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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The Web’s biggest guide to electronic music genre just got a huge update

Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music is back. Its third major overhaul gives it a new look, and brings its sprawling map of electronic style to 166 genres, 11,321 tracks, and exhaustive descriptions to match.

The Ishkur effort is beautiful partly because it takes on an impossible task. Can you break down every fork of UK Garage, and also work out how John Cage tape pieces and weird Dick Hyman psychedelic numbers fit in? (There is literally a category called “Moog.” It… doesn’t entirely work as a genre.)

But somehow, Ishkur does that. (To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, and Zaphod Beeblebrox, why not six impossible things before breakfast?)

What you get is a now-legendary, zoomable, playable map, laid out a bit like a trainyard switching diagram in a metro terminal in Hell. Begun in the year 2000, it will be well known to you digital diggers of the noughts. But this is an update that brings it into a new generation. And the resulting interface excels in revealing the emergence of major forks in those genres, at the critical junctures where new grooves and sounds crystallize.

Crucially, of course, the whole thing is playable. The real fun of this is flying around, God-like, decade to decade, genre to genre. You can tune in years and styles like a radio. The graph is so oversimplified as to erase all interconnections – really, the history itself is gone. But that navigation lets you quickly find and compare seminal tracks in particular genre appearances.

And I think as a producer, that’s terrifically liberating. It demystifies genres that gatekeepers refuse to explain to newcomers. And by allowing easy access to those sounds, it frees your ear and memory to go try something new.

Ishkur, for Ishkur’s part, explains it all perfectly. (Who is Ishkur? In my favorite FAQ answer, Ishkur is Ishkur. Ishkur says “punter,” so they are probably in the UK.)

Colors are meaningless; lines are inaccurate:

All music is influenced by its contemporaries far more than its own past. Illustrating those relationships, however, would render the map unreadable. Coherence is preferred over accuracy. It is simplified for the user experience.

And meet the term trendwhoring, also in the FAQ:

It’s a term I apply to artists, tracks, and sometimes whole genres that whore themselves out to whatever’s the current fad or trend in music. If fart noises were suddenly popular, each scene would trendwhore it with fartstep, fartcore, techfart, farthouse, fart trance, etc. It is especially noticeable in classic tracks that are remixed into modern genres, which some might consider sacreligious. A good example is the Dream Trance hit Robert Miles – Children, in which there is now a Hardstyle version, a Dutch House version, a McProg version, a Eurotrance version, a Goa Trance version, and even a Snap version and a shitty Brostep version. None of these genres existed when the original song came out in 1995. That’s trendwhoring.

Ishkur’s Guide is a map to everything, when so much of the online world now is a map to nothing. It’s a transparent, linked-out Whole Internet Catalog Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that makes Discogs references visual and draws in tracks at random. It’s more useful and vital than ever, really.

Enjoy.

http://music.ishkur.com/

Thanks to Andy Baio for the news on this:

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Loopmasters partners with Beatport, as production enters the age of makers

The population growth of producers may make musicians nervous. But here’s one potential upside – there’s now a growing market for your sounds, not just your tracks. The latest deal between Loopmasters and Beatport points in this direction.

Follow along here, because this partnership is a little tricky to explain. (CDM was given an exclusive first look at the deal slightly in advance.) First, US- and Germany-based Beatport already had its own section full of loops and sound packs, called Beatport Sounds – and Beatport over the years has told us it’s been a big, growing business.

On the Loopmasters side, that company has a robust business across a number of models – you can buy sounds a la carte as downloads, you can subscribe to Loopcloud, or, via a sister company, you can stock up on plug-in effects and instruments (and preset content) via Plugin Boutique.

So, what happens now is, Beatport invests in Loopmasters, they sell their Beatport Sounds business to Loopmasters, and then over time you’ll see the Loopmasters stuff show up as part of the Beatport site. Beatport has some 36 million annual visitors, meaning that is some significant customer acquisition and sales potential added to Loopmasters. Loopmasters remains one of soundware’s enduring players, operating since 2003 and with sound partnerships with most major gear makers – plus, crucially, a huge catalog of the kinds of sounds producers in some particularly lucrative genres want. So the pairing makes sense.

There’s another angle here – there’s an overlap between content that can be streamed live, not downloaded, on a subscription model, rather than an a la carte model. That’s been Beatport’s push with Beatport Link and Beatport Pro, but only when it comes to tracks. Loopmasters has pulled off the much harder feat of making this work with sounds. Their Loopcloud tool not only lets you subscribe to content, but lets you preview sounds right inside your DAW, even matched to key and tempo.

