Digital influencers and the dollars that follow them

Sunny Dhillon
Sunny Dhillon is a partner at Signia Venture Partners.

Animated characters are as old as human storytelling itself, dating back thousands of years to cave drawings that depict animals in motion. It was really in the last century, however—a period bookended by the first animated short film in 1908 and Pixar’s success with computer animation with Toy Story from 1995 onwards—that animation leapt forward. Fundamentally, this period of great innovation sought to make it easier to create an animated story for an audience to passively consume in a curated medium, such as a feature-length film.

Our current century could be set for even greater advances in the art and science of bringing characters to life. Digital influencers—virtual or animated humans that live natively on social media—will be central to that undertaking. Digital influencers don’t merely represent the penetration of cartoon characters into yet another medium, much as they sprang from newspaper strips to TV and the multiplex. Rather, digital humans on social media represent the first instance in which fictional entities act in the same plane of communication as you and I—regular people—do. Imagine if stories about Mickey Mouse were told over a telephone or in personalized letters to fans. That’s the kind of jump we’re talking about.

Social media is a new storytelling medium, much as film was a century ago. As with film then, we have yet to transmit virtual characters to this new medium in a sticky way.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t digital characters living their lives on social channels right now. The pioneers have arrived: Lil’ Miquela, Astro, Bermuda, and Shudu are prominent examples. But they have are still only notable for their novelty, not yet their ubiquity. They represent the output of old animation techniques applied to a new medium. This Techcrunch article did a great job describing the current digital influencer landscape.

So why haven’t animated characters taken off on social media platforms?  It’s largely an issue of scale—it’s expensive and time-consuming to create animated characters and to depict their adventures.  One 2017 estimate stated that a 60-90 second animation took about 6 weeks.  An episode of animated TV takes between 13 months to produce, typically with large teams in South Korea doing much of the animation legwork. That pace simply doesn’t work in a medium that calls for new original content multiple times a day.

Yet the technical piece of the puzzle is falling into place, which is primarily what I want to talk about today. Traditionally, virtual characters were created by a team of experts—not scalable—in the following way:

  • Create a 3D model
  • Texture the model and add additional materials
  • Rig the 3D model skeleton
  • Animate the 3D model
  • Introduce character into desired scene


Today, there are generally three different types of virtual avatar:  realistic high-resolution CGI avatars, stylized CGI avatars, and manipulated video avatars. Each has its strengths and pitfalls, and the fast-approaching world of scaled digital influencers will likely incorporate aspects of all three.

The digital influencers mentioned above are all high-resolution CGI avatars. It’s unsurprising that this tech has breathed life into the most prominent digital influencers so far—this type of avatar offers the most creative latitude and photorealism. You can create an original character and have her carry out varied activities.

The process for their creation borrows most from the old-school CGI pipeline described above, though accelerated through the use of tools like Daz3D for animation, Moka Studio for rigging, and Rokoko for motion capture. It’s old wine in new bottles. Naturally, it shares the same bottlenecks as the old-school CGI pipeline: creating characters in this way consumes a lot of time and expertise.

Though researchers like Ari Shapiro at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies are currently working on ways to automate the creation of high-resolution CGI avatars, that bottleneck remains for obstacle for digital influencers entering the mainstream.

Stylized CGI avatars, on the other hand, have entered the mainstream. If you have an iPhone or use Snapchat, chances are you have one. Apple, Samsung, Pinscreen,, Embody Digital, Genies, and are just some of the companies playing in this space. These avatars, while likely to spread ubiquitously a la Bitmoji before them, are limited in scope.

While they extend the ability to create an animated character to anyone who uses an associated app, that creation and personalization is circumscribed: the avatar’s range is limited for the purposes of what we’re discussing in this article. It’s not so much a technology for creating new digital humans as it is a tool for injecting a visual shorthand for someone into the digital world. You’ll use it to embellish your Snapchat game, but storytellers will be unlikely to use these avatars to create a spiritual successor to Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear (though they will be a big advertising / brand partnership opportunity nonetheless).

Video manipulation—you probably know it as deepfakes—is another piece of tech that is speeding virtual or fictional characters into the mainstream. As the name implies, however, it’s more about warping reality to create something new. Anyone who has seen Nicolas Cage’s striking features dropped onto Amy Adams’ body in a Superman film will understand what I’m talking about.

