How Does Novation’s Launchpad Pro Stack Up Against Ableton Push?


One of last month’s more predictable NAMM announcements was, at long last, an update to Novation’s Launchpad line that adds RGB color support and pressure sensitivity. But that means that it’s easier to compare the new Launchpad Pro with the spendier (but also more powerful) Ableton Push.

It’s been a few years since the original Launchpad first commercialized the “grid performance instrument” concept popularized by the monome. Since then, we’ve seen Novation’s LEDs get brighter and the body get slimmer, plus the welcome addition of class-compliant support (opening up iOS and Linux compatibility and driverless operation). But the Launchpad itself remained a pretty simple grid of buttons. How hard you hit those buttons doesn’t matter, and you don’t get color feedback that could assist in knowing which clips you’re looking at.

The Launchpad Pro focuses mainly on what the grid can do. Now, there’s velocity and pressure sensitivity, and RGB color feedback – just as on Ableton’s Push.

So, the obvious follow-up question: why would you buy a Launchpad Pro and not a Push? There are some obvious and not-so-obvious answers to that question. First, the obvious answers.


It’s cheaper. Yep, this is the big one: Push does more than the Launchpad does, but it costs more, too. The Launchpad Pro isn’t in the bargain basement with the rest of the Launchpads, but its US$299 street compares favorably to Push at $599 (assuming you missed out on Ableton’s recent holiday sale).

It’s lighter and more compact. The Launchpad frankly surprised me with its durability in the market, but I think that’s partly to do with its durability in people’s bags. It’s stupidly light and compact and you can toss it around without giving it a second thought. (I know monome users who kept their treasured wooden instrument safely at home in the studio and abused a Launchpad on the road instead.) The Launchpad Pro adds some bulk, but not much – and that beautiful metal case Ableton uses on Push means it’s also a bit more to shoulder in your carry-on.

But there are some less-obvious reasons, too.

The workflow is shallower, but also simpler. If you liked the original Launchpad, you’ll find the Launchpad Pro’s quick-access buttons familiar. But there’s more to it than that. Every time Ableton went fancier with Push, Novation went simpler. That means Push is deeper, but it also means the Launchpad Pro promises to be quicker – at least in some cases.

For instance, whereas Push’s drum modes split the grid into a step sequencer and triggers, Launchpad Pro just assumes what you really want is an 8×8 drum grid – nothing else. So, there’s less paging around for sounds, and less task switching to remember how the step sequencer works.

There’s also one-button access to volume – no switching to a mixing mode required, that is. Now, it’s not terribly precise: you tap buttons to adjust volume, since the Launchpad Pro lacks faders or encoders. But Novation (and others) can sell you a fader box; what you get here is quick access. In fact, the best way to describe the approach of the Launchpad Pro is flatness.

There are still modes – Session (for clip triggering and so on), Note (for playing instruments), Device (for effects), and the normal User mode. But by doing less, the Launchpad Pro also gives you less to learn.


It works with your MIDI gear and other software, without any effort. Now, this is the interesting one. Sure, Ableton Push is a class-compliant device and uses bi-directional MIDI to communicate. But it isn’t really set up to work with anything but Ableton Live. (The only exceptions so far have been elaborate templates created for other tools, like Bitwig Studio.) The Launchpad Pro, by contrast, is perfectly happy to work as a simple, pressure- and velocity-sensitive note controller with other software instruments.

It operates in standalone mode and with hardware. In a bigger departure, there are actual MIDI ports (via jack adapters) – that’s something missing on even the monome. So, the Launchpad Pro is an actual MIDI grid controller. (You can use an included power adapter.)

Finally, we get a grid controller that doesn’t require a PC around. The monome recently proved it could work in host mode with modulars, but being able to do this over MIDI DIN with no other hardware is an obvious edge.

Up until this last point, I didn’t really feel I needed a Launchpad Pro to review – but this changes it, so stay tuned.

I’m not necessarily endorsing the Launchpad Pro. There are still loads of reasons to get Push. Push is a beautifully built piece of hardware with a deep workflow. The display, the encoders, the ribbon controller – those are all things you might miss on the Novation, even if it is cheaper. Also, we have to see what Ableton does to follow up Push. (Push 2? Shove? Uh… whatever?) Please, Ableton – think about MIDI ports. Seriously. Especially with more gear adding minijacks.

But the Novation Launchpad Pro, while it might seem at first like a “poor man’s Push,” deserves a second look for its superior operation away from Ableton Live. I’ll see when I can get one from Novation and hook it up to some gear.

The post How Does Novation’s Launchpad Pro Stack Up Against Ableton Push? appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Pro Tools Adds Free Edition, Subscriptions, Marketplaces for Plug-ins and Content


Remember Pro Tools Free?

Years ago, it was then-Digidesign’s ploy to give you the first hit of Pro Tools without paying, in the hopes you’d get hooked and buy the full version. Well, the idea is back, just with a different name. Pro Tools First is a stripped-down version of Pro Tools.

And it’s one of three changes in Pro Tools 12 to how you buy and work with the flagship music production software. Pro Tools 12 is now something you can use for free (with various strings attached). It’s something you can rent, with subscription pricing (in addition to continuing the purchase option). And Pro Tools is connected to Avid Everywhere online offerings intended to help you collaborate and share – with the ability to buy and sell content.

The timing comes as several players in music making software look to new models – as noted earlier this week, Cakewalk is making SONAR available as a subscription and both leading cloud collaboration tools (Gobbler and Splice) are serving up solutions for buying or “renting” plug-ins as you work with others.

When Pro Tools 12 arrives further into this year, customers will be able to take advantage of the new pricing model, buy or rent third-party effects and instruments from inside the software, and give new collaboration/marketplace tools a spin.

Free First

First, the free offering is something likely to get attention, since Pro Tools is usually associated with some cost of entry. The new free version is a really Pro Tools, and can open and save projects – meaning it’ll come in handy if you want to share projects with someone who doesn’t own the software. But it of course has some limitations that would push you back to the paid version.

Once you get pas the obligatory genre project templates (dubstep!), the session software looks like Pro Tools. It’s limited in track and input/output count and is missing more advanced edit features. So, you get:

16 mono or stereo audio tracks
16 Instrument Tracks
16 MIDI tracks
4 simultaneous audio inputs, max
No video
Offline bounce, but limited export/interchange apart from audio bounce
Loop recording, but many of the advanced edit tools are missing, including punch and automation
More restricted instrument/effect suite, though you still get the Xpand!2 instrument and some effects

There’s one other significant restriction, though, that’s perhaps more of a deal-breaker than the others: you can only work with three projects at a time. Avid tell us that you would need to delete a project when you’re no longer working with it. (Presumably moving the project to offline media would also work.)

See the updated comparison chart for how Pro Tools editions differ in functionality.

