A full-featured DJ app can be yours for fifty bucks, and it can stream the songs you don’t have right off Spotify. djay Pro is here, and with it and a new generation of contenders come some serious shifts in digital DJing.

Algoriddim have been making user-friendly DJ apps for a while. That started with a beginner-friendly Mac app, but extended to iOS and the until-recently-neglected Android platform (which is now at last fairly viable for mobile DJing).

djay’s ease of use was already enough to make it appeal to casual DJs. Then, in May, Algoriddim pulled an ace out of their sleeve – Spotify integration. You still need a reliable WiFi connection, and streaming still isn’t quite as convenient as working from downloaded files, but for wedding DJs or anyone who has to take requests, it’s a boon.

Still, mobile gadgets are limited. Connecting hardware for control and sound is a pain compared to a desktop, and storage is restricted.

Today’s release of djay Pro is a serious salvo in the exploding DJ market. There are two big bombshells. One, Spotify DJing has just become a reality on desktop. Two, big players in the DJ market now have to contend with a friendly, affordable competitor.

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Some people are addicted to flinging birds at stacks of things until those stacks fall over. Or they use spare moments to flick through thumbnails of single people who they’ll never meet. Or they read random 140-character texts about stuff from angry folks, yelling at each other.

Not you.

You are addicted to drums. And not just any drums. You want electronic drums, drums you can tweak and dial – genuine synthesizers, grooving. Just playing back the sound of an 808 isn’t going to cut it. If you’re sandwiched in coach class, your knees pressed against the seat in front of you, you at least want to shut out the din of a screaming baby in the next row and start adjusting that granular hat, just so. You want a rave in your head, and you want a fully-equipped cockpit to control it.

Somehow, out of the many, many apps for the App Store, nothing quite did this. Oh, sure, there are elaborate MPC-style grooveboxes and plenty of oddities. But I’ve been watching over the last year as one app gradually involved into what I – and, I suspect you – really want.

And now it’s here. If you can find any compatible iPod touch, iPhone, or iPad, I think you’ll want it.

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That’s the direction you can expect from Beatport and SFX Entertainment. And the speech above from the film In Good Company more or less fits. (The plot of that 2004 movie even includes an acquisition by a conglomerate.)

Basically, SFX may have solved the problem of how to make money in the streaming business – by making its money elsewhere. Or, it seems that’s the plan.

Here’s the problem: music streaming has razor-thin margins versus sales. The artists and labels eek out fairly small bits of change, generally. They can blame the streaming services, but with those services having to pay off server bills, development, support, and all the royalties for the music themselves, there’s not much left in the way of profit in their end, either.

Enter SFX Entertainment, the media conglomerate that bought out Beatport. As reported by sources at the Wall Street Journal, SFX’s Beatport will in 2015 launch a free, ad-support streaming service. The paid service as you know it – recently redesigned as Beatport Pro – will apparently live on with the Pro name. (You can also read the details at DJ Tech Tools, since the WSJ is behind a paywall.)

So, what does this have to do with synergy? Everything. Continue reading »

Techno legend Jeff Mills has a beautiful quote making the rounds on social media, responding to the question of audience. He’s still making music for them, he says – but doesn’t want to get pulled into simply giving them what he knows will work. Watch from about 8:30 for the video above, in its original context (a 2010 tugobot piece).

It resonates for me with the Milton Babbitt’s “Who Cares if You Listen?” (That’s a title Babbitt claimed he never used; this is a tale so familiar to contemporary music that it has its own Wikipedia entry, for those of you catching up at home.)

But what I love about Mills’ sentiment is not that it’s somehow anti-audience. It’s that it’s a challenge made by the artist to himself. It’s not that he loathes audiences, but that he wants to “think in the other direction … in order to be able to move further …” It’s about going somewhere, “to become more creative.”

“It’s for them … but I don’t want to know what they think; I don’t want to know what they like … I only want to be able to go as far as I can with this music before I stop.”

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The Lord of the Rings movies have come to a close, but that doesn’t mean the elf sonic action has to stop.

