SoundCloud mobile app is now an equal citizen – including enabling uploads

SoundCloud have been gradually adding or restoring features to mobile users – and now uploading is available on iOS (and soon, Android).

I remember at some point, the fear of things like instant SoundCloud uploads was that users would dump a ton of horrible music on the service. But that really misses the point of a lot of why a lot of people presumably want this. (Well, plus, horrible music is not really something that can be avoided – let’s focus on where the good stuff goes.)

Uploads

Let’s say you’re working on a project on the go, and want to send a bounce to a friend or a client. Or you’ve recorded some interviews, and you share with someone doing transcriptions. Oddly, the original purpose of SoundCloud when it launched eons ago was stuff like this – it was an escape from what was at the time using FTP and other draconian solutions.

Here’s how it works:

Uploads are now in the release of the SoundCloud app that’s out today for iOS; we’re waiting on an Android version.

But even if you don’t use that, SoundCloud have been fixing other features.

Track and profile management

January updates on iOS added other missing, oft-requested features – the ability to edit tracks, the ability to edit your profile, and the ability to change what’s in your Spotlight.

This stuff is really invaluable. I can’t count the number of times I bounced a master, sent it to someone via SoundCloud (so they had a quick player, which they don’t get if I use WeTransfer, for instance), and then needed to make an edit.

I’ve already been using this from essentially the day it came out. It’s not in the main SoundCloud app on Android yet, but was delivered at some point on SoundCloud Pulse, the creator-side app. (I just tried to check version history, but it’s fairly impossible to find. I do remember the SoundCloud app and Pulse app being frustrating when they both lacked this.)

The same is true of managing your profile and spotlight. With so many platforms to juggle, and many of them (cough, Facebook) a total pain, the ability to quickly tweak your profile or what’s in your spotlight while you’re waiting for a bus is great.

(Note – waiting for a bus. Please don’t do this on the toilet. Gross.)

I’ve asked SoundCloud to let us know when to expect this on Android, and what the added features on the SoundCloud app itself mean for the Pulse app.

For now, Pulse remains useful for keeping tabs on interactions from other users and looking at stats.

SoundCloud hasn’t had the pace of innovation that marked its early years – nor, for that matter, would we say that I think of most of the social platforms we now use online. So I do suspect we’ll continue to hear some user gripes about the brand, particularly when we shell out money each month. On the other hand, some of that innovation was even more disruptive – like the removal of groups. I’m keen to hear more from what our neighbors in Berlin are up to, and whether it can serve what producers really want.

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In quarantined China, concerts are going online as a safe place to meet

Even in the capital Beijing, once-crowded streets are now empty, as the 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak forces people at home. The solution for live musicians: turn to streaming.

Streaming was already a popular hangout for Chinese musicians and artists across the region, before the viral shutdown of public space. That already included experimental artists looking to reach one another in their niche. The difference is, now online interaction in China is essential because people are effectively all isolated at home.

I caught some small window into this via Edward Sanderson, based in Beijing, who has been sharing the streams of his friends. (To this I’m again indebted to C-drik and his Syrphe Facebook group on experimental music in Asia and Africa, as I wrote up recently.)

Edward writes, ” As group events in China have been curtailed because of the coronavirus threat, the online space has become more important for meeting up.” (Many of these events are also shared via Facebook even though that site is blocked by default in China; in experimental music circles, it seems VPNs are popular.)

So, for instance, via streaming, two experimental clarinetists can play together.

Zhu Wenbo played a concert from his home in Beijing:

In Dali, located in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, clarinet player Ding Chenchen could join in a day later, as a duet:

You won’t see anything until a stream is active, but there’s a streaming space on Shanghai-based Bilili, with a URL like this one:

https://space.bilibili.com/505035552/

That’s a Chinese-only service that now boasts tens of millions of users, largely focused around games, animation, and comics, but evidently branching out into clarinet noise music. These services are blocked outside China, though, so the only way to tune in would be to find some way to VPN into the country (in an unusual reversal of the normal order).

