We took a few minutes to interview James Talbot, Founder of Damson Audio and Invent
or of the HeadSpace headphones in the run up to their much-anticipated Indiegogo crowd funding round on 25th April
Q: James, tell us how about how Damson Audio came to life?
Accidentally, to be honest. The short version is that I created the very first vibration speaker as a personal hobby project as I was looking for a speaker that delivered good bass yet was small enough to throw in my suitcase (I lived in my suitcase and music was my comfort blanket when travelling). During a big pitch, I had to use my speaker and got more questions about it than the pitch! I figured I'd give it a shot and go into mass production.
Q: Where did your obsession with music and audio originally stem from?
I've always loved music and I also have perfect pitch. I can pick out nuances in music that others may miss, and was also a chorister from a young age. Music is something that helps to both inspire and relax me - I’m one of those people who can use music to help me become creative.
Q: What drives you?
Being different. I've never been the follow-the-crowd guy. I like to be different, some would say awkward. This transposes itself in the products I help create by the very fact the initial idea I have for them is based on what can be done differently to the way it is done today. Not reinventing the wheel, just looking at a speaker, for example, and thinking how it can be improved. Take the Vulcan, for example, it's a "Bluetooth speaker" but it's the only 4.1 BT speaker. Have a look at the grilles and you’ll see they're hexagonal because a hexagon allows more air to flow through compared to a circle. It’s also the strongest structural shape possible. Accepting the status quo is a scary thought for me.
Q: You’ve become well-known in the industry for your successful Crowdfunding campaigns. Why did you go down this route and what do you put behind your success?
It goes back to being different! We're a small company with a big outlook and really want to take on the likes of Bose and Sony but don’t have the pocketful of cash that they do. In fact, we don't have a pocketful of cash at all as we put what we have into the R&D of our products so Crowdfunding has become a big part of our business plan and in return, we reward those who trust in giving us their cash on Indiegogo by actually delivering the product that they have created.
Q: You’re about to launch your brand-new noise-cancelling headphones, HeadSpace. How did HeadSpace originally come about?
Screaming babies, and a headset made by one of the big boys we are focused on. I fly a lot and have done for the best part of 15 years. Airports are chaotic, noisy, and on planes, I always get sat near the screaming baby (I even have a recording from one that I play occasionally to remind myself of the pain - 5 hours this kid screamed whilst it's mum was passed out!). Using the other headphones irritated me because 1. they weren't Damson and 2. They weren't Damson which made it weird when people sat next to me on a plane asked what I did, who I worked for - and then looked at my headphones. So I set about picking them apart to find the faults and worked back from there to create HeadSpace.
Q: There seem to be a lot of noise cancelling earphones on the market. How do you stand out / be different?
I think ours are different in several ways with the most important being that we have managed to eliminate the annoying white noise we hear as a hiss when listening to ANC headphones. It's also the materials we used such as metals instead of plastic (a theme in all our products) and the price ($149 at launch); I don't believe in ripping people off and we've managed to make ours at a price that's achievable for a lot of people out there I didn't believe in ramping up the price "just because", but that's why I’m no gazillionaire I guess.
Q: Finally, Damson Audio is launching headspace on Indiegogo on 25th April. Why did you choose Indiegogo
As a platform, I think Indiegogo are very forward thinking and constantly looking for ways to improve their site. They don't rest on what they have achieved. That resonates strongly with me.
HeadSpace is launching on Indiegogo on 25th April 2017. Sign up before then at http://get.damsonaudio.com/headspace/ to get them at $75 (50% off) at launch.
Welcome once again to our showcase of the best places to find new music online. You’ve bought your new wireless speaker and now you need to expand your music library to show off your great tastes to your friends - we’re here to help.
This week’s technique is Youtube surfing: the act of finding a song, then navigating through the rabbit hole that is the related videos. Thanks to Youtube’s algorithms and monitoring of videos that other users watch, this is usually an exciting and rewarding journey.
Take a look at this gif of our journey from the fantastically funky ‘Do The Dog Funk’ - a hot slice of 70s funk:
Some pointers in how to choose your next track:
- Look at the track names. Anything interesting? Our journey was food themed at first (‘Peach Fuzz’, ‘Ham Hocks and Beans’) before ‘Alcohol Part 1 and 2’ moved it down a different path
- Any good album covers? Around the 6th track in we moved from pictures of vinyls to awesome styled album covers.
- Anything you recognise? Avoid it! Part of the fun is finding artists, preferably obscure, that are completely new to you.
Or you can just hit Autoplay: on, and let Youtube curate your musical journey for you.
