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Music

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Richard Upchurch

March 12, 2015

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

As UncommonGoods photographer Emily and I made our way to visit Richard Upchurch’s studio, our cab driver quizzed us on some of the local neighborhood acronyms. “Do you know what Tribeca stands for?” he stared at us in his rear-view mirror. “Triangle below Canal Street,” we laughed. “What about Dumbo?” “Down under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” we said in unison. “Do you know why this neighborhood is called Red Hook?” he mused as we turned down a one-way street lined with rugged facades. We were stumped. “Because of all these brick buildings?” I guessed. “I don’t think so!” he teased. “But seriously, I’m not sure. Do you know?” he peered back in the mirror.

Out of guesses, I stared out the window at the jumble of modern and old-fashioned storefronts. With its scattered cobblestone streets and uncanny industrial vibe (a holdover from when it was a busy shipping center), I felt like I was back in my old Pittsburgh neighborhood. That is, until I saw the beautiful view of New York Bay and the Statue of Liberty directly across from the studio’s dome shaped doors. 

Richard Upchurch | UncommonGoods

Richard introduced himself with a comforting flair of southern hospitality. As soon as he learned about Emily’s Georgia roots, he started describing his favorite Georgia venues where he had previously performed as a touring musician, setting the stage for an afternoon with one of the best storytellers either of us had met in a long time. He walked us around his studio and described how Lil’ MibZoots, and Loopy Lou grew from blocks of wood into sound recording gadgets. He related the first days of his business brandnewnoise, and how it’s grown to become an influential internship provider for inner-city students. He gave us the inside scoop behind the bright green frog in the center of his workstation. (A project that involved a crazy collaboration with Wayne Coyne from The Flaming Lips!) We pointed to his old wooden thumb piano, among other oddities, and he elaborated with charming, sentimental tales. He pointed toward his favorite barbecue joint across the street, distinguishing all of the clandestine spots that make Red Hook so special. With each new story, he built the kind of environment that made us want to settle into rocking chairs, crack open beers, and chat about life. After meeting Richard, I am not surprised that he decided to set up shop in a neighborhood that’s so full of history, character, and unexpected treasures.

Whether you’re looking for creative inspiration, or just hoping to get a sneak peek into an artist’s everyday life, you’re in good company. Pull up your favorite chair, sit back, and enjoy our tour of Richard’s Brooklyn Studio.

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The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Boombox Touch Speaker

July 2, 2014

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Product: Boombox Touch Speaker, a portable speaker that’s cord free and will blast out your tunes by simply setting a smartphone on top of it.

Research: 
I love to jam out (preferably to Motown, MJ, or the Rent soundtrack ) while taking my morning showers, prepping dinner, or cleaning my apartment. And although I could play music out loud with my iPhone, it’s never quite loud enough. As a temporary solution, I used to walk around with my iPhone in my back pocket and wear headphones in my apartment, but that quickly became a nuisance. So I decided to search for a convenient speaker that I could use with my iPhone. I wanted something that I could easily bring from room to room without a hassle of setting up or constant plugging and unplugging.

Then I discovered the Boombox Touch Speaker while browsing UncommonGoods at work. I have to admit when I heard that this speaker could play music if I just simply placed my iPhone on top of it, I was definitely skeptical. Trust me, I’m usually a glass-half-full type of gal, but I felt like this little tech discovery was too good to be true. The description claimed that there was no need to set up Bluetooth and no cords were needed. For such a great price, what exactly is the catch? Poor sound quality? Needing to download a $3 smartphone app? Will it break easily?

Skeptical and hopeful at the same time, I’ve decided to test it out on my own to get to the bottom of this mystery.

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Hypothesis: 
I was sure that the product would work, but definitely with a couple of setbacks. I was expecting to hear a bit of static or that the music wouldn’t be as loud as I would want it to be. (And super loud Billie Jean is always better than I-could-kinda-hear-you Billie Jean.)