Artist Zhao Cong had announced a stream for today. I couldn’t locate it in time for this post, but here are some of her gorgeous textural compositions on Bandcamp – engrossingly fuzzy, lo-fi looped constructions:

Plus as part of the “Practice” series, new live-streamed performances were just announced with music by Zhu Wenbo, Zhou Yi, and Li Song (Chinese-language link, but you can get QR codes for concerts coming up in the next week):

https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/opP6L9YTtevuRtwvjchpTg?fbclid=IwAR3qgeJNGXj0DmT6YLCeZtxqxXcJw8wJUjR1Fxubvfwo9gWvDCUtryXGH9I

Instead of links, event promos heavily feature images, and even QR codes. The number below Bilibili represents a “space” on the streaming site; head there at the appointed time, and you get live-streamed music. So think more underground – less Facebook notifications from the Boiler Room page everybody and their dog subscribes to.

Just as China has led the way in expanding the uses of mobile chat, mobile-based streaming has taken off in the country even as the West embraces the tech in fits and starts. (I’d say the reason is, markets like the USA still split usage between desktop and mobile, and are dominated by Facebook and Google and their business models – including for how music fees are structured.)

Anyway, our Chinese readers now far more about all of this than I do (from streaming to the current state of Chinese quarantine). So, since we do have a large readership that’s now trapped in your houses –

Open call to Chinese artists and other readers under quarantine! If you do have some ideas for streaming concerts, go for it! I’ll be happy to share that across the readership here. We can basically create, for now, not Boiler Room, but a sort of Coronavirus Room for bored and isolated quarantined musicians.

And to everyone dealing with life in the shadow of this virus, we wish you the best health. A big thanks to all the people working to contain its spread and doing research to help humans respond in ways that are well-informed and effective. I am not an immunologist and I don’t know that I would make a very good one, but what I imagine we can do as musicians is to help share accurate information across communities, bring people together, and to process emotions.

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This how-to for beginning VJs is probably… not ideally where you want to start

VJ communities on social media today have been puzzling over a wiki on “How to Become a Popular Vj.” Get ready for the knowledge.

Some advice is just vague – “What is your favorite music?” “Make business cards.” And of course something about clip libraries

Then the technical advice is where things really go off the rails. Commercial software VDMX from Vidvox is described as “free.” (Maybe they pirated it?) And it comes with this peculiar warning:

“DO NOT wait the day of the show to learn to use it. And don’t pretend that you can learn to use it if you don’t have a projector. Learning to throw the image onto the large screen is different for every program and computer. “

Uh… what?

Then there’s a reference to “VGM cables.” (VGA? What?) Sure, could be a typo, except then it also points you to a “VGM adapter.” (I was going to make a joke here, but this acronym doesn’t stand for much in any context.)

Oddly enough, this article has 11 authors. All I can think is that someone maybe edited a reasonable wiki article as a joke?

In which case, uh – thanks for the distraction. Keep on editin’ here:

https://m.wikihow.com/Become-a-Popular-Vj

So, uh, I guess I should have some more Create Digital Motion articles real soon, huh, if this is the state of online knowledge? I mean, we’re not going to watch a YouTube video – even as a VJ.

Just get on behind that mixer and go.

Looks legit. Hey, did they install a light inside the speaker monitor there? Whoa. Dude.

Image credit – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/ – WikiHow.

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Hello, piano: Roland just added Alexa to their digital keyboard

Roland’s latest play for making digital pianos commonplace: add the popular Alexa service, and sell on Amazon.

Roland’s GO:PIANO is their consumer-focused line, touting beginner- and family-friendly features. There’s Bluetooth connectivity, and integrated iOS and Android app that promises to teach you ear training and score reading – there’s a reason that pic has an iPad on it. It’s a shame the styling is pedestrian, because otherwise this is more futuristic than some of its competition.

Add to that Alexa integration. Strangely, the press release I got suggests maybe you want to order a pizza with Alexa after finishing practicing.

I’m guessing any household that sees Alexa as a selling point already has a device to do that. Here, I’m guessing this is more about two things – one, adding voice control and music integration using Amazon’s tech, and two, selling through Amazon’s channel.

Alexa commands let you call up sounds directly, instead of paging through them with buttons. And – maybe more useful – you can also use voice control for hands-free metronome operation (start, stop, tempo change, change beat). You can also listen and play along to Amazon Music and other supported streaming services.

So, this may give a glimpse of what future business models look like – offering sheet music, karaoke versions, backing tracks, and full songs all together. Sheet music was and still is a major part of the business for many songwriters, so while this may be foreign if your last album was a violent noise record with Satanic verses recited by your cat, for other more mainstream artists …

Wait, I’ve lost my train of thought. Alexa, play karaoke version of “Hail, Satan, and stop working I’m sitting on your keyboard and want to cuddle, meow, die die die blood pain meow.” I would totally get down on that jam.

