The Prototype and the Demo Tape

The 4-Track Recorder and the MakerBot

Looking back to a time before mp3’s and myspace, the best way to get your music heard if you were a budding musician was to play loads of gigs, and record a demo tape which you could then sell at gigs, get played on community radio stations and maybe even score a deal with an independent or major record label. With recording a demo tape you had a few options with varying degrees of cost, quality and success.

The cheapest option was to plug a microphone into your parents stereo system and record the entire band in one take, sure this often led to terrible results that no-one outside of the band and your parents ever heard but a valuable lesson was learnt.

The next option was to pool all the money from your gigs and pay for time in a recording studio, this often leads to a very clean recording with some very wooden performances as you rush through takes, ever aware of the cost of recording time. At the end of the process you are then subject to the sound engineers interpretation as they mix the music in the way they think it should go because “you don’t know what he means by compressing the mid range and he has 30 years experience and constant tinnitus”

The other option was to buy a Tascam 4-track recorder from your local pawnbroker, borrow a couple of microphones from your sisters friend and start recording your own music. The freedom to experiment, record multiple takes, overdub, bounce down and generally have fun with the recording process would hone your songwriting skills, and give you a better idea of what works in a composition. It also gives you an advantage when it comes time to make a ‘professional recording’ as you will have learnt how to get ‘your sound’ recorded and a little more terminology to help communicate that to a sound engineer.

Taking the same idea to a DIY product design, the landscape is a little different but some of the principles are the same.


You could design and construct an entire object out of objects you find lying around the house, this is kinda the equivalent to sticking the microphone in your parents stereo. Sure you may get the vibe across and refine your design a little but it may be hard to sell it online, garner press or get picked up by a major player for mass production.

Another option is to design your product in CAD, pump out some awesome renders, put it on your Coroflot site and hope that Core77 does a feature on you then a major manufacturer licenses your product.

The best option is to start making serious products yourself using professional tools. If you wanted to go the Tascam 4-track equivalent you could buy a MakerBot and start printing your own products. But in a time of online tools and distributed manufacture higher quality production techniques are available with less capital outlay using Ponoko, Shapeways, Materialise, 100k Garages and alike. With these online tools you can begin rapid prototyping your product, iteration after iteration until you are ready to sell the product or idea using the same online portals. The experience with manufacturing processes will give you confidence with each new product you design (along with the forums for sharing knowledge) and the ability to communicate better with manufacturers should your product be licensed into mass production.

Even if the product is not taken up by a mass producer, the final product could always be that priceless bespoke, ‘fabricated on demand’ product that may linger in the long tail, be a big seller on Etsy, and keep your name as one to watch on all the best design blogs

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