democratizing-analog

By James Pew

In the spirit of the recently launched Open Window Project, an Open Music collaboration with artists on Broken Window Records via the Indaba Music Community, I decided to begin a series going more in-depth into another collaborative movement empowering the culture of indie music…DIY audio!

But first let me point to a source which illustrates the notions of democratizing through collaboration.  Democratizing Innovation written in 2005 by MIT professor Eric Von Hippel explores the dynamics of  User Innovation:

“Innovation is rapidly becoming democratized. Users, aided by improvements in computer and communications technology, increasingly can develop their own new products and services.  These innovating users – both individuals and firms – often freely share their innovations with others, creating user-innovation communities and a rich intellectual commons.”

Democratized Analog, a  global movement of professional and non-professional audio electronics technicians, sound engineers, music producers, and artists sharing information  and working collaboratively to build and develop analog audio devices for use in music production.  In most cases this group of analog audio user/innovators interface their analog devices with computers and digital plug-ins, disproving the myth that analog audiophiles reject digital.  My view is that digital democratization promotes analog democratization.

The analog audio research and development initiative I’m involved in is called Origin Audio Electronics.  For 10 years, the R&D work at the Origin Audio lab has drawn from and contributed to the growing knowledge base found on the DIY audio electronics forums that are the center of the DIY analog audio movement. Here are a few:

DIY Audio

DIY Audio Projects

Simple Machines Forum

Today it is these three simple ideas that inspire me most:

Democratized Innovation – The ability to draw on and contribute to an open community of user innovators. The accessibility of experts willing to help (both locally and over the web via forums) greatly enabled us to develop several hi-fi analog audio recording devices.

Technology Wants To Be Free -  Here is a quote from this great Kevin Kelly post:

“Over time the cost per fixed technological function will decrease. If that function persists long enough its costs begin to approach (but never reach) zero. In the goodness of time any particular technological function will exist as if it were free. ”

User Determined – Driven by the idea that anything can be built better and cheaper than most of what is  offered in the  world of established pro audio.  We build what we determine we need.  And change what we determine needs changing on something already built.  I love this post on Radical Trust called A Cultural Revolution, Not A Commercial One,  the themes are identified as key principles of the web 2.0 movement, but as Collin Douma points out “These principles are popping up in every vertical and horizontal.”

The latest example in the Origin Audio Electronics effort  to achieve greater analog tonal characteristics, is a new working prototype of an analog recording device called the VP8 Fatboy.  VP stands for Valve Preamplifier – meaning this is a microphone preamplifier using vacuum tubes.  The 8 represents the eight channels – meaning up to eight microphones can be connected simultaneously (enough to record a rock band).  And Fatboy is derived from its characteristic “fat” tube tone.

The VP8 Fatboy represents the essence of analog democratization, with eight hi-fi analog inputs it has the power to turn a digital only studio into a high end analog/digital studio.  The fact that these types of devices are accessible to home studios and professional studios alike means better tools in more hands of those who are creating music.

Euphonic Sound is a good example of an independent studio able to work with a broader range of artists because of the empowering nature of democratized innovation.   Instead of investing a quarter of a million in an analog mixing console, the work at Origin Audio Electronics provided the analog front end at Euphonic Sound. Which means we can use quality gear meeting the standards of the worlds top studios, but still work within an indie artists budget.

Here is an unmastered mix of indie band RBB.  This is the first band we recorded using the VP8 Fatboy at Euphonic Sound.  Because this is an unmastered mix you’ll need to turn up the volume to compensate for the lack of mastering compression and loudness.  The VP8 Fatboy was used on every instrument and voice in this mix.

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Check out our note about the VP8 Fatboy at Euphonic Sound for some tech specs.

Creative Commons License
Democratizing Analog Part 1 by James Pew is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at www.studiomanifesto.ca.

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