The catch to all of this isn’t really whether or not this gimmick is a good idea, but that the current Silicon Valley tech wars are likely to bleed over into the musical instrument channel.

That’s unlikely to ease controversies – some music artists have been unhappy with how Amazon streaming impacts their business, and protested labor practices and work with controversial US government programs targeting immigrants. And with any of the new voice tech, there are concerns like this:

Silicon Valley Is Listening to Your Most Intimate Moments [Bloomberg]

But I don’t think any of these concerns are things the music tech industry can simply opt out of. So reasoned debate may be exactly what it needs. And it’s good at least to see companies like Roland working to make their products stand alongside other consumer goods – even if you switch off the Alexa features and stick to playing it like, you know, a piano.

https://www.roland.com/us/products/gopiano_go-61p/

Also, just saying, Roland is the only company for you when you need a piano to match your new Tesla CyberTruck:

Hey, Roland had a few years’ head start on Tesla, too:

https://www.roland.com/global/promos/piano_design_awards/winners/grand_prize/

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Here’s how to add proper dark themes for Ableton Live, SoundCloud, embrace darkness

Dark themes are all the rage these days, from phones to desktop OSes. Now it’s time for stuff you use every day to go properly to black, too – hello Ableton Live and SoundCloud.

Ultra Dark. And you can grok what I’m listening to on SoundCloud, as well. Yes, I go and then buy stuff from Bandcamp et al.

Okay, dark themes actually have inspired some controversy when it comes to usability and even eye fatigue. But it’s pretty understandable why they’re using in music. Let’s face it – we’re commonly in the dark. Dark themes save battery life, and they’re less disturbing when you’re listening in bed, in darkened studios, onstage – you get the idea.

macOS Mojave added Dark Mode for apps; Windows 10 is (as usual) following piecemeal but has now largely caught up. Recent iOS and Android versions and apps also have added support.

Two apps I use a whole lot – Ableton Live and SoundCloud – weren’t quite there. Live’s dark themes are grayish, but not black (without customization); SoundCloud seems to have adopted its color scheme from the garish white and orange of easyJet. (I swear this was because early on the founders were commuting between Berlin and Stockholm on that airline. I’ve never confirmed this with them because it’s more fun to just make up the story. You know.)

Let’s take these two Berlin-based music tools and drain them of color and light so they’re ready to queue at Berghain. (And probably get rejected, but still, on-message.)

SoundCloud

For websites, Stylish has been a favorite of customization lovers since its debut for Firefox way back in 2005. It’s now graduated from hacker status to something anyone can use, with versions for the new faster Firefox, Chrome (and any Chrome-compatible browser), Safari, Opera, and whatever else you may use. (I’m using it now in Vivaldi, and there’s even a new Android app.)

The official site from developer Jason Barnabe has what you need:

https://userstyles.org

And then you’ll find various options for SoundCloud when you search.

The most popular and up-to-date is Quite Dark:

https://userstyles.org/styles/143738/soundcloud-quite-dark

But I’m partial to “Ultra Dark.” I do find this makes me enjoy using SoundCloud more, recalling black album colors and high-end studio electronics. And in Stylish you can swap themes or disable customization if you find a portion of the admin side when uploading that isn’t skinned.

https://userstyles.org/styles/176264/soundcloud-ultra-dark

Ableton Live

Live for me is more necessity – the wrong theme can be blinding under weird club conditions, and I find equally hard to focus on in the studio.

Wait, I’m writing that, and lately I haven’t been playing with Ableton Live onstage. So, okay – maybe it’s just aesthetics. But let’s do it anyway. Sometimes just varying the scheme can help you get over two decades of using this tool.

We’ve covered Live skins before – the most comprehensive source remains the wonderful Sonic Bloom site, which also handles customization techniques and other information. But I wanted something extreme, which right now means going to long-running fan art gallery Deviant Art. (It’s another holdover from the Beforetimes, when the Internet didn’t totally suck so much.)

And Dark 2 is totally delicious for those of us who want extreme blackness. (Blackest ever black?)

https://www.deviantart.com/anthonymilano/art/SKIN-Dark-2-for-Ableton-Live-10-735023504

Thanks to creator anthonymilano, whoever you are, for this gem. Image from his page, which also includes install intructions.

