analysis

You Can’t Game Spotify, But You Can Up Your Dating Game

iphone_happn

As the transformation of music heats up, the discussions are heating up, too.

Case in point: yesterday’s report on Eternify certainly earned some angry responses.

I was of the opinion that Eternify was a decent gimmick – a way of showing just how small fees from streamed music are. Imagine if the music you bought only got a fraction of a cent to the artist each time you played it. I don’t think there’s practically an album in my collection I’ve listened to enough times that streaming fees would add up to purchase fees.

Now, does that mean that Spotify or Apple Music are the end of music? Not necessarily. It’s clear that the industry built around record labels hasn’t always served artists well. (Cough. Understatement.) Streaming services offer more questions. What sort of access will artists have to getting their music on these services directly – even bypassing a label? What sort of control will they have once it’s there? How can they help people find their music, and what sort of data about listeners can they collect?

In other words, we’re entering a more multi-dimensional industry. Instead of focusing on the actual purchase price of a recording, or even a per-play license fee in the conventional collections model, the game now is really about what the total value of a service is to artists.

Remember that I noted that not only was the lion’s share of streaming revenue going to labels, but it seemed those same labels were blowing most of that income on marketing. It’s not just a question of how much revenue music earns. It’s a question of how much you have to pay to get that revenue in the first place – expenses versus income being business 101.

But to anyone who said that Eternify was cheating – you’re absolutely right. (I thought it was sort of obvious that you couldn’t effectively use this to make cash, but maybe not.) I was politely informed my multiple sources that at best, it wouldn’t earn anyone any money, and at worst, it could get music or users banned. And sure enough, it was promptly shut down.

That brings us back to what Spotify actually can do.

One of the weirder applications showed up in my inbox today. Get ready for CDM – Create Dating Music.

Happn, a Paris startup that lets you anonymously message random people you see on the street (not at all creepy), now lets you send music to those people.

Now, this may or may not be the future of dating.

But if you’ve been following the lead-up to the roll-out of Apple Music, seeing this might lead you to some other questions.

First, regarding Apple music specifically:

1. Will Apple Music integrate with other apps? Apple Music lacks an API. And that means, at least from the developer / music hacker perspective, it’s a heck of a lot less interesting than other apps. Sure, Happn’s application might be a bit silly, but this is the beauty of developing stuff: you can try silly ideas, crazy ideas, and eventually might stumble on a great idea. It doesn’t necessarily lock out Apple Music integration with other apps, though – maybe Apple will allow the use of Android intents or iOS’ Share function.

2. Are people overestimating Apple’s ability to unseat Spotify? Spotify has already become synonymous with streaming music. And that means people have assembled friends, playlists, collections, and listening habits – none of which can be transferred to Apple Music. I think Apple’s effort here, and the Beats acquisition, are partly admissions that even one of the world’s biggest companies can face real competition on the level Internet playing field.

And streaming more generally…

3. Could new applications mean people listen to more music? Streaming fees are paltry, it’s true. But even if Eternify’s application was dumb and eventually shut down, it does illustrate another point. In the post-album world, you might have the same music in more places. It might be in games, it might be in dating apps. It might be that you go to a cafe and finally get to determine which music you hear, jukebox style. Generate more apps, and capture more data about what’s played, and collection fees could become more relevant to independent artists.

4. Could revenue come from places other than playback fees and purchase price? Here’s where things get really interesting – slash – mysterious. Having grown up, most of us, in the age of vinyl records and tapes and CDs, we tend to think of the musical album as the product – the thing you buy. But if music becomes a service, that may not be the case at all. As many have predicted, this might lead people to purchase of other stuff, from swag to concerts. Even that, though, takes a traditional view. Someone may find a different direction entirely, once the music itself is flowing wherever you want. (Remember that ring tones were briefly big business, so you never know what business models people may make work.)

5. How can listeners feel they’re connecting most directly with artists? I think this is the biggest question of all. Apple paid a lot of attention to this in their Apple Music announcement, but much of that had to do with artists giving away still more stuff for free. From Kickstarter to Bandcamp to Etsy to Vimeo purchases to boutique synths, the Internet has again and again demonstrated that people are often more willing to invest money in something they love if they feel that money goes directly to the person who made what they’re buying.

Well, in the meantime, I’m going to keep using Bandcamp, iTunes purchases, Beatport, and direct stores to buy downloads.

The post You Can’t Game Spotify, But You Can Up Your Dating Game appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Eternify is the Best Response Yet to Streaming Conundrum

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What initially seemed to be a conversation about streaming revenues for artists more or less this week became a conversation … about Taylor Swift.

But it’s the debate behind Apple Music that is somewhat puzzling. Taylor Swift wasn’t the only one focusing concerns on Apple Music’s quarterly free trial. Labels were fixated on the same worry.

The reason this is odd is that it ignores the fact that even when users pay for a subscription, rates are woefully inadequate. Music Business Worldwide reported a study from France that confirms what many had suspected. Majors get a whole lot of the cash from a subscription fee. Most of the money stays in the hands of the labels; artists see as little as 11% of that ten dollar monthly fee. (The one bright spot: they’ll get a bit more if they’re registered as the writer, too – separate fee.) These numbers seem to be typical not only of France and something like Spotify, but other countries and Apple Music, too. (One difference: Europe takes an astonishing bite in the form of tax, which is a bit frustrating in a business that already has razor-thin revenue.)

