Memo: To Sample and Software Developers

By • July 21, 2008

SONiVOX\'s DVI Player

MEMO

TO: Sample and Software Developers, other interested parties

SUBJECT: L’il SONiVOX Kicks Butt

Late Friday afternoon a press release from Al Joelson, marketing manager at SONiVOX, scooted around the Internet announcing that they had a secret inhouse development team that had developed, “a universally compatible player technology that focuses on intelligent MIDI performance, intuitive interfaces, and the highest sonic fidelity.”

Further down the press release was, for our industry, this pregnant statement, “The first releases from the SONiVOX MI software team will be affordably priced downloadable virtual instruments for Mac and PC (VST, RTAS, AU, Stand Alone).”

It’s no industry secret that SONiVOX worked out a licensing agreement with TASCAM on their GVI player for MUSE, a killer program designed for both Mac and PC, that, while useful for composers, really shines for song production. GVI was also used for SONiVOX’s initial entry into downloadable programs. The PC version of Muse and SONiVOX’s downloadable instruments have been out for some time, but the Mac version of Muse is still not out, nor the Mac versions of their downloadable programs as SONiVOX is still waiting for TASCAM to finish GVI for Mac.

With this press release, without openly saying so, SONiVOX, an American company substantively smaller than either Tascam or their publicly traded parent, TEAC, has beaten the Giant to market by creating their own dual platform player for both PC and Mac with product ready for shipping by late July early August.

This is the real story hidden between the lines: American innovation ain’t dead yet, Jack. And when we want to get something done, get out of the way, we’re gonna do it. Reading between the lines, literally, the unwritten story is that SONiVOX started late, and finished early in its software development.

This makes SONiVOX the fourth American company to break off from licensing another company’s program to create their own. Others making this move include EastWest with their PLAY software instrument and Spectrasonics.

Per the press release, all of the existing downloadable product from SONiVOX will be moved into this player., which as yet is unnamed.

Years ago, Japanese quality control was held in the highest esteem. The message was that we Americans were QC flakes. We needed to emulate our cousins across the Pond in the other direction. If you were employed in the Fortune 500 back then, you beat yourself for your innovative failure by reading The Book of Five Rings which is all about the art of fighting.

And if you were serious about getting a pay raise, you read Theory Z: How American Business Can Meet the Japanese Challenge.

My guess is that the book SONiVOX read was called, My Bottom Line. It’s a quarterly masterpiece generated by your CPA firm containing all kinds of financial stats and numbers, and with it, the continued disappointment, emotionally and financially, of not seeing Tascam get to market with a Mac version of GVI so that SONiVOX could release dual platform products, just like the other guys in the neighborhood.

Never forget that software development is very much a relationship thing. You bet on people you believe in along with the promises they make to you. You expect software to be late, that’s the nature of the beast. But you also expect those you believe in to also finish the job.

Like it or not, and as harsh as it is to write, Tascam didn’t finish the job. It doesn’t matter why they didn’t finish. It doesn’t matter who was responsible in the programming department for not finishing. It only matters that they didn’t finish.

What message does this send to smaller sample developers who, not able to afford Native Instruments fees for a Kontakt player, or Steinberg pricing for the HALion player, looked to TASCAM as a viable solution to get their own visionary ideas into the marketplace with a dual platform program?

Best seller In Search of Excellence advised business leaders to, “stick to your knitting.” This meant, don’t venture out into areas of business beyond your expertise. And that’s exactly what TASCAM did. TASCAM is a hardware company. You build a box, ship the box, sell out of the box, then create a new box.

Software doesn’t work that way. Software is like a human being. It grows and develops and takes on a personality all of its own. Software doesn’t really have a new box. It has updates that mark the product’s growth and development. At version 1.0, it’s a toddler looking for its sea legs. By 1.5 it’s steady and walking. And by v2.0, it’s racing around the kitchen. We grow with it. But we also teach it and give it direction through our feedback and comments and praises and critiques.

So it’s a joint venture all around between the OEM, the developer and the customer. If the OEM and developers are open with their communication and receptive to comments, a strong bond of trust builds.

And when that happens, the product grows in wisdom, strength and profitability.

