Who is Arthur Hamidi? The Lost Tape + Remixes

Zirafa & Spinnerty present: The Lost Tape...new/old tracks for your ears.

"Two musicians stumble upon a broken demo tape of futuristic songs by an unknown artist from the past. They listen to four songs before the tape is destroyed, and attempt to recreate the songs themselves in order to preserve the unknown artist's legacy."


Slow Baked

DIY Portable Mini-Amp

I recently finished a little portable mini-amp project. I wanted to have something powered by a battery that would have a decent amount of power and would be easy to plug other portable things into - iPod, etc, and also use it as a testing speaker for other projects. There are lots of portable speakers you can buy, but this allows for some customization and can end up costing less (if you can put up with some headaches along the way).

Synth Dreams

Hey ya'll, if you haven't heard - Orange Drink and Zirafa are putting together 5 releases by the end of this year. Orange Drink has hit the ground running with the release of Minotaur. Check out OD's page for the details.

I started work on the synth I'm tryin to build. Should I take pics? I'm tempted to docu-tweet every minute but sometimes that seems obnoxious. So far, just got serial Rx for MIDI going into the Arduino. It's hooked up to my M-Audio Keystation 61es so when I press a key it lights up an led on the Arduino. Baby steps. In the process I learned that Newark.com ships pretty fast, and that optocouplers seem like a really useful device.

Bandcamp limiting number of free downloads available

Bandcamp is now limiting the number of free downloads available:

Starting today, new accounts come with 200 free downloads, and all existing accounts are granted 500. (You can of course still stream and sell an unlimited amount of music using Bandcamp.) Each time a fan downloads a track or album for free, it counts as 1 against your balance (an album, regardless of how many tracks it contains, still only counts as 1 download). You can buy more downloads for a small fee from your Tools page. The pricing is the same as for download codes:

300 downloads for $9 USD (3¢ each)
1000 downloads for $20 USD (2¢ each)
5000 downloads for $75 USD (1.5¢ each)

200 free downloads is probably plenty for most very small bands. But it can run out quickly.

I think this is a service worth paying for. Bandcamp requires visitors to enter an email address in order to receive a download link. This is very useful for building up a large email list which can in turn be used to promote other releases in the future. Free music acts as promotion to gain more fans, and having email addresses is the retention of those fans.

That being said, I don't get why they went with a prepaid credit system. It seems like it'd make more sense to hook up a Bandcamp account to a credit card, and then just charge per download and bill monthly. You could set daily and monthly spending limits. And then you could provide all sorts of great charts and statistics to show usage and cost over time and how it correlates to buzz and sales and all that. I am pretty sure people would err on setting their limits too high at first. Buying a prepaid bundle of credits seems clunky in this day and age.

Streaming is still free.

If this development bothers you, you can use bandcamp to stream, use archive.org for downloads, and paypal to sell merch. The crucial missing link is of course, grabbing those email addresses on every free download.

2 EPs by the end of the year.

I'm writing this so I'm held accountable. I will put out two new EPs by the end of this year.

In other news, Soapbox is going well. It's hard to try and be a business but also have a social mission. Sometimes I think it might have made more sense to have gone the non-profit route. On the other hand, I don't think it really would have mattered. If anything we have to work harder to prove our message.

What does matter is knowing how to measure our success. For me, the business end is not as important as the social mission. Creativity is a weird beast, and there is a fine line between horseplay & bullshit, and really amazing creative breakthroughs. I hope that having this space and inviting lots of people in and supporting the music they are making will lead to breakthroughs of various kinds. The best projects work on multiple levels - whether there are only 3 people involved or 3000. So far, I already think we've had some amazing things happen. The tough part is to try and keep pushing forward and keep chipping away at things slowly but surely. The daily grind. The stuff that feels mundane and repetitive, but ultimately leads you somewhere (hopefully). Even if it doesn't lead you somewhere, if you pay attention you'll at least know why.

Today I spent a good portion of my day researching audio circuits. It's amazing to me how much theoretical knowledge I learned in 4 years but how I walked away with pretty much zero practical knowledge. I have lots of ideas for building things but I have no idea how to actually do it. Theoretical knowledge teaches you to make sure all your calculations are correct on paper before building. In practice, this never works, usually because you encounter things you never thought would be problems. It's all trial and error and dumb things like the thickness of the wire you choose becomes a monumental problem. The only way to learn that stuff is through experience and trying things out - knowing what works and doesn't work - it's not always important to know exactly why. Just fuck around until something blows up and then try again. It's time consuming and costly at the beginning but overtime it pays off if you have the patience. It seems like an often overlooked part of learning: royally fucking up yet trying again. You at LEAST gain some major style points.

To get back to the audio circuits, I want to build some basic building blocks that will act as a stepping stone to more complex projects. The basic stuff first would be a 2-5 Watt power amp + speaker, a preamp, and a stackable mixer. By stackable mixer, I mean creating a single stand alone 2-1 mixer stage that connects (like legos) to other 2-1 mixers to create larger mixers. So you could easily make an 8-1 mixer by stacking 4 of these together. Amplifying weak signals to line level, mixing line level signals, and amplifying line level signals to power a speaker - these are pretty much the fundamental audio components you need to get things in and out.