The most telling stat to me is the one that was least reported from that study. Net income is an stunningly low 5% for the labels. The MBW article is suspicious of that figure, but I could believe it isn’t far off the mark. Essentially, marketing costs are such that labels are very nearly paying to have their music played. And that seems feasible given that a lot of people play music after searching for it – without the marketing budget, that music might not get played at all.

So kudos this round not to Taylor Swift, but to Ohm & Sport, who this week built a tool called Eternify. The Web app finds 30 seconds of your favorite artist and plays it over and over again – running up play counts and revenues. Leave Eternify running, and you can at least get beer money. But the app – whose 30-second loops prove oddly hypnotic if you actually leave your speaker on – just shows the absurdity of the streaming business model.

Eternify figures revenues of half a cent per play. Spotify has estimated fees as high as $0.08, but you still get the idea. And even if Apple Music sets a higher rate, you can do the math. Streaming earns a fraction of what downloads did.

Early analysis says Apple’s payments to indies are an even worse deal. A paltry $0.002 per stream make the whole thing virtually worthless. Europe takes tax out of that, too. And for an insight in why the free trial was so controversial, estimates pegged the per-stream fee there at as little as $0.00047.

This should lead to some other questions, like:
1. If streaming is earning next to nothing, why not simply have your music streaming for free, where you can more easily promote it?
2. If you’re not getting paid by streams, isn’t it more valuable to have a lot of data about listeners? Everything from planning tours to releases can benefit from that information. Will Apple provide that to artists?
3. Why can’t Apple make it easier for apps like Bandcamp to let you purchase your music? Surely this would do more to benefit independent artists than any of the lip service paid the topic in the Apple Music launch.
4. If most of the overhead in digital music is marketing, what can be done to make discovery and sharing easier and lavish marketing budgets less necessary? And, presuming artists made sure they got a share of the expanded proceeds, wouldn’t that do more for expanding revenue than worrying about a free trial?
5. Will Apple, given their control of the store, also encourage people to buy downloads of what they’re streaming?

We’re lucky DJs currently prefer downloads, and we’re lucky for the vinyl resurgence. But this still places recording artists in enormous trouble. Maybe streaming is an inevitable progression; maybe there’s no way to coax bigger subscription rates from listeners. But that means at the very least artists will need to look for other revenue sources to make recording music worthwhile.

Try Eternify for yourself. I earned about 15 cents for myself in the time it took me to write this.
http://eternify.it/

And for a very different take on digital downloads, don’t miss The Verge covering Vimeo. Sure, this is video and not music, but some of the implications are clear.

The post Eternify is the Best Response Yet to Streaming Conundrum appeared first on Create Digital Music.

GarageBand, Logic Could Be the Production Side of Apple Music

new_garageband

It seems Apple Music isn’t just about consumption. Not surprisingly, Apple’s own GarageBand/Logic family appear to figure into the company’s plans. Accordingly, GarageBand will get an update on June 30, the same day Apple Music (and Apple Music Connect) are scheduled for launch.

And for anyone who says the company is “abandoning” pros, here’s the less evidence that – at least from Apple’s perspective – the company sees the production and Mac markets as integral to their global consumer domination.

First, we now have a pretty clear image of where Camel Audio and its Alchemy synth have wound up. As expected, it’s resurfacing as an Apple instrument. Apple themselves have revealed that on the refreshed GarageBand page. Updates there are minor, but there’s a clear view of the UI from Alchemy, reimagined as Apple’s Smart Controls layout. Apple Insider breaks that news (oddly beating us in the music tech realm).

Apple isn’t shy about the markets they’re going after, with several mentions of “EDM‑ and Hip Hop‑inspired synth sounds.” Yep, that’ll be the two fast-growing (especially American) markets. (“Hey, I hear you kids love your E.D.M. and The Hip Hops, so here you go! Do you want a nice cold lemonade?”) It’s yet another tragic example of Cupertino failing to heed CDM’s long-standing advice that I.D.M. will be the next big thing – did you catch that Aphex Twin? Or Richard Devine’s Instagram following? But I digress.

If this instrument is in GarageBand, it’s a safe bet it’ll show up in Logic, too, presumably with more controls. And an iOS app could be possible, too, especially as Camel had one under development. While Emagic, and by extension Apple, once reportedly boasted the largest stable of music developers anywhere, my guess is it was easier with Apple’s cash supplies to simply buy the talent and product they needed wholesale, augmenting the team already working on the apps.

So, where does this fit into Connect? Well, it at least shows where Apple’s priorities lie. Apple went out of its way to show artists in its WWDC presentation on Apple Music, though. And in contrast to Tidal’s presentation (Daft Punk is starting a revolution in music so Daft Punk gets paid), they also made the image of those artists the bedroom producer. In fact, they showed bedroom producers and not labels. That message ought to be clear.

Writer Kirk McElhearn suggests Apple Music Connect integration may come with that June 30 update. (Sounds a safe bet, unless it’s just a matter of the GarageBand and Apple Music teams holding a joint BBQ/picnic on that date.)

That’s in keeping with Apple past strategy. When the company was pushing podcasts, they made GarageBand the app anyone could use to contribute content. So now, GarageBand could be the creation tool to populate music on Connect. Export to Connect, for Apple Music songs or exclusives for your social network — maybe both? Seems a no-brainer, actually. For now, the GarageBand page shows only SoundCloud export, but, sorry SoundCloud, Apple may be coming for you.

