To Here Knows When
Hello! I’m Michael Donaldson, and I’m the curious fellow behind 8sided.blog. This blog has been running in various forms (and URLs) since 2015, with a few inexplicable long breaks.
The standard social media bio is a series of nouns often preceded by descriptors. Mine is no different. Presently, I’m identifying myself across the web like so: blogging proselytizer, music industry exile, sonic swashbuckler, sunrise watcher. Beyond that summary, other personal obsessions include the history of cinema, hot sauces, the sound of tape delays, vegan cooking, travel or simply dreaming of it, the studio as an instrument, lake life, solarpunk and imagined futures, these damn cats, and collecting more books than I’ll ever read.
Terry Matthew of 5 Magazine did a profile on me a while back that I like, going deep into my history in music and my attitudes on the industry. It’s a good MDonaldson primer.
Another fun profile that’s more recent is this one in the Orlando Weekly written by long-time confidant Daniel Fuller. If you’d enjoy a time warp, Daniel also wrote about me way back in 1997.1The date on the article says ‘1998’ but it’s wrong.
I live in Orlando, Florida. Many years ago, I ended up in this city in a misguided attempt at film school and lacked the means or will to escape. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Despite some questionable life choices and Florida’s ever-sinking status (in more ways than one), I’ve made an interesting, fulfilling, and generally happy life here.
As for this spot on the web, 8sided.blog is my pet project, my pride and joy, my journal of personal interests, and my digital thinking cap. It keeps me sane. If you want to add a dose of sanity to your life, I suggest starting a blog filled with your obsessions and ramblings. Here’s how.
A quick bit of housekeeping: 8sided.blog remains ad-free and I rarely use affiliate links (I’ll let you know when I do). This site and the newsletter run solely on grit, a love of writing, an insatiable curiosity, interactions with my readers, and money out of my pocket. If you’d like to help out with the latter — any amount is appreciated — you can buy me a vegan chalupa.
My adult life consists of metaphorically throwing things against walls to see what sticks. It’s kind of my profession. Because of this, I’ve found myself involved in a long series of projects. Here’s a list of those, present and past, in a descending timeline.
• Your Podcast Friend
I am a producer and editor of podcast audio. I am currently working on Sounds + Vision, the podcast of ex-Rolling Stones manager/producer Andrew Loog Oldham, and Spotlight On…, a nifty music industry conversation podcast. This line of work has been a ton of fun as I’m (finally) able to use my background in audio production in a commercial space. And managing a podcast is not that different than managing a label or artist. I’m always looking for more podcasts to take on, especially in the talking-about-culture niche. Here’s more detail on my podcast work and how to get in touch if you need help with your show.
• The Email Newsletter
Shortly before the pandemic, I started a newsletter. It was curiously titled Ringo Dreams of Lawn Care. Launching a newsletter was one of the best decisions I made, as pumping out a newsletter every one or two weeks was a necessary discipline as lockdown took hold. It helped me feel the weeks. I kept it going at a steady clip from February 2020 to April 2021 and built a respectably numbered and delightfully engaged subscriber community. There was even an article written about the newsletter. Then that second (or third?) pandemic wave set in, followed by the ennui or malaise or whatever you’d like to call it. You probably felt it, too. I couldn’t do much of anything, so I stopped the newsletter. I put out one last ‘episode’ of Ringo Dreams of Lawn Care on January 1, 2022, and announced I was canceling the show. But! I love email newsletters, and I love newsletter readers even more, so I’m now planning the next ‘series.’ I swear, its launch is right around the corner.
• 8D Industries
After Eighth Dimension Records and EIGHT-TRACKS I swore I wouldn’t start another label. However, the goblin-energy of Al Pacino had other ideas. Some fantastic music landed in my lap, all looking for a home, and I felt like I was the best one to make this happen. Thus 8D Industries was born in 2018, catering mainly to my taste for music that sits in the center of the post-punk/ambient/shoegaze/kosmiche Venn diagram. The release schedule may seem slow, but I’m waiting to put out music that I love, and I’ve been lucky so far. The current label roster consists of San Mateo, More Ghost Than Man, Ralph Kinsella, Gemini Revolution, Monta At Odds, and my Grottoes project. This is the most focused I’ve ever been on a label project, and I’m excited to see how it all grows and where it goes.