Open source packages like this one allow almost anyone to create a deepfake (with some technical knowhow—your grandma probably hasn’t replaced her time-honored Bingo sessions with some casual deepfaking). It’s principally used by hobbyists, though recently we’ve seen startups like Synthesia crop up with business use cases. You can use deepfake tech for mimicry, but we haven’t yet seen it used for creating original characters. It shares some of the democratizing aspects of stylized CGI avatars, and there are likely many creative applications for the tech that simply haven’t been realized yet.

While none of these technology stacks on their own currently enable digital humans at scale, when combined they may make up the wardrobe that takes us into Narnia. Video manipulation, for example, could be used to scale realistic high-res characters like Lil’ Miquela through accelerating the creation of new stories and tableaux for her to inhabit. Nearly all of the most famous animated characters have been stylized, and I wouldn’t bet against social media’s Snow White being stylized too. What is clear is that the technology to create digital influencers at scale is nearing a tipping point. When we hit that tipping point, these creations will transform entertainment and storytelling.

from TechCrunch

26 Recording Experiments: The A-Z of Trying New Things in the Studio


Experimenting in the studio is one of the best parts of being a musician.

But inspiring ideas aren’t always on hand when you need them.

Trying new techniques is one of the best ways to get out of creative ruts. 

We put together an alphabetical list of experimental techniques to get you inspired to break new ground.

A. Aleatoric

Aleatoric is the term for music that relies on an element of chance. It’s a fancy way of saying that randomness and the unexpected can be important parts of a composition.

Try introducing a bit of the unknown into your tracks by using some creative plugins that rely on randomness for their effects.

B. Beat matching

Beat matching is the process of manipulating the tempo of two tracks playing simultaneously playing

This essential DJing technique can help you uncover hidden rhythms and melodies in your existing tracks.

C. Crank it

One of the simplest and most visceral sonic experiments you can do is simply turning something up to eleven. The sound of music machines pushed to their limit has inspired artists for generations.

There’s plenty of gear that’s particularly prized for its desirable saturation qualities. Who knows, maybe you’ll discover the next sought-after method of sonic destruction. Wouldn’t that be fun?

D. Double tracking

Double tracking is the classic studio technique of stacking multiple takes of the same part on top of each other.

You might be surprised how much a sound can change when it’s layered with itself!

The subtle variances between performances can create a massive sounding effect.

E. Effects

Audio effects have transformative powers. Think of your effects chain like your palette of paints. Use them to take your existing sounds to new experimental worlds.

Don’t worry if your new sounds are unrecognizable from the originals—just see how far you can take it!

F. Field recordings

Bring the outside world to your DAW session with field recordings. The sounds of a real environment can set the stage in ways plugins and samples never can.

So take it outside, with whatever mobile recording method you have at your disposal. Even your phone’s built-in mic can be enough to get a convincing sonic image of place.

G. Gates

Gates are for more than just eliminating noise.

You can get seriously creative with gates and expanders by using them on non-traditional sources or routing their sidechains to other sources.

H. Humanize it

Let’s face it, the grid is boring. Snapping every single note event directly to the subdivision is old hat.

Get yourself off the grid by nudging hits, manually entering parts or using MIDI humanizer tools.

I. Improvise

When was the last time you jammed in the studio? Pressing record without knowing what’s about to happen is a perfect way to experiment.

The spontaneous feel that improvised playing brings out can shake things up in surprising ways.

J. Juxtaposition

Variety is the spice of life. Emphasizing the contrast between competing elements in a composition is a creative way to highlight your experimental side.

See how big of a gap you can bridge between disparate sources in the same track.

K. Key change

A key change can be the most dramatic part of a song.

Whether it’s a simple modulation to refresh things for the final chorus or a radical departure to an unrelated key, moving a song to different harmonic center is a perfect way to shake things up.

L. Layering

Layering multiple sounds and samples together can turn your tracks into something more than the sum of their parts.

Experiment with stacking sounds on top of each other to take advantage of the elements you like in each.

M. Modes

Stuck in the same old scale? Trying one of the modes of the major scale could be what you need to break out.

Each mode has its own unique colour and mood. Their melodic signatures can bring a lot of drama and freshness to your sound.

