Justin Frankel Reveals Life After Winamp

INTERVIEW Speaking out for the first time on life after AOL/Nullsoft, legendary Winamp creator Justin Frankel sat down with BetaNews to discuss his new endeavors. Starting a new company called Cockos, Frankel is leaving behind the mass market for his musical roots, but hints at revolutionary -- and presumably controversial -- things to come.

BetaNews: Now that you've moved on from Nullsoft you've been working on a number of projects, including the Jesusonic. Tell us a bit about them.

Justin Frankel: There were a few little pieces of software that I worked on for a bit, getting to the point of usability, and then haven't really touched in a while. Primarily these are a program called Assniffer (which is a HTTP sniffing program that logs the actual files transferred), and PathSync (which I use to interactively synchronize directories on different computers/drives). These are both available on cockos.com.

I've also been working on some other little research projects, though they haven't gotten developed to the point where they're worth releasing/discussing.

Which brings us to where the vast majority of my time has been spent lately, which is the Jesusonic.

The Jesusonic is a tool for real-time effects processing of audio (which can be used on many different sources, such as vocals, guitars, basses, etc). Currently it is available in the form of software for Windows, Mac and Linux, and soon it will be available as a standalone device.

BetaNews: What made you decide to develop Jesusonic and the software counterpart, which you recently released in preview form? How long have you been working on it?

Justin Frankel: Back in April of this year, Christophe got a VIA Mini ITX motherboard for putting a computer in his bathroom (I guess it's because he's French), and after a band practice/jam session, we were discussing how nice it would be to have a little box that would be completely programmable for doing guitar effects. By saying completely programmable, we didn't mean having to go hook up the device to a computer -- rather, that you could just arrange effects and type in code on this small device on the fly.

So I started developing the software with the intent of just having it run on a small embedded Linux system, on specific hardware. Once it starting taking shape and becoming useful, I realized that it should run on users' computers as well, for many good reasons. Not only is it useful on computers, it allows people who don't want to spend money on a Jesusonic hardware device to go ahead and write new effects for the Jesusonic. It allows people who do have a Jesusonic hardware device to use it on both their computer and on the dedicated hardware. Since more people will be using the Jesusonic, more people may be creating new effects for the Jesusonic, so it'll be good for everybody.

BN: To whom is the product targeted?

JF: Probably ranging from "computer savvy musicians" to "programmers/hackers with an interest in music." That spectrum, though it may not be too large, is growing.

The nice thing is that someone who is of the former group can use the Jesusonic, combining and tweaking existing effects, and downloading new effects and presets from Jesusonic.com. The people who are at the programmer end of the spectrum can use the Jesusonic the same way, but when they find a limitation in what they want to do they can easily (with no other tools or applications) edit new code on the fly and make it do exactly what they want. If they want to share their creations, they can upload them to Jesusonic.com.

I have two big personal goals with Jesusonic. The first is to make hardware and software that I want to use. The second is to let musicians do things that they would not otherwise be able to.

BN: Why the name "Jesusonic?"

JF: Naming projects is often the hardest part. When I first started, it just came out. A moment of either stupidity (likely) or brilliance (not likely), we'll see.

The name does have some interesting consequences. At the suggestions of friends, I made the hardware case into a cross shaped box, and named it the CrusFX 1000. We will also offer a non-cross shaped version, which will be more compact. Carrying the cross however makes for very interesting looks.

BN: Obviously this product is more niche than some of your previous creations. Do you miss working on Winamp and products that will reach tens of millions?

JF: Absolutely. The main thing I miss about working on Winamp is the ability to have such a fine control over the media player that I use on a day to day basis. As far as having products that reach millions of users, it's a double sided coin -- it's rewarding, but you make one little mistake and you hear from thousands of users, which is a very small percentage but a terrible feeling. I've shown time and again, I'm pretty good at making mistakes.

BN: How do you feel about the recent abandonment of the Winamp project by AOL? Is it sad to see how things have ended up or are you happy to move on to new, more personal projects such as Jesusonic?

JF: I'm always hoping that they will come around and realize that they're killing it and find a better way, but AOL always seems too bogged down with all of their internal politics to get anything done. [Sighs] I suppose it doesn't help that I pissed them off so bad, so I should take part of the blame. I'd love to see Winamp back in the hands of people who really care about it.

BN: Lastly, what can we expect from Justin Frankel in the future? Any WASTE-like projects on the horizon?

JF: There's something that a few of us have been discussing that could be pretty revolutionary for people using the Internet has a whole, but I'm not going to start on anything relating to that until the end of January.

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