Now, this would normally be where I’d possibly pull back and issue some dire warnings about lock-in or walled gardens or the Apple ecosystem. But frankly, Apple may need to be this aggressive to make any in-roads at all. Like it or not, “EDM” right now often means tools like Ableton Live, and “Hip-Hop” things like Native Instruments Maschine. Apple will need a diverse variety of artists using a variety of tools, as it always had. And I don’t expect Apple Music will overtake Facebook, Instagram, SoundCloud, Spotify, YouTube, and all the rest of the places artists need to share content.

No, I think it’ll take everything Apple’s got to attract artists alongside these other tools, to make a play for the growing population of people making music worldwide. And so these moves make sense.

But I think it’s important to note just how deeply in the DNA of the modern Apple is this notion that the company wants to be involved in how you make and listen to music. We’ve seen occasional, fleeting glimpses of efforts to do that from the likes of Sony and Microsoft, but Apple is the company that consistently pulls it off. You don’t have to love that – indeed, it might well be worth criticizing. But you do have to consider it as a major element of the music technology landscape today.

For more,
Apple Music Connect

see the GarageBand product page.

Also, “Epic Hook Synth” puts me in the Pirates of the Caribbean.

The post GarageBand, Logic Could Be the Production Side of Apple Music appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Here’s How To Get Yourself on Apple Music – Even Unsigned

reachingout

Okay, so you’re not Trent Reznor or Drake, but you do make music. Will you be able to get your music on Apple’s streaming service? And what about these artist pages for connecting with fans?

Answer: yes to both, if you like.

Apple today gave a lot of lip service to independent producers and “bedroom” music makers – even going as far as showing the latter in their video. (He had a vintage M-Audio Trigger Finger Pro and a new IK Multimedia iRig Pads, no less.)

It seems there are specific plans, too, posted for the moment on a page under the banner Apple Music for Artists.

There are two aspects to this. One is getting your music on their streaming service (if you actually want that). The other is “claiming” an artist page.

“From the Artist” – yet another social channel to update.

On the surface, the “Apple Music Connect” artist pages are basically what you have right now with Facebook, or Tumblr, or, you know, The Internet: “Share your thoughts and ideas, post demos, remixes, lyrics—really, anything you can imagine—and connect with fans all around the world.” The difference with those services is, you’re evidently making that appear in the Apple Music app, rather than on a Webpage. That’s shades of Apple’s failed Ping service – only now with genuine mobile app integration and what promises to be slicker functionality.

Getting into Apple Music

You can only use Apple Music Connect if you’re on Apple Music. Now, as it happens, it seems if you were ever on iTunes, that’ll happen automatically – I found an artist profile for a lapsed TuneCore subscription.

If not, you can use one of Apple’s approved aggregators, listed via iTunes Connect. That includes providers like The Orchard, CDBaby, finetunes, Believe Digital, and Space Shower. These providers vary by region, but provide extra features like pre-orders, ringtones, translation services, mastered for iTunes, and those music videos.

Right now, there’s a claim form for getting your own profile. You fill out whether you’re a representative of an artist or the artist yourself (including options for saying you’re solo or a band member). Then, you list artist management and label contacts, though it seems if you lack these, you’d fill in your own contact info. (You aren’t allowed to leave those forms blank.)

I tried filling this out myself, as a solo artist and as a member of NERKKIRN on the label Snork Enterprises, so we’ll see how both the self-released and label options go. (I’ll let you know.) Multiple members of a band can all post under their own name.

itunesconnect

Posting Content

Then … you wait. There’s a management interface in iTunes Connect that’s similar to what developers see for apps.

Once approved, you can add your own media content, including up to 8-minute videos and 90-minute audio (like podcasts), plus photos. There are two interesting twists. One, you can do this in-app (cool). Two, you can repost Apple Music content, though that’s only available to people who bought a subscription.

What’s missing appears to be any sort of Web interface, which I think is a huge omission – and part of what killed Ping. Everything shows up in the app in a section called “From the Artist.” Also oddly, you can’t post media in Apple Music Connect and have it show up in the iTunes Store. So, if you post a music video for your new LP, it’ll be missing from the store, and will only show up in the Apple Music section. We’ll see how that works, though I’m concerned it may further discourage buying music, and it seems not to be the “integrated ecosystem” Apple described.

Interaction is also an unknown. For instance: “To see your posts in the Connect feed, or to love or comment on your posts, those fans must be following you.”

It does seem it’ll be interesting to play with. I’ll report back. But I expect the big questions from artists will be how they can manage what happens on their page, and whether suddenly iTunes is streaming for free what they had previously sold. Apple has some pretty serious competition in the form of Facebook and the lot. Artists lost interest in Ping simply because it meant an extra investment of time. Apple Music Connect will face that, too – and possibly also the ire of artists who are afraid that streaming will cost them revenue.

On the other hand, if users like this feature, it could take off quickly. I’d bet on success or failure in that narrow window after launch.

Apple Music for Artists: Apple Music Connect

Apple Music Connect: Frequently Asked Questions

The post Here’s How To Get Yourself on Apple Music – Even Unsigned appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Apple Music Deja Vu: The Same Stuff, But a Single Package

Remember when?

Remember when?

