Put It in the Cloud. - How a Retired Web Engineer Built a Worldwide Indie Music Network in Less than 2 Years
posted 03 Nov 2019 by Krister Axel
The truth is, I am pulling together my main 3 skill sets, and it is turning out to be very synergistic. I am a poet, first; that was always the calling for adolescent me. Later in life, I fell in love with music, and I just figured out today that I've been playing piano for 33 years.

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Yeah, I know, it's a big headline. After a year of writing headlines for Apple News, I think I'm starting to get that part down. :)

The truth is, I am pulling together my main 3 skill sets, and it is turning out to be very synergistic. I am a poet, first; that was always the calling for adolescent me. Later in life, I fell in love with music, and I just figured out today that I've been playing piano for 33 years. Yowza. But, to be fair, I was writing poems only a few years before I convinced my dad to buy me a Yamaha PC-100 (4 tracks of MIDI sequencing! What do I do with it all?). And then, college happened, I decided definitively that I did not want to be a music major ("those students don't write their own songs anymore!"), I remember saying to myself. And they don't; my whole life, I just wanted to do my own thing, but I got caught up in the tech revolution of the 2000's because that's where the money was. To this day, I use Ruby for all kinds of stuff (Apple News formatting, anyone?), so I am really glad I spent 20 years coding. Seriously - throw away all the hangups you have, anyone can code. You just have to know that is is possible - and, most importantly for me: have something to make; a job to do. For both music performance and writing code, it was never about learning new skills for the sake of whatever. I learned to play piano because there were songs I wanted to write, and I learned to code because there were things I wanted to create. I taught myself Rails 1.0 by writing a browser game called 'Rockstar Alley' - I did everything wrong, but it still worked and I deployed it on Joyent and it taught me that you can always go your own way.

Anyway, fast-forward - I live in Ashland, and I spent too many years bending over backwards for a bunch of corporate yahoos in the DevOps space that just couldn't see what they were doing wrong. It became clear that I needed to get away, and so I did. Now, this is important: I used to make a lot of money, now not so much. But I am happier than I have ever been. We spend our lives in the shadow of success, so that we eventually believe that is where we must go. I am here to tell you that there is always somewhere else - when you take away the lies, and the distorted incentives, and you just get down to the truly irreplaceable, money is at the bottom of the list. When I decided to write about music, and use the skills I already had to create a platform for my own writing, I effectively leapfrogged decades of trying to get recognized. Being in control of my own future almost feels like a drug; I enjoy what I do immensely and I don't think that will ever change. So how did I do it? How does one person create this much content, on a consistent basis?


I am a huge fan of Ghost. I love their business model, I love their JavaScript-ness, and the integration with Gumroad and Printful. This is the core of my publishing - there are API hooks for new records, so every new post gets automatically pushed to Airtable, which is a big help. If you blog, get Ghost. You can thank me later.


Airtable is the king of online form-making - honestly, once you try them out you won't ever go back to Google forms. And the main reason for that is just that Airtable provides database support: so the forms interact natively with the tables that they are updating. Long story short, you don't have to worry about it, and you just pull up a table whenever you have time and everything is there in chronological order; it's not a spreadsheet, it is real ACID-compliant database technology that allows you to do lots of fun stuff on the back-end, later in life. So, yeah: I'm a fan.


Oh, Vimeo. You might be getting a love song one of these days from me; at the same time that I became very much critical of the business model that YouTube uses, not too long ago my wife was an executive for IAC who owns Vimeo, and she was very impressed with the team. So when I had the idea to make lyric videos for select submissions on the CHILLFILTR channel, I went straight to Vimeo and did not hesitate. Now, only two months later, I have extended that Vimeo experience into Roku TV, because they have a wonderful integration system for that, but also I see a lot of content-creators that are passionate about what they do and Vimeo is just a better place for them. I would go as far as to say that ad-based profit models just don't work well with independent content creation. The entire CHILLFILTR experience is based on zero ads, none of the time, so Vimeo was a natural fit.


I have talked about this before, but I will say it again: Cloudinary is an effortless and highly-productive companion for a ghost-hosted blog. I have it lined-up for two main use-cases: hosting image covers for pushing to Apple News, and delivering MP3 streams for songs featured in a blog piece. It's a wonderful product, and just feels like a modern take on cloud-hosting for important images and video files, with a free initial offering that will get you very far. Truth be told, we are not yet a paid Cloudinary customer because the free version is still meeting our needs. It's that good.


I wasn't sure if I wanted to put Zapier on here, but I do have to say that in terms of Twitter engagements, Zapier is a real help. What Zapier does is allow you to have some back-end development power without having to hire any engineers. Now, as a web developer, I will be the first to say that it does not meet anything close to a robust set of use-cases, it certainly will not solve all of your problems, but as a companion to Twitter it has proven to be very useful for me. Twitter auto-replies, auto-posts, and a really nice integration with Airtable API calls makes this a nice addition to your set of cloud simplifications - back in the day, we used to call this kind of service engagement a 'listener'.


Firebase, next to Vimeo, is a love-letter for me. I started out hand-coding HTML as a web developer, so to know now that there is a free web host that supports command-line interface and will set up SSL certs for free, in perpetuity, it's kind of an aww, shucks moment; even though I am very much critical of the YouTube business model, and their decidedly shitty stance in non-support of the LGBTQ community, the fact that Google-run Firebase is such a badass product means that I am very much torn in terms of how I feel about Google. There are days that I am in love, and then there are days where I just can't understand why they still support a guy like Ben Shapiro. Hey Google: you don't need to prop up right-wing demagogues to preserve your sense of importance. If you decided to go in whole-hog for a progressive future, I would support you 10 times as much.

So that's it, I just wanted to outline some of the services that help me bring, day in and day out, new music coverage to you with strong multimedia support. I am in love with what I do, 10,000 song-listens later, and after over a thousand song features hosted on CHILLFILTR.com, this is how I do it: cloud services for the win.

UPDATE (DEC 2020): Just over a year later, I am envious of old mental state. I am migrating this content yet again, to Craft CMS, and as I copy this over, I just can't believe the difference a year makes. Here's just a partial list:

Mass unemployment
Millions of evictions
George Floyd protests
DefundthePolice becomes a movement
The DNC rigs the primary again
Wildfires all over world
Donald Trump encourages secession (which Parler hilariously misappropriates as 'succession')

And for me, personally - I am moving to Canada, with my family. We sold our house in Ashland. My little girl never got to go to first grade. Apple News de-listed my channel. And since September, I have rewritten this entire site in a new framework. What a year.

About the Author


Krister Bjornson Axel

Ogdensburg, New York

Paris, France. Madison, Wisconsin. Los Angeles. Ashland, Oregon. Ottawa. I write music, I write about music, and I write code. See also: photography, prose, podcasting. I have 1 gorgeous wife, 2 amazing kids, and many interests.

Recent Awards: 2020 ND (Photo) Honorable Mention, 2020 Accenti Writing Contest Finalist