More ideas?

What else do you want to go dark?

Bitwig Studio already has a pretty blackened scheme by default; I actually haven’t gotten as far as customizing it yet. (Anyway?) Ditto Renoise.

I was going to add Reaper to the list but they went and overhauled the customization of the themes in Reaper 6, so it’s a little premature.

But I bet our readers have loads of ideas. Fire away.

Now someone really needs to bring back the reverse-lettered “evil” t-shirt for Ableton Live. I love that I even got asked by an airline flight crew about that.

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Amazon’s AWS DeepComposer is peak not-not-knowing-what-AI-is-for

AI can be cool. AI can be strange. AI can be promising, or frightening. Here’s AI at totally uncool and not frightening at all – bundled with a crappy MIDI keyboard, for … some … reason.

Okay, so TL:DR – Amazon published some kinda me-too algorithms for music generation that were what we’ve seen for years from Google, Sony, Microsoft, and hundreds of data scientists, bundled a crap MIDI keyboard for $99, and it’s the future! AI! I mean, it definitely doesn’t just sound like a 90s General MIDI keyboard with some bad MIDI patterns.” “The machine has the power of literally all of music composition ever. Now anyone can make musiER:Jfds;kjsfj l; jks

Oops, sorry, I might have briefly started banging my head against my computer keyboard. I’m back.

This is worth talking about because machine learning does have potential – and this neither represents that potential nor accurately represents what machine learning even is.

Game changer.

If at this point you’re unsure what AI is, how you should feel about it, or even if you should care – don’t worry, you’re seriously not alone. “AI” is now largely shorthand for “machine learning.” And that, in turn, now most often refers to a very specific set of techniques currently in vogue that can analyze data and generate predictions by deriving patterns from that data, and not by using rules. That’s a big deal in music, because traditionally both computer models and even paper models of theory have used rules more than they have a probability. You can think of AI in music as related to a dice role – a very, very well-informed, data-driven, weighted dice role – and less like a theory manual or a robotic composer or whatever people have in mind.

Wait a minute – that doesn’t sound like AI at all. Ah, yes. About that.

So, what I’ve just described counts as AI to data scientists, even though it isn’t really related very much to AI in science fiction and popular understanding. The problem is, clarifying that distinction is hard, whereas exploiting that misunderstanding is lucrative. Misrepresenting it makes the tech sound more advanced than arguably it really is, which could be useful if you’re in the business of selling that tech. Ruh-roh.

With that in mind, what Amazon just did is either very dangerous or – weirdly, actually, very useful, because it’s such total, obvious bulls*** that it hopefully makes clear to even laypeople that what they claim they’re doing isn’t what they’re demonstrating. So we get post-curtain-reveal Oz – here, in the form of Amazon AI chief Dr. Matt Wood, pulling off a bad clone of Steve Jobs (even black-and-denim, of course).

Dr. Matt Wood does really have a doctorate in bioinformatics, says LinkedIn. He knows his stuff. That makes this even more maddening.

Let’s imagine his original research, which was predicting protein structures. You know what most of us wouldn’t do? Presumably, we wouldn’t stand in front of a packed auditorium and pretend to understand protein structures, if we aren’t a microbiologist. And we certainly wouldn’t go on to claim predicting protein structures meant we could create life, and also, we’re God now.

But that is essentially what this is, with music – and it is exceedingly weird, from the moment Amazon’s VP of AI is introduced by… I want to say a voiceover by a cowboy?

Summary of his talk: AI can navigate moon rovers and fix teeth. So therefore, it should replace composers – right? (I can do long division in my head. Ergo, next I will try time travel.) We need a product, so give us a hundred bucks, and we’ll give you a developer kit that has a MIDI keyboard and that’s the future of music. We’ll also claim this is an industry first, because we bundled a MIDI keyboard.

At 7 minutes, 57 seconds, Dr. Wood murders Beethoven’s ghost, followed by at 8:30 by sort of bad machine learning example augmented with GarageBand visuals and some floating particles that I guess are the neural net “thinking”?

Then you get Jonathan Coulton (why, JoCo, why?) attempting to sing over something that sounds like a stuck-MIDI-note Band-in-a-Box that just crashed.