It’s not just deja vu. You’ve seen this stuff before. The basic ingredients of Apple Music are all repackaged, refined, or integrated from existing ideas.

It’s Beats Music meets BBC Radio 1 meets Apple Ping, in an iOS and Android app.

What you haven’t seen is all of those ingredients in one place, working together. And that’s not a trivial matter – it might change nothing, but it could change everything.

So, one by one, here what’s feeling like a trip down memory lane:

1. Streaming – Beats Music is back as Apple Music’s core streaming service. That includes Beats’ clever recommendation tools (like its pretty genre select), though seemingly cross-bred with the recommendation engine in iTunes.

2 Radio – BBC Radio 1 gets cloned, sort of as Radio 1 disk jockey Zane Lowe takes on Beats One, a Beats-organized, Apple-branded, 24/7 international radio station. Oddly, Apple claims this is the first such station – isn’t any Internet radio station “global”?

3. A social network – Apple Ping is back from the dead as Connect. (Zach Holman on Twitter was obviously thinking what I was thinking.)

But before you scoff, Ping is looking ahead of its time – launched in 2010, killed in 2012, it was too early to really take advantage of mobile apps. Here, instead of integrating with desktop iTunes (dumb), Apple integrates with mobile apps on iOS and Android (ah hah). There was lip service paid to “bedroom producers” early in the WWDC segment, so I’m guessing we’ll all get access to it. If that’s the case, here are two safe bets: 1. you’ll probably play with it, and 2. it probably won’t reduce any of the work you’re doing managing social media on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, VK, Pinterest, and who knows what else. Maybe you’ll find some free time to actually make music beyond “sharing with your fans”; let’s see. On the other hand, while I’m complaining, I’m not complaining: this stuff can wind up being really powerful, and for that reason, I have to admit I do hope Connect is a success.

4. Music videos. Yes, Tidal was making a deal of this. And there’s the elephant in the room – YouTube (to say nothing of everywhere else artists can share videos). But now it’s on Apple’s platform, too. Curiously, note that “ad-free” is a pitch. So there’s actually an incentive to put videos on YouTube (where you can add ads, and you have a huge audience), and not on Apple Music (where you don’t).

applemusic

All in favor.

Convincing stuff in this presentation: putting things under one app, and putting Apple’s logo on it, is huge. So you’ve seen each of these ingredients before, but Apple has a point when they say they’ve got one ecosystem. They’re on iOS, Mac, and now apparently Android, too. That gives them a huge chunk of the mobile market. (Yet to be seen: will Apple make mediocre Android apps the way that they made a mediocre iTunes for Windows.)

I don’t think that integration is to be underestimated. A lot of us do rely heavily on iTunes; a lot of artists do see a lot of revenue from iTunes. So this could be a good deal.

All against.

Now the reasons to be critical or skeptical – and there are plenty.

From a user side, the problem is that while this offers everything you’ve already got and want in an integrated interface, you’ve already got all of it. You can stream music, not only on Spotify but other services (legal and illegal). If you’re the sort of person who likes radio, you can listen to radio – including BBC Radio 1. You can find videos on YouTube, and artists sharing on Facebook. Sure, Apple can say this stuff is “fragmented,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean people will drop all of those things just because a single app might or might not replace it.

From the artist side, there’s very little explanation of why you shouldn’t hate this. Trent Reznor and Drake seem to think it’s a good idea, but apart from that, we have only questions. What’s the artist split on streaming? How can Apple give streaming to 6 users instead of 1 and still make enough revenue? Given that artists are already complaining they don’t make enough money from streaming, why should this be different? What sort of access will artists have to Connect? Will they be able to see any data on who’s listening to their music, or interacting with any of the social feeds? Why wouldn’t Apple Music streaming simply destroy sales of downloads?

Here’s one intriguing matter. Apple did talk about indie artists – and payouts to indie artists. Is it possible they thought the way this editorial did, and calculated more fairly for individuals? We’ll find out.

Grab the popcorn.

There may be answers to these questions, but not yet. And sure, the service has been out for only a few minutes, except we’ve been asking these questions about similar tools from a variety of vendors for years.

And so that’s really the only question we need to ask. Why will this time be different than the last – with any of this?

I’ll say this: I at least think it’s an interesting question.

The post Apple Music Deja Vu: The Same Stuff, But a Single Package appeared first on Create Digital Music.

5 Tidbits of Good News from WWDC for Musicians and Visualists

wwdc

Apple’s WWDC keynote this year is an mix of mostly consumer-focused, end-user features and the occasional nerdier developer-centric discussion, plus a healthy heaping of hyperbolae. (The App Store, compared to the invention of the telescope and the discovery of electricity – did I hear that right?) But, if you’re paying close attention, there are some tidbits of good news for people using Apple’s platforms for creative work – or making the tools those people use.

Before we talk about Apple Music, let’s look at the OS news.

1. Metal in OS X will open up new visual possibilities. Metal is mostly a tool for graphics, but it does two things: first, it radically simplifies coding (it even uses standard C++ for shaders), and second, it improves performance. That combination of ease and efficiency can make life easier for developers. Theoretically, someone could use these APIs to write audio processing routines, but it’s more likely to be used for graphics. I mention it here, as creative coders working with visuals might find this makes interesting visual performances and eye candy more fun.

Plus, if you use things like Adobe’s suite, it may run faster – and that’s good for video editors and the like.

