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Convincing musicians to make use of sound is easy. And electronic musicians are even content with stunningly-complex interfaces, in exchange for deep control of sound.

But what about everyone else?

Users on mobile are certainly uploading sounds. Part of the intense interest in SoundCloud even outside music and audio audiences is simple to explain: the site is ridiculously popular. By 2012, it had reached 10 hours of uploads per minute. And once sound is uploaded, it attracts listeners. As of last fall, users had skyrocketed from 200 to 250 million users in just a few months. That’s another reason last week’s ad plans are worth watching.

If SoundCloud facilitates uploading, storage, and sharing, the next frontier may be all about the interface for producing sounds in the first place. App developers have likely already saturated the expert music production market with designs that appeal to that crowd. But just as quick and easy UIs for text and images have popularized those means of communication, sound may require a fresh approach. And a few developers are betting on that possibility in interesting ways. Continue reading »

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Money at SoundCloud has in the past flowed in one direction: you, the uploader, pay for premium plans, and SoundCloud gets the cash. Now, for the first time, money is going the other way – from the service to artists and labels.

In the process, that means one significant change: SoundCloud listeners will begin to hear ads.

It’s been interesting to watch the reaction – from people losing their minds over ads appearing on the service to more measured responses and genuine interest in the service “growing up” and adding income to become sustainable. This of course collides with worries about SoundCloud’s recent deals with major labels. Clarification: SoundCloud has not announced any such deals; while there has been public discussion about majors and their role on SoundCloud, those discussions are in fact speculative. But before we get into opinions about the changes, let’s first understand just what has changed for those of us who use the service.

SoundCloud is this week rolling out advertising, first to their invite-only premier partners – that is, producers like big labels or publishers (including titans Sony and BMG). Later on, says SoundCloud, those those ads are also will be available as an option for all paid users who want to earn money from their content.

In addition to the advertising option, SoundCloud has also adjusted its plans. Here are the facts. Continue reading »

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Ableton Live’s iPad-augmented control can take some forms. There are apps that do everything, replicating the mouse so that you can go directly to touch for every single task and avoid your computer completely (Touchable, for instance). There are specialized controllers, which focus on a few tasks or a particular device or Max patch.

And then there’s Conductr, and it’s something a bit different.

First, as of June, it’s free – or freemium, anyway. The free version is limited to four tracks and eleven scenes, but it’s enough to give you a taste. And with user modules, it’s easily a workable complement to other controllers like Push, even without touching the in-app purchases. (That seems to me a use of in-app purchases that actually makes sense.)

But most importantly, Conductr focuses on giving you controls that are well suited to the iPad. This isn’t about the iPad screen pretending to be hardware faders and knobs, or about cramming a mouse-style interface under your fingers. Instead, the Barcelona-based developers of Conductr have made an interface that intentionally does less. It’s cleaner, easier to see, and less crowded. You can leave just a few controls, use gestural controllers, and even set up layouts that don’t require you to look at your iPad. As a keyboardist, and someone who finds the iPad sometimes as clumsy as I do invaluable, it’s great.

And today’s update is really the best development of that concept. The XY-4D is simply the best X/Y controller I’ve seen on the iPad yet. It’s totally user assignable, and makes your iPad into something like a 21st Century, Star Trek-chic KAOSS Pad.

Watch:

There’s a single user-assignable XY-4D pad now free in the free edition of Conductr, so you don’t have to listen to me drone onto it, but here’s what it does: Continue reading »

You know that saying about everything looking like a nail when all you’ve got is a hammer? Well, someone got a little carried away dreaming of wires, and it seems they’ve now a module that can begin to see all kinds of objects and substances as control voltage.

We’ve seen a new collections of modules and tools. And it turns everything in the world into a modular synthesizer input and output.

We already knew the strange and wonderful Czech team of Bastl Instruments (of Standuino fame) were up to some weird science. It just got a whole lot weirder. Sure, everyone and their cat is now planning a Eurorack modular. But not everyone has one that talks to lava lamps.

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They explain: Continue reading »

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Who says DJs aren’t useful?

