The Signal: NAQ (never asked questions)

And Now It's Showtime

Nobody has ever asked for more information about The Signal but I’ve decided to write about this project of mine  anyway, because I’ve been doing it for over 10 years, so it must be important. There must be something to it.

So below you’ll find out a bit about the history of this ongoing sound project that has consistently found and maintained a listenership of at least 10 people or so.

What is The Signal?

Back in 2005, I got my hands on some audio software that made it relatively easy to drag files from my mp3 collection into a row and manage crossfades, timing, transitions and the like. I also had a cheap mic that came with the desktop computer. This was enough for me to transition from physical media– since I had been making mixtapes since middle school and mix CDs since the first CD-Rs hit the market– to trying to model myself on podcasts like Radio OK Fred.

For the first few attempts, I played DJ: Some songs went in a row and I’d interrupt every once in awhile to back-announce what had just played and introduce the next track.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that mixes on the internet can easily be supplemented with text, so nothing really needed to be announced, and more importantly, that having to hear my own voice reduced the relistenability of each mix to about zero for me. In the early days, I was a majority of my audience, and as such, my opinion about the appearance of my own voice carried a great deal of weight. I dropped the DJ schtick by mix #3. As such, that’s the earliest mix you’ll likely ever get your hands on. The first couple are in a sealed vault.

The Signal EP003

Since then, each mix has consisted of music that I’m into at the time of its creation, and occasionally some spoken word material from other recorded sources that are not me.

Where did the name come from?

My wife and I have owned the domain since 2000. Our initial idea was that it would be a fun place to review mp3s because the internet was exploding with sources of new, free music and we thought that since we were already digging through it, we might as well share our best finds.

It never quite worked out that way. We ended up just using it as a weblogging platform, which occasionally included links to music we liked. I found that I didn’t particularly have a knack for talking about why a given tune struck me. I didn’t have the vocabulary or the passion for it. I’d much rather just provide the recommendations and let an audience figure out whether or not they agree or disagree with me.

So if the domain was, then the content it provided would have to be called The Signal, right? It just follows. It’s not a very Google-able name. Common nouns rarely are. But I didn’t mind that much.

Why are the posts containing links to new Signal mixes so vague?

The reason I didn’t mind being hard to find is because at the time I was first creating and sharing these links, there were legal organizations that were searching online for unauthorized sharing of music and filing lawsuits liberally, then doing their best to convince a court that every time a particular music file had been copies was definitely a lost sale equal to the maximum amount of money that the copyright owner could conceivably have received.

In this environment, where grandmothers were getting sued for their teenagers peer-sharing of terrible pop tracks, it seemed like a good idea to stay off of the grid for internet search engines. As such, I never included a track-listing of the artists and songs that were included in any particular mix… even when I had made sure that all songs were freely available online elsewhere as promotions.

However, this combination of not-actually-describing-what-the-music-is-like and not-actually-listing-what’s-in-the-file combined make it next to impossible for someone who doesn’t already know me and my taste in music to determine if downloading a Signal mix is something they’re interested in.

I would describe what’s in the mix in general terms, though… genre names… the word “eclectic” comes up a lot.

The Signal EP005

The Signal EP024

I certainly wouldn’t click on something that vague. Not unless someone else I trusted told me it was good. My concerns about lawsuits and a hipster-ish aggrieved “If I’m good, the world will find me” attitude combined to keep the mixes from being marketed effectively at all. At least, not when it was left to me.

Luckily enough, over the years I’ve convinced a number of friends of mine to listen and they’ve evangelized the Signal mixes on my behalf. But since I don’t have any way to track statistics of how many times they’re downloaded or listened to, I have no way of knowing how small a success any given mix might be.

Why are you writing about The Signal mixes now? Especially since, as your header notes, nobody is asking questions about it?

A fair question. A big part of it is just realizing that the creation of these mixes has been the most consistent, creative outlet that I’ve had in my life. When I was in high school, a kind English teacher praised some mediocre poetry of mine and later teachers thought I showed some promise writing fiction, so I had assumed when I got older that I would be a writer of some stripe. Not necessarily professionally, but that it would be my primary focus for creative achievement. And for awhile post-college, that was true.

I was publishing short, odd fiction online. I fell in with some other writers of short, odd fiction and felt like maybe it was something I could do. I would sneak time to write during lunch breaks at a nearly-mindless job I had and on the few occasions I tried, I got strangers to post my fiction on their literary websites.

But eventually, work got harder and I found less time to write. I put in the time to polish up some pieces and put out a short story collection in a zine format and handed it out at a small press expo in San Francisco. While the collection was received well by the friends who got copies, the fact that it didn’t attract comment from strangers put the brakes on my writing ambitions for awhile. It’s embarrassing, but it’s true.

Between the two, creating mixes of music won out over writing because I much preferred listening to these mixes composed of nothing but songs I liked versus writing (and editing) fiction that I wouldn’t particularly be interested in rereading myself and that didn’t bring in enough external rah-rah cheer-leading to prop up my ego. Apparently.

I don’t have any other questions at this time.

That’s okay. Let me know if any more occur to you.