Apart from the project number restriction, this looks similar to the way Ableton differentiates Live Lite, the software we see more than any other bundled with production gear. The basic idea is, give people the software, but stop them from editing complex projects or using very many tracks. But the project limitation notion is fairly novel, and for me would make me hesitate to recommend the free tool for much more than trying out Pro Tools or sharing a project now and then; there are plenty of cheap DAWs on the market.

More interesting are the other approaches taken with Pro Tools 12. For Pro Tools lovers, this does open up some new ways to buy their software.

Subscriptions and Online Service

Avid has been talking since last year about Avid Everywhere, which is a combination of moving software to subscriptions as well as purchase, and backing it with online services and a marketplace for buying content produced by users in its tools.

Subscribe or buy. Choose subscription or traditional up-front payment. Subscriptions, as with other software, will cost you in the long haul – you can get the price down to US$25, but only if you commit to a year or more. They’re bundled with support, much like the Cakewalk deal mentioned earlier this week.

See more regular updates. Avid also says that the move gets the software off the 18-month revision cycle it had previously used (and, to be fair, what is typical in the rest of the industry as far as major new functionality). Updates will be more frequent, the company says, though we’ve yet to see what that means in practice (especially since pay-to-own versions will remain available). For now, Pro Tools 12 is almost exclusively about providing the new pricing model and compatibility with collaboration, not any significant changes to editing, mixing, or instruments that I can see.

Cloud collaboration. Right now, collaborating in Pro Tools is a matter of manually making ZIP files of projects with collected media and moving them around. Pro Tools 12 promises still-as-yet-unrevealed mechanisms of streamlining this process through updates to the software and accompanying online services.

Expect more of this sort of thing; Propellerhead, for instance, recently announced Discover, for its desktop Reason and iOS apps. But Avid’s offering also assumes that you want to make some money off of that content (or buy it to use it). So, the Avid Everywhere project also includes –

A content marketplace. Here’s where we enter new territory: Avid wants you to share and sell your stuff. Because Avid makes the world’s leading media products, the notion is that you can dump all your assets into a marketplace where other people can choose to buy them – so an editor might pay for your music bed in their sports coverage. Avid handles not only the purchase, but embedding metadata and credits.

It’s not available yet in Pro Tools, and I’m unclear whether those buying such assets want this sort of tool, but we’ll see. Think of it as a combination of SoundCloud and the App Store, only for audio and video.

Buy plug-ins as an add-on. Here’s a part that makes more immediate sense: a built-in marketplace will also let you buy (or rent) instruments and effects directly inside Pro Tools. Subscriptions would be new to Pro Tools developers;

Really, it’s surprising they hadn’t done something like this sooner, given that Pro Tools has always had its own ecosystem of third-party add-ons. (The other tool with the same closed-garden expansion capabilities, Propellerhead Reason, also added in in-app store to go with it.) I imagine this could get heavy use; even Pro Tools First has access to the market.

Making Sense of the New Pro Tools

We’ve known “Avid Everywhere for Audio” was coming as an initiative since last spring. Now, it really remains to see what things look like in practice – whether you love this concept or hate it, what it means in the actual experience of using the software. Sound on Sound have a great video overview from NAMM this week:

At least we can also say Avid the corporate entity is looking far healthier. NASDAQ even had the company ring the opening bell, celebrating its return after being delisted for failing to share critical financial information.

So, will all these new ways to buy Pro Tools software and content, collaboration and marketplace, fuel healthier Pro Tools growth, or be just a distraction? That’s the next chapter.

The post Pro Tools Adds Free Edition, Subscriptions, Marketplaces for Plug-ins and Content appeared first on Create Digital Music.

Subscribe, Click, Collaborate: The New Ways to Buy Music Creation Software


It’s been a long time coming, but the month of January has brought more new ways to pay for music creation software than we’ve seen in a few years.

When you want to share a playlist with a friend, you can count on giving them full-length tracks with Spotify. (Sorry, Taylor Swift fans, but everyone else.) If you’re on a tight deadline to finish a video edit, you can pay a small monthly fee to use Adobe Premiere – and send it to the film composer knowing they can do the same, rather than having to buy it outright for a chunk of change. Not so with music production tools, which rely mostly on big one-time payments (sometimes north of a thousand bucks), often with additional copy protection and dependent hardware.

Just in the past few days, we’ve seen some new ways to solve the problem.

$1000 of Plug-ins – For Twenty Bucks?

The most ambitious comes from Gobbler, the cloud backup, sharing, and collaboration service. Gobbler as of this week are re-launching their platform under the tag “spawn.” (Right now, you get just a sign-up for the service.) Collaboration and shop alike will run on the new platform.

Gobbler already offered deep integration with your DAW for sucking up all your related files, backing them up for you, and making it easy to collaborate. But for producers with various mixes of plug-ins, collaboration can be a sticking point – the problem is, your collaborator almost certainly has a different plug-in arsenal than you do. The solution for many users, of course, was simply to either give up – or pirate whatever they didn’t have. (Propellerhead’s Reason is one notable exception to this.)

Spawn now offers a subscription service to make this work. Switch payments on and off on a month-to-month basis — think Spotify and not a membership in your local gym. Once you’re logged into a Gobbler account, your licenses are all activated.

Gobbler tell us they’ve got big plans here. But they’re starting with a damned fine case study: Slate Digital.

Steven Slate is one of the top names in production, bar none, to those who follow such things. (Oh, speaking of Taylor Swift? Yeah, her. Also, Black Eyed Peas, and the folks that help you unfriend people on Facebook, Nickelback.)

But more important than that, Slate Digital (which Slate makes alongside DSP whiz Fabrice Gabriel) make one of the best plug-in libraries you could hope to add to your arsenal. Their Trigger plug-in is one of the best ways to do drum replacement, and they have some formidable options for mastering and analog modeling. (The latter rivals offerings from the likes of Universal Audio, which means the next statement could make some waves – pardon the pun.)

Gobbler have convinced Slate to join their platform and give away their whole plug-in library – for US$19.99 a month, instead of over US$1000 all at once. (Smart money ups that to US$24.99 in order to add Relab Development’s Lexicon reverb emulation.)

That’s everything – now, in the present, and in the future, every tool and every update. The gamble is clearly that the subscription will earn more users, even from would-be pirates.

What’s the catch? Well, with Slate – though not necessarily with the Gobbler Spawn platform generally – you do need a dongle. iLok hardware is required to use the subscription, which I’m sure will scare off some who swore never to touch one again. At least Slate will give you one free with a new subscription, which is good, because I’m pretty sure I lost mine. We’ll see how that goes over and if others bite.

PACE does work software-only, though, which may be okay with more people.