Yes, there really is a sound sample library called Shevannai, The Voice of Elves. It’s 3.6 GB of nothing but elven samples, adapted to a Kontakt 5 instrument.

From a technical standpoint, it shows what Kontakt can do. For any TV and film composer who suddenly gets a call from a client saying “elves!” (I’m not kidding; I’m sure that happens), it’s an emergency solution that will get you there under deadline. For the rest of us – well, we can marvel at the sheer wonder of features like:

52 phrases in Elven Language reciting some Elven poems
57 whispered phrases in Elven Language reciting some Elven poems.
110 different whispers. Divided in long and short whispers.
20 beautiful and inspiring soundscapes

You even get dedicated Inhale patches. Continue reading »

Old pipes? A vintage airplane? Mechanical equipment?

Ben Burtt, Hollywood’s master sound designer, is remarkable for his economy and resourcefulness. That’s evident in this charming video in which he demonstrates how he evoked breaking machinery to realize the sound of the Millenium Falconnot going into hyperdrive.

The cinematic challenge is significant. It’s a bit joke, a running gag, but it has to simultaneously build tension in the film. And like the rest of Star Wars, the future is evoked by the past. (It is, after all, a galaxy long ago – and to impact audiences, couldn’t in fact be so far away.)

So, how to make cues that would be recognizable and resonant for an audience, but without sounding like a World War II movie sound effect had been dubbed over fantastic science fiction? The answer: clever layering and re-contextualization.

Watch the corner of Ben Burtt’s mouth as he smiles playing the found sounds on the reel to reel – this was partly the lucky to happen across wonderful sounds, and the skill to recognize them once he had them. Also, I was struck, as a fan of Burtt’s sound effects, that having thus deconstructed and reconstructed it, the sound … actually doesn’t work. Timing is everything. (You need great sound editing and direction, not just great sound design – there’s a lesson for anyone in music production there, too, where all three form the cinematic impact of a track.)

Once combined with John Williams’ score, plus the combined delivery of Harrison Ford and the movie action itself, the cue is perfect.

We face this challenge, now, with the open-ended possibilities of our computers. We could agonize over a sound like this, and wind up doing, frankly, too much work. Without the natural constraints of physical multi-track tape and mixers, the secret, like cooking, is likely to get a few really high-quality ingredients that can harmonize. (Watch, too, Burtt move the balance of the elements on the mixer with muscle memory in his hands, without missing a beat.) Continue reading »

We face a challenge in the music technology community. Underlined by a century in which music creation was seen by some as the privilege of a few, in the studio world, and mass music was about records and radio, people might claim music making is niche. It’s seen by those onlookers as the domain of specialists, techies – a weird overlap of superstars and nerds.

But some of us believe that musical expression as as essential as singing, and the tools matter just as much.

You don’t see much music technology in Apple’s latest ad. I think it might be a new record or near-record for the absence of screen time for Apple’s products. But what you do see is unquestionably creation, not consumption. There are subtle hints to every aspect of musical practice – guitar songbooks, multitrack recording, sharing.

And the video, a follow-up to last year’s Creative Arts Emmy winner, goes beyond the technology. It’s about why we make music – reaching other people.

It’s meaningful that a multibillion-dollar company would see making music as a core part of its mission, as the essential value to some of the most successful consumer products in history. Recently, I noted via Twitter that Apple’s own Logic Pro climbs to the top of the paid charts on their App Store – notable not so much because it’s an Apple product as it’s a music product.

Apple’s holiday campaign links to a variety of music app, a nice Christmas present for the developers featured. They show GarageBand, of course, but also include Propellerhead’s innovative Take vocal app, a tool that remembers that, for many people, music is about singing or playing an instrument and not just editing beats on a timeline. There’s also a beautiful app called Chord! that presents scales and chords in a gorgeous, luxurious format. And there’s the fun Sing!Karaoke from Smule, the rare superstar breakout developer that found a way to take music technology prowess and bring it to a mass market.

Now, whether or not you own a single Apple product, there’s a lesson here, about how important music is to one of the world’s biggest companies – and, much more importantly, how to tell the story about what music is to the general public. It’s a reason for the season.