With a mind-boggling amount of music released daily, the DJ might be more important than ever. The word “curation” is overused … how about selection, or filter? If you’re like me, you’ve grown reliant in at least some genres on mixes from favorite artists and journalists just to skim the good stuff of the top. The best is really amazing. The rest is really abundant.

And, for that matter, who says mobile devices aren’t useful to DJing? (Stay with me – these two ideas connect.)

Here’s the thing: Native Instruments’ Traktor DJ has skyrocketed to success partly because the touch interface it uses is stunningly intuitive. Getting through your library is simply faster. Finding interesting mixes, mucking with how tracks go together, tapping your way through loop points — faster. In fact, it’s notably better than another popular DJ tool – sorry, Native Instruments, but it’s more fun and more accessible to pick up Traktor DJ on iOS than it is to wade through Traktor Pro’s desktop UI.

This speed couples with the ability to work with Traktor DJ anywhere. So, sure, there are reasons other than ease that could keep you on Traktor for desktop. But when you’re away from your desktop…

And that’s where Traktor on iOS becomes truly indispensable. Suddenly, that pile of music you want to dig through is something you can pull up on a bus trip, or sitting on your couch.

Traktor 1.5 is a relatively minor, if welcome, free update to the US$9.99 app. The Beat Grid works more accurately, snaps magnetically, and lets you pinch to zoom. There are performance and reliability enhancements. There’s a new “SuperSlicer” available for in-app purchase, with some useful and fun effects (reverse, slice), and some others that make you sound like you’re faking turntablism badly (scratch, brake, pitch shift). (Well, okay, maybe some of you can make them sound not tacky. See the obligatory video below – it is, at least, very fun.)

But there’s one huge feature, long overdue: History Playlists. Continue reading »

It samples. It slices. It mangles. It generates. It mutates. It’s like what happens when a drum machine is invaded by nanobots, and they start improving everything. Let me explain.

Take your favorite iPad samplers. Now, imagine they’re the basis of samples in an analog Elektron drum machine – colourful slicing interface and all. Then imagine this same iPad app does what Elektron themselves seemed unable to do: making an easy, logical way of transferring samples. And then, imagine that this app also can spawn new rhythms for you.

It’s as if you took everything powerful about the Elektron Analog Rytm, and everything powerful about the iPad, and multiplied them together. Normally, we praise drum machines for their limitations. Here, the combo with an iPad kind of puts the laptop computer to shame.

I was already in the midst of finishing a review of the Analog Rytm, and then Strom dropped in my lap. I’ve been using a pre-release version, and … wow. It’s almost a reason to buy the Analog Rytm. (Elektron: you’re welcome.)

And, oddly enough, Elektron didn’t do anything. Instead, the entire app was reverse-engineered from their gear by a passionate user. Developer Jakob Penca sends some screen shots of the three modes – sound mangling kit, pattern generator, sampler: Continue reading »

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There was a time when “live” or live PA meant “I’ve hauled a bunch of gear to this gig and made a mess of cables and I’m going to improvise live for you.”

Now, too often, it means “I’m going to DJ with Ableton Live instead of Traktor or CDJs.”

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not so much about a laptop or hardware. But there is a spectrum – a useful spectrum, applicable to different artists at different times. And if you really want “live,” you want an artist who constructs music before your eyes out of building blocks. Electronic music across genres often strays from traditional instrumental performance. The very nature of the technology means you’re often not playing every note. But you can make the process of assembly a performance, and something that involves audience participation, and surprise.

You can do this with a laptop and controllers; you can do it with hardware. You can do it with a combination.

Here’s what’s a bit strange: some of the people who are absolutely mastering this aren’t getting a fraction of the attention they deserve.

Watching Phelios is a real pleasure. Keep this video on; it has a reasonably slow build-up, but in the end, you watch an album-sized live set evolve beautifully before you. This is a live set you can enjoy in your living room as well as on the dance floor. (Photo, top: Schlagstrom Festival, Betriebsbahnhof Schöneweide, (CC-BY) Carsten Stiller.)

And he’s clearly at home with his ensemble:
ELEKTRON Analog Four, Octatrack, Machinedrum
ROLAND AIRA TR-8

Continue reading »