Ultimately I want to get to a point where I can make a standalone pocket keyboard type thing. It would basically be a really basic 12-note polyphonic, velocity sensitive analog synth controlled by an Arduino that receives input via MIDI signals. Controls would be basic - tremolo, vibrato, tone, ADSR, and waveform flavor. Each individual note/sound would be generated via a schmidt-trigger or a VCO and summed together to one output / speaker. I'm really interested in the design of the controls.

The reason I want to split things up is because I figure if I can make really generic bits of functionality (like a simple speaker) then this is something that can easily be used or re-configured for a later project, or would be useful on its own. That's the kind of practical skill, knowing how to build individual, re-usable parts (however, not necessarily that efficient) of something to achieve a greater goal, that separates real designers from everyone else. They have this intuitive ability to know how to achieve their desired goal despite not knowing all the information at the outset.

More about the EPs later.

Thoughts on Daley's retirement.

"In hearing that Mayor Daley is not going to run for office again, AREA feels we have come to the end of an era. We are wondering what you - our friends, readers and allies - have to say. What did Mayor Daley represent to you and what kind of vision do you have for Chicago's future now that this break with the status quo has occurred?

Please send your thoughts in 200 words or less (though photos, video and audio would also be welcome) to info@AREAChicago.org as soon as you can."

To me, Mayor Daley represented complacency in Chicago. The feeling that "things are just how they are" and that we can't actually change anything because things are either too corrupt or bureaucratic. This complacency split Chicago into two halves, those that had enough power and money to go "legit" and make moves and those that had to go underground and bend the law just to follow their dreams.

Overtime various small music venues, vendors, arts organizations and businesses have closed, either because the city forced them or because they couldn't pay the increasingly costly permits and licenses. The result is a real deficit of cultural capital in Chicago, compared to other cities of a similar size.

My hope for Chicago is that it regains the spirit of a "city on the make", and actually executes on that promise and supports true independent economic, artistic, and cultural growth of the city. A place where people flock to and stay, and are proud of because they feel amazing things can happen here and their dreams can come true - not because "well, it's a very practical and affordable place to live."

Bandcamp to take 15% cut from artist sales

Bandcamp, one of the best online distribution tools for musicians, has recently announced they plan on charging 15% of all sales from artists.

I wrote a pretty lengthy comment on their blog, but it never got past comment moderation for whatever reason. Reposting here.

Dear Bandcamp, my thoughts on your 15% cut:

1) TRANSPARENCY: Please detail exactly how you came up with this percentage, with a breakdown of your costs. Build trust & respect through transparency. People don't mind paying for things that have value, they just don't like feeling bamboozled.

2) CONSISTENCY: You are saying that above a certain total sales amount, you will drop your percentage cut from 15% to 10%. Confusing. Figure out how much you need to charge per sale and just stick to it...or detail how sales volume affects your bottom line and thus your percentage. See #1.

3) DON'T TAKE CUT OF PHYSICAL SALES: You allow artists to sell their own physical goods through your site. But unless you are involved in manufacturing or shipping these items, what costs are you incurring that entitle you to a 15% cut? See #1.

4) KEEP FREE, FREE: Below a certain sales threshold, keep the service free and uncrippled for a trial period. For instance, no percentage taken from first 25 transactions. After this initial trial period, it proves the service works and musicians will most likely stick with it.

5) DON'T TAKE A SALES CUT, BE AN ESSENTIAL SERVICE PROVIDER: By charging a percentage of sales, it makes you look like you are taking money away from artist sales. That's not very attractive to independent musicians. Leave artist's income untouched and instead charge them a monthly fee for your service based on bandwidth and traffic to their page, much like a cloud hosting provider. This creates a clear distinction of cost of services provided by Bandcamp and income generated by having the Bandcamp page. With good tracking tools, it will be easy for an artist to adjust the price that they charge for digital transactions to compensate for the cost of bandwidth, and they won't mind paying it because they see it as an essential cost to do business.

I love Bandcamp - but I hope they think a bit more about this business model, because it feels rushed and a step in the wrong direction. I know charging sales commission is a great way to make a lot of money, but it also is very reminiscent of record label contracts. In my humble opinion Bandcamp would do better to position themselves as a service provider and give musicians 100% of the sales. That way artists see Bandcamp as a service provider that is worth paying for instead of a middleman they need to get around.

How can we help the Chicago music community?

I've been meaning to start a blog for Soapbox (and actually I have about a year and a half of journal entries never published documenting the drama as we pursued our goals) but I figure here is as good as any to start and hopefully I can move discussions over to a more dedicated blog.

A big reason Brendan and I started Soapbox was because

1) we want to create a rad music space for ourselves and friends
2) we want to build, connect, collaborate, and meet other musicians
3) different communal creative spaces lead to unexpected happenings, inspiration, experimentation

So far we've had a free chiptunes show, a dance party, regular music workshops, and of course we try and cover our costs by renting out the space for music rehearsal and barebones recording. To me the workshops and free shows are the most exciting, and the rehearsals are the most useful (but less exciting). The balance comes from trying to meet our costs but maximizing awesomeness. Doing something exciting. We definitely don't want to be just another rehearsal space...

If you guys had a space like this, what would you do with it? Would you keep it tight-knit or really open it up? What ideas do you guys have for usage of the space? What do musicians in Chicago need the most and how could we have the most positive impact on the music community as a whole?