Mark Ronson's TED Talk: In Defence of Sampling

Mark makes a strong argument that sampling isn’t and has never been about copying music, but rather adding to the ongoing narrative of it. It isn't about “hijacking nostalgia wholesale,” but rather "about inserting yourself into the narrative of a song while also pushing that story forward."

Worth a watch, including his beautifully executed mashup of  15 TED Talks.

If you are interested in other TED talks related to music, you can find the full list here.


Exploring Bitwig Studio - Day 2

Spent a few hours on Easter Sunday re-mixing Plumb's beautiful song, Cut.

This is tough material to work with, and it was particularly challenging to respect both the content and the spirit of the song. I started by using Traktor to cleanly break apart the original song, then used Bitwig studio to re-arrange the parts (the first pass of which was triggered by a Launchpad S session). I then added new elements (piano, strings, etc. played in from a Novation Impulse) leveraging both Bitwig's stock instruments and some Kontakt 5 sounds. Needs lots of work still ... and is a very basic mix at this stage ... but was a fun project to work on, and (the original at least) is a beautiful piece of music to work with.

For those of you who have not heard the original, here it is.

Experimenting with Bitwig Studio

Bitwig Studio has been in the works for some time. In fact, it seems as though we have been waiting forever for what has been touted as the next generation in music creation software.

It does not disappoint. In many ways, it is a cross between Ableton and Logic ... offering the best of both worlds. Simple, intuitive and fun ...

I played around for a few hours today, and here's a quick snippet of the tool in action ... 

Fun With TV Commercials

Over the past couple of years heading up Wonga in Canada, I've had the opportunity to work on 3 TV commercials with the amazing team at SID LEE. 

In over 15 years as a startup tech entrepreneur, I've never really considered TV as part of our customer acquisition toolkit, so it's been very interesting to explore the power of this medium, especially as it pertains to rapidly establishing a new brand in a competitive space. 

When building the ads for Canada, we tried to find a balance between amusing/engaging and educating the audience. In this case, we were introducing a fundamentally different short term loan (faster and on-line, simpler and more transparent, materially less expensive and far more flexible) than those already on the market. We wanted to deliver a serious message in an amusing and engaging manner.

Although we were able to leverage some stock footage from the UK, we had to remake the commercials for a very different market stage, a different product offering and a subtly different sense of humour. They were completely re-scripted.

In the first spot "The New Intern" , we introduced the three Wongies (Betty, Earl and Joyce), establishing a humorous tone for the company, and beginning to flesh out the characters ... in this case, Betty's fascination ("he's hotter than a teapot") with Earl (the new intern).

In the second spot, we introduced Joyce, the (seemingly) more serious of the bunch, who revealed the potential of a more vibrant side ("this beat makes me want to crumpet"). We'll hopefully have some fun with Joyce over time.

In the most recent commercial "Saucy Devil", which started airing this week, we continued the Betty and Earl storyline, with Earl finally revealing his feelings for Betty. We were left with Betty's somewhat ambiguous response.

In each ad, we tried to end with a memorable line, one that hopefully would drive some social media pickup. For weeks after each release, we were encouraged to see "he's hotter than a teapot" and "this beat make me want to crumpet" playfully picked up in Tweets and Posts on-line. We're hoping "saucy devil" will have the same take-up.

Of course ... there is a message embedded in each of these ads ... the storyline is just there to provide an engaging experience.

What's next? A torrid affair? Stay tuned ... 

Creating something new from the magic of others


Recently I have been experimenting with remixing music, as a sabbatical of sorts from making my own. This activity is fundamentally different from passively consuming music, as it forces you to really get inside the mind of the original artist, to explore what they were trying to achieve, to break apart the musical elements they brought together to make the piece, and to imagine how these might be brought together in different ways to create something new that embraces and yet extends or even re-imagines what they have done.

Creating something new from the work of others is not trivial ... it's quite different from creating something of your own ... but it's no less complicated. In fact, to do it really well, may actually be more complicated.