Slate Mix/Master Bundle []


Click to Buy, Integrate with Collaboration

Not to be outdone, Gobbler rival Splice are also offering their own plug-in options. Interestingly, while Gobbler’s Spawn seems entirely focused on subscription fees – like adding HBO to your cable TV service – Splice is offering developers a menu of options.

In terms of developers, Splice has even trumped Gobbler, with not one but a swarm of top plug-in makers. There’s Xfer Records, Voxengo, Cableguys, Blue Cat Audio, FXpansion and Tokyo Dawn Records – a virtual who’s who of virtual.

We haven’t yet seen how the Spawn subscriptions integrate with Gobbler. But Splice are describing that the main feature of their new offering. You’ve ppened a collaborator’s project, and don’t have the plug-in? Easy: one click buys it. The emphasis here is more Apple App Store than Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. There’s a huge chunk of free plug-ins, too. (Free-to-play, with in-app purchases – hmm, did the future of plug-ins just flash before my eyes, Angry Birds style?)

It seems Splice are wielding two weapons here: content, and data. They’re assembling plug-ins in a central location, for one. We’ve sort of seen that with a site like, but – okay, the name is terrible, sounding more like a public service announcement than a service, the site is ugly and unusable, and some of the biggest developers are missing. Splice is building something that looks far more like you’d expect a plug-in store to look.

In that location, they’re adding a lot of additional content. Community members and artists alike can add tutorials and tips and, because these is Splice, even whole DAW sessions demonstrating use of the plug-ins. (If Some Guy In His Basement isn’t appealing to you, Laidback Luke and Henry Fong are reportedly signed on.)

But remember, this is the Cloud – Big Data is there watching you. So Splice can examine who’s using which plug-ins, either overall or by artist, assuming that’s desirable. (I expect some people won’t want that shared!)

And they’re building an SDK platform, as are Gobbler, which they say will benefit both you and your plug-in developer, via:

  • License mangement
  • Instant access to installers for your OS
  • Automatic updates when new versions appear
  • Subscription and rental coming in an SDK update

Subscriptions aren’t there yet, but they’re coming. I’ll be interested to see if Gobbler does the reverse – offer one-click purchases instead of only subscriptions.

More: The Future of Plugins on Splice: 1-click Purchase, License Backup & More

If You Build It, They Will… Hey, Where Is Everyone?

To me, both Gobbler and Splice face the same challenge: they have to attract users to these platforms first. And I think users have reason to be reticent: startups with little proven track record may not seem the safest place to invest your plug-in collection. The simple fact is that, for all we use online services, we don’t always collaborate on them.

Gobbler’s Spawn, at least, doesn’t immediately dump you onto the shared Website, which I think is an advantage. In fact, if you were a Slate Digital customer, you might have barely noticed Gobbler at all. You just got a really cheap way to round out your Slate collection for $20 a month. (I expect you’re not so happy if you bought all their stuff, but that should be a relatively small group.)

At the same time, Gobbler and Splice are solving an important obstacle to people collaborating in the first place. Maybe unburdened from the plug-in requirement, more will share.

By the way, from the above description, you may wonder why I’m describing Spawn as more ambitious. The reason: Gobbler are reconstructing their entire collaborative platform with this stuff in mind. As I understand it now, Splice seems to be a plug-in store first; the store is integrated with the rest of Splice, but Splice itself seems not in the middle of a massive overhaul. (Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.)

I have to say, right now, I think the Splice offering is more compelling on first blush. There’s a clear plug-in store, extra content and thus a reason to shop this way, loads of plug-in developers, and no reliance on PACE – with or without the hardware key, PACE dependence could be a deal killer for some users and developers. But each has promise, and we’ll see how this pans out.


Your DAW’s a Subscription, Too

The above covers plug-ins. But DAWs won’t be far behind, it seems.

Cakewalk is the first to go this route, unveiling subscriptions with the new version of SONAR. Following in the footsteps of graphic giant Adobe, you can opt to pay a monthly fee – between US$9.99 and $49.99, depending on version – and then get the latest-and-greatest working on your machine. You can still choose to pay up-front if you prefer, and existing customers get a big break on monthly fees.

There’s reason to think Cakewalk could be starting a trend. One, they’ve got a compelling option – $20 a month gets you almost everything Cakewalk makes, with the $50 a month option going further. By contrast, Native Instruments customers routinely complain about Komplete upgrades – it didn’t have the mix of what they wanted, or they didn’t know if they really needed a particular version, or they just shelled out. A subscription rate gives a steady, flat cost to the user, and relieves them of the fear of missing out on key updates. And the reverse is true: Cakewalk doesn’t have to hold back cool new stuff just to entice users to buy SONAR 2016 Goldfinger Edition.

And Cakewalk has been ahead of their time before. Apart from silently introducing a lot of DAW power features before anybody else, they were once the voice in the wilderness on Windows saying 64-bit computation and 64-bit memory access would benefit pro apps – leading not only music apps but serious PC software in general. A few years later, the idea of 32-bit seems antiquated on Mac and PC alike.

One slightly puzzling thing about Cakewalk’s announcement: the subscription to the software is separate from a “SONAR Membership.” Uh… say what? So, you pay a monthly fee to subscribe to SONAR, which includes 12 months of the monthly fee for SONAR Membership. Then, while you’re still paying your membership fee, your technical support expires, along with possibly other cloud features or something. I really can’t tell.

Let me be blunt. Cakewalk: fix this. This isn’t going to make sense to anyone, apart from those with Xbox Live Gold subscriptions, maybe. Either the model or the description is confusing.

$20 a month looks great, but you can do the maths and work out why you might still want to consider a purchase: $20 a month is $240 a year, which is non-trivial. Apple Logic Pro is an outlier, with a $199 sticker price and unlimited free upgrades after that. But even users of Cubase probably aren’t budgeting $500 every two years in upgrades. (At $10 a month for current customers, of course, the maths are different.)

Still, this sort of scheme offers new possibilities. If you’re spending the winter in the studio and a subscription offers a pause, it’s cheaper to unlicense your software for the summer. If Cakewalk can dump enough goodies to keep you paying – like HBO does with Game of Thrones – it can make user and developer both happier. And whereas a lot of PC users might simply not purchase SONAR because they don’t want to dump a few hundred dollars on a DAW, now they can try it out for less, sell that record or get that gig, and justify the purchase. Part of why Adobe works so well is that it makes its users money, and everyone is now happier – maybe.

Cakewalk has also invited other users to try what they have: offer both an upfront purchase and subscription option, and see what sticks.

SONAR versions, compared []

My money is on more subscriptions soon. If you want to bet whether I’m right, first put ten dollars each month into a pot while we wait…

Sorry. Obligatory.

Imagine a plug-in with the power to destroy humanity – and a producer insane enough to use it.

Imagine a Website on the verge of Creation.

