Are Composers To Blame For GigaStudio’s Demise? Some Observations.
Consider this statement posted by a TEAC America employee:
Many people are still running machines with GS3 or GS2.5 – believe me! If all of those users had upgraded to GS4 we wouldn’t be in this situation.
There are lots of Giga users with more than one machine. For orchestral work (what a lot of FMM readers do for film and dramatic presentations), the average number of Giga computers for working composers has often been four, one for each orchestral section, and possibly a fifth unit so that two computers can produce a larger strings section.
Unless you built a computer yourself (and so, discounted the value of your time in building it), the typical cost for a Giga system in the v2.x era was about $2000, not counting the software, the hardware MIDI interface, and the audio card. Add in that hardware, and costs easily rose $2500 – $3000 per system before either buying a new installation of GigaStudio or paying for an additional license. So for a multi-system Giga studio, that’s $12,500 to $15,000 in hardware before buying Giga software, and before purchasing any libraries.
SInce there was an audio card in every machine, that meant a lot of audio outs. Thus, a hardware mixing board was needed. Many opted for a Mackie 24-8 bus or 32-8 bus board. Factor in another $3000 – $4000. Others had one or more digital boards.
Then reverb. Not many could afford a $16,000 Lexicon 960L. And Altiverb wasn’t around. So the next best move was the “less expensive” Lexicon PCM 90 at $1800 or less if you could find one pre-owned.
Thus, the financial investment in a Giga-based production studio with four or more systems approached nearly $18,000 not counting the sequencing computer, nor the sample libraries, nor the cost of the GigaStudio software. Factor in the sequencing computer and the studio cost is up around $24,000, again, before buying the Giga software and any sample libraries.
Having spent this money for all this equipment and software and sample libraries, what the composer has created is a complete music production system.
This means that all the elements in a composer’s studio comprise an integrated system.
To restate more concisely, the parts of that integrated system were/are the sequencer, the Giga systems, the mixing board, the templates, the way the Giga systems are ordered and then what effects are used, and then the device into which audio was recorded into, not infrequently, a separate Pro Tools system. Nor have we factored in other items like house sync, VCRs, etc.
When viewed from this perspective, it’s evident that there was no such thing in a composer’s studio as “just” upgrading, especially when considering that a composer’s orchestral template running 100-200 tracks governs multiple machines.
If a software update is buggy, then one or more elements within the system can be shut down, which in turn, shuts down music production.
When a composer’s production studio is shut down, cash flow is shut down.
So before a composer upgrades, a decision must be made to determine if the upgrade is really worth it, and if with that upgrade, what might happen in the studio afterwards. This is a hard enough question to answer with software that’s got a great reputation for stability. But it’s an even more difficult question to answer for software that has a reputation for being buggy.
Many posts on public forums pointed out that GigaStudio software had issues.
Add to this the shutting down of communication between Tascam and the Giga customer base before GigaStudio 3.0 was released. Tascam closed down the forum and stopped sending out newsletters. Tech support was poor.
A business question: where was the basis of trust for the composer to upgrade?
By literally shutting down communication, Tascam eliminated trust between the user base and the company.
So why should any composer have risked upgrading to GS3 or to GS4?
Being a PC only product, a fair question was posed to the Giga people prior to the release 3.x: could a basic PC parts list be made available so that stable systems could be built. A company response to that request was made to several hundreds composers at a Society of Composers and Lyricists event at the L.A. Film School (which I was there to hear) where it was said that, “PCs have many options so it’s hard to…” The audience, made up largely of composers, responded by booing and hooting at the Tascam presenter.
So, without a recommended parts list to start with, how could a composer or a system integrator build a system that worked effectively when the most basic level of information wasn’t avilable from the OEM?
It’s not possible unless the system integrator, and the user base, does the R&D product testing and shares the information.
Then, prior to the release of GigaStudio 3, Tascam made a decision that affected all sample library developers.
Sample developers had asked Tascam to create a copy protection mechanism so that their samples in GS3 would be protected. After all, Tascam had copy protection for GigaStudio. The developers needed it, too. But Tascam decided no, there would be no mechanism for protecting the library developer’s samples because it interfered with the customer’s ability to do creative programming.
When Tascam made that decision, as it was publicly well known at the time, EastWest chose not to develop the Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra in Giga format. Instead, they developed QLSO and many other popular libraries using Native Instruments’ Kompakt player, where after installation, the samples could then be used in Kontakt for more customized programming and manipulation by the composer.
Tascam listened to other voices who were vocal in their position and published posts in public forums supporting the no-copy protection approach for samples. it was from this discussion that the term “romplers” was coined.
Other developers voiced the opposite position in the public forums by describing how adding copy protection to their products had improved sales and that they could produce the sales stats to prove it.
But the testimony of the experienced was ignored.
So one by one, eventually all the major developers stopped developing new product for the GigaStudio format.
