Behringer’s so-called “website glitch” trades credibility for buzz

The day after Behringer posted a lineup of remakes of classic analog synth and drum machines, the company is calling it an error – and making no promises.

One one level, you can’t blame Behringer. You surely don’t need press conferences at pricey trade shows if you can mess around with buzz spread on forums and social media. And I’m surprised more manufacturers don’t devise some way of using that to their advantage – perhaps more honestly than here.

But you can blame Behringer for dissembling in communication, for setting out to harm competitors, and for mucking about with the trust of customers. All three of those things appear to have happened here.

In short: Behringer are again earning buzz, at the expense of the already questionable credibility of the brand.

Let’s review:

Yesterday, Behringer for the better part of the evening German time published complete product specs for drum machines and synthesizers, across multiple categories on their public website. That included references to a wide array of products from the KORG MS-20 to the Roland 808 and 909 to ARP 2600 and various other historical models.

Then, at 4 am German time, the company published the follow apology/correction or … whatever this is … to their Facebook page:

Dear Friends,
It was brought to our attention that early this morning a rather unfortunate error occurred on the Behringer product page. This error mistakenly posted information for a number of different product design concepts from our product management repository which is contained and part of an automated backend system for our websites. The cause of the error was due to a website glitch and was completely unintentional. The moment we realized the error, we removed the content.
As we are owning the mistake, we also feel it’s necessary to inform the public about this error as a sign of good faith. It was not our intention to mislead customers in any way nor use this as a marketing tool. To be perfectly transparent, the leaked information does not imply any availability at this time or even definitive evidence that we intend to officially develop or deliver these products in the future. At this stage, the leaked products are merely concepts and nothing more.
To be honest we are embarrassed by this glitch and sincerely apologize to you who have been so supportive of our efforts over the years. We greatly appreciate your support and understanding of the situation.

Sorry, assume a few people spit coffee on their computers there. “Automated backend system for our websites”?

This line we’ve heard before, too – that Behringer appears to view teasing products as a kind of trial balloon for measuring demand. The difference is, in the past, at least, they said that was what they were doing – they didn’t do it via a staged site bug.

Let’s talk about why this is problematic.

Fake news? Fake drums? Real Oberheim… Retro Synth Ad.

Behringer are being disingenuous in their communication. More bluntly: it’s very likely that they’re flat-out lying – or at least being tongue-in-cheek about this whole thing. Sure, it’s possible they keep product planning documents in the content management system they use for the site. And maybe then they use the production server for the task rather than a backup. And maybe they somehow automatically, accidentally published that same content to a production server publicly.

Though, if that sequence of events actually happened, uh, to the Web team … wow. Either way:

This encourages customers to delay purchasing competitors. This isn’t just about getting buzz. By hinting that Behringer will have low-cost alternatives of stuff users want, the brand can encourage customers to hold off purchasing shipping products from companies like KORG, Roland, and Moog. Indeed, specifically teasing recognizable products targets those competitors even more explicitly. And there’s anecdotal evidence to think there’s harm there, based on impressions on forums and comments. Even if that isn’t the case, retailers read those same threads, and this can spook them.

Uli Behringer’s extended rants about value and price, which imply (I think unfairly) that competitors’ products should be cheaper, also seems related to this strategy.

Behringer are hurting their own relationship with customers. I actually would encourage those same competitors to focus on this. Behringer are now over-promising in a pretty fantastic way. If they don’t ship this stuff, customers are likely to be disappointed with Behringer, not other companies.

And sure enough —

They’re still not shipping their Model D. Way back in March, Behringer were promising a low-cost Minimoog clone. But that clone still isn’t shipping, or seen on the site here – a fact not lost on social media (or CDM commenters).

They’re not exactly making the Curtis family happy, either. This is what the widow of Doug Curtis had to say about Behringer offering remakes of her late husband’s chips:

We are starting to see authorized chip remakes, however, as a competitors to what Ms. Curtis is referencing here. (COOLAUDIO Semiconductors have made the inexpensive chips that likely formed the basis for the product ideas above.)

Just don’t read too much into this. This understandably has generated a lot of buzz in December, a lull during which most manufacturers are focused on holiday sales, with product announcements mostly paused until late January.

