Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Down the Foxhole - ActiveDen

Down the Foxhole - ActiveDen

Link to Envato Notes

Author Interview: Sweetwaveaudio

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 02:07 AM PDT

Playing in a band in Glasgow, building a home studio with money earned from AudioJungle sales, having a knack for catchy guitar melodies, and “My inspiration comes from buzz of being able to create a piece of music from thin air and someone likes it enough to spend money on it!” This week we meet James Grant (sweetwaveaudio) from AudioJungle.

If you're an Envato marketplace author and would like to be interviewed for the blog, head over to this form. We'd love to hear from you.

The AudioJungle community have added some great questions to this interview. A big thanks to everyone who asked, and to James who gave some brilliant and detailed answers.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from, what do you do for a living?

My name is James Grant, a 27 year old musician from sunny Scotland. I have been involved with music since I was 12 and main talent is as a drummer and private drum tutor. As well as AudioJungle and teaching drums, I play in my band Seed (from Glasgow).

I have always written music, but about a year and a half ago started to put together my home studio mainly to record my band. I was chatting to a friend at a wedding in September 2011 and he said I should start selling music on AudioJungle. I didn’t even know what stock audio was!

I decided to give it a try and started my profile in late November. I have since had over 400 sales, had a featured item and had my track rank as high as number 2 on the weekly sellers. In December I was the 12th best selling author! Blown away is an understatement.

I came in here with no real knowledge or game plan other than to write good music and I’m glad it seems to be working. Yesterday I discovered I had a song used in a Leurre Lingerie video which was really cool to see.

I hope to be around on AudioJungle for a long time and aim to keep building my profile up so I can maybe be one of the top guys. We shall see!

Which marketplaces do you belong to? What types of files do you sell?

I sell music on AudioJungle. I have a wide range of styles in my portolio but currently do best with upbeat indie pop/rock tracks. Basically, solid drum grooves with catchy guitar hooks is what I’m best at.

I also have a strong ambient collection as well as a romantic/sentimental collection. I even have a few jazz, country and folk tracks selling just for good measure!

My questions is: "What were your expectations when you joined AudioJungle? Did you have a great start or your sales came later?" (Skanoir)

I came into AudioJungle with zero knowledge of selling royalty free music.  I didn’t know if $50 or $500 a week was good.

I uploaded a few tracks a they started to sell after a couple of days.  I didn’t know if it was luck or whatever but I continued to work hard and things have gone well since then.  Sales risen since I started (especially after my track was featured) but I think I’ve reached a level that will take even more hard work to get beyond.  But I’m looking forward to it.

I don’t know the reason my tracks have sold other than I think I have a knack for catchy guitar melodies! (Even though I’m actually a drummer!)

Hey Sweetwave. I know you are a drummer since you've said on your profile page that this was what you're doing when you're not recording. Are you using real drums or programmed drums? What percentage do you use real drums/programmed drums? Do you/would you always prefer real drums or do you have situations where you actually prefer programmed drums? (Basspartout)

I would love to have all live drums on my tracks, but due to space (and noise!) restrictions I need to use programmed drums.  I think I’m pretty good at giving the programmed drums a human feel though as I just visualise myself playing it, so I know which notes should be loud/quiet etc.

I have used my acoustic drums with my band in the studio and they sound great but for my AudioJungle tracks programmed drums will need to do for now!  The only time I would prefer to use programmed drums is for my ambient tracks as they are mostly electronic.  Or if I write a 350 bpm death metal song…

One author here has to ask this silly question as you are known to come from Scotland! In fact you seem to be a multi-instrumentalist, so I would really like to know if your musical skills also include playing the world famous Great Highland Bagpipe or other pipes? (QuadraphonixAssociation)

Yeah I play the bagpipes.  All Scottish children require bagpipe lessons from the age of five, so Ive been playing for 22 years.  Only joking….

Ive only ever had a go at playing bagpipes once about two years ago and it wasn’t easy!  I can play snare drum so I’ll leave the piping up to you!  If you love bagpipes listen to guys called Red Hot Chilli Pipers. (Actual band!)

How did you get started? Have you had any formal training?

My background in regards the skills required for AudioJungle start back at school. I started drumming when I was 12 and I am a self taught guitarist. I then started using Cubase at around 14 and found I had the knack for it.