2. OS X is getting incremental performance updates – and no news is good news. We don’t know much about this fall’s revision to OS X, so it’s mostly too soon to comment. But improved app launch and other incremental updates are hardly anything to complain about, yet. Also, each year around this time Mac watchers start making gloom and doom predictions about how Apple will replace OS X with iOS and destroy all your serious apps. It … doesn’t look like that’s happened here, for another year running. Sorry.

3. Multitasking on iOS will make music making loads of fun. If you like routing audio or MIDI between apps, you’ll love this. I really can’t wait to use effects and drum machines side by side, for instance – and the UI actually makes more sense than the one you get loading plug-ins into a DAW. Bravo.

4. iOS updates finally won’t be a chore. This had become a nightmare for app developers: iOS users failing to update because they couldn’t download the update. It’s not music-specific, but I know plenty of music developers who found it a huge issue. Leaner OS updates finally resolve that problem.

5. watchOS hardware is opening up. There are some intriguing changes in watchOS – mic input, audio playback (including to Bluetooth), and accelerometer and Taptic Engine data. Because Apple Watch is, by design, more restricted than the iPhone or iPad, I think it’s really more of an accessory to existing apps than it is a separate platform. But that said, these are the sorts of little changes that should at least allow some experimental watchOS apps for music.

Also, an open source version of Swift is rather interesting from a creative coding standpoint. I think it’ll become news if someone ports it to Windows – because then, you could imagine people learning creative coding for music, visuals, and design via Swift.

Also, it was nice to see music apps for deaf people – that isn’t hyperbola; that’s magic.

Photo courtesy Apple.

The post 5 Tidbits of Good News from WWDC for Musicians and Visualists appeared first on Create Digital Music.

The Single USB-C Connector is Coming – But It’s Not Bad News

appleusbc

For years, the steady disappearance of ports from our computers has been unquestionably a bad thing for musicians.

Things we used have been disappearing: Audio input jacks. Dedicated FireWire connections. Extra USB ports. And I’m not just talking Apple, here, either – slimmer and lighter PCs have often dumped connectors you needed, leaving us with a tangled mess of adapters and incompatibilities. Get a bunch of laptop owners together, and you’re lucky to connect anything without a Santa Claus-style bag of spaghetti.

So, music and audio users can be forgiven to being resistant to change, because some of those changes have been a huge pain.

That may make the next thing I’m about to say sound strange.

Everything we use is about to be replaced with USB-C connectors, the new reversible ports designed as successor to USB. You’ll buy a laptop, and one or two of these things will be all you get for connecting everything.

That is, even more ports are going to disappear, but this time, it’ll make things better, not worse. (Erm, mostly.)

Wait, what?

Let me explain.

First, forget The New MacBook. Apple’s laptop is ground-breaking industrial design, but I still wouldn’t buy one. It’s too soon to commit to a laptop that only does USB-C, and this one isn’t a terribly good value-for-money proposition on performance, either, in comparison to Apple’s other models.

But you can also forget Apple. Because while PC and Apple laptops have gone tended to directions in recent years (regarding display connections, Thunderbolt, and FireWire, for instance), USB-C and even Thunderbolt over USB-C are looking like they’ll be embraced by both sides.

“Oh, fantastic,” say the PC users at this point, “the thing that’s supposed to make me feel better here is that my favorite PC maker is going to be as insane as Apple? Yay.”

morpheus

Well, in previous times, yes, you could perhaps argue that. But welcome to a new bizarro world where everything is different. Namely:

1. Fewer ports no longer means fewer connections. We’ve come to associate the number of physical jacks on the side of a machine with the amount of connectivity and bandwidth. That’s no longer the case: the architectures inside the machine have continued to expand in capability rapidly.

2. One port can actually handle everything. Now, the connector and the transports running on it (USB 3.1, Thunderbolt) can keep up with the ever-faster machine inside.

3. We’ll give up and just start using hubs and actually like it. We were caught in a weird gap between the time when ports started disappearing and hubs became standard – so you had sort of but not quite the number of connections you needed for serious work. Displays, video output (for VJs), audio I/O, storage, and all-important power were left in weird configurations. Now, I think we’ll see a cottage industry in pro-grade hubs that do what we need.

4. USB-C can succeed without Thunderbolt failing. Now, note that “USB-C” doesn’t have to mean USB – it’s just a physical connector. Intel has also embraced that same USB-C connector for Thunderbolt. It’s likely to cause some confusion and tech support issues, as people plug Thunderbolt accessories into computers that don’t support them. But on the other hand, Thunderbolt is showing nice signs of growth. Your existing Thunderbolt hardware will work with the new connector and transport (you’ll just need a proper cable or adapter). And the next Thunderbolt will be obscenely fast – 40 Gbps (mostly needed for 4k video).

The Thunderbolt thing should come as relief, as this is showing real signs of promise for higher-performance, stable lower-latency audio, and already works brilliantly on hardware like Universal Audio’s. Companies like Apple may not be thinking of us when they keep Thunderbolt around, but the demand for 4K video means the format is safe (even though in audio, we’ll never use up that much bandwidth).

Also good news from Thunderbolt 3: it carries power, so future Thunderbolt audio interfaces won’t need their own.