But I think most people wanting a new drum machine, or a Roland Boutique, or KORG’s ARP recreations, or new Eurorack modules, on down the list are likely to go ahead and invest anyway. I think the relationships between those brands and their customers – from the Japanese giants to the one-person Eurorack boutique makers – are safe, too.

If this was (improbably) a mistake, Behringer, fix it. If it wasn’t, well – yeah, expect some of us to question your intentions.

The post Behringer’s so-called “website glitch” trades credibility for buzz appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Music Developer on Windows 8: A Leap Forward for Desktops; A Leap Backward for Metro, WinRT?

Steven Sinofsky showing Windows 8 last year. Photo (CC-BY) BUILDWindows.

There’s good news and bad news on Windows 8 for music making. If you’re using Windows on a conventional, Intel PC, running conventional, desktop Windows apps, the news is really all good – really good. It’s still early days, but Windows 8 promises to be better than Windows 7 at audio performance metrics across the board, a no-brainer sort of upgrade for music makers.

By contrast, if you’re using Windows 8 on a new ARM-based tablet or interested in seeing music apps that take advantage of the new-fangled store and app coding style, the news is looking really pretty bad.

I’ve talked with various developers; Cakewalk CTO Noel Borthwick has been uniquely involved in researching what’s changed. He now releases details of how the developer tools work in Windows 8, as well as how desktop acts can be expected to perform, using an unmodified version of their SONAR DAW you may have running on your PC right now:

WINDOWS 8 – A BENCHMARK FOR MUSIC PRODUCTION APPLICATIONS [Cakewalk Blog]

For background, in 2009, Noel looked with us under the hood of Windows 7 – and everything there is relevant to desktop Windows apps today under Windows 8, with further improvements added in the new version of the OS. (See below.)

That is a must-read for the technically minded, but in case you’re not a developer or haven’t kept up with everything happening with Windows 8, I’m going to explain some of the background. I’ll look at the fundamentals of the new OS – or OSes, really – and then explain why one particular point on the version of Windows 8 you’d likely run on many tablets has a big deal-breaker for audio. (Opinion: These are my opinions, and my take on the engineering analysis as I understand it, not Noel’s or Cakewalk’s; it’s worth getting those ideas out there now in advance of the OS release as we expect to learn more as the thing ships.)

What It’s All About

Let’s explain, in terms as simple as possible. The easiest way to think about this is Standard Windows and New Windows. (I’ll say “standard” rather than “old,” because the “old” in this case seems to have gotten a lot of love and attention, and clearly isn’t going away.)

“Standard Windows” is Windows as you now know it, with years of experience in audio APIs that make Windows computers powerful for music applications. It’s the Windows that lets your hardware work, lets you plug in keyboards and audio interfaces, lets you run all the audio software you use, and get low-latency performance for virtual instruments and recording and anything else that makes sound. It’s not always friendly – installing special drivers and whatnot – but it does work. And it works not only for “pros,” but also “amateurs” who want to make music and don’t appreciate unexpected delays between when they do something and when they hear a sound. It works on computers that are general-purpose machines used by “punters” as the Brits like to say, people having nothing to do with music. Standard “Windows 8″ is, simply, Windows running on Intel as you know it.

“New Windows” is based on some, but not all, of those ingredients, and introduces software that looks and works a bit differently than the Windows you know. It’s Metro running on Windows 8, the new design language involving all those colored square tiles you see, and now a set of graphic APIs for writing to it. It’s not the “old” design language you’ve seen in, say, Excel – or SONAR or Cubase – running on Windows 7, the business with the red X button and the transparent window bars. Then, there’s WinRT (short for Windows Runtime), a set of developer tools that let you code applications for “New Windows,” and distribute those apps in a new, Apple-style app store from Microsoft.

If you’re running a PC and you install Windows 8, you get both “Standard” and “New” Windows on your machine, and you can run each of the apps. So, when you do want to use Ableton Live or Cubase or SONAR or FL Studio, the Windows you know is there. If you want to look at a bunch of colored tiles or play some Angry Birds or use a Twitter app made for Metro, you can run that, too. You’ll find yourself buying those apps from a store, the way you do on an iPhone. The same is also true of the upcoming Surface Pro tablet: it’ll do both, which is why I think it will be uniquely interesting to musicians. (For some, it may be more interesting than even the iPad, because it won’t make you give up the apps you already use on your laptop or desktop machine.)