I went onto music college in Edinburgh and learned a lot in the recording part of the course. I started using studio mics, Pro Tools etc. After college I played in a previous band for a few years before recently setting up my home studio.

I record using Logic and I basically worked out how to use it myself through trial and error and a little help from Google/YouTube. My Mac had Logic installed when I bought it but no instructions! I am still learning my craft but enjoying every minute of the AudioJungle roller-coaster!

Describe your home workspace.

My workspace is in my bedroom and started as a Mac Mini with a M-Audio Fast Track. I then got my hands on a decent vocal mic, a MIDI keyboard and a multi-input interface to replace the Fast Track.

From my first AudioJungle wage I purchased a pair of Yamaha HS-50 monitors and Beyerdynamic headphones. Believe it or not my best selling track was actually recorded and mixed using iPod headphones and small hifi speakers! Its all I had!

But my little studio is coming along nicely and I recently added a nice big managers chair!

Describe your creative process. What steps do you normally follow to create your files?

My process usually involves a melody appearing in my head so I either start up the computer or I sing it into the voice recorder on my phone. When I’m ready to write the song I write and record it at the same time. I often do a rough drum track and guitars will follow. Bass next. Then synth/extras.

When I have a rough song in place I will then go through it in fine detail and makes necessary changes, whether it be adding, taking away, editing the length, arrangement. Then I leave it until the next day and if I like what I hear I will upload it to AudioJungle.

Hi Sweetwave. Could you describe your approach to working on a new piece? From loading up your DAW to a finished idea. What inspires your work? (Kerosene-Music)

My approach varies from time to time but I usually decide which genre I will write in before I start.  After I decide, I just sit down and mess around with melodies/chords until something jumps out at me.

I often start with the drums, followed by guitar chords, followed by guitar melody, then bass and then strings/piano/synth if needed. I usually write the track as I record it until its roughly finished and then I will add little details such as drums variations and guitar hooks until I am happy with it.

My inspiration comes from buzz of being able to create a piece of music from thin air and someone likes it enough to spend money on it! Any way to make a living through music inspires me to do it again.

Hey Sweetwave! Do you use rare traditional instruments in your projects? If yes then which one is your favourite? (travengraven)

I don’t have a wide range of live instruments at my disposal, so I don’t have any rare traditional instruments, although it would be fun creating some unusual sounds.  I have an electric guitar, acoustic guitar and a ukelele!  (I have a drum kit but currently don’t have the facilities to record live drums.)  So at present, no I don’t have anything too much out of the ordinary.

Hi Sweetwave! What do you use to get that "jangly" guitar tone in your tracks? What instruments do you record and what instruments are virtual instruments? What does your recording setup look like? What mics, preamps/interface, instruments, software? (JamesonGerdon)

Here is a list of everything I use!  It may seen like a long list but when its all together its not much. At present its just a small bedroom studio.

  • I use a Mac Mini with Logic Pro.
  • I have an Alesis io26 interface,
  • an M-Audio Keyrig 49 MIDI keyboard,
  • Beyerdynamic DT100 headphones,
  • Yamaha HS50 monitors,
  • an SE220a condenser mic,
  • an old Yamaha Pacifica electric guitar,
  • an even older beat up Hohner acoustic guitar
  • and a cheap ukelele!

I only started putting together the studio about a year ago but my AudioJungle income is allowing me to upgrade bits and pieces as I go.

As for acoustic guitar tone, Logic has a few presets and one works great for me.  Stereo Doubler i think its called.  It gives the acoustic a double-tracked sound.  The acoustic guitar is pretty average but I’m lucky it sounds pretty good when recorded.

For electric guitar its much the same.  The guitar is pretty cheap but one pickup gives a great sound so I always use that and mess around with amp simulators/effects until I find something that works.  But it’s probably a magic guitar.  My friend has named it The White Wolf!

What is your advice to other authors regarding how to create a successful portfolio?

Being so new I don’t have a whole lot of advice but I must be doing something right as I make sales. For me, it just comes down to the quality of the music.

I didn’t really do any self promotion to begin with. I have only recently started a Twitter, Facebook, website etc. I would say the same as what everyone else seems to say. Only release your best material. I have even been guilty or rushing a song or thinking “that will do” but it’s the wrong attitude. If you wouldn’t buy it, don’t upload it!

