Reflecting on 10 Years of Dynamic Music Research – Part 1

I first met Ed Robinson while living in Austin, TX. At the time, I imagined there were essentially three ways forward for me in my relationship with music. One was the slim chance I would somehow become successful enough as a member of my rock band, Squint, that I could eek out a satisfying royalty income. The second was that I might make it in the recording studio business, but its slightly better odds of a living wage would require complete devotion, long hours, and still plenty of luck. The third, and most likely, was to abandon music as all but a hobby and look to start a new life.

At the beginning of 2011, about the only thing I was sure about was that I wanted to continue my relationship with girlfriend, Katie. At the time, she was living in Chicago. We had been dating long distance for a couple of years and we agreed that by the end of the year we would either be living in the same place or end the relationship.

In the end, I wisely decided to announce to both my band and the studio where I worked in Austin that I would be leaving and heading to Chicago to start my next chapter. Ed was the owner of the recording studio at the time. Therefore, you might logically assume that this is where our paths would diverge. Instead, it became the beginning of a long journey. 

In addition to the studio, Ed had a long and successful background as a computer scientist and entrepreneur. Not long before I was set to move to Chicago, he asked me to come into his office. In previous discussions, I had demonstrated enthusiasm for his idea to deliver music in a dynamic and updatable format and he had a proposal for me:

“I’d like to start a business making music software. Perhaps also training people to code. I’d like you to be my partner,” he said.

“You are aware I don’t know how to write code, correct?” I asked, amused.

“You can learn,” he said.

“But, I’m also moving to Chicago.”

“You can work remote,” came his reply. “And, I can pay you until the business starts producing revenue.”

Here was the opportunity to get paid from the moment my plane hit the tarmac in Chicago, doing work in which I was fascinated. I would be taught a new skill. I would stay in music. I could move in with Katie and immediately contribute to paying the bills. It wasn’t a tough decision.

So, in August of 2011, Binary Concepts was born. Over the next years, Ed and I would spend hundreds of hours on the phone and in online chat sessions spinning up music software concepts. We were both dissatisfied with the limitations of modern music distribution. Why did we use all these incredible tools in the studio, just to release music that was essentially as inflexible as it had been in the 1950s? We talked about “Album 2.0”. Something dynamic. Something updatable. Something software driven.

Running parallel to our discussions, Ed helped me learn to code C and Objective-C and I became an Apple developer. The first app I had accepted by the Apple store was a tap-tempo app for figuring out the beats per minute for recording a song in the studio. It had at its core a block of C code Ed gave to me as a learning tool. Later, I developed a matching/memory game called Sherlock Tonez which used the music library on the player’s phone for audio snippets and album art.

Ed asked me to begin posting some blogs on our company website based on some of the thoughts we’d had about music technology. I wrote eight blogs during the period of 2013-2015, one of which, “Album 2.0 vs Song Toys”, was included in the ASCAP newsletter.

It wasn’t until 2015 that I produced my first true experiment in “Album 2.0”. I created a nom de plume of sorts, theSilentSamples, and begin writing and recording music specifically designed to be released as dynamic and interactive in an app. The music playback engine was based on DAWs I had used to record in my previous studio experience. As the song played, the user was presented choices about the next performance they might hear. For instance, if I recorded the bridge on three different instruments, buttons representing each choice might appear on screen a few seconds before. The song could be listened to over and over again, discovering a new experience each time. The core mission of theSilentSamples was a success. It proved that a dynamic music project could be created, accepted by the app store, and be updated with new music and content at a later time.

The fact was, though, there wasn’t a clear path to revenue as a business making these sorts of projects and Ed sensed it was too tight of a niche market. He suggested I spin off my own business with a name borrowed from him – Volcanoes for Hire. That was five years ago. To find out what happened during that time, I’ll follow up with a post on the VfH web site:

Happy New Year and good luck for 2021!

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