Even by AI tech demo standards, it’s this:

Deeper question: I’m not totally certain what has earned us in music the expectation from the rest of society that, not only is what we do already not worth paying for, but everyone should be able to do it, without expending any effort. I don’t have this expectation of neuroscience or basketball, for instance.

But this isn’t even about that. This doesn’t even hold up to student AI examples from three years ago.

It’s “the world’s first” because they give you a MIDI keyboard. But great news – we can beat them. The AWS DeepComposer isn’t shipping yet, so you can actually be the world’s first right now – just grab a USB cable, a MIDI keyboard, connect to one of a half-dozen tools that do the same thing, and you’re done. I’ll give you an extra five minutes to map the MIDI keys.

Or just skip the AI, plug in a MIDI keyboard, and let your cat walk over it.

Translating the specs then:

  1. A s***ty MIDI keyboard with some buttons on it, and no “AI.”
  2. Some machine learning software, with pre-trained generative models for “rock, pop, jazz, and classical.” (aka, and saying this as a white person with a musicology background, “white, white, black-but-white people version, really old white.”)
  3. “Share your creations by publishing your tracks to SoundCloud in just a few clicks from the AWS DeepComposer console.”*

Technically *1 has been available in some form since the mid-80s and *3 is true of any music software connected to the Internet, but … *2, AI! (Please, please say I’m wrong and there’s custom silicon in there for training. Something. Anything to make this make any sense at all.)

I would love to hear I’m wrong and there’s some specialized machine learning silicon embedded in the keyboard but… uh, guessing that’s a no.

Watch the trainwreck now, soon to join the annals of “terrible ideas in tech” history with Microsoft Bob and Google Glass:

https://aws.amazon.com/deepcomposer/

By the way, don’t forget that AWS is being actively targeted right now by the music community with a boycott. Maybe they were hoping for a Springtime for Hitler-style turn-around, like if this is bad enough, we’d love them again? Dunno.

Anyway, if you do want to try this “AI” stuff out – and it can really be interesting – here is a far more comprehensive and musically interesting set of tools from rival Google:

https://magenta.tensorflow.org

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming of anything but this.

AI: I am the button.

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Listen to ambient sound from around the world, recorded with a 4’33” app

To anyone who says there are too many music makers in the world, maybe you aren’t aware of how much sound is in the world. Crowd-sourced iPhone recordings and the ghost of John Cage are here to set you straight.

First, there’s the app – the 4’33” app is an official, licensed app that makes field recordings to the exact specifications of John Cage’s infamous score as premiered in 1952 by pianist David Tudor. And yes, that means it even comes in the score’s original three movements – a fun fact you should definitely share at parties. (Hey, where did everybody go?)

The app has been out since 2014, courtesy John Cage Trust and publisher C.F. Peters. (Yes, C.F. Peters still owns the rights to a score that contains … nothing.) It’s $0.99 – a small price to pay for… well, for a new way of perceiving all the sounds of the world, maybe?

What’s really astounding about this is not so much the app, though, as the collection of sounds the app has made worldwide. And that has grown in the half decade since the app’s release. You might expect them to all be clustered around New York, San Francisco, and London, but instead six of the seven continents are represented. The iPhone microphone is pretty decent at recording a general monophonic ambience – a fancier stereo recording would do better, sure, but the phone somehow makes a representation of how we perceive and remember those spaces. So you can have a charming journey around the planet and its sounds.

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world…

4’33” App for iPhone [App site and interactive map with sounds]

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Someone replicated a GPU in JavaScript – and it runs in characters in a terminal

Imagine the love child of character art and modern GPUs. Okay, probably you totally can’t imagine that, but someone did it anyway, entirely in JavaScript.

And I do mean replicated the GPU. The appropriately dubbed South Korean user “sinclairzx81” built this with a scene graph, and the usual math libraries, and programmable shaders.

Just instead of those programmable shaders running on a GPU, they run natively in JavaScript and output to the characters in the standard Windows, Mac, and Linux terminals.

It seems crazy, but this does demonstrate the … uh … actually, it really is completely crazy, but it is very cool. And it does genuinely output all of this via stdout in Node.js. The author claims the reasoning is “to see how far one could reasonably push JavaScript performance,” but “just because I could” seems as likely an explanation.