New libraries are a primary reason to upgrade. But when the majors turn away, that’s a market message. And so what were composers supposed to do? Upgrade to a software program that was no longer being developed for?
With so many poor marketing decisions one wonders what the leadership in the TEAC executive suite must have been thinking.
Did they really understand the company they bought and the nature of this side of the music industry? Was GigaStudio so small and other business interests so profitable that it wasn’t worth their time to focus on this product?
Could TEAC leadership have done anything before it was too late?
I think one answer came this past week in an e-mail many of us received from Gary Greenfield, CEO of Avid. Here’s part of what he wrote.
Over the last six months I have had the pleasure of visiting and talking with hundreds of customers and business partners around the world. I have learned a great deal in that short time, and heard one very clear theme: Avid needs to do a better job of listening to our customers and developing solutions that truly meet their needs.
Look what Gary Greenfield did: he visited and he talked. He didn’t sit in his office in Tewksbury looking at reports. He went out and met with his customers.
What Gary heard nose to nose is exactly what GigaStudio customers were saying to TEAC America on the public forums: you’re not listening to us and you’re not developing solutions that really meet our needs.
Part of the secret of product development is understanding product use.
Walking into hundreds of studios and seeing the kind of system integration composers had would have shown TEAC executives that composers were using GigaStudio the same way they were using the hardware Emulator E4s.
Consequently, while GS3 with GigaPulse was a brilliant achievement, maximizing the new features required a new way of working that represented a change in system operations in the music production process from how composers were using GigaStudio up to that point.
To motivate composers to make a “system change” with Gigastudio 3 from the way they were already working with Giga 2.x, Tascam needed a much different sales approach.
Selling the new features and uses required, at minimum, top flight training with print and video for the simple reason that Gigastudio 3 was so feature rich that it was not intuitively obvious what the next steps were in the production process with all these new features.
GS3 featured a convolution reverb that used a complicated “wizard” to add new files called Impulse Responses (IRs) instead of using a drag and drop routine. The iMIDI rules lacked clear explanation which was a serious oversight when you realize that the iMIDI feature replaced the majority of the Vienna Symphonic Library’s Performance Tool.
Unfortunately a GigaPulse manual wasn’t released until one year after GigaStudio 3 had been released.
How many thousands of upgrades might have been created if those brilliant new features had the printed tutorials needed at time of release along with a caliber of video training similar to what Vienna used to launch their Vienna Instruments player?
With GS3, Tascam licensed VSL files that were included with the Orchestra version of GS3. Here was yet another wonderful marketing opportunity. What better tool to demonstrate the power of the newly added GigaPulse section then the Vienna library. Since the Vienna library was recorded in the center stage position, it was ideal for GigaPulse demonstrations.
For example, with one portion of GigaPulse, you could position the strings using the mic positioning feature. You could create a custom sound using the new Mic emulation feature which was really excellent. Then you could apply the convolution reverb, or, route another reverb into GS3.
All of these were enormous problem/solution features for thousands of Vienna users which made Giga 3 both a compelling upgrade and a viable new purchase.
But where was the explanation? Where was the documentation? Where were the videos? Where was the training to explain this new production paradigm shift and how to use it needed not only to upgrade, but to buy the newer P4 systems?
In short, where was the incentive for composers to upgrade to GigaStudio 3?
So composers asked a business question: since my system is working, why risk upgrading?
Instead, money was invested in new machines running programs taking advantage of the Kontakt technology from Native Instruments. Kontakt was dual platform which simplified system integration issues for composers.
Then Vienna released the Horizon libraries which worked with Kontakt, the EXS24, HALion and GigaStudio. But if you got the Kontakt version when K2 was released, Vienna’s Performance Tool was completely eliminated thanks to the new scripting technology.
Then came the announcement of the new Vienna Instrument and that VSL was ceasing support of all other sampler formats. When the Horizon libraries, the First Edition and Pro Edition were sold out, that was it for Giga formatted products Vienna. All new activities focused on their Vienna Instrument player and their virtual mixing board, the Vienna Ensemble.
As we know, EastWest later decided to create their own software instrument, PLAY. Within the past few weeks, SONiVOX has announced that they’ve had a secret “skunk works” of programmers developing their own new dual platform software instrument that’s expected to release in early August
When the sequence of events is reviewed, it’s easy to understand why more composers didn’t upgrade. And it is true, if more had upgraded, GigaStudio, an innovative pioneer software program that forever changed how we produce music, might not have died.
Are there lessons to be learned from all this? There are a few.
1. What customers really want is a musical IBM mainframe, they just don’t know how to articulate it. Customers want to do everything on a single system. That’s a mainframe. They want to install software, and they want it to work. And they want fundamental training. The problem is that the music technology sector isn’t modeled after IBM, it’s modeled after the mini-computing concept where you get stuff that’s early and not debugged, but cheap. That’s the Silicon Valley way. Reference: Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance by Lou Gerstner, past president of IBM. If you want to understand why things aren’t working right, read the book.