In many respects (if you permit me to digress for a second) it's very similar to the challenges you face as the leader of a startup. You are seeking to mould something fresh and compelling from the creativity and capabilities of an entire team of people ... each with their own ideas, experiences, perspectives and skill-sets.  Running a startup is NOT about gathering a bunch of people together to blindly implement what is solely YOUR vision. You'll get beaten by companies who know how to leverage a chorus of individual voices every time. People working effectively together have the capability to create something that is far greater than sum of the parts. 

Anyone who has ever been in an orchestra, a band, quartet, or a choir of any kind knows that moment when things just click ... when you are all in complete musical sync ... that moment when you are all aware of each other, and are seamlessly complementing and building off each other ... blending and creating a new voice from the discrete voices of all participants. It's much more than just musical harmony ... and it's almost impossible to describe unless you have been part of it ... but boy, when it happens, it makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. It's magic ... and you don't want it to stop.

Great startups are a bit like this ....  there is something fundamental that happens when the team is in sync, working seamlessly together, and building off each other. 

Anyway, digression over ... back to re-mixing. 

With little or no experience in this area, I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of excellent tools available that reduce the learning curve, and let you stretch your inner creativity ... from iPad apps such as TraktorDJ (which are great for exploring ideas on the go) to the more full featured special purpose applications such as Traktor Pro

Musical kit  007.jpg

Of course, this space is a toy-lovers dream (see right). In fact, the software I have mentioned above, when equipped with hardware such as the Traktor Kontrol S4 and the Traktor Kontrol F1 can be a ridiculously amusing way to pass the time. 

At any rate, this phenomenon is part of the overall democratization of creativity that is happening across all forms of media including music, photography, film making ... and even (with the invention of 3D printers) physical objects. Tools are lowering the bar for people to create without the time, resource or capital investment that was often required before.

I haven't acquired much (if any) skill in this area as yet, but the technology has allowed me to begin to explore a whole new area of creativity ... and to have fun doing it.   

Here's a work in progress project. It is a remix of Manvel Ter-Pogosyan's Fallen In Too Deep using Traktor DJ on the iPad to create the core remix (essentially folding parts of the song on itself) and then Logic Pro X to add the additional string voices in order to create a more cinematic feel. It doesn't massively restructure the piece, it just subtly re-works it at the beginning, and later gets a bit more ambitious as I take parts of the original piece and fold them on top of each other to create a deeper soundscape.
The remix was done live, in one pass, and captured before then adding the strings on top in Logic. Harder that I ever thought ...


The next mix was done live, end-end, in one pass, using  TraktorDJ on an iPad.  It uses about 8 cue points (some loops) to restructure Mia Martina's Go Crazy. The challenge when doing this stuff live (i.e. without the safety net of a DAW), is that you need a pretty clear sense of how you want the remix to work before you begin the session. Given that a song can be 5-6 minutes long, it's easy to forget exactly what you were planning in any region, and so you sometimes have to ad-lib to recover. Well, a lot like startup pivots in a way :-)

Build A Company That Attracts The Next Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs joined Atari in 1973. On his very first day, he walked into founder Nolan Bushnell’s office and said “I think you have a really awesome company. I think that everything is pretty good, but I’ve seen your soldering connections and they’re really crappy.” to which, although somewhat taken aback, Nolan Bushnell replied, “Well, let’s fix them.” and Jobs did.

So what made Atari a company so attractive to Steve Jobs that he actually walked in off the street and demanded a job?

Recently Bushnell, in his book called "Finding the Next Steve Jobs: How to Find, Hire, Keep and Nurture Creative Talent", describes the culture and the allure that was so critical to hiring and keeping creative talent like Jobs.

Don't forget that many of the famous entrepreneurs of our time all started out working for someone in the beginning.

How are you going to attract this sort of talent? Below is a great interview with Nolan Bushnell that's worth a watch. 

For Every Yes There Are A Thousand No's

Apple has summed up its product philosophy in this powerful and very plain video manifesto.

It's vintage Apple ...  another shot at reiterating its long standing "Think Different" mentality. 

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

– Steve JobsWWDC 1997