Note: subscription service history is one that had me scratching my heads. Readers, which do you remember? One early pioneer – and still a stellar buy – is Harrison MixBus, the absolutely beautiful DAW console built around the open source Ardour, with some fantastic-sounding stuff added in. In fact, this means you’d have a pretty unbeatable mixing desk for about $9 + $19 a month with the two combinations here. Wow.

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This Movie Clip Sums Up the SFX-Beatport Vision of the Future of Dance Music


That’s the direction you can expect from Beatport and SFX Entertainment. And the speech above from the film In Good Company more or less fits. (The plot of that 2004 movie even includes an acquisition by a conglomerate.)

Basically, SFX may have solved the problem of how to make money in the streaming business – by making its money elsewhere. Or, it seems that’s the plan.

Here’s the problem: music streaming has razor-thin margins versus sales. The artists and labels eek out fairly small bits of change, generally. They can blame the streaming services, but with those services having to pay off server bills, development, support, and all the royalties for the music themselves, there’s not much left in the way of profit in their end, either.

Enter SFX Entertainment, the media conglomerate that bought out Beatport. As reported by sources at the Wall Street Journal, SFX’s Beatport will in 2015 launch a free, ad-support streaming service. The paid service as you know it – recently redesigned as Beatport Pro – will apparently live on with the Pro name. (You can also read the details at DJ Tech Tools, since the WSJ is behind a paywall.)

So, what does this have to do with synergy? Everything.

SFX describes their own business as the “end-to-end” experience of dance music.

Let’s review. First, there are SFX’s recent acquisitions, each going to Beatport:

There’s Listn, the music history / sharing service, which Beatport just acquired. Of all of the stuff in the SFX empire, this is the most interesting – it share what you’re listening to across service with your friends. Unfortunately, for those of you on the long tail of music, it gets sort of less interesting after the acquisition – because then the founders start talking about streaming exclusivity, and we’re back to big label deals again. tells you what DJs are playing at clubs, though – right now they’re pretty scattered, and podcasts/radio shows are mixed in with clubs.

But the bigger picture is really to do with SFX. You can watch it in a film with lots of fits pumping, DJs in front of massive festival crowds, and tanned raver ladies baring skin, and … hexagons. So many hexagons. (It looks a bit like the film you watched at the local cineplex in the 90s that told you to buy popcorn and Coke and turn off your pagers and rent the theater for your next corporate event.)

About SFX Entertainment

The tagline: SFX is “a global platform for Electronic Music Culture.” And by culture, we’re talking the ‘c’ word – content. Namely, content integration:

We view EMC as a global generational movement driven by a rapidly developing community of avid followers among the millennial generation. Our mission is to enable this movement by providing our fans with the best possible live experiences, music discovery, online content and connectivity with other fans and events.

If it seems like all of this comes from a corporate boardroom with its DNA derived from a combination of media giant like Clear Channel and Ticketmaster and financial giants like Goldman Sachs, that’s because … it did.

But that’s not so important as the combination of services:

1. The biggest festivals. Tomorrowland, Sensation, Awakenings, Electric Zoo, and so on. And the world’s biggest paint party, too.
2. Clubs, promoters, bookers. Not just Miami – big booking outfits are consolidated internationally, particularly in North and South America.
3. Agencies. Digital integration from the mobile app to the visuals onstage are handled by

Beatport is important, too. Instead of DJs being the customers, suddenly millions of casual listeners are. It’s the millions of people surfing Beatport just to hear the songs – and the millions more who don’t know Beatport but do attend SFX festivals.

But that’s critical. Because I think if you’re a label or artist who doesn’t appeal to that festival crowd, the question is whether your output is now marginal to Beatport’s business model.

Now, if someone from Beatport would like to argue otherwise, I’d be glad to hear it. But to me, even iTunes or Amazon or Spotify benefits more from the long tail because they aren’t also booking the artists whose downloads they’re selling, or trying to assemble music that appeals to particular advertisers.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s too soon too judge, really. We have to see which labels are included in streaming, and whether Beatport Pro is disrupted by the addition of streaming.

Also, it’s unfair, perhaps, to blame the shift to streaming on Beatport. Labels and producers in general, as I’ve written before, have cause for concern as far as the DJ market for downloads, now that streaming is already a feature of DJ apps (look at Spotify in Algoriddim djay).

But from a business perspective, the questions are these:

1. Will labels and artists outside the SFX festival economy remain important to Beatport, or will they be eclipsed? (Indeed, will the buyers and streamers on Beatport start to self-select based on that economy, if this SFX synergy becomes successful?)
2. Will people buying festival tickets at SFX events want to listen to streaming music with ads?
3. Will those people listening make a lucrative advertising market? (It didn’t work for Spotify, but SFX has an ace in the hole – a more targeted audience of young people brands will want, the folks at the festivals. And then they have an agency to sell to them…
4. Will any of those people buy downloads – of music or Beatport sample packs?

I’ll be the first to say: I don’t know.

But for people making less-mainstream music, there’s a clear divide evolving. Will a company like SFX approach the long tail – figuring out what experimental music is played at an underground club, or selling an indie label – or will they just go after the big numbers at the top? Because right now, as far as the direction of SFX and looking at their businesses, I’d bet on the latter.

Meanwhile, if you’re afraid that this means dance music isn’t “underground” any more, its CEO wants you to know, “If you or anyone can ever find an example of someone from SFX telling them how much to charge for a bottle of Cristal at LIV, I’ll give you my shares of SFX.”

Phew. Because you know the underground is safe so long the Cristal bottle service doesn’t have to answer to middle management. (How someone at SFX hasn’t edited this off Wikipedia, I’m not sure, but there it is!)

This guy – I don’t know your name. Are you psyched?

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For Apple, Music Making is For Everybody: New Holiday Ad

We face a challenge in the music technology community. Underlined by a century in which music creation was the privilege of a few, in the studio world, and mass music was about records and radio, people might claim music making is niche. It’s the domain of specialists, techies – a weird overlap of superstars and nerds.

But some of us believe that musical expression as as essential as singing, and the tools matter just as much.

You don’t see much music technology in Apple’s latest ad. I think it might be a new record or near-record for the absence of screen time for Apple’s products. But what you do see is unquestionably creation, not consumption. There are subtle hints to every aspect of musical practice – guitar songbooks, multitrack recording, sharing.

And the video, a follow-up to last year’s Creative Arts Emmy winner, goes beyond the technology. It’s about why we make music – reaching other people.

It’s meaningful that a multibillion-dollar company would see making music as a core part of its mission, as the essential value to some of the most successful consumer products in history. Recently, I noted via Twitter that Apple’s own Logic Pro climbs to the top of the paid charts on their App Store – notable not so much because it’s an Apple product as it’s a music product.