There is now, however, a breed of “Windows” computers that gives you no choice. Microsoft’s own non-Pro Surface is one example. These machines have ARM chips instead of Intel. And with just one set of exceptions – Microsoft’s office apps – they won’t run “Standard Windows.” They’ll only run the new-fangled Metro and WinRT stuff, via an operating system confusingly called Windows RT. Window RT is kind of Microsoft’s answer to iOS.

Ah, you say, but this is a good thing. If I’m using a slim, touch-only tablet, I don’t want a bunch of “legacy” apps that aren’t built for the new UI metaphors.

You’d be exactly right. And that’s why the bad news is really bad news if you were eyeing those machines. (Well, unless you like latency, in which case, I have, um, terrific news! You’re REALLY going to love the long moments of peace and quiet between when you strike a note and when you hear a sound! It’s not latency – it’s moments of contemplation!)

The Bad News About WinRT

Some of WinRT’s design is familiar to users of Android and iOS. You can’t really install plug-ins. (You can use native code, so, in fact, there’s nothing stopping things like libpd from working on Metro – complete with support for externals.) Okay, so, no deal-breaker there.

There’s also no support, at least that we can tell, for audio or MIDI hardware. That’s kind of a deal breaker, given you can take a range of audio and MIDI hardware and plug it directly into an iPad. But, part of the advantage of a tablet is portability, and this is a first-generation product, so let’s give them a pass there.

There’s WASAPI, the low-latency audio framework first seen in Windows Vista. Okay, that’s good news – low-latency audio framework. That’s what’s missing on Android, and what’s present (as “Core Audio”) on iOS, the guts that have made all these music apps possible on iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.

Now, here’s the deal-killer: it’s missing the low-latency bits. Noel explains:

WASAPI supports low latency via what is known as “exclusive mode” where an application can bypass the high latency introduced by the system mixer. However based on reports from Microsoft it would appear that low latency audio applications were not considered in the Metro application model. See this blog post where Microsoft states that 100 msec was considered to be their goal for acceptable latency!

Oh, yeah, and with no low-level support for driver models to replace that, you can’t plug in your own hardware to get high-quality, low-latency audio that way. You’re just, uh, out of luck. (Someone suggested that Steinberg would release ASIO for WinRT. That might be the case, if it were possible. Based on current documentation, it’s not.)

Unless we receive new information, that means it’s safe to describe Windows 8′s WinRT as completely tone-deaf. It means Microsoft learned none of the lessons of what Apple accomplished, and what Google failed to accomplish, that really nailing the quality of your multimedia layer in software.

If this developer information is correct and complete, it would Apple raised the bar, and then Microsoft lowered it again. And it’s especially unforgivable, because unlike Google, Microsoft actually does have experience at this. Which brings us to the good news – for desktop users, that is.

Windows 8 is Looking Better Than Windows 7

Noel testing SONAR under Windows 8. Courtesy Cakewalk.

Desktop users, if this was making you feel bleak, don’t. It’s just a first benchmark, so should be taken with a grain of salt, but in testing SONAR on Windows 8, Noel finds a litany of performance improvements across the board, in areas like:

  • Hard disk throughput
  • Lower CPU load in low-latency situations
  • Reduced memory usage
  • Overall reduced CPU load and fewer audio glitches, thanks to improvements in the kernel and “system calls”

In short:

The results of the benchmarks were surprisingly good! Windows 8 performed better than Windows 7 across the board in all categories, and in many cases with fairly dramatic performance gains.

Why This Matters

The logical conclusions here:
1. Windows 8 will probably be a great upgrade for musicians on the desktop Windows platform.
2. For people wanting to run the new software environment, or use new ARM-based tablets, we’d need some evidence to demonstrate that this is a usable OS for music. Based on current information, it’s not – not for many applications.

You should read Noel’s analysis, but he reaches similar conclusions.

Here’s the rub: the fact that Windows 8 is so good when running conventional apps almost makes it more frustrating that so many new tablets will be left out of the party. Now, you could argue that “average” users don’t need such things, and I’m just a “niche” musician droning on about something that matters to me – and you’d be partly right. But average users share some of the same powers of perception with sound that advanced users do; there’s actual research on that. Average users can hear, and respond negatively to, 100 ms latency. And average users have made the iPad and iPhone some of the most successful products in history. Whether this was a deciding factor, it didn’t stop the mass market from buying them.