But Tascam didn’t do that. That, too, is a story worthy of Fast Company, Inc., or Business Week, especially since TEAC is publicly traded on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. This failure to get GVI Mac to market, and it is a marketing failure, is a blight to their bottom line because of what they won’t be earning. Ultimately, the blame must be focused where it always should be focused, with the top corporate management, the Prez’s, the VP’s, who really didn’t get it.

It’s understandable.

Having a heart for software is different from having a heart for hardware that utilizes software. They are two totally different experiences.

But at least TEAC TASCAM tried. You can give them that. And by all accounts, GigaStudio 4 on the PC is a fine product built with quality.

Yet, here’s the other but. You can’t build trust by shutting down your support forums because, as a former Tascam employee said to me, it was discouraging the Tascam employees. And you can’t build trust by being turtle-like and withdrawing into your shell and putting out the, “No speaka da English” sign.

If customer comments over quality control were discouraging the Tascam employees, did anyone over there ever stop to think how the customers must have been feeling, who, after investing in the software, also invested in computers and audio and MIDI hardware to get the thing working?

The hue and cry of customers and system integrators was the same: tell us the specs so we can build a machine that works.

Their response was the classic line composers are still hearing today, “Because PCs have so many options it’s difficult to…”

I don’t need to tell you rest. You already know the story. It’s a long train of let down and disappointment that needed leadership, not enlightenment.

I checked three different forums to see if there was any buzz on the announcement. I found one thread where the main theme of conversation was, “why would you want your own player?”

Joelson responded.

This player screenshots released with the press release are of our new DVI player (Downloadable Virtual Instrument) which will replace the current DVI player. It will be Standalone AU VSTi and RTAS. Most of these products like the current DVI’s will continue to range in price from $9 to $99

The Software team will make different UI’s for the bigger products depending on what their functionality calls for. In other words we are not developing one player for all, but different players for different things…..
Regarding why……

1. We’ve gotten endless requests from users and retailers for us to release our products in their own players.

2. Being in control of one’s own destiny is very preferable to having to be dependant on others. (I should’ve put this first)

I can expand on #1, “because they’re tired of getting the tech support runaround of bouncing back between two companies to get one answer.”

From other programmers I can expand on #2, “because these guys [pick a company] don’t listen and respond to us the way they did when they first started. It’s just better to do it ourselves.”

This is starting to sound like that great Agatha Christie mystery novel, And Then There Were None.

The background to the SONiVOX coup de etat is worthy of a story in Fast Company, Inc., or Business Week. And we’ll get it told here.

I spoke to Al Joelson within minutes of receiving the press release and asked whether or not this new product would be multitimbral or one sound/program per instance. The answer, for downloadable programs, is one per instance. The jury is still undecided for larger projects.

Except for this press release, there are no other details. Since the as yet unnamed player is still in development, I’m making some requests that I hope SONiVOX and other developers will consider, too. If you agree, disagree, make your thoughts known at the bottom of this column.

1. Please DON’T give us another multitimbral product like Kontakt. Instead, please imitate Apple’s EXS24 and Vienna’s Vienna Instrument player with a player that loads with one program/sound/instrument (or whatever you want to call your version of it) per instance. While it takes more “up front” time to learn the Vienna Instrument, the end result is a speedy work approach. The practice of having one articulation per track is now ancient. Please, get modern, and manage your customer’s time better.

Also, at least with Logic 7 and 8 (I can’t speak for DP so someone else will have to do that), setting up multitimbrally is a colossal waste of time. Next week I’ll be posting screen shots to demonstrate my thesis. You can avoid that by developing this simple single-instance approach.

2. For the Mac, can you please develop along the lines of the EXS 24 so that your players can access as much RAM as there is in the system? For this to happen now with other players, we have to use SoundFlower. I’m not unappreciative of SoundFlower, but I don’t want to base my writing and recording career, which has deadlines, around a freeware program that no one wants to support because it is free.

3. Talk to us about RAM and Polyphony. Are you streaming? Loading into RAM? If you’re streaming, talk to us about polyphony on 7200RPM SATA drives and the faster 10K and 15K drives. If 7200RPM is good enough, please say so. As Jeff Laity of TASCAM pointed out, once you’re out of polyphony, it doesn’t matter how much RAM you have.