Apple’s holiday campaign links to a variety of music app, a nice Christmas present for the developers featured. They show GarageBand, of course, but also include Propellerhead’s innovative Take vocal app, a tool that remembers that, for many people, music is about singing or playing an instrument and not just editing beats on a timeline. There’s also a beautiful app called Chord! that presents scales and chords in a gorgeous, luxurious format. And there’s the fun Sing!Karaoke from Smule, the rare superstar breakout developer that found a way to take music technology prowess and bring it to a mass market.

Now, whether or not you own a single Apple product, there’s a lesson here, about how important music is to one of the world’s biggest companies – and, much more importantly, how to tell the story about what music is to the general public. It’s a reason for the season.

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People Will Come: There’s Already a Free Sample Editor for volca sample

Getting “open” still scares many music manufacturers. Maybe they should double-check those fears.

See, if you add simple jacks (MIDI, audio), if you add driver-less operation (via USB and the like), let alone if you design simple APIs or create open source interfaces, you open the door to people making things that work with your creation, for free. They have to want to be there – but we make music. We love music gadgets. If your gadget is worth using in the first place, it’s worth opening up to other things.

You know. “If you build it … people will come.” The one constant is baseb– um, music, sorry.

At least, the magic is working for KORG. Just days – seriously, days – after getting hold of an open API for the KORG volca sample, there’s a cross-platform sample loading tool for this inexpensive sound gizmo. The volca sample is barely even shipping yet, and someone has created a free utility that works with it for free.

That’s no minor development, either, because one thing that has held at least some readers back from buying a volca sample is that it requires a KORG iPhone/iPod touch utility for loading samples. KORG’s app is cute and clever, but maybe you don’t have an iPhone – or don’t want to be dependent on one.

The Caustic Editor runs on Android. It runs on Mac OS X. It runs on Linux and Windows.

On iOS, it performs tricks even the stock KORG app can’t – like functionality with Audiobus, meaning you can open up sound design possibilities with other iOS apps.

Otherwise, it’s able to do everything you would need to do with samples on the volca sample because KORG wrote a simple SDK that makes it so. (And, honestly, KORG didn’t do that much – they released a simple library for handling samples covering just the basics.)


The development cost on KORG’s part for open sourcing this library appears reasonably minor (especially with this payoff). Support costs are harder to predict. It’s possible users will grab this utility, ignore all the disclaimers, and call up KORG technical support when they have trouble instead of the developer. On the other hand, it’s also possible that this app will generate new sales – and all sales have some support cost associated with them.

Not everyone is KORG. There’s unique passion for the volca range, because they’re so desirable to begin with. But if you’re not in the business of making a desirable product, you have other problems, anyway.

So, speaking as a sometimes-manufacturer here, we have a choice. We can ask ourselves, What Would Kevin Costner Do?

And while I’m still waiting to get a volca sample to even review, if you’ve got one, or were waiting for a cross-platform utility with sample loading, your prayers have been answered. Here’s what Caustic Editor does:


- Record your own samples using your device’s built-in microphone.
– Load any uncompressed, mono or stereo WAV, at any sampling rate or bit depth.
– Apply any of 16 of Caustic’s effects and preview them in real-time, then stamp down and apply more.
– Process waveform audio with Fade In/Out, Normalize, Amplify, Reverse, etc.
– Use Caustic’s C-SFXR to generate retro video game sounds.
– Trim audio precisely, down to individual samples.
– View the frequency spectrum of your audio.

- iOS: Audiobus compatible (receiver)
– iOS: AudioShare compatible (import/export)
– iOS: AudioCopy/Paste compatible (import/export)
– iOS: iTunes file sharing support
– iOS: Open In… support for .wav files.

Volca Sample-specific features:
– Upload to any of the 100 sample slots and keep a database of your device’s state.
– Clear all samples
– Restore factory samples
– Monitor device memory

Caustic Editor for Volca Series “CEVS” [Download]

KORG volca sample [US Product Page]

Caustic is an excellent rack of instruments for both Android and iOS, also worth a look!

Previously: Meet KORG’s New Sample Sequencing volca – And its SDK for Sampling

Hat tip to the incredibly-fast Synthtopia for getting on this story first.

And yes, I’m making fun of myself with the Field of Dreams reference – but, come on, I get to point out when strategic open sourcing really does work.



The post People Will Come: There’s Already a Free Sample Editor for volca sample appeared first on Create Digital Music.

SoundCloud Partners with Warner; What Does That Mean?


Since the summer (or earlier), you’ve been hearing that online streaming service SoundCloud would partner with big content makers. But noticeably absent was any official announcement of a label.

Well, a huge chunk of that picture just came together. SoundCloud and Warner Music Group today announced that they had inked a new partnership. The WMG announcement is huge – the global music conglomerate is just shy of 42% of worldwide market share. They’re the major among majors, the biggest US label, and the biggest publisher.

Oddly, many in the press jumped the gun on this announcement, claiming Warner had made a deal with SoundCloud before it evidently actually happened. But this is that deal, and it has big implications.

And if you think you don’t listen to Warner Music Group releases, you either have extraordinarily obscure tastes, or you’re just wrong. Their labels range from Nonesuch to Atlantic to Rhino, apart from things with “Warner” in them. (Full list below.) It even includes the Bowie record above – I know; it was the top hit on Rhino’s site today.

There were actually two announcements today. We knew as of summer that SoundCloud planned a subscription service not only for people uploading music, but those who just want to listen ad-free as advertisements start to appear on the service. But we only know now when that will happen – in the “first half of 2015.” Now, SoundCloud not only confirmed that subscription to CDM at the time, but also told us that they were investigating the ability for paid upload subscribers (like you, probably) to avoid ads. No additional information is available on that yet, but I don’t think there’s yet reason for panic – there just aren’t a lot of ads on the service yet to want to avoid.

So, what does this mean?


For Warner and its artists (who I’m certain include some CDM readers), the answer is money – at least in some quantity. On SoundCloud‘s Premiere level, currently available only to select partners, offers money via advertising revenue for those who want to ad advertisements to their stream. It should also offer revenue via subscription services. There are a lot of unknowns here. To be successful, SoundCloud must find advertisers wanting to pay, listeners willing to listen, and by next year, subscribers willing to pay not to hear the ads.

What the deal offers for the moment is content – potentially, a lot of it.

It’s up to Warner to choose what content is available out of its catalog. SoundCloud tells CDM that Warner gets to choose which tracks are available, in exchange for revenue on the ad-supported free service as well as next year’s planned subscription service.


Here’s the significant twist: if you’re a Warner-recorded artist or Warner/Chappell-published music author, you will get license fees out of the deal. And what’s unclear is what will happen to, say, DJs uploading music or remix artists. From a control standpoint, you might not want that content uploaded. On the other hand, SoundCloud is licensed, so all those plays would mean revenue. So while SoundCloud isn’t commenting on the terms, and this lies in the hands of Warner (and in Warner’s hands if you happen to be a Warner artist), we’ll see if this means a shift from uploads being taken down or blocked to having them left there, instead.