N. Noise

Noise to some is the opposite of music. To others it’s fertile creative ground.

You can experiment with noise by turning up the noise oscillator on your synth patches or tuning into online shortwave radio and scanning the airwaves.

O. Oblique Strategies

Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s classic card-based creativity tool is the original studio experimentation handbook.

From overcoming creative blocks to outside-the-box thinking, shuffling the deck and turning up a random oblique strategy can work wonders for your workflow.

P. Parallel chains

Processing your tracks in parallel is a great experimental technique. Blending dry and effected signals allows you to get the best of both worlds.

Check out our guide to parallel compression to get a taste of what parallel chains can do for your sound.

Q. Quantize

Quantizing is normally used to bring MIDI note events into time on the DAW grid. But you can get much more creative with it if you throw the rule book out the window.

Try quantizing a part using “incorrect” note values and just seeing what kind of patterns emerge.

R. Reverse

The sound of audio played in reverse will never stop sounding mind-bendingly uncanny. It’s a classic experimental audio technique that’s been around since the psychedelic sixties.

Try reversing your tracks and samples to create new and unexpected textures.

S. Samples

Samples can be truly experimental. There’s nothing like digging through a bizarre SFX pack to find the perfect experimental flourish to add your track.

Be aggressive with your sample choices and try things in the most far-out context you can think of.

There’s no rules when it comes to samples.

T. Time signatures

How often do you change your DAW’s time signature to something other than 4/4?

Even if it’s just a basic triple meter like 3/4 or 6/8, switching it up is a great way to experiment in the studio.

See how different time signatures affect your phrases and rhythms.

U. Urgency

Set a time limit and try to stick to it. Make it a sprint and just run with your first ideas. Sometimes a ticking clock can force you to try something new.

Harness that sense of urgency to bring out the unexpected.

V. Varispeed

Varispeed is another classic tape technique that’s still fresh and experimental today. Manipulating the speed of your recordings can completely change their sound.

You might find things you never expected lurking in the depths of a track that’s been radically time stretched!

W. Waveform

One way to get experimental is to focus on the appearance of the waveform itself.

Throw auditory feedback out the window and use an oscilloscope to dial in your synth patches visually. Using a visual display only can really take you out of your comfort zone.

X. Xylophone

It’s easy to get stuck using the same few instruments on every track.
Maybe you always start with a drum beat or a loop. Time to disrupt that pattern.
Try starting with an instrument (or sample) you’ve never used before. Such as…xylophone. Why not!

Y. You

Let’s bring it in for a second. The most innovative studio experiments come from you and your imagination.

Don’t put any limits on experimentation in the studio and try anything that pops into your head. You’re in charge!

Z. Zodiac

Artists and musicians have looked to the heavens for inspiration for centuries.

From the Music of the Spheres to 20th century tone rows, the signs of the zodiac can point your inspiration in interesting ways.

The post 26 Recording Experiments: The A-Z of Trying New Things in the Studio appeared first on LANDR Blog.

from LANDR Blog

Arturia’s new experimental synth – and Mutable Instruments’ role


It was only a matter of time before some of the craziness of the modular world came to desktop synths, too. Arturia’s new MicroFreak is a budget keyboard with a weird streak.

It’s also been the source of some confusion, because it in fact makes use of oscillators from open source hardware maker Mutable Instruments, but hang tight for an explanation there. (It’s not exactly the focus of this synth, but it is significant – and an interesting illustration of overlapping capabilities in the age of open source.)

Experimental features are making their way into the mainstream. Let’s count – and yeah, that product name MicroFreak fits:

A flat-panel metal touch keyboard (Buchla style), with poly aftertouch. (Doesn’t look like there’s MPE support, though, just poly aftertouch support?)

A matrix for modulation (something associated with synths like the ARP 2500).

Randomization features in the step sequencer – various functions along the top “spice” and “dice” and otherwise rearrange your patterns.

Oscillator features from Mutable Instruments’ open source Plaits engine – and modes like Karplus Strong (physical modeled strings/plucks), harmonic oscillators, and more exotic wavetables.

It’s still an Arturia design, no doubt – the digital oscillators get fed through an analog filter (this time the Oberheim SEM), and the preset storage and control knobs all look Arturia-like and more conventional. But it’s a blend between that and more leftfield hardware, in one very low-cost unit – $349 (299 EUR) this spring.

