Thursday, January 10, 2013

Kilobyte Delay Pedal

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am joined by Philippe Herndon from Caroline Guitar Company.  He’s joining us today to bring us his company’s second Kickstarter, the Kilobyte Delay Pedal, thank you for joining us today Philippe!

Thanks, and thanks for reaching out to me.

This is your second Kickstarter with the Olympia Fuzz pedal being successfully Kickstarted last year.  Why return to Kickstarter?  How well has the Olympia done since last year?  

Olympia has done well. I think there were a myriad of reasons why we came back to do this with Kickstarter. Many of them have to do with my skepticism regarding a lot of the pre-sale/advance sale mechanisms used in my industry. Kickstarter allows me to easily show my hand - you can see just how many people backed the project at what levels. The second benefit is that Kickstarter, more so than just a pre-order page, seems well designed for people to share and promote projects that they would like through social media networks. I was pretty blown away to see how many people have shared our project.

Would you care to explain what a delay pedal does for the uninitiated?  How is the Kilobyte different than what is currently on the market?

If you think of the kind of repeated guitar sounds somebody like The Edge of U2 gets, where there are distinct echoes that can also cascade into a general wash of sound, that would be how I’d explain delay. It’s become a pretty important effect to most electric players; I think it’s not uncommon for a serious player or studio to own multiple different delay pedals or rack units as they each can have their own voicing and temperament.

I’d owned some vintage analog units that sounded GREAT, and (I hope I don’t get too techie here) a big part of that was a pre-amplifier circuit that allowed you to amplify or boost your guitar signal before it was processed into the repeats. The problem was that it changed your original signal as well. There are also some digital units that sounded good, but a bit too “crisp” sounding and the preamp in those wasn’t really contributing positively. I’m fortunate to be friends with several other builders who have used the PT2399 digital echo chip – Jack DeVille, Sean Erspamer from Lotus – and they’d warned me about its tendencies. It’s kind of like a block of tofu. It’s not difficult to make something edible, but it can be a challenge to make something tasteful.

When I realized the way we could separate the original signal, keep it honest, and sidetrack it, then voice the preamp specifically for allowing people to boost and color just the repeats, and blend that back in with an unaffected signal, then I knew what direction we wanted to take. Everything else - the different oscillation types, the overall power - came from that first big step.

Was all the music in the video played through the Kilobyte?  All those haunting echoes and such done completely in real time using just that one box?  

Yes. There is one track of the four that has a tremolo picked line (to create a constant ringing tone that comes from picking fast) that has one of our Wave Cannon distortion pedals feeding it. But all of the others are just guitar -> Kilobyte - > amplifier. This is all the haunting arpeggios, the downstrokes, the oscillations, and crashing sounds at the end. The Kilobyte is on a pedalboard, but nothing else is turned on. We recorded four tracks with a click to ProTools, and I would tell Zac Thomas at the Jam Room “okay, go to measure 17, I’ll start another one here” and so on with each track. We tracked the guitars and narration in about an hour, while Greg filmed the whole process and took shots he stitched into the video. We called the track “Fauxsplosions in the Sky” because it’s pretty clearly influenced by the work of Explosions in the Sky, particularly this track.

Who should back your project?  Is this project only for the hardcore guitar player?  

We’ve actually had a lot of interest from a broad range of musicians who see this as something useful to their sonic toolkit. It’s the string players and horn guys who really intrigue me. Before, we’d done nothing but gain devices - distortions, fuzzes, and the like, and when you hear an unprocessed, high-impedance guitar signal, you realize why guitar players depend on that stuff. The signal put out by a passive magnetic guitar pickup is an incredibly puny handful of millivolts of alternating current. If you plug a guitar directly into a mixing board, you’d realize why the amps, pedals, and so on are so important. The gain devices we’ve made aren’t often that useful to a violin player with a mini-mic or active pickup designed for fidelity, but a that can be an effect, something that changes not only the sound, but the way they play.

The first backer of this project is a producer who runs a very successful music studio, and he’s told me how the guitar players really gravitate to using our stuff at his place when they are recording. Our work has a definite sonic signature - it’s very robust, a bit brash and strong in the midrange, and designed to sit well in mixes. I’ve had a several really noteworthy engineers and producers tell me that our gain boxes have made a big difference in sessions, so when they heard we were working on a delay, there was some definite excitement.