I’m fortunate that a wise person told me about the importance of music publishing early in my music career. So, in the mid-90s, Eighth Dimension started a publishing company, and I learned to self-publish my own music. These moves paid off once Q-Burns Abstract Message music started getting licensed for things like Sex and the City, and Eighth Dimension label artists began getting placements in iconic shows like The Wire and Six Feet Under. This action inspired me to eventually shift my focus from the label to music publishing, rights management, and sync licensing. So, around 2010, I officially started 8DSync, and music publishing has been my main game since. Like 8D Industries, I’m only bringing on artists and writers whose music I love and believe in, though the genre range is much broader than the label’s. This field is where I genuinely feel like I can call myself an “expert.”
In a freelance capacity, I consult recording artists and labels on how to navigate this ever-changing music industry landscape. It’s so damn confusing, and I’m happy to help. My specialties are music publishing, label management, artist marketing, music contracts, rights management, and good old-fashioned creative coaching. I steep my ideas in tradition — I don’t think technological ‘disruption’ should discount the base concepts and perennial practices that have always brought excitement to potential fans. I’ve advised a diverse crop of artists + label owners, including Arthur’s Landing, DiViNCi (Solillaquists of Sound), DJ Three (Hallucienda), Sodastream, Snax, Vexillary, Deepak Sharma, and Toni Tennille (really). Interested in having a chat? Our first session is ‘name your price.’
• Q-Burns Abstract Message (and now Grottoes)
Where to start? I decided I never wanted to be a band member again, so I started a solo production project in 1994 called “Q-Burn” (a pun on the old radio term ‘cue burn‘). After getting mixed up with the famed turntablist Q-Bert and a lofty idea that “there is no Q-Burns … this is an imaginary band!” I changed the name to Q-Burns Abstract Message. Unfortunately, people kept on confusing the name with Q-Bert (including, once, DJ Shadow). My first records were on a small but beloved San Francisco imprint called Mephisto Records and the Hardkiss offshoot label Sunburn. Then I was signed to Astralwerks for a few fun years and returned to Eighth Dimension. After a couple of decades of spurts and sputters (and way too many remixes), I released the AUDIOTOTEMPOLE EP in 2019. As far as I know, that’s the final release under the Q-BAM moniker. Now I’m all about Grottoes, a creamier, sparser, less beat-concerned, and somewhat ominous project that I hope I’ll actively explore in the coming months.
When the economy took a turn for the worse in 2008, I needed to figure out how to pay the bills. So I started 8DPromo, utilizing my experience promoting and publicizing music releases as a label manager. The company did excellent work and still does excellent work. In 2016 I handed the reins over to Jon Lemmon (owner/manager of Viva Recordings), and he continues to provide a valuable service to a wide range of labels and artists.
• Eighth Dimension Records and EIGHT-TRACKS
Eighth Dimension Records started as a collective of Orlando electronic music artists looking to support each other and combine forces to raise our profiles as a group. It worked! Running the label (alongside my partner Gerard Mitchell) was like going to music business university. Everything I’ve done since stems from the experience. Meanwhile, EIGHT-TRACKS was a side-label I started in the mid-00s with house music producer Atnarko. We had big dreams (and, in retrospect, a lousy logo — sorry, Stephen), but interest waned as the music biz got tough. Though the releases still haunt the streaming platforms, both labels are no longer in operation.
• Bad Mood Records
Here’s where I was cursed with the idea that I should only ever work for myself. Sometime between Lollapaloozas one and two, I opened Bad Mood Records, a record store in downtown Orlando. You can read about it here. It had some decent success, and I still run into people who remind me how much they loved the shop. But then the city of Orlando started a street construction project literally on the store’s doorstep that was supposed to last three months. Instead, it ended up lasting three years, and the store feebly eked it out for two of those. But, as they say, everything happens for a reason …
Talk To Me
I’d enjoy hearing from you. Feel free to reach out here: firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you’re visiting Orlando and would like to join me for breakfast or lunch (your treat), I’m game.