But I think the most significant information is this: read the full list of who Warner represents:

Asylum, Atlantic, Big Beat, East West, Elektra, Fueled by Ramen, Nonesuch, Parlophone, Reprise, Rhino, Roadrunner, Rykodisc, Sire, Warner Bros., Warner Classics, Warner Music Nashville, and Word, as well as Warner/Chappell Music

That’s a lot of music. And that means SoundCloud is now in the big league for the first time since its launch. Whether they can win in the big league, that’s another story – whether they’re another Spotify, or just another wannabe.

Warner Music Group and SoundCloud Announce Groundbreaking Partnership [WMG announcement]

SoundCloud Explains Their New Plans to Us – And How Ads Will Work

Meet Those SoundCloud Premier Partners, Advertisers – And Look Back 5 Years Ago

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Massive Traktor Kontrol S8 Controller is Here – Now Who’s it For?

The Kontrol S8 is now standards bearer for Native Instruments’ DJ line. It’s such big news, you might hear about it outside the world of DJ tech followers. You’ve likely seen it already – this may be the most-leaked, most-teased DJ product in history. But now that it’s fully revealed, the S8 is almost certain to fan the flames of an ongoing debate:

Just what is digital DJing, anyway?

First, we can at least work out what the S8 is. It’s an audio mixer with control surfaces on both sides. It’s hardware made specifically to sell software (or the other way around, if you like). As NI’s Maschine Studio has done for producers, it uses big, color screens on the hardware to keep your eyes on that controller rather than on your laptop. It has a hardware layout tailored to the functionality of Traktor – deck controls, browsing, Remix Decks. And it builds in an audio interface and 4-channel hardware audio mixer for connecting external gear – CDJs, turntables, synthesizers, whatever. You wouldn’t use the mixer without the computer, but at least it acknowledges you might get audio signal to and from the outside world.

There are two design decisions likely to generate discussion. Firstly, the S8 is big – really big. It’s 58.5 cm — that’s nearly two feet. (It joins various other popular controllers, notably Pioneer’s flagship DDJs, in the same territory.) The 5kg/11lb weight isn’t so bad, but the physical hulk means you need dedicated space in a DJ booth to play it, and transportation is a challenge. (EDM = America = trucks?) Secondly, it drops jog wheels and per-deck tempo controls in favor of touch strips and a master tempo control.


To people who aren’t armchair DJ controller critics, that last bit may not sound like the stuff of forum flame wars. Those folks, who I will dub in ethnographic terms as “normal people,” just read “Well, that’s a big heavy thing with lots of lights. And now something is something or other something else I’m bored.” Or, no, actually, they’re looking at pictures of cats, so never mind.

To the computer DJ, the new controllers are blasphemy for a simple reason: they cement the idea that you might not be manually beat-matching tracks. (Oh, the humanity!) To be fair, this isn’t just an idea espoused by random people on forums; some very famous DJs have said the same thing. The idea is, the essence of DJing, as received from the legacy of playing on two turntables, is manually adjusting the position of a record platter and its playback speed to match two tracks.

In the worst case version of this world view, automatic tempo sync is simply the work of Satan, the end of music, and the beginning of the end times. In the best case, it’s an automatic transmission in a car: sucking the fun out of driving, and not entirely effective.

There are some problems with this orthodoxy, however. Reducing turntablism to beat matching is more than a little simplistic. As early as the 70s, DJ technique, flourishing in places like the Bronx, had already expanded to breaks, remixes, beat juggling. By the 80s, it added drum machines and even more-involved turntable technique – backspins, punch phrases, stuff you actually can’t do on those hulking plastic controllers. Great turntablists play vinyl like a musical instrument, not just a mechanism for mixing tracks.

Perhaps, then, beat matching is fundamental, but it didn’t take long for pioneers to move on to new things – Kool Herc, Frankie Knuckles, Grandmaster Flash. Whether it succeeds or not, the Remix Decks in Traktor and other controllerist machinations have far more to do with DJ history than using a plastic disc to manually cue does.

And about those plastic discs. A controller simply isn’t a turntable. They’ve gotten better – not so long ago, a German manufacturer called Native Instruments was telling me how they had come up with something to do with magnets that made their Traktor controller better. (Ahem.) But they still aren’t as good as turntables: they lack the physical feedback and resistance that a full-sized turntable provides. Oh, and on a turntable, apart from digital control records, you can also play music encoded on vinyl discs, which you’ll conveniently find as a major means of distributing music online and in your local record store. There’s that.

And that brings us to the fundamental disconnect between the controversy over these large, multi-deck controllers and the real world of DJing.

Let’s not pull any punches. Right now, the single most popular DJ equipment used by pro DJs when walking into a club – the flagship of the digital DJ, if you will – is a USB stick.

Somehow, in the reality I live in (but apparently not large swaths of The Internets), clubs tend to have a mixer, a couple of CDJs, and a couple of turntables. Most people use the CDJs, because relying on them means your gig doesn’t go pear-shaped and a USB stick will get you going. Some people use vinyl. Some people plug into the mixer with their laptop, and either use the records for control vinyl (with Traktor or Serato, typically), or plug in their laptop and use a controller.

That last part is important, though. If you are using a laptop, you suddenly have extremely restricted space. The displays on the S8 look terrific, in that turning your head to the side to squint at your MacBook is a mood killer. But its girth is a problem. Even some very highly-paid DJs tend to a) need to work in small spaces in some clubs or b) like to bring their own mixer. And we’re talking men and women pulling in consistent five-figure fees.

There’s some role for the touring DJ with something like the S8 – but it makes some assumptions. That is, there is surely some intersection between the people who get gigs on big tables and people who don’t already own a mixer they want to use. It’s just that that crossover seems not huge.

Despite that, lots of these huge controllers are indeed selling, from Pioneer, Numark, and others. That raises the question of where they’re all going. Frankly, music manufacturers don’t really need to worry so much about that question, until someone calls their tech support line or returns the product to the store. (Hint: you don’t want either of those things to happen.) That’s not me being cynical: speaking as a part-time manufacturer, this is really what makes your job fun. You don’t know what people will do with what you make. It can be pleasantly surprising. If you did know, there would be no challenge. Like a combination between misguided time traveler and snake oil salesman, you’re literally selling tools for people to use in the future. (Native Instruments’ marketing slogan isn’t far off.)

And into that market comes the S8.




