too much. Make sure you’re sitting down.

But Novation have been busy with a lot of resources. The timing is good – instruments like Peak have made an impression across the whole synth world. Two written artist interviews worth checking:

Orbital On Peak

The Horrors’ Tom Furse talks Bass Station II

And here’s more in the way of videos.

Circuit users, they’ve crammed another update in the form of version 1.7 – pattern chain being one especially handy feature if Circuit is at the center of your performance:

On Circuit Mono Station, here’s a useful guide to extending parameter changes across multiple steps:

Peak, the flagship, gets really deep. The Mod Matrix is one extensive place to start:

And here’s a complete technical overview of Peak:

Or, in an especially beautiful artist pairing, Hauschka taking Peak into dreamy soundscapes:

That’s a lot of technical information. So where do you start? Let’s look to artist Érica Alves, in the “Start Something” series Novation did a couple years back, with a Novation synth alongside the first Roland AIRA TR-8.

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Tom Whitwell on Turing Machine and how to design your first module

How to design a module when you’ve never designed a module before? Tom Whitwell, the man behind legendary music tech blog Music Thing who now runs a modular company of the same name, explains.

This video is fresh out of the Brighton Modular Meet. So let’s all head to the UK, virtually speaking:

Tom walks through the design and engineering of the Turing Machine module kit, an open source project made with local electronics builder Thonk.

Also worth watching – Tom talked to a new podcast called WHY WE BLEEP back in January, about his whole history in modular and synths:

And for more on the module itself, here’s an in-depth demo of the MKII edition:

Plus what the equivalent in the free VCV Rack modular environment looks like:

And have at the kit:
https://www.thonk.co.uk/shop/turingmkii/

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How to make dirty sounds, in videos, with Novation Circuit Mono Station

Remember when we were sold on everything being clean and digital? Now it’s just about grime and filth. But if you were wondering where to start with Novation’s cute, dirty Circuit Mono Station, they’ve got a series of hands-on videos to get you going.

Some back story: the Mono Station is the follow up to the first Circuit. Like the original, it’s a square-ish looking box with a colored grid as its center. But whereas the original Circuit concealed a digital polysynth and drum machine (with the ability to load your own samples), the Mono Station is all about analog synthesis. That means it also has additional controls, and unlike the mysterious macro encoders on the first Circuit, the Mono Station’s knobs and faders and bits actually have labels. So you can read a label with words on it, and you know, maybe have a better idea what you’re doing. Or you can just ignore that and give it a try anyway.

The “How to filth” series runs through a set of fairly practical ideas to get you going.

It’s really rather a nice way to get a manual. There’s no lengthy explanation, no theory – and no sitting through a really long tutorial. Just watch a few steps, and then see if you can copy more or less what they’ve done. That should help you dive straight in. And if you’re on the fence about the Circuit Mono Station, this gives you some stuff to go try if you’re borrowing a friend’s hardware or going to the shops.

Here’s the full series:

This is a great one for summer, too, as Circuit and Circuit Mono Station are nicely portable.

What do you think? Is this sort of thing useful to you? Would you want to see more / something different? Let us know; it’s great to get feedback from readers on what’s making you musically productive. And if you make some tunes with us, send us those, too!

Here’s our story on the instrument, at launch. Some time later, it’s still holding up at that price point – and it’s not a clone or throwback, either, but a totally new instrument, designed by some nice people in England. (I know – I’ve met them! And they’re musicians, as well, of course!)

Novation Circuit Mono Station: paraphonic, feature packed, $499

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SSA Plugins updates a1Panner free Ambisonic encoder to v1.0.1

SSA Plugins a1PannerSSA Plugins has released version 1.0.1 of a1Panner, a free first-order Ambisonics panner/encoder that outputs YouTube compatible AmbiX (SN3D/ACN) format Ambisonics. Previously titled o1Panner, the updated version is now available in additional formats, including AU on Mac. Use it to encode mono or stereo tracks to first-order Ambisonics using a no-frills interface. Note that Ambisonics […]

Make Noise are turning a classic 1972 synthesis book into a video series

Even as modular synths make a comeback, the definitive work on the topic languishes out of print since its 1972 publication. But now, one synth maker is translating its ideas to video.

The folks at Make Noise, who have been one of the key makers behind Eurorack’s growth (and a leader in on the American side of the pond), have gone all the way back to 1972 to find a reference to the fundamentals behind modular synthesis.

“Where do I find a textbook on modular synthesis?” isn’t an easy question to answer. A lot of understanding modular comes from a weird combination of received knowledge, hearsay, various example patches (some of them also dating back to the 60s and 70s), and bits and pieces scattered around print and online.

But Allen Strange’s Electronic Music: Systems, techniques, and controls covers actual theory. It treats the notions of modular synthesis as a fundamental set of skills. It’s just now out of print, and a used copy could cost you $200-300 because of automated online pricing (whether anyone would actually pay that).

So it’s great to see Make Noise take this on – if nothing else, as a way to frame teaching their own modules.

And… uh, you might find a PDF of the original text. (I think most people read my own book in pirated form, especially in its Russian and Polish translations – seriously – so I’m looking at this myself as a writer and sometimes educator and pondering what the best way is to teach modular in 2018.)

I’m definitely watching and subscribing to this one, though – and this first video gives me an idea… excuse me, time to load up Pd, Reaktor, and VCV Rack again!

Allen Strange wrote the book on modular synthesizers in the 1970s. Electronic Music: Systems, Techniques, and Controls. Unfortunately since the expanded 1982 edition, it has never been reprinted, and in today’s landscape where more people have access to modular synths than ever before, very few have access to the knowledge contained within. This video series will explore patches both basic and advanced from Strange’s text. Even the simplest patches here yield kernels of knowledge that can be expanded upon in infinite ways. I have been heavily influenced by Strange since long before I became a modular synth educator. Please share this knowledge far and wide. The first video in the series covers one basic and one slightly less basic patch using envelopes.

http://www.makenoisemusic.com

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