Jay from The Him DSP

With half a billion Spotify streams under his belt, Jay pivots from being "mini-famous" in EDM to launching a brand new plugin business.

He speaks with JUCE just a couple days before the scheduled launch of his first product, Sub Ninja, a low-end visualizer tool for producers.

Is this the worst time to be interviewing you?

Of course!

For the business or for you personally?

Personally! Anything I say, any advice I give is not proven to work, you know? I could make a total ass out of myself. Sub Ninja could end up blowing up computers all over the world. There's a nice quote for you!

[Laughs]

But I want to set an example. It's hard to go from something you've built, that you love a lot, to putting it out there in the world, to be critiqued or not even cared about. That can create a mountain of resistance. But if you put one foot in front of the other you can achieve more than you ever thought possible.... that's literally what I do. I don't always know what the next 10 steps are. I'm just putting one foot in front of the other, taking the next steps necessary and then all of a sudden you look up and you're like "You know, Wow, I made 10 steps, we’re getting somewhere."

I picked a release date because I was like "I just [expletive] need to release this." Turns out that my wife is going to be gone for the next 3 days. I'm at home with my four month old baby and my three year old daughter by myself. I have no time to do anything.

And here I come being like "let's talk about all that..."

[laughs] Exactly.

Define "mini-famous" for me.

I've been recognized in an airport.

One of my best friends is a photographer here in the building where I have my studio. He always made fun of me and didn't really know what I did. But it turns out that his assistant, when I introduced myself was like "Oh, I know you! I check your instagram, I follow your stories!"

But otherwise, nobody knows who I am.

What got you started down this plugin path?

I've been producing and DJing for over 10 years. I've always been interested in technology and programming, but I wanted to focus on making music first. I tried JUCE out a couple of times, even read the book by Will Pirkle.

I made some little things with it but it never got to the point where it just worked. About a year ago I started on it again, and I saw Matkat's tutorials and the Audio Programmer's stuff. Especially Matkat's stuff about making plugins.

I don't know if you remember the beginner mind of learning programming—

Oh, I remember the beginner mind! I try to still have it!

I stumbled on this C++ tutorial and it shows you that Hello World example with stdout and brackets and end line. I always thought that was such a stupid first introduction to C++ — anybody with another programming background (I came from Python and Lua) is like "what the hell is this, what is happening here?!"

And actually, I had this experience in the beginning with JUCE as well. Trying to do simple things like band splitting was not straightforward — like the whole processing block and context and this and that — it's great for advanced programmers, but getting started was so hard in the beginning. Once you're over it it's great, but it took a while for me to actually see that I could make what I want.

So the syntax and the esoteric nature of C++ is where you had beef originally?

I got stuck a couple times. It didn't click. And when it doesn't click, you don't really see the roadmap.

Yeah, it doesn't feel like it's working for you. You feel like you are working hard to please this weird esoteric stuff. So, Matkat was the person that convinced you it was possible to succeed?

Yeah 100%. I did his EQ and MultiBand compression tutorials. Once I followed those and saw how he was doing things, it clicked. And I really got it.

What other resources have you been leaning on?

Your blog! What Matkat did for me to go from walking to running, your blog did for how to get it out there. Because that's not that easy either. There are many hurdles after you have a working VST to get that into people's computers. Your articles about that were crazy helpful.

[Laughs] You're pretty good at this being interviewed thing! So, how excited are you about launching?

I'm between completely terrified, wanting to curl up in a blanket and excited about getting it out into the world, happy to get it done. I have tons of insecurities about it as well, but I'll be super happy and proud once it's in the world.

What are you most afraid of with the launch? What's the worst case scenario?

That nothing happens. That nobody cares.

There could be technical difficulties but I feel like "you can probably solve that." But if you do all this work and work on the promotion and everything and then you see that nobody installed it… that would suck.

Yeah. That's it, talking to the void. Nobody cares.

What marketing methods are your goto? I know you are contacting YouTubers?...

I went to ADC this year and met Marius there. Such a sweet dude. He gave a presentation on how to start and sell your plugin, make it a success. Funnily enough, when I saw the presentation in the schedule before I was there, I was like "that's interesting, definitely want to go see his talk". And then you introduced me and I talked to him, showed him my plugin and he was super helpful from the minute I met him.

He gave a complete layout of what he did. He told everything, including specifics. He shows the mail that he sent to YouTubers. I talked to other plugin devs at ADC as well and people have said to me YouTube is one of the best routes to try to go to promote your stuff.

So I reached out to many YouTubers. Some responses. Next to that, I'll be sending it to DJ friends I know. Producers that I know on social media.

So, going to ADC was worth it?

Yes, 100%. And this is a very personal thing. But I think if you want to see what that scene is like and meet some like minded people, it's the place to go.

What was the draw, what made you go?

I had two main goals. I've been in the music industry for a long time, so I wanted to see what the industry was like, what the people are like and what the vibe was like. I'd been programming JUCE for a year by then, I wanted to see if this is a world I even want to be in.

And I felt like if I meet one person that I click with and can chat with and have back and forth with.... those were my only two goals.

It is a really nice group of people. That little bit of feeling of camaraderie when you are an independent developer — it's priceless.

