Ep. 14 - The Creator of Winamp and Reaper, Justin Frankel
Do you remember Winamp?
If you’re older than 30-ish and had a computer in late 90s-early 2000s, chances are that you do. Winamp was an iconic mp3 player for Windows that helped popularize the mp3 format. Leave us a comment if you used Winamp, so we can get some stats!
“What is an mp3?” you may ask and I’ll gladly answer.
Mp3 is a popular audio compression format that achieves ~10x size reduction for music files by removing frequencies that humans cannot hear. It obviously comes with a quality loss but hey, everything in life is a tradeoff. To this day, most digital audio you listen to, including our podcast, is compressed using the mp3 standard.
In our 14th episode, we sat down with Justin Frankel who created Winamp when he was in his late teens and sold it to AOL when he was 20. After leaving AOL, Justin created another product popular in the audio production circles — a digital audio workstation (DAW) called Reaper. All of our episodes are produced in Reaper, so Justin’s work didn’t just touch us in our adolescence but also keeps influencing us way into the adulthood.
It was an interesting discussion that I don’t want to spoil but I must say that I was utterly surprised when I found out how many software engineers worked on Winamp and Reaper. Justin built the entire application part of Winamp just by himself and Reaper has been mostly created by just him and another engineer.
While you may think of that as good ol’ days when things were simpler (which is true), the fact is that Justin is a kick-ass 10x engineer. We actually had to cut out a few minutes from the interview where we went so deep on the CPU architecture that Arnab and I sometimes struggled to understand not only the meaning but even the words Justin was saying. It was way over our heads... Deep knowledge and passion for the craft makes things happen and Justin is a credible example of that.
The other thing that the conversation helped me realize is that building an application that runs on a computer (or a smartphone for that matter) with no backend components, has a very important characteristic — it scales infinitely with zero marginal cost. Building an online system, even a simple website, requires different skills, infrastructure and cost if it’s used by 1K users vs. 10M users vs. 100M users. The software that runs locally with no backend doesn’t care how many users you have because it only handles one user at a time. That makes it possible for a lone engineer to build and manage an insanely popular app because there’s no infrastructure overhead.
Without further ado, please enjoy our conversation with Justin Frankel, the legend of the computer era of late 90s-early 2000s and the legend of the modern audio editing!
When you reach out to people, wonderful things happen. I wanted to have the creator of Reaper on our podcast, so I reached out to Justin on his “Ask Justin Frankel” website. I had no idea he was also the creator of Winamp, the piece of software that was open all the time playing music on my computer when I was a teenager! And he said “yes!”
One person can do a lot when there’s enough skill and passion. The key point here though is that you can’t fake either, so find an area that you’re passionate about and have predisposition for the skills required to be successful.
Where to find Justin
Masters of Doom by David Kushner
Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott
This episode was produced by Mike Semashko
Get in touch
We’d love to hear from you! Arnab is a Twitter guy and I’m on Instagram. Use the method that works best for you!
Email: email@example.com (both of us get it)
Arnab’s Twitter: @or9ob
Ilya’s Instagram: @podcasthacks
You can also leave comments on this substack post. Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already!
Bye for now.
Get the next announcement in your inbox. Subscribe to our newsletter!