Interview: SubPac/StudioFeed CEO – John Alexiou

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SUbpacThe SubPac is a product that quite a number of people within the world of electronic music and hip-hop are buzzing about, and when I came across it myself, it seemed like something from the future. But apparently the future has arrived, as the service this product provides to musicians is one that may become a game-changer for many. By transferring sub-frequencies directly into your body, the Subpac allows for the monitoring of low-end content in a manner that surpasses all else. In order to better understand what it was about, I contacted the CEO of the manufacturing entity, StudioFeed, and we had a chat about this seemingly revolutionary technology.

Hi John. Thanks for getting on the phone with me to talk about SubPac and StudioFeed. CAn I start by asking about audio background, and what motivated you to create SubPac?

I've been playing music since I was 5. Since my late teens, I've been leaning towards electronic music and bedroom production. Ever since high school, I've been interested in starting a music organization, and my interest was to create an organization that links community and technology as much as possible. But I spent time working in finance to save money for it, and was able to quit that job 3 years ago.

My job at SubPac tends to be more business-oriented. We have engineers who were responsible for building the product itself.

You have offices in Canada, US UK. What then did the process look like of spreading out to these different places before you even created the Subpac or any other product?

Our first office was in Toronto. It was an open-concept place where we had a studio that artists could come to in order to produce music and do streamed DJ sets. We also had an engineering lab where we could work on the SubPac. It wasn't until we had the first protoype of the SubPac that we started looking at other spaces. LA and London were the 2 cities that really embraced what we were trying to do. Obviously, there's a long history of bass culture in the UK, and there's a ton of creativity coming out of the West Coast. So we got lucky in terms of locations. We have a minimal footprint in both cities, but it was important for us ot be physically located in cities that pushed the envelope from technology and bass culture standpoints.

When I look at the Subpac website, it isn't immediately obvious that Subpac is associated with StudioFeed. Is it a deliberate move to put more focus on SubPac being a stand-alone entity by giving it a website of its own?

Because it's  new type of product, we really want it to have its own identity. StudioFeed is meant to be incubator for different ideas, and SubPac is our first. So we like the idea of spinning off these ideas to have their own types of personalities. Unlike coming up with a MIDI interface or headphones, which people are familiar with, there is a challenge in educating people about a new type of product. So we felt this was the best way to do that.

Where did the initial idea for SubPac come from?

The original idea came up in the late 90s. I had been going to events during that time which revolved around sound system culture and rave parties. I hadn't been exposed to a proper sound system until 1996, which was life changing. Although it had been quite a number of years after, I started to research tactile sound and such, and as time passed, more low frequency-based music was being released. However, the way it was reproduced was through earbuds and laptop speakers, which was the opposite of what was needed for this type of music. So there was obviously a dimension missing, which was the physical dimension that connects the dots on the recent productions that are being put out.

When the time came to initiate the project what kind of technology did you guys have to have to account for and acquite? Did you have to reach out to the different engineers to help you with the project?

It's a combination of speaker components, tactile membranes (materials that vibrate in an ideal way), and electroincs like filters and amps. Basically, through word of mouth in Toronto, I had the opportunity to meet up with some very talented engineers that helped us put everything together.

As far as being able to deliver low-frequency content of audio, can you tell me why musicians should view this product as accurate? Is it something we should trust implicitly when producing or mixing our music?

In terms of accuracy, tactile monitoring is more accurate for sub-frequencies and bass than your ears. From 20Hz to 100Hz, your body is a better gauge of how elements in the low-end of the mix fit together. All the issues associated with the dynamics of the room are eliminated if the monitoring is directly coupled to your body. So the idea of having a tactile monitoring system for the low-end really eliminates all the issues associated with acoustic problems in the room, and also your ear. We think that by pushing forward on tactile monitoring, it'll become a part of people's studio setup.

We have guys using SubPac who make a very good living for music, and they have thier own treated studios. Yet, these people will use the SubPac as a test for any artifacts that might be present in their music that they can't hear, and will use it on the road quite a bit too, as a mobile solution for bass monitoring.