Check these features in the free library, dubbed Zero, I guess in reference to the number of real GPUs involved:

  • Programmable Vertex and Fragment shaders (in JavaScript)
  • Perspective Z-Correct Texture Mapping
  • Per Pixel Depth Buffering
  • Adaptive Resolution on Terminal resize (TTY only)
  • Matrix and Vector math libraries.
  • A Scene Graph
  • Support for Windows Command Prompt, Powershell and Linux Terminals

It is licensed under an MIT license, so you could build on this. At the very least, I guess the OLED on your next hardware synth has no excuse not to render something interesting.

https://github.com/sinclairzx81/zero

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Autechre streamed a 12-hour set live on Mixlr Sunday; listen to all of it

With sounds ranging experimental hip hop to eclectic, the legendary Warp act seems to have made an unexpected virtual DJ appearance over the weekend.

So, for anyone pondering how to fill 12 hours with music, here you go:

http://mixlr.com/autechre/showreel/autechre-on-mixlr-2/?fbclid=IwAR3gteRcTIQj_-leORUdwQWrguNEEXBS41hU1QGuiG2PWWquUbcLfuDoNHY

Mixlr is an independent tool for live streaming, with broadcast tools for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. I wasn’t tuned in on Sunday when this happened, but it seems there was live chat with (presumably Sean).

The company is based in Shoreditch, London, and is itself an interesting story – still private, still independent since its 2010 launch, even as many other audio and music startups have come and gone and even mighty SoundCloud has seen its founders depart the leadership team. So it’s kind of encouraging to see Autechre show up there.

There’s some fun chatter on Reddit to follow:

Thanks to Mike of Wunderblock Records for the tip, as I shake jetlag from 10,000 km of travel yesterday! Feel free to chime in on comments with a) track IDs, b) your own live streaming experience/station, or anything else.

Feature image:

“Autechre – Confield | CD Cover Design” by Gita Elek, Visual Arts Institute Eger is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

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Where is NI headed? Some official and unofficial answers

Native Instruments has responded to our request for more clarity on recent layoffs and how this impacts their future plans. Other sources tell us there have been deep cuts into teams managing products, marketing, and design.

As I wrote late last night, NI has publicly stated they’ve cut 20% of their workforce. I should clarify that that number represents the layoffs executed just on Thursday of last week. Multiple sources have confirmed additional layoffs over the summer push the number closer to at least 150 rather than 100. This includes a leaked departure of the existing desktop TRAKTOR team in July, and additional product owners and designers, including the previous Director of Design.

This isn’t entirely a shock, though the scale and concentrated timing may be. It does seem cuts at NI were a long time coming. Native Instruments has a massive and complicated array of products, many of them now legacy products, and an over-complicated structure around them – both from a marketing and organizational standpoint. I think it’d be tough to find anyone to disagree with that, even in a week when people’s emotions are riled up by watching major layoffs.

And this isn’t just about the business – there’s a direct line to your experience using the products. If NI has too many products and a complicated organization that makes it hard for people to work together, that impacts users. It means it’s tough to execute new ideas and make the tools you use better.

It also stands to reason that even in any significant reorganization means staffing changes and cuts. The questions customers and partners might ask then is – why these cuts, why so deep, why now, and what’s the plan going forward?

The picture I’ve gotten from Native Instruments officially is convoluted. NI says they’re working on an integrated platform, but the cuts have hit UI, UX, design, and engineering, and late in the apparent timeline for whatever project that would be. We’re also now in year three of NI’s push to get us to think about services, but we’re not much closer to understanding what that’s supposed to mean than when we started. Here are some landmarks in that timeline:

March 2017: NI acquires Metapop, founded by former Beatport CEO Matthew Adell. Adell becomes Chief Digital Officer.

October 2017: EUR50 million in investment from a private equity firm focusing on digital services growth.

January 2018: NI reveals Sounds.com.

August 2018: Adell is out as Chief Digital Officer. (I believe this role also is eliminated at the same time.)

July-August 2019: Roughly 150 people, or 30% of the workforce, laid off. 20% are cut on August 29 in a single day.

The Thursday round of layoffs are part of a string of changes through 2019, many as high as Director level – including, to be fair, some hiring as well as firing. The main question I had is, beyond CEO / co-founder Daniel Haver and Chief Innovation Officer / President Mate Galic, who is running the new product effort, now that existing leadership of Traktor and Komplete are gone and the Chief Digital Officer is almost a distant memory.