Sam Byford did a great write-up for The Verge covering these issues from a mainstream tech perspective:

USB-C has already won: One reversible cable to rule them all

And there’s a video:

What I would add to his analysis is that Thunderbolt is really important to video and audio, and is already seeing widespread use, even if the sorts of folks who read (and write) tech sites may take less notice of it.

Just One Major Caveat.

I don’t think we really have to worry about this much – or at all – for the time being. USB and Thunderbolt hardware you buy today for music and audio, for I/O, DSP, and storage, works just fine. And it’ll work with the new stuff, because USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3 are backwards compatible, and the USB-C connector you can contend with via cables and adapters.

There is one thing that worries me a lot, though, and it’s that this one connector is too small.

That raises real concerns for me onstage, in particular. It’s just too easy for a cable to pop out or fail to make a solid connection.

Maybe someone can come up with an industrial design solution that works around that; it’s advantageous having things be small, but only if they can be connected reliably.

And certainly I hope that accessory manufacturers think through what happens when their device is unplugged and replugged. Software and drivers need to respond fluidly, not trainwreck.

I think if you do put these two areas on balance, though, there’s no reason to lose any sleep. And knowing that this is the future facing PC and Mac laptops, there’s time to actually adapt to the bizarro universe and make things work properly.

And then we can say “I, for one, welcome our new reversible Intel overlords.”

In the meantime, I look forward to people telling me I’m actually bats*** crazy and this is all about Apple becoming a consumer company that wants to destroy pro audio so we’ll have no choice but to listen to U2 on our $10,000 gold-plated Apple Watches…

Forever.

Sleep tight!

(Image courtesy Apple.)

The post The Single USB-C Connector is Coming – But It’s Not Bad News appeared first on Create Digital Music.

The Single USB-C Connector is Coming – But It’s Not Bad News

appleusbc

For years, the steady disappearance of ports from our computers has been unquestionably a bad thing for musicians.

Things we used have been disappearing: Audio input jacks. Dedicated FireWire connections. Extra USB ports. And I’m not just talking Apple, here, either – slimmer and lighter PCs have often dumped connectors you needed, leaving us with a tangled mess of adapters and incompatibilities. Get a bunch of laptop owners together, and you’re lucky to connect anything without a Santa Claus-style bag of spaghetti.

So, music and audio users can be forgiven to being resistant to change, because some of those changes have been a huge pain.

That may make the next thing I’m about to say sound strange.

Everything we use is about to be replaced with USB-C connectors, the new reversible ports designed as successor to USB. You’ll buy a laptop, and one or two of these things will be all you get for connecting everything.

That is, even more ports are going to disappear, but this time, it’ll make things better, not worse. (Erm, mostly.)

Wait, what?

Let me explain.

First, forget The New MacBook. Apple’s laptop is ground-breaking industrial design, but I still wouldn’t buy one. It’s too soon to commit to a laptop that only does USB-C, and this one isn’t a terribly good value-for-money proposition on performance, either, in comparison to Apple’s other models.

But you can also forget Apple. Because while PC and Apple laptops have gone tended to directions in recent years (regarding display connections, Thunderbolt, and FireWire, for instance), USB-C and even Thunderbolt over USB-C are looking like they’ll be embraced by both sides.

“Oh, fantastic,” say the PC users at this point, “the thing that’s supposed to make me feel better here is that my favorite PC maker is going to be as insane as Apple? Yay.”

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Well, in previous times, yes, you could perhaps argue that. But welcome to a new bizarro world where everything is different. Namely:

1. Fewer ports no longer means fewer connections. We’ve come to associate the number of physical jacks on the side of a machine with the amount of connectivity and bandwidth. That’s no longer the case: the architectures inside the machine have continued to expand in capability rapidly.

2. One port can actually handle everything. Now, the connector and the transports running on it (USB 3.1, Thunderbolt) can keep up with the ever-faster machine inside.

3. We’ll give up and just start using hubs and actually like it. We were caught in a weird gap between the time when ports started disappearing and hubs became standard – so you had sort of but not quite the number of connections you needed for serious work. Displays, video output (for VJs), audio I/O, storage, and all-important power were left in weird configurations. Now, I think we’ll see a cottage industry in pro-grade hubs that do what we need.

4. USB-C can succeed without Thunderbolt failing. Now, note that “USB-C” doesn’t have to mean USB – it’s just a physical connector. Intel has also embraced that same USB-C connector for Thunderbolt. It’s likely to cause some confusion and tech support issues, as people plug Thunderbolt accessories into computers that don’t support them. But on the other hand, Thunderbolt is showing nice signs of growth. Your existing Thunderbolt hardware will work with the new connector and transport (you’ll just need a proper cable or adapter). And the next Thunderbolt will be obscenely fast – 40 Gbps (mostly needed for 4k video).

The Thunderbolt thing should come as relief, as this is showing real signs of promise for higher-performance, stable lower-latency audio, and already works brilliantly on hardware like Universal Audio’s. Companies like Apple may not be thinking of us when they keep Thunderbolt around, but the demand for 4K video means the format is safe (even though in audio, we’ll never use up that much bandwidth).

Also good news from Thunderbolt 3: it carries power, so future Thunderbolt audio interfaces won’t need their own.

Sam Byford did a great write-up for The Verge covering these issues from a mainstream tech perspective:

USB-C has already won: One reversible cable to rule them all

And there’s a video:

What I would add to his analysis is that Thunderbolt is really important to video and audio, and is already seeing widespread use, even if the sorts of folks who read (and write) tech sites may take less notice of it.