2. Everything a developer must do with music technology software involves interoperability. The software has to work with everything. You can’t develop in a void. Even if a new program is only designed for one computer platform it has to work with all the other programs on the same platform, unless you’re really confident that there are enough customers to financially justify only developing for one program on one platform. Otherwise, it’s a dual platform world, and while a majority of the pros are on the Mac, the rest of the world is on the PC. And that’s a big world to ignore. The one thing customer’s don’t care about is that developing right now is messy given the transition happening on both Mac and PC platforms. They want it right and they want it now.
3. Know the size of your market. This is critical because a developer will only achieve x% penetration of a sequencer’s and now notation program’s customer base. Before they were purchased by Yamaha, Steinberg used to tell people they had over a million installs. One day when Cubase 5 was hot (this was before SX), a notice was posted on the Steinberg web site asking customers to be patient as 60,000 customers were expected to download the newest Cubase 5 update. 60,000?! What about the other 940,000? A 10% sales penetration of 60,000 customers, worldwide, is 6,000 units. But if you thought the base was 1,000,000, then a 10% penetration is 100,000. Right off the bat, sales projections, and consequently the money invested in those sales projections, can be way off. The update numbers are also important because you also have to decide how backwards compatible the product may have to be and what kind of tech support issues will be encountered as a result. All this factors into the development cost. You have to know your numbers to know if you have a chance to get your money back.
4. Expect and plan for competitors. This is where so many companies mess up! They think that their product is so vital, so important and that they have such customer loyalty that they have no competitors. Wise up! If you’re doing something great and innovative, plan for competitors. When GigaStudio got successful, Steinberg came out with HALion, Emagic came out with the EXS24, and Native Instruments came out with Kontakt. At first, none of these products were GigaStudio’s equal, but they each had an important product feature Giga lacked - they could run within the sequencing programs their parent company’s sold, and Native Instruments made it a product feature to run on both platforms and all the major sequencing programs.
4. Beware the danger of becoming too feature rich. In Marketing High Technology, author William Davidow makes the important observation that once a technology has peaked, all you can add are features. The more feature rich a product becomes, the more time consuming it is for people to learn. If a program is super feature rich, many customers may opt to not upgrade, feeling they haven’t gotten everything out of the first investment they’ve already paid for!
5. Call your customers and find out how they’re using your product or the product you plan to develop for. Get on the phone and pull a random sample out of your registered user list and call to say hello, ask how they’re using your product and what improvements they’d like to see. Find out what kinds of projects they’re using your products on and what kinds they aren’t using them on. Between 10 and 20 conversations and you’ll often start seeing a trend.
6. Support people who support you. Thanks is a seriously neglected form of compensation. There are plenty of people around who love to say hurtful nasty things on forums. But there are a few who stand up for you, your company, and your product. When they do, show some appreciation with a personal note. It could be a great way to turn a perceived “enemy” into an ally.
7. When there’s a problem, say so and fix it fast because you can’t hide. Someone in the political world sneezes and it’s on the news and in a bunch of blogs. The blogosphere hasn’t yet hit music technology that way, but forums sure have. Even if it’s “pilot error” a little blood and the sharks show up! Unfortunately, instead of writing the company directly about whether an issue is or isn’t a problem, the customer trend is to complain on forums first which puts you and your company on the defensive.
8. Support retailers who support you. Developers forget that it costs money for a retailer to advertise their programs. The web isn’t free. Programmers have to be paid as do assistants who update the web sites. It also costs money to dedicate computers in the store for product demos. Then store personnel have to be trained on your product. If your product is so feature rich that it takes a lot of time to learn, you’ll never get an effective instore presentation because the turnover of sales personnel is so high.
9. Read. At least Business Week. Reuters and the NY Times are free online. Good to Great should be in every developer’s library. You can’t just develop in isolation. You need to see where the world’s at and where you fit within the larger context to understand trends and where the industry is going.
10. Learn to build effective relationships. This is a hard thing in music technology because the skill it takes to create a product isn’t often the skill that builds the relationships needed to sell the product. Sometimes the inventor is really better off staying in a cave and letting someone else do the selling. Get it out of your head that it’s good enough if the product is great. It’s not. More and more we want relationship to go with the product and part of the new sales task is understanding how to do that. No matter how great your product is, bad relationships with the customer base will negatively impact your sales.
11. There’s a skill for developing a product and a separate one for teaching it. Developers are not always the best teachers of their own creation. The time spent finding and paying someone to create strong training and tutorials for your product is worth it. I’ve never met a professional who complained about a product being easy to learn and use.
12. Avoid the sin of Hubris. Charles de Gaulle once said, “The graveyard is filled with indispensible men.”
In closing, a lot of people put in a lot of time, effort and cash to keep Giga going. It helped build a lot of careers. Thank you.