That person appears to be Nicholas Goubert, who has this year gone from VP Digital Services to VP of Products to – as of this month – Chief Product Officer. Streamlining the organization under a single product leader instead of separating digital/services from the organization at least makes sense. It means NI is realigning themselves as a services-driven company.

The obvious parallel would be to a company like Adobe, although while Adobe offers extensive services, it has kept a bunch of complex product teams and silos. In fact, that parallel itself may be apt – Adobe’s complexity reflects the fragmented and specific needs of designers. Musicians are even more particular, which speaks to the difficulty of this process. (And… I’m not sure all of you are entirely in love with Adobe, either.)

The business of being NI is selling stuff to us music makers, though, so – what service? Do we want it?

NI’s responses don’t give me a much more solid grasp of what they have in mind or how they intend to execute it. (And as you see in the timeline above, they’re effectively announcing the business structure in September 2019 that delivers the services they first talked about at the start of 2017.)

But they at least confirm that they’re not exiting hardware or the DJ market, contrary to rumors, and that the future services are intended to connect to products you use now. Note that saying “we’re committed to Komplete” doesn’t also mean something like Reaktor. Those silos actually appear to remain. I’d be optimistic about something like Reaktor, which powers tons of sounds and products.

So I don’t think you should panic about any major products, based on what we’re seeing here. I can also confirm that some core teams are unaffected – like NKS. And for at least one vision of where NI intend to go, even if it’s one that’s been out for a while, NKS’ idea of integrating sounds, control, software, and hardware across an ecosystem of partners is definitely one glimpse:

https://www.native-instruments.com/en/specials/komplete/this-is-nks/

Here are official answers from NI to CDM:

CDM: If Native is building a new platform, why were resources cut?

NI: Our new organization aims to break down functional and brand silos that have developed over time through the continuous expansion of our portfolio. Given our broad spectrum of products and the overlap between roles, it means that certain areas of product development are affected more than others by the redundancies. In the past, we have simply been doing too much at the same time and this strategic change as well as internal remapping of talent will allow us to move forward in a more effective and collaborative way.

With the focus on a platform strategy, do users need to be concerned about support for and investment in existing products?

We are fully committed to our existing brands Komplete, Maschine and Traktor. The reason why we are focusing on a platform strategy is actually to improve the experience for all users of our products. We strongly believe that by improving accessibility and usability of our portfolio, we will be able to provide an enhanced and more cohesive experience, both for existing and new customers. Rather than releasing more and more products, we want to ensure that users are getting the most out of our current products through a connected and unified experience.

Will Native Instruments continue to release integrated hardware?

Creating deeply integrated experiences between hardware and software remains at the core of our vision. However, we want to deliver more value to users of our hardware by implementing new features in the software that will allow for a better overall experience of our ecosystem.

What about the future of Traktor?

We continue to be fully committed to our DJ platform Traktor and its passionate users. Also within the DJ domain, we are focusing on improving the software experience, building on the creative and modular legacy of Traktor for both desktop and mobile. Supporting this, we are also continuing to evaluate the right accompanying hardware products. In fact, Traktor users can expect a new hardware controller this year.

Okay, so the most we can come out of this is, Traktor hardware and products remain. The leaked firing of the Traktor desktop team suggests that future Traktor products will take a different form, and won’t be based on the legacy Traktor codebase (which is what powers Traktor 3).

Other than that, we mostly have to wait.

I wish the new teams at NI the best. Before the layoffs, I’d heard from the current Metapop team, wanting to show what they’re working on. And with SoundCloud failing to deliver innovation for creators, and Alihoopa dead (the Propellerhead-created online music making service, later spun off), there’s a vast space for someone to show a way of using social features for music making.

However, I can only echo the overwhelming buzz I’m hearing from the larger community. Large layoffs are unsettling, not only because of the people lost, but because of the presumed disruption to the organization. Some talent in music tech is very specific – and the departure of these 150+ NI employees over recent months has competitors eager to hire. (Behringer went as far as posting their headhunting call publicly; other companies – inside and outside this industry – are being a bit more discreet.)

For now, what Native Instruments are announcing is mainly layoffs, not products. Their main job now, to regain trust after a shaky end to this summer, would be to turn that begin to say how this relates to the people who rely on them.

I know a lot of you are deeply invested in this company – some even in your businesses as partners as well as in your music making careers or passions. I’ll do my best to keep you informed.

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