Just One Major Caveat.

I don’t think we really have to worry about this much – or at all – for the time being. USB and Thunderbolt hardware you buy today for music and audio, for I/O, DSP, and storage, works just fine. And it’ll work with the new stuff, because USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3 are backwards compatible, and the USB-C connector you can contend with via cables and adapters.

There is one thing that worries me a lot, though, and it’s that this one connector is too small.

That raises real concerns for me onstage, in particular. It’s just too easy for a cable to pop out or fail to make a solid connection.

Maybe someone can come up with an industrial design solution that works around that; it’s advantageous having things be small, but only if they can be connected reliably.

And certainly I hope that accessory manufacturers think through what happens when their device is unplugged and replugged. Software and drivers need to respond fluidly, not trainwreck.

I think if you do put these two areas on balance, though, there’s no reason to lose any sleep. And knowing that this is the future facing PC and Mac laptops, there’s time to actually adapt to the bizarro universe and make things work properly.

And then we can say “I, for one, welcome our new reversible Intel overlords.”

In the meantime, I look forward to people telling me I’m actually bats*** crazy and this is all about Apple becoming a consumer company that wants to destroy pro audio so we’ll have no choice but to listen to U2 on our $10,000 gold-plated Apple Watches…

Forever.

Sleep tight!

(Image courtesy Apple.)

The post The Single USB-C Connector is Coming – But It’s Not Bad News appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Behringer Just Bought TC, TC Helicon, Tannoy

The music and sound industry is increasingly about big-league consolidation. InMusic – the company behind Akai and M-Audio – is growing. Long-standing Japanese titan Yamaha has snapped up Line6. Gibson now includes everything from Tascam to the website Harmony Central to consumer gear branded Philips. (And yes, throw out whatever you think you know about Gibson from the 90s – this has nothing to do with that.)

Now, count the giant MUSIC Group – the parent of Behringer, with Uli Behringer as its chief – among the big sharks on the acquisition market.

MUSIC Group announced today it has acquired TC Group. You probably know them as the makers of vocal effects and guitar effects and sound processing and mastering, under brands like TC Electronics and TC Helicon, or for their Tannoy label. And that’s clearly a big part of this deal, with MUSIC Group’s presence in that market with Behringer as well as Midas and Bugera tube amps (among others).

It’s more than that, though. TC Applied Technologies are in semiconductor designs, networking, and interface tech too, which gives Behringer a big boost in terms of intellectual property and the electronics market beyond musical instruments. And closer to home, MUSIC Group call out their interest in A/V and broadcast.

For their part, Danish-based TC say that they had other big suitors, but chose the Behringer folk – I wonder who those other players may have been.

Regardless, this is very big news, combining two powerful international companies. And any of us who think of Behringer as the “cheap mixer people,” we may do well to take them seriously – MUSIC Group now have their own factory complex in China and a 300-person engineering team.

The strange thing to me about musical instruments is this play with giant transnationals with their own manufacturing and engineering capabilities, and integrating marketing networks. So much of the interesting stuff, the culturally impactful designs, still somehow happens in tiny one-person and several-person boutique operations.

It was single-engineer shops that launched the modular renaissance. It was the monome that wound up in the Museum of Modern Art and re-popularized grid-based interfaces. These are products that ship a tiny handful of units and earn very little money, if they break even at all. The cultural capital is far outweighing the actual sales. At some point, it seems that will create real tension. And, on the other hand, all we do with chips and software – from DSP to microcontrollers to your laptop – rely on bigger-scale operations. Not one boutique maker of software or hardware can claim independence from the larger electronics manufacturing community.

But whatever deeper questions, keep an eye out for MUSIC and TC. A new giant is born.

The post Behringer Just Bought TC, TC Helicon, Tannoy appeared first on Create Digital Music.

This Video Demonstrates How Akai’s New Keyboard Controls Everything

It’s a horse race. Two keyboards – one from Native Instruments, one from AKAI – really want to be the interface between you and every plug-in you own. And we’re getting closer to find out if either deserves your attention.

You’ve heard this story before. Sure, you have powerful software on your computer screen. But when you want physical control of those instruments beyond just playing keys, you’re left either manually mapping controls or reaching for your mouse or trackpad.

So, over the years various solutions have tried to solve this automagically. There was Automap, seen in Propellerhead Reason and then from Novation. There was Cakewalk’s ACT. Native Instruments’ KORE. M-audio’s HyperControl. And probably some others I’ve forgotten – maybe tried to forget. These solutions weren’t always completely horrible, but I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who was completely satisfied with them, either. Now, I’m sure some of you will protest. Reason, for instance, often worked well – a closed system that originated the idea – and if you got things working, more power to you. But beyond that handful, I’ve met a whole lot of people who wound up giving up and going back to manually mapping MIDI. (Or just give me that trackpad, already, because it’s faster.)

Well, now the Akai ADVANCE is here. It knows you’ve been hurt before. But it wants you to love automatic mapping again. And … surprisingly, there are some early indications you ought to leave the heartache behind and give it a chance to prove itself.

Our friends over at AskAudio got an exclusive tour in New York. (The ADVANCE hails from the Eastern Seaboard, after all; the Komplete Kontrol from the banks of Berlin’s river Spree.)