4. Please make the player READABLE. 50% or more of your customer base wears eyeglasses or contacts. Vision tests recommend keeping the monitor at least 24″ away from the eyes. If you can’t read the text at that distance on a standard 17″ to 19″ monitor, please make it bigger, or even better, put in a control so that we can enlarge the type size ourselves.

5. If you’re including your own convolution reverb, could you please allow the user to route the ‘verb so that other instruments in the mix can also use it? This would be a great time saver. It also eliminates time wasted trying to match reverbs.

6. Could we please just have ONE graphic user interface? The great advantage of Kontakt and the Vienna Instruments is that once learned, it’s LEARNED. You’re not relearning for every variation in the marketing plan. In some cases that limits development, while in others, it opens up new ideas. But the one thing it does is keeping your customers productive and not endlessly looking up some new feature in the manual, hoping to find it.

7. Could you please test, or find testers, so that it works in Finale and Sibelius, too? Great opportunity for your orchestra. But right now, if you’re not an NI product, then getting any orchestra module to work effectively in those programs is yet another time waster. Your dealers will also appreciate this because it opens new doors of revenue from tens of thousands of customers who don’t want to learn sequencing.

8. Could you please add PC system developers to your beta team? Or, please don’t be cheap, send out some NFRs (they ARE tax deductible) so companies building PCs can work with you in the testing process.

These are just eight small items. There are more that we’ve covered in previous articles.

But here’s what every sample and software developer needs to remember – right now, sales are sliding. There’s buggy stuff from sample players to sequencing programs. There’s little to no standardization. Now that all the major companies have moved to having their own proprietary players, there are multiple learning curves and computing standards, not just one or two.

This takes a toll on both work flow and understanding how to plan for and buy for your studio, which wastes time. And time IS money. Your customer’s money who don’t have to spend it with you.

Let he who has ears, hear.

Comments

By Sah on July 22nd, 2008 at 5:12 am

getting a runaround is really frustrating and with a new software like this, they need to ensure that the proper support is available. Too many issues with tech support already!

so what if the employees are getting demotivated with the comments from customers? sure they make the software and will need all the inspiration but what happens if no one wants to buy their software just because the company just doesn’t care?

By Nick Batzdorf on July 22nd, 2008 at 12:27 pm

Nice read, Prof. Alexander.

A couple of comments. Using your point numbers:

1. A lot of people will complain about one program per instance, and that doesn’t work well if you’re running stand-alone versions of samplers. Plus each instance uses a lot of CPU in most cases. The EXS24 doesn’t do that, though; my guess is that being built into Logic is an advantage in that area.

2. EastWest announced that their PLAY sampler can access large amounts of RAM à la EXS24 on Macs too.

2. You know this, but you can also route audio out of a stand-alone sampler or other program into your DAW using an audio interface’s loopback feature. Metric Halo, RME, and Apogee are the only ones I know of that have this feature at the moment, but the idea is that you’re doing the routing in hardware rather than using a virtual audio interface (which is what Soundflower is).

3. Also bear in mind that it doesn’t matter how much RAM you can load if you run out of CPU. I can load way more than my aging 2×2.5 G5 can play without getting nauseated, for instance. Hopefully all the software will be able to take advantage of all those cores on the latest Macs and PCs.

By Richard Ford on July 22nd, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Well said! As a composer in the never ending process of learning sequencing, I applaud the Finale and Sibelius comments. I’m volunteering to help beta test.

By Chris on July 22nd, 2008 at 8:48 pm

Peter

As always good stuff. I could not agree more with you about point #4-readability. I am a big fan of Kontakt, and use it every day, but the freaking type is just way too small. Actually many of NI’s stuff has that problem. You would think making the interface easily readable would be number one any good software designers “to do” list. Regarding Gigastudio and Tascam (and it’s unfortunate? demise) I always felt that when Tascam bought the rights to the product from Nemesys that it was a very odd fit, from a business perspective. Clearly, that has shown itself to be true. A while back I ditched all my Giga stuff and was glad to be rid of it (PC only for how many years??) although I feel for all the people running Giga machines with no more support…oy!