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Experiment: 
I planned to test out the Boombox Touch Speaker at my neighborhood park for a nice little lazy Sunday. Nothing at the time sounded better than flipping through fashion magazines, snacking on guacamole and chips, and chit chatting with my good friend, Christina, while listening to a few Motown favorites in the background.

When I got the speaker I was immediately surprised by three things: the size, the weight, and the feel. I expected it to be bigger because in my mind “big sound equals big speakers.” But I guess we’re not living in the ‘80s anymore and this doesn’t necessarily need to happen anymore. It was nice to know that I could pop it into my tote bag and still have room for other gadgets and gizmos.

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

The weight was lighter than I expected as well, even after seeing its small size – I thought it would still be a bit heavier than it was. That was a relief because it would have been a hassle if I had a heavy speaker weighing down on my shoulder during my commute or if I had to complete errands. I hate being slowed down!

The last thing I noticed was the feel of the entire speaker. It’s surprisingly soft, smooth, and easy to hold and carry around. I could place it on my nightstand, fireplace mantel, kitchen counters, or on the shelf in my bathroom. I love that it’s so versatile and doesn’t necessarily need a specific spot to live in my home. So far, I was definitely impressed. (But still skeptical!) I was ready to test the speaker! Off to the park we go.

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The next step was simply to just turn on the speaker. I turned it on from the switch in the back, and a blue light popped up. I was happy I didn’t need to charge it or place batteries in.  I was like a kid opening up her birthday gifts. I wanted the toy to work – no time for other nonsense!

In the photo below I was so excited that the speaker weighed less than the bag of tortilla chips I was holding!

IMG_1121

Now, for the moment I’ve been waiting for! Without reading directions, I placed my iPhone on top of the speaker… and….I didn’t hear one sound come out of the speaker. I knew it! Too good to be true! I turned the switch back on and then off. Tried again. And again. And again. Nothing.

But right when I turned the phone around, I heard good ol’ Marvin Gaye crooning loud and clear, literally. The sound quality was amazing. Success! It was a lot louder than I expected it to be and I actually had to turn down the music through the volume control on my iPhone. (Although, I’m sure others at the park wouldn’t have had any objections to Marvin being a part of their Sunday!)

Boombox Touch Speaker | UncommonGoods

Boombox Touch Speaker | Gift Lab | UncommonGoods

Conclusion: 
I’m glad I was very skeptical of the Boombox Touch Speaker because I feel if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been as eager to test it out. I’m 100% happy with it, and would recommend it to any music lover. (AKA: everyone!) My only tip is to make sure that your phone is facing the right way. For the iPhone, make sure the top of the phone sits closest to the speaker, its screen facing up. (Seen in the photo above.)

Now I am able to listen to loud music at home in any room (headphone free!). Also, it’s always a fun to bring out  and show off to my friends on any of our rooftop parties or afternoon picnics. I honestly had three people ask me in absolute awe “How is that even possible?” And just as the description advises to do here, I shrugged and said, “It’s magic.”

Watch me test out the speaker and bust a couple of moves in the video below. Happy grooving!

Maker Stories

Inside the Artist’s Studio with Jeff Davis

May 6, 2014

Inside the Artist's Studio with Jeff Davis | UncommonGoods
I had been cruising around Philly listening to XPN for a couple days. Lou Reed had just passed away. It was a very appropriate time to visit Jeff Davis in the Vinylux studio, a business created in celebration of everyone’s favorite music.

Jeff began collecting vintage records in 2002 to re-purpose into home decor and fashion accessories, the production of which looks similar to most of what I have seen in other studios: work tables, hand-tools, storage space. However, over time, Jeff realized there were machines and tools he required for his designs that did not exist — a vacuum to clean vinyl splinters, a machine to melt a record into a smooth bowl in a matter of seconds — so he took to creating them himself. Most artists show off their finished products, but in Jeff’s case some of his most impressive designs are his machines.