Akai Pro Advance Keyboards In-Depth Preview (Video) [askaudiomag.com]

You can check out their impressions in the story; the video gives a detailed walkthrough. Remember that the software isn’t feature complete, but you can at least see where AKAI are going.

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I can vouch for the hardware; I had a go on it at Musikmesse. This may be the nicest build from anything with Akai on it, ever. Whether you like the aesthetics of the styling or not, the quality of the units I saw at Musikmesse was outstanding, the color display is clear, and everything feels solid. Akai’s MAX range of keyboards – unlike the cheap stuff at the entry level – already had a nice keybed, so I’m not surprised, and finally we go back to encoders instead of touch trips.

The challenge the ADVANCE will face is that being a nice-feeling keyboard isn’t enough. The software has to work well, or you’ll take a pass on this line. Or worse, you’ll buy it, and wind up figuring out how to convince anyone to take it out of your closet. Obsolescence is the single worst threat to this stuff.

We know now what the strategy is at rival Native Instruments. Whereas their Komplete Kontrol initially couldn’t so much as send arpeggiator notes to your host, let alone handle software that wasn’t part of Komplete, all will be better soon:

Komplete Kontrol Now Plays Nice with Plug-ins, Hosts, And More is Coming

At the very least, all the chords and patterns you play on the keyboard now work with a host. And inside the Komplete Kontrol software, you can use plug-ins. And if software is specifically designed to support NI’s Native Kontrol Standard (NKS), plug-ins will appear with the proper metadata, control mappings, and extra features that work with NI’s hardware.

I wouldn’t describe it as more “closed” than Akai, but suffice to say NI’s approach – at least as they describe it – is the artisanal, bespoke approach to integrating your plug-in presets with your keyboard. Metadata is (supposed to be) lovingly hand-crafted, mappings gently tailored to fit snugly on the controls.

Both keyboards are also intended as platforms to sell you more software. NI is apparently content to let their Komplete suite speak for itself – and use the promise of more software sales to entice developers to create custom support for the keyboard. AKAI is joining the now-everything-is-an-app-store bandwagon, with the ability to buy software inside the keyboard. (Fine, but can I get food delivery so I don’t have to interrupt my studio session? Startups, opportunity knocks.)

Reaktor Lighting up Komplete Kontrol

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Above: Native Instruments’ competitor. Is it less ADVANCEd, or more KOMPLETE? Well, we can at least say that it has 100% more light-up colored keys and 100% less light-up colored pads…

Akai, by contrast, is the Roomba of the two, hoovering up everything on your machine and dumping it into the ADVANCE keyboard.

If it’s a VST, the ADVANCE will find its presets, find its controls. It’s not all automatic: Akai themselves are going through mapping popular software by hand, too, apparently in some sort of sound content sweatshops where sound designers wipe sweat off their forehead with numb fingers finding each filter cutoff knob in every plug-in you might ever find on KVR. (Disclaimer: I have no idea how they’re doing this.)

Which will work better? Well, the end result may wind up being exactly the same – which is better for users.

In Frankfurt, Native Instruments threw a party off-campus (open bar!) while AKAI were in a proper booth (what? sorry, what did you say? here’s my business card).

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The interesting thing was that both NI and AKAI showed their keyboards with Ableton Live. Both made prominent usage of Arturia software – doubly encouraging, given Arturia make controller bundles for their own products. And AKAI was even glad to show off Absynth running on the ADVANCE. Remember, the AKAI isn’t shipping yet, and Native Instruments haven’t released the software updates that support NKS (some of those features won’t arrive until the summer, some earlier).

I think this is probably the most important thing to know. The worst possible scenario would be if you had to buy a different keyboard each time you wanted to use a different piece of software, then, 80s pop-star style, array them on multi-tiered keyboard racks all over your studio. The nightmare scenario: oh, sure, the Komplete Kontrol works great with Reaktor and Kontakt, but you need the AKAI with AIR, the Arturia with your emulations, the Ableton Keys with Ableton Live, and an MPC hybrid every time you want to make beats. No. That would be horrible.

Fortunately, there’s no indication from anyone I’ve talked to that that’ll happen. It seems everyone is more or less trying to play ball with everyone else, even as they make competing products – and the rabid hunger for keyboards in the market, I’m guessing, will keep this from becoming a zero sum game.

So, which will you buy? There’s no way of knowing until they ship. AKAI and Native Instruments have both built hardware that feels great. AKAI packs more onboard, with pads and color screens, but then you might prefer the sparser NI keyboard and touch strips. AKAI certainly seem to have the edge on compatibility with loads of stuff, and the ADVANCE ships with their excellent AIR software, but NI finally came around and added an instrumental/effect suite to Komplete Kontrol, and we’ll see if they cane make tighter integration more appealing than the one-size-fits-all approach of the ADVANCE.

And, of course, both products still have to prove themselves versus the toughest competition: a keyboard with some knobs and none of these bells and whistles.

I seriously doubt a single solution will please everyone, but I’m glad to see keyboards that at least feel better and try harder on integration. MIDI keyboards have been ubiquitous, but too often low-quality, uninventive, and with unfinished and frustrating paired software.

When you look this much like something as beloved as a grand piano, you had better try harder.

So, I very much look forward to the Summer Games of MIDI Keyboards.

The post This Video Demonstrates How Akai’s New Keyboard Controls Everything appeared first on Create Digital Music.