By Wenda Zonnefeld on July 22nd, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Excellent points Peter. As a Gigastudio user I am a bit shocked at the Tascam outcome. I plan on driving my machine until it drops. Kudos to SoniVox, I wish the company well. Equating software to human beings has it’s points. I believe that software’s lifespan may be more adequately measured in “dog years”.

By Nick Batzdorf on July 23rd, 2008 at 10:22 am

By the way, my comment that this is a good read is not to be taken as tacit agreement with all of Peter’s opinions! I find them interesting, but what I’m saying is limited to the technical issues. :)

By Bob Safir on July 23rd, 2008 at 12:31 pm

Good article, Peter…thanks.

Like a lot of folks in the Film Music Network, I have the “latest, greatest” software and virtual instruments. There’s no doubt that what can be achieved using these tools is remarkable. But I still think we have a very long way to go until they are truly user friendly. I am always “aware” of Logic being there, as if it’s a layer I have to work “through” in order to get something accomplished. The readability – or unreadability – of the screens on Kontakt ans some of the other instruments is absurd. Many instrument libraries still require you to “dive” into the belly of the instruments for basics such as EQ, panning, reverb, etc. – things that should be immediately available.

I’m not being nostalgic when I say that as a former user of Studio Vision, I miss aspects of that program that made sense for a composer, one of which was the ease of creating sequences from “sub-sequences,” such as A, B, A, C, B, and so on, and re-arranging them at will. It was a tool for composers and songwriters designed to achieve the goal of creating music, whereas a trend has emerged today in which products are so technical, they can sometimes get in the way of achieving that goal.

By Chris Alpiar on July 24th, 2008 at 8:52 am

I only hope that their product is not based on some purchased code from Tascam! With yesterdays news they might have an impossible future for releasing updated players. Great article Peter!

By Darren on July 24th, 2008 at 9:45 am

Another nice piece, Peter. But with regards to your point #1 about wanting one program/instrument per instance, I don’t see this the same way you do . I routinely have 60+ instruments going in my orchestral session, so with a one instrument per plug-in setup, I would have a massively long mixer, unwieldy to work with. Gigastudio (R.I.P.) works nicely for me in that respect. And I like multitimbral instruments, because they save horizontal space.

Setting up multitimbral instruments in Logic, like for Stylus RMX, has always seemed straightforward to me. In Logic 7′s environment I made some multi instrument objects and connected them to a cable switcher object that can direct the incoming midi to any audio object I choose.

I’m curious why you prefer it the other way. Do you just deal with huge lengths of channels in your sessions, or is there another way of managing this?

By Peter Alexander on July 24th, 2008 at 10:45 am

“Setting up multitimbral instruments in Logic, like for Stylus RMX, has always seemed straightforward to me. In Logic 7′s environment I made some multi instrument objects and connected them to a cable switcher object that can direct the incoming midi to any audio object I choose.”

I know the trick of setting up the Multi Instrument, connecting to the strip with say a K2 player, then dragging the Multi Instrument over the fader in the Arrange window to create MIDI tracks that let me control individual volumes with CC11.

But I don’t know this setup. I’d love to see a screen shot (you can email it to me since you have my address) showing your connections for the set up you described.

Why I prefer it the other way? Elegance and simplicity.

I used to be a Cubase user on the PC. Setting with a K2 player in multitimbral mode was a snap.

The EXS accesses as much RAM as in your system with no need for using Soundflower as you must when using other multi timbral instruments that will eat up Logic’s performance since Logic, being 32bit, can only access 2GB of RAM on the Mac.

The other reason I don’t like it is that these moves are poorly documented in the Logic manual, if they’re documented at all. So a new user comes in, can’t figure out, and then Logic gets a bad rap. For Logic sales to grow, you have to bring in new users, especially in the educational arena where it’s a sales stretch getting a teacher to Logic from Sibelius or Finale.

Anything Apple can do to make using Logic simpler for this application that pros and amateurs both use, is only in their best interests, and ultimately ours, since it makes using the program faster and more intuitive.

Peter

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