What do you do to market your files?

I have recently started my homepage www.sweetwaveaudio.co.uk and I have set up Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. I try to remain active in the AudioJungle forum and I also try to link all my similar tracks together with picture links to try and get buyers browsing my portfolio. Another area I’m learning as I go!

What are your three favorite files, and why do you like them?

I assume you mean my own files…

Number 1 has to be Seeing Is Believing as it was the first track I uploaded and it has been a big success for me. The track was a featured item and is a regular in weekly sellers so it’s sort of my star pupil! I never get bored of this track as it’s very uplifting and catchy. I also think its a pretty cool track which for me is important.

Number 2 would be Daybreak because I love the vibe I managed to create. I don’t really remember much about writing or recording it but it’s one that makes me think, “Wow, did I do that!?”

Finally I would say You Sweep Me Off My Feet. This track doesn’t actually have any sales but it was written as a Valentines track and features my big sister on vocals and I think she done a great job. Basically, I think it’s a nice track and we had a lot of fun recording it.

Apart from yourself, who is your favorite marketplace author, and why do you like them?

I’m guessing a lot of people say this guy but for a few reasons I would say Mr Tim McMorris. Firstly, his tracks sell consistently so he’s a good person to use as inspiration and measure your tracks against his as they are of such high quality sonically and musically.

Secondly, instead of keeping his cards close to his chest he is very willing to help other authors. I emailed him a couple of questions but didn’t expect a reply but he sent a very helpful, in-depth answer. He also emailed me off his own back to offer tips on how to maintain the success of Seeing Is Believing. So he gets my vote for being a great author and also one of the good guys.

What do you do in your spare time?

I love to gig with my band. I play a lot of football (or soccer!) and I like hanging out with my friends and winning at Xbox! I am also partial to a bit of adrenaline and have done the highest bungee jump in the world!

Boxers or Briefs? No, but seriously you have good stuff :) I gotta get out to Scotland and see those big green rolling hills. (SkyProductions)

Commando.


Marketplace Development Last Year and Our Roadmap

Posted: 19 Mar 2012 10:00 PM PDT

State of the MarketplacesA little while ago, we promised a post about our development roadmap, as well as what has been worked on in the last year. There is a laundry list of excellent features and updates that have been waiting in our pipeline for what feels like forever. And understandably there’s a lot of questioning on the forums over why they haven’t materialized yet.

Search improvements, ratings improvements, a shopping cart, item support tools, affiliate campaigns and analytics, license improvements and the list goes on. It’s a list of things that would make buying better, selling better, and alleviate problems left, right and center.

The long and the short is that a lot of these types of improvements keep getting put on hold as we cope with growth and expansion.

Growth and Expansion

The growth on our marketplaces has been breakneck over the last few years with everything from revenue to user count to transaction volume to item count to fraud attempts to security hacks doubling, tripling, quadrupling or more year on year. To be honest I find a lot of the numbers kind of staggering.

On top of that, we’ve historically pushed the team very hard to expand into more and more niches, last year’s PhotoDune release being by far the largest. This is an important part of Envato’s marketplace strategy and is what has gotten us to where we are today. But it has the adverse effect of multiplying all our problems and making solving things harder because of all the use cases. So for instance changing licensing needs to change licensing for many different types of items, review queue upgrades have to take into account many different review scenarios, and so on.

And finally though we’ve been trying to expand our dev team for a little over two years now, we’ve had a lot of difficulty doing so. The hiring market has not been our friend on this front. The tide seems to now be turning and we’ve increased up from 7 to 9 marketplace devs in the last couple of months, with a tenth joining in the next few weeks. And we have job ads (http://techjobs.envato.com/) and recruiters out to increase our team size even more dramatically.

Scaling

On the scaling front, I checked in with our lead architect Pete who tells me we now have 8 physical machines with 68 cores and 432 GB of RAM, plus 17 virtual machines including 9 front-end servers, and we are serving up some 150 TB of traffic a month. In short, it’s a truckload of horsepower, and just scaling it all is a huge load of work. But it’s paid off, despite the enormous growth in traffic, you will notice that our sites are pretty snappy and rarely run into downtime.