You could also argue that low latency concerns would make too great a sacrifice in battery life or app security. There, not only is the iPad evidence to the contrary, but so, too, is Windows itself. Not all apps need these features, but then why not build them into the OS for those that do?

If Microsoft really did fail to learn from their own engineering accomplishments on Windows, then it’s the obligation of those of us who do know something about sound to be, well, noisy about it.

When stuff works, it usually doesn’t work by accident – that’s true of all the OSes available today.

I’d love to be proven wrong, before Windows 8 ships on these devices. We’ll be watching, and will have more complete advice for musicians on all these platforms as these tools become available.

Ethics, Business, Compensation, Music: In 98 Words, The Elephant in the Room

The biggest catastrophic event in artists earning a living is not the Internet, and it’s not piracy.

It was the advent of recording. Some people got rich. Other working musicians wound up out of a job.

If you pay attention to that history, it puts recent changes in a different context and on a different scale. The real question is why anyone debating music compensation would ignore its single most transformative moment. Any view of the future that involves history must take it into account. And maybe then we’d ask different, deeper questions about what’s next.

Yamaha’s iPad Tenori-On Videos Emerge

On the road from futuristic instrumental concept to real-world product, the Yamaha Tenori-On as shipped lacked some of the functionality its creator, gifted media artist Toshio Iwai, originally imagined. Notably, wireless networking, which promised social music-making with other devices, was gone, replaced with a more-limited MIDI connector.

Now, in a surprisingly literal translation from the hardware to iPad, it appears the Tenori-On has added that feature – but lost some of its charm. An iOS developer notes to me that pitches don’t sound when you tap the screen, only when they are played in the sequence. That fundamentally changes the interaction with the sequencer: you can’t hear notes until they’re sequenced, and you would presumably lose the sense of playing an instrument. That report is happily incorrect; both the developer and I were mistaken from our video impressions. That makes this far more useful.

My reaction here should be taken with a grain of salt – this is only a demo video. But in observing what is new (networked features look terrific), it’s likewise worth saying that something is lost when you move to tangible hardware. To me, a lot of the appeal of the Tenori-On was tangible: the machined metal case, with curved edges designed to be comfortable to hold, and the feeling of running your fingers against discrete, round keys on the array of buttons. Those are lost by necessity. Yet, oddly, some of the Tenori-On’s features designed primarily for hardware – the menu system and navigation keys – are reproduced here, features necessary on a hardware design but not a tablet.

Yamaha Japan, apologies for going on a rant on a product I haven’t yet used, but I’m concerned at what seems to be a missed opportunity. And designer Toshio Iwai has already conceived imaginative touch-based interfaces that are designed for a screen, in works before iOS had even been announced, like ElectroPlankton for the Nintendo DS and interactive installation work going back some 15 years or so.

Simply translating hardware designs to a screen is novel, but rarely usable. Just ask Tascam, who were roundly (and rightly) criticized for making a Portastudio app for iPad that required you rewind every single time.

At least the good news is, some of the musical personality of Toshio Iwai’s work remains, and in a form that doesn’t require a costly hardware investment. Updated – also, via readers, there’s evidence of MIDI support.You’ll find other videos on Yamaha’s official Japanese channel.

Just mark my words: the hardware is still cooler, and there’s a lot of potential in hardware and software sequencers alike beyond this yet to be realized, whether by Yamaha or by someone else.

Updated: I want to re-emphasize that there appears to be auditory feedback as you press buttons for sequences, which is great news and vastly improves usability. And while I stand by some of what’s advantageous in hardware, I’m excited to learn that we may get both networked and MIDI functions here, as we’ve seen in apps from makers like KORG.

Reader comments are very positive, so amidst this hopefully constructive criticism, I think it’s encouraging that the software looks promising and people are eager to try it! (And being critical of some features does not mean you can’t eventually like the product – part of why I tend not to shy away from criticism.)

http://www.youtube.com/user/yamahajp

Electronic Musician Magazine, RIP?

<rant> The latest issue of Electronic Musician magazine came today, and it’s got me scratching my head a bit. Electronic Musician has a solid history of covering, you know, electronic musicians. It’s benefited from the contributions of writers like Gino Robair, Craig Anderton and Geary Yelton over the years, and I’ve enjoyed reading their often […]