According to a tweet by FiveThirtyEight, 400 hours of content are uploaded to Youtube every minute. This is a phenomenal volume, so we’re not going to try to guess how much music Youtube contains.
What we will say though is that it is a practically endless source of discovery for music old and new, familiar and unfamiliar, amateur and professional, good and bad. Whatever you click you're guaranteed to find something that's at least interesting.
So dive in!
Last week we introduced /r/listentothis.
In the second instalment of our showcase of the best places to find new music we’re taking a look at SoundCloud: a Pandora’s box of delights with some oddities thrown in for good measure. Whatever floats your boat will be in here somewhere.
What will I find?
135+ million tracks including music, podcasts and audio from across the globe. SoundCloud is a place to upload your own music creations, listen to virtually limitless tracks, (no way will you ever be able to hear it all) curate the bits you love the most into your own profile to access as and when you want and share it all with your followers.
How does it work?
With a basic free account you can save tracks to your profile, curate other members’ tracks into playlists, create albums, share tracks or even upload your own musical offerings. Upgrading to a paid account enables listening to content offline, downloading tracks, accessing more content and enjoying an ad-free experience.
Other things you can get up to on sound cloud;
- continuous playback from your playlist or the page you are listening from.
- Keep up with what is happening on the sound scene you follow, the people and tracks that matter to you.
- Build a profile with the tracks that you have clicked on to register a ‘like’.
- Search for tracks by genre, name and ‘most popular’.
- Follow charts based on plays per week, sorted by genre or ‘all tracks’, a top 50 option or a ‘new and hot’ search criteria. Always be on top of what’s out there.
- Enjoy recommended tracks from a list generated from your searches and history- the more you dig in and explore, the more recommendations you get- it is so easy to just keep discovering new stuff.
At the time of writing the SoundCloud charts looked like this:
Which is the best song recommended here?
Migos, with Bad and Boujee (feat Lil Uzi Vert) was the top track of all genres at time of writing with 4.53 million listens just in the last week. A great hip-hop and rap track taken from their new ‘Culture’ album. Due to the nature of the language in this track, it’s probably best not to feature it here though!
One that is worth a feature is top of the ‘ambient’ chart this week - The Chainsmokers, Don’t let me down ft Daya. (Hipst3r Edit). Just perfect for the wind-down after a heavy day.
What’s the best song we’ve found here?
The Letter, a beautiful indie tune from Jacob Whitesides is well worth a listen.
What else makes this community great?
Basically the scope and availability of music; from trance to classical, from disco to techno, it’s all covered here with the added bonus of an interacting musically enthusiastic community.
Get involved lad!
This is a new series showcasing the best places to find new music, and we’re pumped about it.
Our first recommendation? The Listen To This community on Reddit.
These folks pride themselves on finding good music and they deliver with majestic regularity.
What will I find?
Songs that have been forgotten to history, live performances that people don’t know about, and anything else that’s slipped through the cracks.
This is a real treasure trove, too. The longer you spend exploring, the more gems you’ll dig up.
How does it work?
Anyone with a Reddit account can submit a song, subject to a few rules. Submitted tracks cannot:
- have over 500,000 plays across all media (YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, etc.)
- be from an artist with 4 million plays ("scrobbles") on Last.FM
- be from an artist with 250,000 listeners on Last.FM
- be from an artist with Three or more tracks with over 500,000 plays across all media.
- be from an artist with celebrity status
- be a remix or cover of an artist or track over one of the above criteria
This keeps it unknown and obscure, just the way real music fans like it.
Once songs are submitted, users vote them up and down depending how good they are. This means the good stuff drifts to the top – below are the top 6 songs at time of writing this post:
If that day’s songs aren’t good enough for you, you can sort by most popular songs of the week, month, year, or all time.
Which is the best song recommended here?
The highest voted song by the community is Moving by I Eat Plants for A Living. A short burst of lofi hip-hop:
What’s the best song we’ve found here?
We often come back to Winter Wren by Passafire. A lovely slice of chilled out reggae rock:
What else makes this community great?
One of our favourite parts of /r/listentothis is their Best Of lists, where diligent users collate the best songs from each year and lovingly craft them into playlists for your enjoyment. 2013’s list is particularly good – that’s where we found this monstrously good live set from Haitus Kaiyote. Take special note of the piano solo starting at 9:44:
And finally, the sidebar links are worth a look. They link through to other communities that offer more niche music selections. You can browse specific genres, or listen to playlists curated by other communities:
So grab a brew and get exploring: we guarantee you'll find something good.