I also recently opened up ‘office hours.’ These set hours are mainly for those looking for a single consultancy or coaching session, but I’m open to anyone and any topic. These sessions are ‘name your price’ — I’ll follow up with a donation/tip request afterward, and you pay me whatever, based on the value you feel you got out of the session. Cool? You can schedule an office hours session with me here.
Sending Music To Me For Review
Yes, I will accept your music for a potential review or short feature on the blog. My tastes are broad but there is a thread that ties together the things I like. Check out the ‘music recommendations’ tag to get an idea of what I’m into.
I try to give everything a chance that’s sent my way. However, there are certain triggers that will make me less inclined to listen. If your email is obviously copy-and-pasted, blasted out to a seemingly random set of bloggers, I’ll likely delete it on the spot. Same if I am BCC’ed (or, worse, CC’ed) in your email. And heaven forbid you attach MP3s or other large files to your message. Those are immediately zapped out of existence.
Likewise, there are things you can do to ensure I’ll give your music a try. For one thing, I like it when it’s evident that you’ve read the blog and understand the sounds and styles that I review. I also prefer to review music that is or will be available on Bandcamp. Though that’s not a deal-breaker, I tend to only post Bandcamp players to accompany my reviews. And it’s a good idea to send me a Bandcamp download code for your release. That way I can post an excerpt of the review in the ‘Supported by’ section of your Bandcamp release page.
Though you are welcome to send releases to me prior to the release date, I post my reviews once the music is available to the public (and a Bandcamp player is live and embeddable). I also don’t necessarily review new music (I’m often behind on my listening anyway) so it’s okay if your release isn’t the freshest.
There’s no way I can review everything I’m sent. And sometimes I’m so backed up I may not reply to your email for weeks. Please don’t take it personally.
Got it? You can send me music here.
Regular readers of the blog know I have an increasingly complicated relationship with social media (don’t we all). I’m trying my best not to add value to platforms owned by companies that I disagree with ethically. I wrote about this struggle here. And more recently here.
A few years ago, I deleted my Instagram accounts and stopped using Facebook, except for release-related posts on the 8D Industries page. I continued to use Twitter with a smidgen of enthusiasm, but that glimmer has died in light of recent events.
Going forward, I plan to only use the corporate social media sites solely through remote posting and only posting updates about the blog and my projects (like new label releases). The goal is not to have to visit those blasted sites at all but still exploit their reach to bring people to this site. I’ll post using Publer (the best tool for this IMO — and, yes, that’s an affiliate link), and said posts would be about new things on the blog, with links sending folks here, hopefully decreasing their time spent on social media just a tad. One does what one can.
That said, I’m using Tumblr as my ‘filing cabinet’ and don’t have qualms about it. Automattic, who now owns Tumblr, seems like a well-intentioned company. After all, they’re behind the WordPress backbone this blog is built on.
I’ve also plunged headfirst into Mastodon, and I have to admit I’m liking it quite a bit. The engagement and good vibes are refreshingly … old-school. Don’t believe anyone who tells you it’s complicated or weird. Find me here, and feel free to reach out if you need any pointers. Ernie Smith’s excellent ‘pop-up’ series about Mastodon is a great start if you’d like to learn more, too.
If you consider Letterboxd social media, you can also find me there.
Want to ease yourself out of social media and algorithm-guided content? You should use an RSS reader!
Colophon + Tools
This section is for those of you who enjoy peeking into workspaces, lists of creators’ tools, and ‘what’s in my bag’ type stuff. (Guilty as charged.)
8sided.blog is proudly built on WordPress using a heavily tweaked Modern Studio Pro theme, part of the Genesis Framework. Unfortunately, that theme, and the framework, haven’t been updated in ages, so I’m hoping I don’t have to change it all anytime soon as WordPress gets fancier with all the block magic.