It wasn’t a surprise that a trip to Jeff’s studio would be incredibly exciting for me — all that vinyl and someone to talk to about my favorite albums — but it was a surprise to learn about the business savvy of one of our oldest vendors, to meet an entrepreneur who cares deeply for the safety of his employees, and see such an exciting company sprouting from a city I called home for so many years. Meet Jeff Davis, small business owner, expert at reincarnating old vinyl, and, in my opinion, example of what it means to be living the dream.

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Gift Guides

A (Snow?!) Day at the Beach with the E-tablet Sounds Speaker

March 20, 2014

When I first heard about the E-Tablet Sounds Speaker, I don’t remember being impressed. Considering that the description explaining the two capabilities of this case is 1. It protects any standard sized tablet from water or sand and 2. It functions as a speaker for the device inside, I think it’s more factual to say that I wasn’t slightly fazed.

To be honest, I figured this isn’t amazingly revolutionary for a society with flying drones and glass lens’ sized computers but I see how this would make the day of an iPad touting, Beach going enthusiast. Nevertheless, I being none of those, didn’t care.

But here it was, included in the group of products that my colleague, Adam, and I were mulling over and brainstorming product demonstration ideas for. That’s when he says something along the lines of, “You know what’s funny, Merchants want me to make a video for this beach product now and it’s the middle of winter… especially this winter.”

[Light bulb clicking on sound here.]

But first.. let me explain this winter. Over the last few months NYC has gotten smacked with Mother Nature’s back hand. Snow, sleet, heavy rains, ice, hail, flooding, polar vortexes, perfect spring days… we’ve seen a lot this season. That day was no different. As we met, snow was accumulating outside and forecasted to continue until 5-7 inches of fresh powder joined us on our commute home.

Conditions were even worse the following Thursday. Downpours of rain, snow and hail made an exciting combination. The lines between sidewalks and roads didn’t exist and the game of guess-which-puddle-is-actually-a-lot-deeper-than-you-think was in full swing. Nonetheless, E-tablet Sounds in hand, Adam and I made our way to Coney Island Beach.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words right? Well, the video above offers pages about the results from our experiment. Throughout all of the activities, the E-tablet Sounds provided the soundtrack needed to pump up the volume out there and keep my thoughts off of how much snow made its way in my boots. Once we’re able to experience dry beach sand in the Northeast again, I easily see a follow up trip happening where the only place I expect to see ice is in my drink.

The Uncommon Life

Mixtape Mixed Drinks: Butterbee Cocktail Recipe

September 9, 2013

We’re celebrating the drop of our Mixtape Glasses by mixing up our favorite cocktails and pumping up the volume on the songs that go best with them. First up–the Butterbee.

Butterbee Cocktail

The Butterbee is a yummy sweet grown-up treat.

The Drink:
Mix equal parts of Bailey’s Irish Cream and Butterscotch Schnapps
Top with whipped cream

The Playlist:
1. Build Me Up Buttercup – The Foundations
2. C.R.E.A.M. – Wu Tang Clan
3. Caramel – City High
4. Candyman – Christina Aguilera
5. Candy – Mandy Moore
6. Sugar, Sugar – The Archies

Gift Guides

Gift Lab: Thumb Piano “Ka Limba Limba”

March 11, 2013

Research
The Kalimba is older than Jesus. Also referred to as a thumb piano, it has changed form and tuning numerous times over the last 3,000 years. It was initially made of bamboo and then independently created in metal form 1,300 years ago. Small and light, it was the perfect instrument for travelling griot storytellers in West Africa. They believed that the angelic notes could float up to heaven and bring spirits down to earth.

Upon plucking one of the metal tines for the first time, I immediately realized that there is indeed a mystical element to the tone it emits. It is also quite easy to play, especially the version I had, since it consists of only 8 notes. Has someone ever asked you to name one object you would take with you to a deserted island? This has to be it. It makes for great company. I immediately had an innate desire to contribute to the history of the Kalimba by writing a short song for it.