The resulting design looks a little like it was pieced together from different bits – an ornate keyboard versus a more staid gray body, plus four glaring traffic cone orange knob caps. But that price is terrific, especially considering a lot of modular cases start at that price – let alone what you’d need to even begin to approach these possibilities here.

And – the thinness is fantastic. It seems 2019 is a year of touch keyboards. Don Buchla would’ve been proud of us.

So let’s get back to the Mutable Instruments oscillators, which are one of the more interesting features here. We’ve confirmed that Mutable Instruments and founder/designer Emilie were not directly involved in the design, though she did sign off on the mention of the company name.

Mutable Instruments’ Plaits module code is available open source under an MIT license, so any manufacturer can pick it up and use it – even without asking, actually. That’s by design; Emilie tells us she intended widespread use. (An alternative for open source developers is to use “copyleft” licensing, which requires anyone reusing your stuff to release their source, as well. That would’ve been interesting – theoretically it would have meant Arturia would need to open source their additional oscillators and firmware. The GPLv3 license we’ve used on MeeBlip has this function, for example.)

Some of Arturia’s original copy was perhaps a bit overzealous and caused some confusion about whether Mutable Instruments was a partner on the design. They’ve since clarified that. For further clarification, read the statement on the Mutable forums:

So while it’s not a collaboration, it does show off the power of open source. As Émilie writes:

You can find Mutable Instruments’ DSP code in the Korg Prologue, the Axoloti, the Organelle, VCV Rack, and plenty of other bits of software or hardware. This is not stealing. Plaits’ code is a summary of everything I’ve learnt about making rich and balanced sound sources controlled by a few parameters, it’s for everyone to enjoy.

The important thing here is to differentiate between the open source Plaits modules, some new additions from Arturia, and then the Plaits sounds you get from Mutable’s updated modules. Let’s break it down:

Plaits oscillator modes:

  • VA, classic virtual analog
  • Waveshaper, triangle wave with waveshaping / wavefolding
  • FM (2-operator FM oscillator)
  • Grain, granular synthesis
  • Chords, fixed paraphonic harmonies (hello, trance music, then)
  • Speech synthesis
  • Modular (inharmonic physical model)

Those of us who have been playing with this on hardware or in the authorized versions inside VCV Rack will definitely appreciate seeing these elsewhere. (Really – can’t get enough.)

Arturia did add some pretty significant modes to those:

  • “Superwave” – detuned saw, square, sine, triangle waves, somewhat Roland-ish sound
  • “Harmo” – 32 sine waves for additive synthesis
  • Karplus Strong – physical string modeling
  • Wavetable – scan through wavetable modes

To me, those Arturia additions really anchor this offering, with some pretty fundamental ideas on offer. Put them together, and you should have something really versatile.

But okay, since Mutable Instruments doesn’t get any of your money when you buy the Arturia MicroFreak, did Mutable just give away the store by using an open source license? Well, no, not really – Plaits gives you a full 16 modes, an internal low pass gate, and does all its 32-bit floating point math in hardware that you can bolt into a modular case and interconnect via control voltage. Plus, you can get Plaits in software if you like – see the Audible Instruments Preview for VCV Rack, regularly updated.

Heck, that could compel us Mutable superfans into happily buying these same features multiple times, in Arturia’s hardware, in the pack for VCV Rack (which does evidently support Mutable), and in Mutable’s own hardware. Hmmm… a MicroBrute, a little skiff with some Mutable modules, a nice connection to the laptop, maybe again a Raspberry Pi. Okay, I’ll stop. Guess I’ll have to buy the White Album again…)


And as for MicroFreak:

from Create Digital Music

Behringer Crave synth: vintage bits, all the extras, $199


Behringer left its big gear salvo for the year for last – Crave is a compact, patchable synth with arp and sequencer for US$199.

Behringer’s gear announcements this year stuck mostly to safe bets – clones of a whole lot of Roland gear (SH-101, TR-808, vocoder, modular) and the ARP Odyssey – and most of those the company had revealed in some form long before the NAMM show. More on that separately. But that meant the company hadn’t done what they did with semi-modular Neutron, which was make something distinctive.

All of that might have continued to cement the association of Behringer with clones – but then we get this.

