We made playlists that spoke to the lives we lived at the moment. Looking at someone’s iPod was like looking into their soul. In their music you could see who they were. You could tell if they were sophisticated or rough. You could see in their playlists the moments they fell in love and the moments they fell back out again. You could see the filthiest, nastiest hip hop in the little white boxes of the primmest people, and know their inner lives a little better than you did before.

On Death and iPods: A Requiem

I don’t use my iPod much anymore, but I’ll sure miss it when it goes.

Yesterday afternoon, CBC Radio stations across the country experienced an audio glitch that caused a short audio loop to repeat… and repeat… and repeat. After establishing that our technical team was on it (they were) and answering phone calls from concerned listeners, I decided to have some fun with the error and create a little hip-hop mashup:

It’s gotten reasonably popular among the subset of people who are CBC listeners that share my absurd sense of humour, with retweets from no less than CBC Vancouver host Stephen Quinn and Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi, among others. A few people have commented on the quick turnaround time on this (I had it up with an hour), so I thought I’d share how I did it.

1. Record the samples

Fortunatley, I’m in a radio station so this was pretty easy, but you could do it with any computer with an internet feed. Audacity is a good, free, cross-platform audio editor, and Garageband comes standard on most Macs. Really, anything would work. Just figure out how to record off of the internet and you’re good to go.I grabbed feeds from Prince George, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, and Saskatoon, and would have gotten more but the problem was fixed by then (our techs were on it).

2. Figure out the beats-per-minute

I have a terrible ear for beats. Fortunately in this case I case I had a pretty clear delineater to work with- any time one of the vocal samples began, that was a new beat. There are a bunch of free beats-per-minute tools online that give you a calculation based on mouse clicks. So I started clicking here every time the “That’s it” vocal began and was told that I was working with 60 bpm.

3. Find a free-to-use song that is 60 bpm

The creative commons is a wonderful place. It’s a space where creators share their work in a way that others can use, update, and remix it. A number of websites like Flickr and Soundcloud actually have Creative Commons search engines built right into them. So I went to Soundcloud and searched for “60 bpm“. Then I filtered it down to items that were licenced to use and modify. Then I filtered it down to tracks that had been tagged for hip-hop. At this point I was left with just one track, “All” by eauxbleak. Fortunately, it was exactly what I was looking for.

A screenshot of my filtered search, with the relevant filters circled:

soundcloud search

4. Put it together

I’m going to assume that you have some knowledge of audio editing here. If not, and you’re interested, I encourage you to get the aformentioned Garageband or Audacity and start learning- the internet is full of tutorials, and YouTube is a vast resource of step-by-step guides to just about everything. Ultimately, I worked with eight tracks and just sort of drag-and-dropped things around until I liked what I heard. Listening this morning there’s things I would change, but how seriously can you possibly take something like this? From the time I started recording to the final upload took about forty minutes, not a bad use of a break.

5. Bonus step: create some sweet glitch art

A few people have commented on the cover photo for the track, a glitched-out CBC logo. Again, Google is your friend. I searched for “free glitch art creator” and found this website from German designer Georg Fischer. I uploaded the classic CBC logo and hit “random” until I found something I liked.

glitch cbc

What you’ll notice in all these steps is that I relied heavily on the tools and expertise of others. I had the idea, but there’s no way I could have pulled it off without the vast repository of creativity and generosity that you can find out there on the internet. That’s why I write posts like this- I benefit so much from people giving away ideas and information for free, and like to contribute where I can. This is a silly exercise, but it’s fun. I enjoyed it, and I’m glad some other people do, too.

I sometimes joke that my wife and I were the last two people to meet each other before you could scope out Facebook profiles prior to a first date, but it’s actually not far from being true. I remember a time when you had to read album reviews in monthly magazines and then carefully choose which album you wanted to buy. I remember having to make plans to meet somewhere without being able to change it/check in at the last minute. There are now adults- full-grown adults- who don’t have these sorts of memories.