Security and fraud also take up quite a bit of time, and the bigger we get the more of an issue they become. Our level of response sophistication keeps rising as the threat level does. We are coping with both the scaling and security and fraud challenges, but it is a large amount of development work every month!

Expansion

Last year almost 50% of our dev effort went into PhotoDune. It was a mammoth project because the profile of the marketplace is so different to our other sites. However at the beginning it wasn’t clear to me just how much resources it was going to take. And those resources are the same ones that would have gone on to the laundry list of features I mentioned earlier.

I’m not sure whether it was a bad call on our part to push for PhotoDune, I go back and forth about it. But it’s a call we made, and now we have a kick ass photo marketplace which means generally happier buyers, more resources for authors to draw on, and more potential for cross promotion.

But if you want to blame one thing for why we haven’t been able to deliver on many of our promises of improvements, you can put it the decision to build PhotoDune!

Search & Review

Two other areas we spent a lot of our time on last year (14% and 8% respectively) were Search and Review Queue.

The search project is an ongoing one. The time spent last year was essentially to change our search server to Solr. As of yet the benefits of this change aren’t apparent on the front-end. That’s the next portion of the search project. It’s always tough having a project that is long, complex, important, but with no visible improvement! But I’m very confident that we will reap huge benefits in the near future from the work last year.

The review queue was another big project which is still underway, and once again completely invisible to the customer. Because we are dealing with increasingly large volumes of increasingly different items being reviewed by an increasingly large review team … we had to completely overhaul our review queue system. It started with PhotoDune, and is slowly migrating out to the other sites.

The difficulty for both these projects is that there’s an interim period where you have to maintain both the old system (whether Sphinx old search or old review) at the same time as rolling out the new system (Solr search and new review queue). This just increases the level of dev work needed as you are pulled across two blocks of code in each case.

The “Maintenance Queue”

Pretty much all the front-facing changes and updates you would have seen in the last year come from the maintenance queue. This is our queue of little fixes and changes. It’s anything which takes a half day to a couple days of a single developer. At any one time there are two devs allocated to the maintenance queue.

It’s an important queue because it’s the one that deals with bug fixes, attribute updates, and a variety of miscellaneous tasks both front and back facing. However it’s the minority of the total dev work.

While it’s frustrating seeing a new badge roll out when much more pressing stuff like ratings improvements are waiting, it’s important to realize that the scale of these changes is like a pea and a porsche. It takes next to no time to roll out a new badge, so you may as well keep tasks like that running in the maintenance queue.

Stopping those sorts of rollouts wouldn’t actually make any difference to the big ticket items. Stopping the *entire* maintenance queue would mean being able to do another project in parallel, but the consequences of not tending to bug fixes, minor improvements, performance tweaks and so on, would be pretty bad. We’ve done it in the past for short periods, but the pain escalates fast.

What’s Ahead for the Next 6 Months

The good news is we are expanding our dev team and resources quickly now. The bad news is expanding means turning parts of the codebase into separate services that are connected through interfaces. If that sounds like a dev project, that’s because it is! We have several such server projects in the pipeline for the next six months. They will be long term wins so that we can deliver new features while growing, but short term more internal facing work unfortunately.

We’re also finishing off the review queue project, and there’s a big and pressing finance project in the works too. The outcome of both these two projects is that the marketplaces continue to work and churn out lots of cash to authors!

The big front-facing project is the other side of all the search work we’ve done last year. It’s the largest single project we will be undertaking in this next half year period. And I’m really excited as it’s something that will be a huge win for buyers, which in turn is a win for authors.

Realistically in the next 6 months those will be the main things to come out of the marketplaces. It’s not everything I would wish for, but they are all critical projects.

Ultimately when it comes to marketplace development, we’re playing the long game. And at the moment that is pretty frustrating all around. But it will come good, and along the way the marketplaces will just keep getting bigger and bigger!

We’ve put a hold on new marketplace expansion. And we’re going to stop promising features as being coming up soon, or in the pipeline. Instead we’re aiming for more transparency (like this post) to keep the community abreast with the current challenges we are facing and how we are dealing with them.

I hope that this post is helpful, if you have ideas on how it could be better, let me know in the comments. Similarly if you have questions or thoughts, add them in!


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