Behringer Crave is a new semi-modular synth. It takes some of those components that made the retro remakes possible, but puts them in a new form – and with the price really, really low. So the Crave has the oscillator from the Sequential Prophet 5 (and Neutron), a Moog ladder filter, a big patch bay making it semi-modular, and a full-featured step sequencer / arpeggiator. Each of these has been seen in some form on other products, which demonstrates Behringer is ready to aggressively combine those bits into new products to suit the market.

And then there’s the price – Crave is US$199 (149 EUR).

3340 analog oscillator
Ladder filter (hi pass / low pass)
Step sequencer – also on the Odyssey and (SH-101) MS-101 (external MIDI transposition, 32 steps x 8 sequences)
Per-step glide time, gate length, accent, ratchet
Semi-modular patch bay

It looks like you can patch – well, more or less everything. No specifics on those patch points, but there is mention of patching into Tempo, Hold, Start, Reset for the sequencer.

Behringer has a product walkthrough, though their rep is strangely excited about MIDI transpose for some reason? (I mean, it’s definitely useful!)

Of course, you can compare this to the KORG volca modular offering at the same price – and maybe wish that KORG had finally abandoned their existing form factor, which would have allowed them (for instance) to use larger cables instead of tiny header pin-sized cables. KORG’s offering is definitely more left-field, with Buchla/West Coast-inspired synthesis. And it runs out battery power. But you have to want that more esoteric sound approach.

Or for a little more money, you can get the new Arturia MicroFreak, which also has semi-modular routings (delivered as a matrix instead of with cables), and a step sequencer, but a playable keyboard in addition – and some unique sound features. We’re hearing street price of US$299, so a hundred bucks more than the Behringer.

In other words, this year has already been really good for anyone wanting an advanced synth that costs under $300. And for features for money, the Crave is very aggressive, indeed.

No product website or ship date yet.

from Create Digital Music

The Art of The 180: 6 Artists that Successfully Reinvented Their Sound


Artists can completely transform in front of your eyes. One day it’s rock, the next day it’s rap, tomorrow it’s country.

It’s not uncommon—And it’s usually for a pretty relatable reason…

Sometimes musicians have to change everything about the way they approach making music to keep their process rewarding.

If you’ve ever struggled to create new, interesting music but were afraid to switch things up, you’re not alone.

These examples of huge musical transformation are proof that big changes are tough, but can inspire some incredible musical ideas.

Here’s six stories that will help you embrace changes—big and small—in your own approach to creating.

Derek Miller – From metal guitarist to noise pop producer and instrumentalist

What does the hardcore outfit Poison The Well and critically acclaimed indie noise pop duo Sleigh Bells have in common?

Multi-talented musician, songwriter and producer Derek Miller.

Growing up in south Florida, Miller picked up the guitar and joined Poison The Well in the late 90s. A few years late, Miller broke ties with the group.

Eventually, his love for George Michael, Madonna and Michael Jackson led Miller towards a fascinating musical transition to his Sleigh Bells project.

Sleigh Bells’ four albums preserve Miller’s energetic hardcore roots while leveraging tools like drum machines and distorted vocals to create music that’s both manic and rewarding to listen to—proof that songwriting and musical fulfilment doesn’t have to be bound by genre.

Joni Mitchell – Folk songwriter to jazz and experimental pioneer

After a decade of meticulously crafting gorgeous folk music, Joni Mitchell started finding massive success in the mid 70s. She won two Grammy Awards, released the critically acclaimed albums Ladies of The Canyon and Blue, which is now regarded one of the best albums of all time.

And then at the height of her career, she ditched pop and folk completely to focus on a love for Jazz.

Mitchell explored songs with less conventional structures that incorporated a wider range of instruments and a sound closer to some of her influences.

Bored with her music-making formula, Mitchell wanted to explore songs with less conventional structures that incorporated a wider range of instruments.

With an intrepid spirit, Mitchell’s jazz period involved things like early music sampling and collaborations with jazz greats like Charles Mingus and Jaco Pastorius.

Mitchell’s transformation allowed her to remain creatively engaged and interested for decades. She went on to create music exploring experimental pop, rock, folk and jazz for the next 30 years.