What does your dream situation look like from the business side?

I want to see this as starting something. You know, I don't have a set number in mind that I want to reach, but I want to see a fire starting to burn. And then if I see growth, that'll be great.

At ADC, I heard some people say specific numbers about plugins and success — maybe selling between 10,000 or 20,000 copies would be considered a good product. It's an interesting metric to have. It's better to know that is the range than "is it 10 or 10 million?"

So, you don't have strong expectations for the near term, you understand the business has to grow and take time, etc?

Yeah, and from my music career I know a little bit about what it feels like to make something, put it out there and not get the response you were hoping for. But also knowing that if you do that a couple times that one out of the 10 things you put out might get a bigger response than expected.

It's about perseverance....We should talk about what you are making! Why does the world need this thing?

I think most people create something out of their own interest and own necessity. Sub Ninja is something I know for a fact has been useful in my production for years. I'm not kidding — it's always open on every track I work on.

Basically it's a scope with a lowpass filter. Everything you want to know about your bass is in that bass waveform. It's just so clear to me that in the spectrum, you cannot see anything. You just see a little wiggly line going up and down. The view under 100Hz takes up 10% of the display. It's not fine grained.

Whereas if you look at the waveform, you actually see the amplitude of the bass and you see it over time. And those are the two things you actually want to know in great detail.

In my mind, there is no better way than looking at that waveform. The height will tell you the amplitude. And you will see it over time, so you will see how long your kick drums are, how long your bass notes are. You will see if there's clashes between different frequencies. It's just all there in that one image.

Let's be real, nobody has the perfect acoustic speaker setup. I'm in a 50m2 studio with Barefoots, tons and tons of acoustic material and still my bass response is not perfect, especially under 100Hz. It's just great to check that on a visual scope and you see in one second "we're fine" or "we have a problem."

Good pitch! So you're basically exporting part of your process. Bringing a technique that's been critical for you to others. People could cobble together this method, but the plugin just gives you exactly what you need to manage the low-end.

Yeah, and on top of that it allows you to pause it and zoom into very fine detail, get details about the zero crossings and the frequencies, which might be interesting to certain types of producers.

Do you have a bunch of other things in the pipeline? I know you have one big one, which is maybe a secret.

I was working on something else and Sub Ninja was going to be testing the waters of releasing something. This will resonate with a lot of developers and creators in general — we love to create, we love to sit in our room and code for days and nights and work on stuff, but the mountain of "getting it out there" gets bigger — for me, this kept on growing and growing.

So I decided before I released one of the bigger products I'm working on, I wanted to have a smaller product that I could test some strategies on and prove to myself that I could do it.

I thought the thing I was working on was like 80% done, so I'll make this other thing (Sub Ninja) and that'll take me like two weeks. And then I'll make a little website, I'll code sign it and it'll be another two weeks — No! That's like another six months!

[Laughs] Noooo!... that bad?

It became bigger than I thought it would be. But it also became cooler and much more useful than I thought it would be. [Jay later notes he also had his second daughter during this period of time!]

So, more tools from your personal arsenal. Is that where you'll continue pulling from for future plugins you think?

Maybe! It's funny. I don't know how you think about this, but it's easy as a maker of tools to think "I need to completely redo something, make something completely novel!" But it might just be that if you give somebody something that they already have, but it works better or inspires creativity....

I have to dig into that more. I notice a tendency within myself that I want to make completely novel things. But maybe that's not even the way to get to novel things. You might get to creating novel things by first creating something and then finding along the road that there's this other perspective you have on it that makes it really novel.

Yeah, that's a big topic for me as well. This idea of innovation occurring through iteration or through A Great Big Idea. Those Great Big Ideas, when you go and sit down and try to make something like that, it's often immediately clear that they are not viable!

There's a book about this, a differentiation between people that create things completely novel at the start of their career. Those are the people we think of as super cool. And then there's the inventors that have a lot of experience and tend to improve on things and iterate, like you said. And they'll end up making bigger contributions down the line. I think there's room for both.

In business, there's also this concept of a disruptive innovation vs. a sustaining or incremental one...

Yeah, I would say it's similar.

So, in theory, you want to be the disruptive one?

Well it's a fun idea, but the downside of the disruptive ones is that the biggest success is at day one and then it goes downhill!

[laughs] Funny characterization. Burn fast, burn bright, burn out!

Well, it's never that black and white, right? So it's probably somewhere in between. And I really do hope that Sub Ninja and the next things become successful.

Me too!

Maybe I can do a guest interview of you, Sudara, when you are about to release. Maybe that can be a part of this whole deal. I should have said that before I started, but I'm adding this: you interviewed me on the eve of my release. This is literally the last work. I have one more call after this and then I'm going home and everything is almost ready to go. I think on the eve of a release, we'll do a turnaround interview of you!

Alright, deal! I'll run it by [JUCE director] Tom.


Jay's first plugin Sub Ninja launched successfully, with over 15,000 users in the first month, securing testimonials from EDM legends such as Hardwell and Nicky Romero.

Jay was interviewed by Sudara, who is building an additive synth and writes about audio dev over at melatonin.dev.

Have comments on this interview? Ideas for who we should talk to next? Let us know on the JUCE forum

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