There are different people that are getting behind the SubPac. There's the professional musician, who may want to use it as a tool to monitor the low-end. Other users may want it on the road, which will allow people to get immersed in the sound. It also helps with listening to promo material for people who DJs. With headphones, you're not really understanding what's happening in a live environment. I've had people email me, saying that they signed certain acts because they could hear what their music would sound like in the club, and it translates really well. Then we have bedroom producers who might have issues with neighbors at night. Much of that has to do with the low-end, which travels through walls. Subpac gives them a low-end monitoring system that doesn't bother people, and lets them make music well into the night. Finally, something that has become more obvious is people's hearing loss and tinnitus issues. We feel that Subpac is a natural solution to hearing loss, because when you experience the physical side of things, you don't have to push volume levels as much. I get people saying that they can now mix at a much lower level, because the reason for them pushing their volume's up was to experience the physical sensation of the sound.

For many traveling musicians an bedroom producers, speaker size is an important consideration, since bigger woofers allow for a greater bass response, which means that smaller 5-inch speakers can hinder effective low-end monitoring. Does Subpac help address such problems by making that lost lower frequency spectrum available in such cases?

Yes, absolutely. The frequency response is 5Hz to 125Hz, with a relatively steep roll-off after that. So it serves of the purpose being a solution for a lack of low end in studio monitors, and replaces the sub woofer in that sense, as well as lending itself to traveling musicians.

A sub woofer transfers low frequencies to your ears through the air. Subpac delivers the same frequencies with the same accuracy, but to your body.

Is there a differentiation between how Subpac should be used by professional musicians in the studio and regular fans at home?

No, there isn't a different way to use it. Our main focus is on studio use, but the casual fan who just enjoys music can use it to better understand what the artist is trying to get across with their music.

Richie Hawtin just released his Plastikman record, and we partnered to do a limited run of the Subpac, vinyl and some other goodies. So it's a way for his fans to buy his music and experience it the way he meant for it to be.

Are there any dangers associated with using SubPac, seeing as the frequency content is being directly transmitted to your body?

No. We've calibrated it such that it's not going to physically harm you. Of course, anything overused to great extents can create issues, and we advise people against 24 hour usage, but it's similar to the experience you get at a club in terms of the sensation, which will be familiar to many people.

Can you expand on how StudioFeed has gone about getting artist support for Subpac?

It was a door-to-door situation. We're trying to change the paradigm of how people experience music, and the best way to do that is to go straight to music makers, telling them what we're about and asking them if they want to meet. Most of them say "yes" because it caters to something that's missing for them. As soon as we meet a handful of artists, we get introduced to more. Much of our early days were spent traveling in Europe to different artist studios and meeting with them, so the relationships happened very organically.

Ok. Before we wrap up, I want to ask about StudioFeed's other endeavors. Your website says that you've done radio shows in the past. What;s the current status of that? Also, are there any future plans for your Sound in Motion music festival?

We've had to put the radio shows hold for a few months, just to get things rolling with the Subpac. We're music fans, and a lot of our friends are music promoters. So the radio show served as a platform for different crews to come in and perform primarily DJ sets and stream it out to the community.

We've done 2 Sound In Motion festivals already, but put it on hold this year. We've got plans for it in the future though.

StudioFeed's Facebook page says that you guys "support independent music". Is that an intentional choice on your part, or is it the result of being a new company that started from the bottom. Can you ever imagine partnering with major labels on your projects?

We're open to a number of partnerships, but at our core, it's always going to be about independent, underground music. That's where innovation happens, as well as the strongest connections between artists and fans.

What's next for you guys at StudioFeed? Do you continue to promote Subpac, or more should we expect other product releases?

Right now we're focusing on Subpac. There's many different elements of what we can do with it, so we're putting all our energy into it. A big part of what we're doing is trying to introduce music to the deaf community. Vibrations are a great way for people who are deaf to feel the impact of sound. It's something that's not necessarily a priority for a tech company, but it's something that we'd like to expand on.

That sounds awesome! I wish you luck with that. Thanks again for the chat. I hope people feel motivated to check out Subpac even more after this.

SamInterview: SubPac/StudioFeed CEO – John Alexiou

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