Blipblox is a new toy that allows small children to explore electronic music based on STEAM learning. The touch toy can work without having to download software or hook up to WiFi. Just turn on and start moving the colorful knobs and levers for original sounds of blip, bop, bloop instantly synthesized. The Blipblox features multi- color LED light show, synchronized to the music. Professional DJs and music makers who have tested the ‘toy’ are impressed with Blipblox’s twelve unique oscillator modulation schemes, one low pass filter, two envelope generators plus two LFOs.
Preschoolers with no music knowledge will be mesmerized by the new sounds as they gain confidence learning the signal path and mastering of the synthesis engine. As they produce new music with a twist of colored knobs or a pull of red levers, they are rewarded with a synchronized LED light show. Older children can learn the principles of electronic music production by following the colorful signal path. Both age groups are exposed to Blipblox’s melody, tempo, oscillators, LFOs, filters, envelopes, and amplifiers — all key elements of music production. Grownups can join in with the step-by-step videos and a comprehensive online Learning Toolbox that provide clear instructions.
Recently Troy Sheets, co-founder of Playtime Engineering and the creator of the Blipblox, discussed creating this toy and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): You started out working in the music industry, so how did you find your talents for music?
Troy Sheets (TS): I actually spent the past 20 years as a Distinguished Hardware Engineer for some of the largest computer and networking companies in the Silicon Valley. But I have always been passionate about electronic music. As a teenager, I was lucky enough to have access to some professional level synthesizers and production equipment. I continue to produce and perform electronic music today. With the Blipblox, I hope more kids can get introduced to electronic music production at an early age like me.
MM: How did you come up with the concept for Blipblox?
TS: I have always enjoyed synthesizers, not only as music tools, but also as toys. With their other-worldly sounds, flashing lights and complex control panels, I have always enjoyed exploring and creating electronic sounds, whether they were going into one of my songs or not. I wanted to extract the most fun aspects of synthesizers and put them in an inexpensive, safe and durable product so anyone at any age could experience the fun of sound synthesis.
MM: How did you create the prototype and how different was it from the final product?
TS: I had built up some homemade synthesizers using advanced, low cost microprocessors. I knew these processors would be well suited to a synthesizer toy product. I spent over a year designing the preliminary software code that would be the basis of the Blipblox sound. Once I was confident that I could get the desired sound from the chips, I designed two revisions of the hardware using a 3-D printer. I was lucky enough to connect with one of the best synthesizer product designers in the world, and together we finalized the fun look and feel of the Blipblox as you see it today.
MM: What was the process of finding a factory to produce it like?
TS: About five years ago when crowdfunding really started to take off, there was a big push to connect innovators like Playtime Engineering with Asian manufacturing resources. There was a great online service called hwtrek.com. We got a lot of good leads on factories from that site. We then put together a very comprehensive Request For Quotation. Based on how much detail a factory provided in their response, we were able to narrow down our choices. Committing to a factory is huge, it is a massive up-front investment. Between our due diligence and a little luck, we ended up with an excellent factory.
MM: How did you get this item marketed and sold in stores?
TS: The Blipblox fits into both the Music Instrument and Toy markets. We debuted the Blipblox at the largest music trade show, NAMM, in January 2018 and were able to make some retail contacts and also create a community that helped make our crowdfund a great success, getting nearly 2,000 Blipbloxes out into the market. We are very lucky to have dedicated customers who love to share their super-cute kids playing the Blipblox on Facebook and Instagram. We attended Toy Fair in 2019 which introduced us to specialty toy retailers. That allowed us to grow from a mostly musician customer base to moms, dads, grandparents and the parents of special needs kids all looking for a fun unique gift that’s a real music device, a highly advanced STEAM toy, and just really fun.
MM: To date, what has been the most rewarding part of working within the toy industry?
TS: THE KIDS! Seriously, we really love getting the Blipblox out to events where kids can play with it. It’s unlike anything they have ever seen, but so many of them are just so smart in figuring it out. Somehow, they already understand DJ culture and knob twisting to make sounds. It is really gratifying to see so many kids enjoying your product and enjoying making music.
MM: Where do you hope your career will be in ten years?
TS: We have so many ideas for unique and advanced toys. We just want to keep designing as long as we can. When I am engineering a new product, I am having the most fun. I pretty much spend every waking hour designing new products now, its a dream come true for me. We are pioneering a whole new class of highly advanced toys, beyond what traditional toy manufactures attempted in the past. We will see how far we can go with this.
MM: What advice would you give to someone who is striving to enter the toy or games industry?
TS: I spent nearly 5 years developing the Blipblox while also working my day job in the Silicon Valley. It takes a lot of time to develop an advanced hardware product, but you just have to start doing it. Go to adafruit.com, buy a $20 development board, and start coding. I knew nothing about making sound from software when I started. But I just kept pushing forward a little each day and after a few years I was able to launch the Blipblox.
MM: Are there any upcoming events–or impending releases–that you would like to mention?
TS: We have two upcoming consumer events where we set up four synchronized Blipbloxes so everyone can contribute a part of a sound to create their own dance party. We did this at Maker’s Faire and it was really a lot of fun.
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