You’ve opened the carefully crafted packaging of your Damson product and it’s sitting in your hands, waiting to be used.
The anticipation is real.
But which piece of music is suitably epic to be chosen as your first listen?
This is a question we’ve thought long and hard about, and our best answer is…
'Dies Irae', or 'Day of Wrath'. A piece of Gregorian Chant composed at some point between 1100 and 1290 AD.
Why on earth would I want to listen to that, you ask?
Just bear with us, because as you’ll see this bad boy is used in the most epic tunes of all time from the end of humanity to the destruction of the Death Star, some monks a thousand years ago knew the score.
Why is this piece of music so epic?
It is so old that no one knows exactly who composed it.
It's nearly a thousand years old, maybe older, and it's still going strong.
It has never faded away. Since its composition its melody has been used in hundreds of pieces of music, from classical pieces to opera to film scenes to video game scores.
(More on the last two later.)
It describes the day of judgement, when God returns to earth to judge all souls.
This is a picture of that event in progress.
See the epicness?
See the trumpet-playing angels flying around, summoning all living souls for judgement with their melodies?
See the worthy souls ascending to heaven while the unworthy are cast into the pits of eternal damnation by Satan’s minions?
See God surveying the carnage from his throne in the clouds, surrounded by the blessed and the saved?
Imagine what that must sound like.
Its melody pops up time and time again, everywhere. It is prevalent in classical music through the ages, and made its way into the modern era via tons of film and video game scores; including it in your score is something of a rite of passage for film and game composers.
This is the part of the melody in question:
When it is used it often signifies death, hardship, tribulation and other equally epic things.
See a few of the places it’s been used for an indication into just how epic it really is:
- In Holst's symphony for Saturn, the bringer of old age. There’s no arguing when a God-planet brings you old age: you may as well just climb into your coffin there and then.
- In the Faust opera: the operatic rendition of the famous story of someone selling their soul to the devil (i.e. the myth that underpins all of blues and rock music)
- In various other classical pieces with epic themes such as "divine punishment", "dances of death", and "obsession"
- In Mozart’s Requiem Mass. Mozart knew all about epic: his life would have been comparable to members of the 27 club if he’d been alive more recently
- In Sweeney Todd: the story of a maniacal barber who combines a flair for gentlemanly grooming with a penchant for murder
- In the opening theme of The Shining: one of the most famous and harrowing horror films ever
- In Final Fantasy IX: a title considered by many to be the best game from the best game series ever
- In Lord of the Rings, many times: epic films telling the epic story of the battle of good over pure evil in Middle Earth
- In The Matrix: the story of humanity’s oppression, struggle, and later victory of machinery that wants to enslave us in a virtual reality.
- In STAR WARS: the most epic film series ever, which needs no introduction.
Note: in all of these films, it's at an epic and emotionally wrenching scene.
So in short, the Dies Irae riff has no time for anything that isn't epic.
The words would not be out of place in the rowdiest death metal.
Here are some of the verses of Dies Irae: read them and quake in your boots.
These were originally sung in Latin, too – a language inextricably linked to epic things:"Day of wrath and doom impending.David's word with Sibyl's blending,Heaven and earth in ashes ending.Death is struck, and nature quaking,All creation is awaking,To its Judge an answer making.Righteous Judge, for sin's pollutionGrant Thy gift of absolution,Ere the day of retribution."
We wouldn’t be surprised if we read these in the lyrics booklet for the heaviest metal the metal scene has to offer.
All of the people Dies Irae is attributed to led epic lives.
As we mentioned, the piece is so old that scholars aren’t exactly sure who composed it.
The strongest candidates for composing are Thomas of Celano and Latino Malabranca Orsini. Thomas was personal friends with and partial biographer of Saint Francis of Assisi - "one of the most venerated religious figures in history" – and Latino was the nephew of a Pope and was briefly kidnapped while the next pope was being decided.
The less likely possibilities for composing the piece were Pope Gregory I, St Bernard of Clairvaux, and St Bonaventure. As well as the intrinsic epicness of being a pope, Gregory implemented a policy of Papal supremacy which gave him "full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered". Not someone to mess with, then.
St Bernard of Clairvaux is still revered today and his symbol is a Devil on a chain, presumably to symbolise his power. St Bonaventure meanwhile holds the humble accolade of being regarded as “one of the greatest philosophers of the middle ages”.
Dies Irae has been used in hundreds of other compositions throughout history.
The answer to our original question, then –
what is the most epic possible thing to listen to on your new Damson product?