I’ve always been a fan of the intersection between technology and music. It’s one of the reasons I first started blogging here at FatKidOnFire – and it’s the inspiration that lead me to meeting Ben and launching Chew with him a few years back.
Over the years, I’ve tried to document my music/ tech passions here on FKOF (you may remember our tech news series from a while ago, for example).As I’ve spent longer living and breathing at the intersection of these two industries, I’ve come across some pretty exciting examples of people doing the same.
One of these people is Cam Jenkinson. You may remember him from back in the day as the dubstep DJ/ producer Jestah, or as half of South Royston. These days, Cam’s on the entrepreneur path with an app that’s raising eyebrows for all the right reasons…
“Trackstack makes music discovery for DJs simpler and more productive. Start saving time and use Trackstack to crate-dig your favourite retailer today.”
Cam, hope you’re good! How’s life? Life is good! I left the student life last year so I’ve gone through the waves of feeling like I’ve been reborn again. It’s not quite the same when you return back home from uni, there is that unnerving vibe asking you what is next.
We first started talking when you were making tunes and playing out as part of South Royston (maybe actually even before SRC?!) – what are you up to these days from that side of things? Yes, I think it was Jestah back before when I was heavily into dubstep. Right now, I mainly spend about 80% of time building Trackstack and 20% producing. I was part of a duo called South Royston where we were making quite a few records and I’ve now recently starting producing solo on a more techno-focused sound. I feel like I’ve tried my hand at most dance genres but this has felt the most comfortable in terms of production quality.
We recently met to discuss your awesome new Trackstack project. Can you give a quick explainer of what Trackstack is? Trackstack, in short, is a vision of creating a more seamless experience for DJs. By seamless, I mean how can I find new music, organise it and get into a performance as easily as possible? As a product designer by profession, I really wanted to design something that emulated the traditional crate-digging experience. Although Trackstack is a digital experience, using it does feel like digging into a crate of records in some way, which is why we termed it a ‘digital crate-digging tool’.
What problem are you looking to solve with Trackstack? Trackstack was first conceptualised over a year ago, when I was trying to think of a quicker way of finding and sorting through music. I think sorting is the key word in regards to what Trackstack does; I do the same thing every time I go to find new music, which is to click through releases and charts then listen to about 20 seconds and then change over if I wasn’t feeling it.
I think as a DJ, I know exactly what type of track I’m after and there are certain production methods that just resonate with me better. This sort of behaviour drove the design decisions and the product features because I really wanted to create something that would make that activity super easy and quick.
With time being a limited factor in daily life, we’re all looking for tools that can make particular activities quicker and more efficient. So, we started off by trying to solve that – and we think we’ve done a pretty good job so far! Along the way, we didn’t expect to unearth problems and pain points for other people and organisations in this industry, but we did and we’re now beginning to research in much greater depth.
What’s the 5-year vision? There have been a number ideas that we’ve thrown around. Although not wanting to get ahead of ourselves, we know it’s important to focus on what’s in front of us. Having said that, we want to push Trackstack into its own music AI system. We’ve created an avatar (called Truman) which we would like to position as a virtual record store advisor. Right now, we are focused on Trackstack being a quick and lightweight tool to browse for new tracks but our long-term goal is to build something that knows exactly what you like and delivers records you’re going to use.
There’s been a number of music tech startups appearing over the last 18 months. Why do you think that is? Technology is permeating everything, not just the music industry. Everyone has a powerful computer in their pocket now and the explosion of mobile apps over the last decade has really shown how much potential can be unlocked from this technology. It was inevitable that the music industry would begin to benefit from this trend, and I think it will continue. Artists and producers are also always looking for new sounds and innovations, and technology that offers time-saving services or creative outlets for them to explore.
Who do you look up to in the music tech world – and which startups are you a fan of? As I mentioned before, innovation in music is a very positive thing. New and unheard sounds are proliferating the electronic music industry right now. Long may it continue! There is some cool software emerging from the likes of Serato, Traktor and Ableton – which is improving artists’ creative ability and lowering the barrier to entry for new starters. I’m also interested to know what Crowdmix have built and how their social imprint will generate new revenue opportunities for artists and labels across the board. On the hardware front, we are seeing some very cool bits of equipment. Notably, Pioneer keep improving their CDJs, but Richie Hawtin’s partnership with Allen & Heath is probably the most exciting piece of news I’ve heard this year.
Why did you decide to start up on your own? What can you bring that no one else can? I started up because no one else seemed to be building anything like what I wanted, so I just had to learn what I needed to do to make it happen and got to work. What started off as a small vision to create a simple app has evolved into something bigger, and we have a vision of what we’d like to build that extends beyond a simple music discovery tool. I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have anything unique to bring to the table, I do have a very good understanding of my userbase and the electronic industry as a whole, so I’d like to think this equips me with the right mindset for what our users need.
I’ve heard on the grapevine you guys are currently working on a few updates to the product; can you share what you’re up to? Yes, we have! We’ve just pushed our first update which focused on introducing three new features. Feedback from our early users stated that there needed to be more depth to how much music could be explored, so we designed genre feeds at a very basic level. Since then, we’ve provided access to releases and charts on top of the original assorted track filtering that was seen in version one. We’ve also added catalogue-wide search that makes it easy to explore newly found artists and labels that you’ve never heard of. The most exciting feature is improving how users could stack tracks; we’ve created a mode that allows you to do the same gestures without needing to have the app open – it allows you to use the next/previous controls on your headphone remote or lock player as new way to save and bin tracks. We’re also beta-testing the Mac version of Trackstack, which we will be launching early summer!
What makes a good DJ – selection, mixing ability or? Selection is always first but even before that I do really think it’s about understanding what’s appropriate for the vibe in the room. You only get that from seeing a wide range of DJs in different venues, and if possible, in different countries. You learn so much from watching other DJs perform. I also think mixing ability or I’d opt for mixing creativity is becoming more important with the various tools that can diversify sets (like STEMS and effect controllers). I’m always in awe watching a performance from someone like Richie Hawtin or Joris Voorn, it’s unlike ‘traditional’ DJing. The live aspect definitely allows for much more individuality and I think these technologies are currently very accessible and attainable to most DJs across the board.
Any final words or shoutouts? Shout out you guys at Chew – rocking it!