I write and organize in Obsidian. If I’m feeling a more focused writing experience, I’ll open the document from Obsidian into Typora. I’m also a longtime paid user of Grammarly, and I honestly feel this tool has improved my writing. I finally get what passive voice is all about. I process my blog images in Pixelmator Pro, which helps me maintain that zine-like photocopy look. I listen to wordless + beatless music when I write, and if I’m not spacing out to one of my Bandcamp purchases then I’m shuffling this huge ambient playlist on Apple Music that I put together.
For research and sourcing things to write about, I have a large but tightly curated mess of RSS feeds I subscribe to. Inoreader is my RSS reader of choice. I also find and save articles in Matter. Anything interesting goes into my Obsidian vault or my online filing cabinet on Tumblr.
I recently sprang for an M1 Mac Mini, replacing my trusty (but lately not as trusty) 2013 iMac. I’m looking at stuff on a gigantic Asus monitor. It’s almost too big — I never use the sides of the screen except for getting Zoom windows out of the way. I type noisily on a Keychron K8 mechanical keyboard. I’ve got a pair of nice-sounding Mackie CR4 speakers on my desk. I also have a couple of Alesis Monitor One studio monitors on shelves above the desk (powered by the matching Alesis RA-100 amp) for when I’m doing audio work or if I want the day’s music to be a bit more immersive. I’ve had these Alesis speakers for many years — they’re the same ones I used to mix Feng Shui. There’s a Logitech C930e webcam for Zoom calls and such on a flexible boom attached to one of the speaker shelves.
Other items on the desk are a Nu Board dry erase notebook, a Miroco Light Therapy Lamp for those dreary days or extra Zoom lighting, and a deck of Oblique Strategies cards. I have a Focusrite Scarlet Solo for sending audio to the Alesis speakers, connecting a microphone when podcasting, or plugging in a guitar when music-making. I also have a vintage Electro-Harmonix LPB 2ube next to the Scarlet for those guitar moments. Oh, and that desk is a Fully Jarvis Bamboo Standing Desk — just wonderful.
When I’m not standing, I’m sitting on a QOR360 Ariel active chair, a birthday gift from last March. I love it, but it took a while to get used to sitting on it. In the first couple of weeks, I had a few aches — it makes you use some muscles you don’t use in a standard chair. I recommend the chair, but if you get one, take the instruction manual’s advice and only sit in it for a few hours a day at first to warm up. Don’t be a dope like me and go all-in immediately, leading to a few sleepless, achy nights.
For privacy, I use Private Internet Access VPN. I’m using Safari as my browser with AdBlock, Super Agent, and Privacy Redirect extensions. When my Safari set-up makes a website act funky, Vivaldi is my backup browser. I’m also a decade-long fan of 1Password.
I’ll wrap this up with some other tools I can’t live without:
- Logic Pro for music-making and podcast mixdowns. I’m a big fan of plug-ins from Togu Audio Line, Audio Thing, and Izotope.
- Descript is essential for my podcast work. Just like I can’t remember how I found someone’s house before GPS, I have no idea how I edited podcasts before Descript.
- AirTable and Fantastical are how I keep my businesses (and life, really) organized. If you schedule an office hours session with me, you’ll see how I use them together.
- Whenever I debate letting go of SetApp, thinking it might be too expensive, I discover some new apps in the suite that validate its place in my arsenal. My favorites/most used are Receipts, Yoink, PDFpen. Mate Translate, CleanMyMac X, Meta (helps out so much with my music publishing work), Forklift, and the indispensable CleanShot X.
- I have yet to find the perfect email app, but Airmail comes close. I’m phasing out Gmail and going 100% SMTP.
- And here are a few MacOS apps that I recently started using that I think will stick: Fraidycat, Singlebox, and Raycast.
What’s With that Avatar?
It’s from a photo that some of the members of GusGus took of me in Los Angeles. We were play-acting an imaginary Wim Wenders movie and, in this scene, I was demanding my driver hit the road. This shot ended up getting used by Astralwerks as my press photo. It’s still my favorite Q-BAM photo and, despite my suspicion of nostalgia, it gives me all the feels.