Hypothesis

I figured that the best way to learn this instrument was to make like a griot and play it while I walked. Living in NYC, I walk a lot. I figured I would bring it everywhere I went and play it everywhere I walked. I could probably come up with something decent in a week.

Experiment

I started with my walk home to the subway station. I developed a pleasing four note repetition. Still playing, I made my way down the stairs of the station, caught a train and sat down. On the subway, I memorized a few variations on the loop. It’s a fairly quiet instrument. When the train was moving, only I could hear it. When the train stopped, a man next to me glanced up, curious. I smiled. He smiled back, looked down and continued to read. Nothing is out of the ordinary on the NYC subway. I continue playing on my walk home. Head down, deeply focused on memorizing the verse. The next day I created a complementary verse and walked into a stop sign. No biggie. Griots used to do it all the time, I’m sure.

By day 3 I had a 40 second song that I could repeat. Guessing I would soon forget it, I wrote down the notes. For proper documentation, I named it Ka Limba Limba. It’s 11 lines long.

I recorded it here for your listening pleasure. It’s quiet, so headphones are suggested:

Conclusion
I thoroughly enjoyed playing this little instrument. My thumbs are a bit raw from playing for a week. I’ll likely wait a few days before working on my next song.

Gift Guides

Uncommon Gifts for the Vinylphile

November 16, 2012

There’s a certain breed of music lover who, when given the choice, always takes the slightly gritty sound of vinyl on a turntable over a digitally remastered CD or a quick-and-clean download. Whether they love hard, fast rock or soft, soulful sounds, the vinylphile prefers their tunes straight from the grooves of an LP. They may have specific taste when it comes to their favorite recordings, but finding the perfect present for the owner of those particular ears doesn’t have to be a pressing problem. For the record, one of these gifts for vinylphiles might just be the chart-topper they’re looking for.


Cymbal of Peace Pendant / A Vinyl Collection Puzzle / Record Star Clock / Record Tie / Guitar Glasses and Coasters / Personalized LP Record / Record Cuff Bracelet / Recycled Record Book Ends

The Uncommon Life

Gift Lab: Portable Magnetic Speaker

September 24, 2012

Background Research:
Camping can be a wonderful, relaxing thing. But, can my boyfriend and I survive 2 nights in the Great Outdoors without any tunes?! I’m going to test the Portable Magnetic Speaker to see if I can blend gadgets with my get-away-from-it-all trip. (I wouldn’t want to drain the car battery in the middle of the Catskills for a little background music.)

Hypothesis:
The Magnetic Portable Speaker will keep the tunes coming while my guy and I relax by the campfire.

Experiment:
We took off for Monguap Pond Campground in Sullivan County, NY. We charged the speaker on the laptop while we packed up. The tiny speaker was ready to rock in about an hour.

Easy to Charge Mini Speaker | UncommonGoods

Once we got up in the mountains, unpacked, and got the fire going it was time for some dinner music to go with our campfire hot dogs and s’mores. This speaker may seem tiny, but it has great sound quality. Also, the volume was surprisingly good; we had to make sure we kept it low enough for out camp site without disturbing our neighbors with Stones tunes.

Inside the tent we used the magnetic clip to keep the speaker anchored to a pillow case so the iPod wouldn’t get lost amongst the egg crate, blankets, and sleeping bags.

Portable Magnetic Speaker

The clip got used again during our afternoon bike ride around the campgrounds. (Keeping the volume at a respectable level of course!)
The speaker had a pretty long battery life too. We didn’t re-charge until the second evening. We used the rental car’s handy USB charger port. We didn’t need to recharge it again until we were safe, sound, and relaxed back in Brooklyn!

Conclusion
For the next camping trip this little iPod speaker will definitely be as important as the flashlights and bug spray. It made our excursion just that much more enjoyable without drowning out the sound of chirping crickets.

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