On the size issue, even when the S8 first leaked, people were already predicting in comments a sort of Half S8 – they want the controller without the mixer in between. That seems more a smarter choice to me for NI than a jog wheel add-on predicted in comments by the editor of The Verge. (Let go! No more damned jog wheels! Jog wheels are awesome – in video editing! And… oddly, as a pitch wheel on the Roland SYSTEM-1, but that’s another story.)

If the S8 doesn’t easily fit into a club booth, it can still have some place – and not just collecting dust on the shelf of an orthodonist who had extra cash and decided he wanted to try DJing. (Though, Dr. Talbot, I will happily come give you a lesson, and I do routinely get comments on my teeth – thanks!)

This is a very, very capable single piece of hardware. Yes, it retails for US$1,299, so if you already have a mixer, you probably aren’t buying one. On the other hand, if you are playing gigs where you can request some table space, or if you’re looking for a single piece of kit to outfit a new studio or home studio, it’s certainly worth a look – and will be worth a proper review.

It also coexists nicely with other gear, if your mixer and audio interface are wanting an upgrade. It’s got Cirrus Logic converters, high-spec audio performance, connections for line outputs and a mic and turntables and four stereo channels.



And about that controller. Sorry, please, start the flame wars, but to the jog wheels, good riddance. In their place, you get extensive controls for everything Traktor does. Traktor’s problem has been that the deep power of its decks, loop and remix capabilities, and effects are often obscured by a complex desktop UI. Here, as with Maschine, you can “play” those options like an instrument. The touch-sensitive knobs give you control over everything from the browser to decks to effects. The big display shows your music collection on the hardware so you don’t have to feel like you’re looking at a spreadsheet on your computer.

And, most interestingly, you can use Freeze and live capture to sample audio from music. The pads aren’t velocity-sensitive – that’s where you know this is Traktor and not Maschine – but finally you get the kinds of easy loop/sample capabilities of Traktor on the iPad with real tactile controls.

And that’s where I think we have a hint as to what the S8 might be. It’s a remix machine. It’s, weirdly, DJ hardware that could appeal to producers who also DJ.

The optimistic side of me hopes the S8 finds some traction doing just that. For people billed playing live gigs, someone, somewhere could play an interesting set on it. (I think it’s unrealistic to expect that and turntables and CDJs, as seen in NI’s proposed use cases on their product site, but the controller aspect remains interesting.) And it could find some happy homes in studios.

Here’s DJ TechTools with their hands-on — deservedly, as proponents of this particular brand of controllerist-centric DJing.

I’ve had only a few minutes here and there with the hardware, but I was impressed. It looks beautiful; it feels expensive. Whether or not want to take it home, you can at least respect what it is. Now, personally, if NI could just give us this in a size closer to the Maschine mk2, or even Maschine Studio, I’d be interested … more interested, indeed, than I would ever say I’ve been in a DJ controller. It might even win over some producers who haven’t gotten very deep into Traktor as producers. In the meantime, it remains something big and luggable and pricey, and tied exclusively to Traktor software, and also powerful – a flagship, and sized to match.

But while the flame wars rage, the S8 also represents something else. The vision of DJing is finally breaking apart from faking turntables on hardware. And that, I think, can only be a good thing. The reality is, syncing two tracks may not be the most important thing DJs do any more. And maybe, looking at all DJs have been over the years, it never really was.

It’s just that anyone hoping to compete as a DJ product in clubs will have to go up against the juggernaut that is — wait for it –

Sticking a USB stick into a CDJ.

But, hey. Competition is always, always good.


Traktor Kontrol S8

By the way, I think NI really nailed the production-centric workflow of the S8 in that launch film. If you liked the music, don’t miss this Bandcamp compilation – some terrific artists here who just happened to get into the NI promo, via a great Berlin-based collective called Through My Speakers.

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Vinyl’s Resurgence Thanks to Indie Stores, DJs – And It’s Growing

For years, pundits have wondered what physical form would accompany the ephemeral nothingness of digital downloads. Maybe it would be USB sticks, or t-shirts, or big coffee table books, or strange sculptural totems, or USB sticks shaped like cassette tapes.

Funny story. What if it turned out just to be the vinyl record? What if vinyl, reborn, really is what today’s digital music scene looks like in tangible form?

The counter-narrative, domain of the naysaying cynic, is that the vinyl record is an ill-conceived throwback, a punchline to the joke of valueless music. Vinyl as hipster parody, as Portlandia sketch, is perhaps best embodied by Urban Outfitters claiming recently it was the number one outlet for vinyl sales. That’s the record, surely, at its worst – chain-store pastiche, novelty nostalgia. (Adding insult to injury, Hot Topic ranks #2 in brick and mortar.) And it would lump vinyl alongside Lomography cameras, those plastic photographer toys whose fortunes of late have turned south – lovely as their light leaks are, the business model seemed unable to sustain growth.

Not so, says Billboard Magazine. In a more detailed breakdown of sales, Urban Outfitters tops physical outlets, but only because the market is so fragmented. The sales leader in the USA when you add in online retail is Amazon – and maybe no coincidence that the biggest vinyl seller is also one of the biggest music download stores. Amazon looks even bigger globally.

But the biggest winner of all is the independent record store. Musicians and DJs, not Millennial mallrats, are the driver, which could see the biggest growth coming from music stores.

Urban Outfitters Doesn’t Sell the Most Vinyl

And this confirms what seemed obvious to many of us. Vinyl records are an extension of, not a reaction to, today’s musical landscape. The same long tail that has been betrayed by the iTunes store, by U2 exclusives (hello, Bono icon for “Artists”), by Google’s major label favoritism, by lame streaming revenues, is served nicely by your corner record shop or a search for rare vinyl releases.

That is, we knew vinyl was growing – but even though it may represent a sliver of the record market, even though that growth is relative to, well, starting from near-death, it’s the independence of the format that’s encouraging. It’s survival in that niche.

Infographic: The LP is Back! | Statista
You will find more statistics at Statista

Despite the trend in so many retail channels to consolidation, record stores also fiercely independent. As reported in Billboard

“Independent retailers are still the backbone of vinyl’s growth, and they are still selling tons of it,” says one major label distribution executive. “Indies are driving the format’s growth and everyone else is picking up on what they do.”

Though oddly even Whole Foods is getting in on this (um, organic tomatoes and LPs for dinner?), the Guitar Center push seems the most realistic:

“Our plan is to build on our vinyl strategy in 2015 to really capitalize on the resurgence of vinyl — this is definitely an area of music that consumers are telling us they’re more and more interested in,” says Guitar Center’s vp of corporate affairs Christopher Bennett, who says the chain is also seeing an uptick in vinyl turntables as well.”We’re going to be offering a host of different vinyl record players as well in 2015 for the traditional music audiophile, and also for music producers and DJs.”