Bob Dylan – From folk icon to controversial electric guitar-wielding rocker

Bob Dylan’s transition from acoustic to electric caused one of the most storied moments in rock history: the infamous boos heard around the world at the 1965 Newport Festival.

Bob Dylan’s transition from acoustic to electric caused one of the most storied moments in rock history: the infamous boos heard around the world at the 1965 Newport Festival.

In the mid-60’s, Dylan was seen as the American folk music revival’s fearless and uncompromising leader.

So when he began performing, and eventually recording with a full band, non-distorted electric guitars and swirling organs, huge factions of his audience we’re less than thrilled.

Dylan’s transition from acoustic to electric sounds may tame to our modern ears, but it was an unforgivable betrayal to many in his audience back in the 60’s.

Even so, Dylan’s willingness to incorporate new modern sounds and tools in his work remains inspiring. Even in the face of alienating his audience, he did it anyway and made the music he was interested in no matter what the consequences were at the time.

Today, artists are often criticized for trading in guitars for synthesizers, but Dylan’s transformation shows that similar musical controversies have been happening for a long time.

Dylan’s curveball solidified his legacy as a monolithic figure in rock that endures today. His tumultuous turn to electric is a mere blip on a legendary and fascinating career.

Taylor Swift: From Nashville country to genre-bending popstar

Taylor Swift’s transformation from country to all things pop might seem like a masterfully plotted career move, but for Swift, it was more of a natural evolution.

With stadium-ready synths and 808 beats, Swift’s album 1989 sounds a universe away from her old pop country playbook, and 2017’s Reputation stretches her newly adopted pop identity even further.

Though she probably lost some fans during the transition, Swift’s chart-topping take on pop wildly succeeded by most accounts.

Whether it was a career decision or a fearless intuitive songwriting transformation doesn’t matter when you consider that doing the same thing over and over again in music usually doesn’t work.

Damon Albarn – From lead singer to comic book

Damon Albarn is leading one of popular music’s most interesting and successful careers thanks to his willingness to take risks and transform as an artist.

Formed in the early 90’s, his first project Blur was a big success in its own right. Influenced by The Beatles and The Kinks, the guitar-driven outfit earned wide acclaim and an avid fanbase.

But In 1998 Albarn flipped the switch when he formed Gorillaz with his friend Jamie Hewlett, a comic book artist.

Embracing sounds from hip hop, electronica and funk, Gorillaz present their music through a fascinating fictional universe for audiences to explore not only through music but also music videos, animated shorts and interviews—a far cry from the straightforward rock of Blur.

With catchy synth work and masterful beat-making, a major defining element of the band’s sound is borne through a spirit of collaboration. The project’s canon features everyone from Snoop Dogg to Mavis Staples.

Albarn’s openness to transformation not only gave his music access to new genres and collaborations, it also redefined what a band is and can be today.

Brian Wilson – From good mannered Beach Boy to seminal studio wizard

It’s hard to believe now, but when Pet Sounds came out in 1966, critics didn’t care for it. The world is now well aware of Wilson’s genius, but that wasn’t the case in the late 60’s…

The world is now well aware of Wilson’s genius, but that wasn’t the case in the late 60’s…

With Pet Sounds, Wilson set out to create the greatest rock album ever made through a complete musical statement. That meant no filler tracks and a ton of studio-oriented experimentation.

His bandmates urged him to keep things simple to sell more records and make playing live easy, but Wilson’ refused to compromise.

Instead, Wilson decided to move away from music built for live performance and set his sights on moving deeper into the possibilities of the modern recording studio.

Pet Sounds is now thought of as the first concept album in terms of musical production. Inspired by Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” concept, Wilson’s production and songwriting on the album reflects an obsession with textures created through combining sounds and pioneering studio techniques.

Pet Sounds embraces everything from jazz to psychedelia, setting the stage for the progressive chamber pop that shapes a large part of the musical landscape today.

Wilson’s unwavering need to push the boundaries of recording, gave rise to the studio-as-an-instrument ethos that continues to drive imaginations of bedroom producers everywhere.

Sound it out

Change is good. Don’t let genres and habits hold you back from exploring everything production and songwriting have to offer.

The stories behind these pivots prove that music and the creative process can benefit from a little shake-up every now and then…

Changes—big or small—can make a difference. Switch something up for yourself and see what happens.

from LANDR Blog