Wow, I’d love to hear what my trombone sounds like passed through one your boxes. Do you honestly get people who say your products are only "ten dollars in parts?”  

I hear this refrain all the time in my industry, and I think it’s a lazy reflex comment from people who either don’t want to consider the value in a better pedal purchase, don’t understand economics, or are just repeating this thing they’d heard without thinking about it. I think it reflects basic price anchoring; if the only shoes you ever buy are the cheap knock-offs at Wal-Mart, the idea of spending over $100 for good dress shoes or running shoes seems like some kind of posh, fancy ridiculousness. The inflation adjusted price of a well made, classic effect pedal from the 1970s is higher than the prices you see small builders charging today for things that are really extraordinary sounding, made here in the USA, and built to be used for a lifetime.  

I just sourced our enclosures - to purchase them, get them drilled, powder-coated, and screen printed to what we’d consider an acceptable standards for our retailers and customers ran over $15 each in a bulk purchase.  So if somebody knows how we can make the whole thing for $10, and make it here in the USA to our standards, I’m all ears.

I notice that with this Kickstarter you’ve completely eliminated any backer level below $25.  Was that a conscious decision based off of past practices?  

I think with music or art projects, there are options that can work better at a low price point. I really wish I could have come up with something that might work as I think a big benefit of Kickstarter is the way people who might not necessarily want or need the product can still take part and contribute. But our shirt is going to be cool. Why would you want to help us and not get that cool shirt? My goal with all our shirts is that people would wear them even if they couldn’t care less about our pedals. Ben and I are not going to design some team-building exercise shirt that you’ll sleep in. You’ll get something cool and we’ll get to order some parts or stuff with your $25. Win win!

Does that “Oldest looking High School Intern” still work for you guys from last year?

Yes! Paul’s been great. He’s now a freshman in the engineering school at the University of South Carolina. He asked me if he’ll be getting a W-2 because he builds and does other stuff now that I pay him for, like the Kilobyte graphics. The thought that I’m going to be giving him his first W-2, from his first paying job, that really delights me. He still looks crazily grown up. I don’t think he’s ever even been carded.

One of the keys of a successful Kickstarter project is backer participation.  How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

I just filmed another demo video, and I’m pretty fanatical about thanking people, encouraging them to spread the word, and other good stuff. We just updated with the planned graphics for the project, and I’m debating an additional product feature if we reach a (very ambitious) stretch goal. I think it’s helpful to show momentum - once we reached our target, I made a point of showing the graphics, announcing that we were ordering boxes, and so on.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to help things along?

Here in Columbia, the word has been pretty great. We’re part of the USC Technology Incubator, which is affiliated with the university and other resources to grow and develop the knowledge economy here in Columbia. They are all very proactive about trumpeting our work. Our city has historically had a bit of an inferiority complex, and a lot of good people now find that kind of maddening. So whenever there’s a chance that there’s a business from Columbia that does good stuff where the outside world takes notice, there are people here who work to promote that. I’ve never heard of Kicktraq - I’ll have to try that out!

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

A good video for the public, and honesty with yourself in private. What is in it for your supporter? The realization of your goals, dreams, or vision is not an entitlement. Is this about something bigger? For us, we’ve come to realize over the years that the music industry is a difficult place, and impossible to survive if you don’t have inspiration or passion behind what you do, no matter the genre or venue. Most of why we do what we do at Caroline are those moments where our product makes a difference for a musician, and gives them that burst of energy or creative spark. Focus on what you believe your project can do for your audience, your community, your team, and don’t be afraid to communicate that. Don’t guilt trip people. If I need to assuage my guilt, it probably won’t be for a Kickstarter project. Show us something cool that you really believe in, what you’ll do with the money, and what could come of it.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Thanks for asking us these questions. I hope people will not only check out our project, but other new product design ideas that they find interesting. I think cool Kickstarter project rewards also make amazing gifts. I mean, if you’re looking to surprise somebody, what better than something that they’d never even heard of?

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

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