This, of course, has big implications for the independent producer. It says that the growth of DJing may well prove necessary to the survival of recording. It values, for better or for worse, those releases that can produce physical pressings. (For better: this may help stop the race-to-the-bottom, valueless tyranny of choice produced by overabundance. For worse: you can buy your way in, and if you can’t afford a pressing, you could be left out.)

It also puts the importance of the online transformation in a different place. In this version of the story, social media and hyper-specialization drive people to their local record shop to thumb through vinyl, rather than making those sales happen online.

It’s impossible to say just how long vinyl’s second run will last, though – these are lagging indicators, not leading indicators, necessarily. What it does seem to suggest, though, is that the enthusiast is increasingly the person on the production side of the equation. Your most dedicated fans may shop the same music stores you do. The “anyone can produce, anyone can be a DJ” phenomenon may produce more music, but is also produces more – and more enthusiastic – music consumers.

It’s painfully easy to overstate the importance of vinyl, too. The best article on the dark side of vinyl’s so-called renaissance recently came from Thomas Cox, for Attack Magazine.

Cox outlines the problems with vinyl. First, the numbers are skewed:

…a large proportion of vinyl sales come from things like audiophile reissues of classic albums, Record Store Day novelties and collectors’ editions, dance music has its own issues to deal with.

– and then there are the over-hyped limited edition runs, which serve largely to artificially inflate prices and distract from the use of vinyl as an actual mechanism for music distribution. This might be reasonable were it not for overabundance of the same music in all these forms. As Cox puts it: “We’re inundated with old music being re-released to make money, while new music is sold to as few people as possible to make the hype machine spin.”

We Need to Talk About Vinyl [Attack]

It’s worth reading Cox’s whole article. But as he argues for a meaningful vinyl market over these “gimmicks,” the latest Billboard findings are encouraging. Part of his thesis is that the gimmicky “rare” market online pulls people away from resellers. But healthy reseller numbers seem to suggest that the more organic market, the one actually listening to music on vinyl, is still not only surviving but growing.

To state the blindingly obvious, there’s no one panacea for musicians trying to make a living. This is doubly ironic in light of the constant industry fascination with the high point of the CD, given those grandest sales went to only a select few, leaving the average musician as financially challenged as ever.

But having some dominant physical form is hugely promising. It means there’s some object that can represent what a record is. It makes the musical album endure as social object, as people gather around those record events – you’ll see this next week in Amsterdam at Amsterdam Dance Event, even as DJing is dominated by Traktor and Serato and iPad and CDJ. They’ll be crate digging shoulder to shoulder; they’ll be attending events in which a label remains meaningful. And even if the future turns out to be those sculptural totems, well, we’ll look back and say the MP3 and streaming didn’t kill the album or annihilate the label. And I think that’s probably going to be a good thing.

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This Prototype Imagines DJ Controllers with Touch, Today – No iPad in Sight

While everyone has been pouring over leaks of Native Instruments’ new Traktor controller, few took notice that one enterprising engineer has made his own touchscreen prototype – an entirely DIY effort, from the guy who first took controllers to the market.

Kontrol-Dj, the decade-long, one-man engineering shop for DJs, over the summer quietly showed a custom solution for adding touchable displays to existing DJ controllers. There’s capacitive multi-touch support – out of the box, working with Image-Line’s Dekcadance software.

And for now, this little video is about the only DJ rig not involving an iPad or Android tablet that uses touch in this way. One thing you don’t see in the NI film about the Kontrol S8 is anyone touching the screen. It seems neither new Numark nor NI controllers yet incorporate touch.

Luis Serrano should know something about the history of DJ controllers: he invented the world’s first commercial offering, the KDJ-500. (The key word here is “commercial” – everything else was a DIY, one-off affair.) You’ll notice some familiar features even in that original model: jog wheels are combined with mixer controls. The arrangement and build would be perfectly desirable today, some 11 years later, for DJing, live music, or live visuals. (You’ll occasionally see someone ask around for one.)

If you bought this box in 2003, congratulations: you were way, way ahead of the curve.

If you bought this box in 2003, congratulations: you were way, way ahead of the curve.

Luis is now lead software engineer on Deckadance, Image-Line’s somewhat underrated, under-the-radar DJ app, and has made various other controllers (plus a mixer) over the years.

The touch solution here is compelling. Rather than use one control separate from the screen to control what’s on the screen, you touch the screen – and the waveform – directly. Ironically, Native Instruments has probably done more than anyone to popularise just that concept. Touch in Traktor DJ on the iPad is a revelation: suddenly, making and triggering loops and the like is stunningly intuitive. (Traktor is hardly alone, but I think deserves special mention because of its unique focus on touchable looping, etc.)

Now, obviously, tactile controls have appeal that touch can’t replace: knobs and faders work better in physical form than in virtual renditions, wheels need resistance, and so on. So you don’t see Luis using touch for the whole controller; instead, he integrates it with that hardware (including the jog wheels I love to hate so much).

Happily, iPad docks never caught on. We have seen controllers extend the iPad, so that’s one option – as Native Instruments like to show in their own solution. They even launched a promo video around the concept. The attendees aren’t staged: the crowd includes Berlin tech luminaries such as DJ Sarah Farina, Berlin Geekettes’ Jess Erickson, and the Through My Speakers crowd – plus a lot of NI employees. In other words, make whatever jokes you want about iPad DJs – this DJ crew can out-DJ plenty of aspiring DJs regardless of what tool they happen to be using.

I imagine in some weeks, as the NV ships from Numark and the S8 from NI, the iPad – augmented with controllers – will be the logical rival. It now offers several DJ apps with features similar to what you get on desktop, and touch is integrated directly with the program.

But that raises the question of why no one has worked out getting capacitive touch into custom hardware. Why haven’t we seen a touch-enabled CDJ? Why are we just now seeing screens (hardly new tech) in the controllers, but still no touch?

There would seem to be two remaining obstacles. One, simply, is cost. Add up the cost of those jog wheels (or pads), and faders, and pots, and even built-in mixers, and it may be that manufacturers can’t add touch within their cost targets. Only Apple and Samsung and Asus have the sort of supply chains that make touch screens cheap.

Another, trickier problem may be that touch itself isn’t always desirable. Add touch to a screen, and you open up the possibility of accidentally triggering tracks when you brush the display with your hand. That has also kept many DJs away from the iPad in high-pressure situations: capacitive touchscreens don’t like sweaty hands, and big audiences don’t like train wrecks.

Still, this seems to be an idea worth testing, not only in the DJ world but in future instruments, too. It’d be strange if all touch interfaces were left to Apple, when the iPad is very often not a perfect musical device. (Ask my iPad mini about that – it’s suddenly become unfriendly with WiFi networks since meeting iOS 8.)

So, whether the idea is ready for prime time or not, I’d keep an eye on experiments like this.

And, after all, Luis was ahead of his time last time.

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