Beatport and Loopmasters haven’t said yet what it’ll look like, but they at least promise that we’ll see these Loopmasters tools (including the streaming and subscription stuff) integrated into Beatport’s site “over the next year.”

Beatport and Loopmasters may be most excited about these gee-whiz streaming and subscription features, but with or without it, I suspect it’s a big deal that Beatport will have access to Loopmasters’ exhaustive catalog. That means for people looking for a particular genre or bit, it’s more likely to be there – and that Loopmasters can acquire DJs curious about dabbling in production (or even adding some live loops to a hybrid set) who may not yet be familiar with the Loopmasters brand and products.

This also would appear to give Loopmasters a leg up as Native Instruments works on their own Sounds.com offering. (Keeping score, at least NI now has Maschine and Komplete Kontrol integration – with the latter offering DAW integration, as does Loopcloud.) There also something coming with Plugin Boutique, but the two companies haven’t said yet what they’re thinking.

The other math here I think is pretty obvious. With more people making music, even as the business of releasing music as albums may or may not be working for producers, there’s the chance that your customers might be other producers. I even wonder if we’ll start to see distribution and marketing deals that combine releases of albums with associated loops or sound content.

Of course, whether that appeals to artists is a pretty individual decision. I do also suspect this will reignite the discussion of soundware and originality. And it’s odd, in a way, that the market is now splitting between extreme homegrown sound design (like Eurorack modular) on one hand, and loads of instant-access pre-built content on the other. But such is the state of music in 2019 – code everything from scratch, concoct it out of loops, or really anything in between. Just be aware, DJs browsing loops, you may start with looking for a tech-house groove and wind up with thousands of dollars of modular gear in your house. Don’t say we didn’t try to warn you.

https://www.loopmasters.com/

https://www.beatport.com/

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cables.gl, music-friendly 3D browser visuals, now in free public beta

Interactive visuals in the browser now make stunning eye candy live that used to require whole server farms to render. cables.gl – now in a free open beta – lets you harness that, without even knowing how to code.

cables.gl is a dataflow (visual patching) development environment that runs entirely in the browser – using the latest 3D capabilities of computer GPUs. That means it’s something you can mess with right from inside your browser of choice, and that you can deliver in the same environment – so, say, create an immersive music video someone can access from any computer.

HOLON – “Hold On.”

It’s also a great gateway drug or complement to desktop-oriented environments like TouchDesigner and vvvv. (Once you start thinking in this sort of flow, some ideas translate – and something like TouchDesigner is a better choice if you need to output to, say, a heavy-duty desktop or five for large-scale projections.)

I’ve written about cables.gl before, but you had to request an invite. They’ve now opened up to a public beta, so anyone can register. I’m sure some people in the CDM audience will do some amazing stuff with it. Just be sure to let us know when you do.

https://cables.gl/

Also, the cables.gl devs tell me they’ve finished up more videos showing how to work with music software. I’ve added those to our most recent story:

The visuals here, by the way, come from this gorgeous music video by Holon (and a nice tune, too):

If that’s punishing your browser GPU (or you’re on a mobile device), you can check it out as a video, as well:

If you want to see 2019 software discussed in a forum layout that’s straight out of the 90s, here’s that. (It’s only missing a blink tag.) More of their work:

https://holon.drastic.net/

Ready for more advanced stuff? Here you go – and yeah, you can code if you wanna:

Enjoy!

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Etsy buys Reverb.com for $275 mil, signaling growing used music gear market

DIY marketplace Etsy has announced plans for a massive $275 million acquisition of used music instrument market Reverb.com. That’s likely to turn heads both in online retail and musical instruments.

As reported by VentureBeat, the deal has an approximate $275 million value, in cash, as the NYC-based Etsy buys out Chicago’s Reverb.com.

It’s a massive bet on the value of the used market. It might prove risky, too. Facebook is pushing its own market offerings, leveraged by its epic (and politically controversial) power of user data and the market. And it seems the market is vulnerable to music store giants (like Thomann in Europe) who can offer used product (and service) alongside new distribution.

Etsy does seem up to the challenge. The company has some real experience in handling fragmented markets, and in building relationships with sellers – a key to this business. The one sure-fire outcome for the moment is that Etsy and Reverb appear to score some serious cash – Reverb, when the deal is expected to close later in 2019, and Etsy, whose stock price was flying high already and gets pushed still higher with this deal.

If it worries anyone, this could pose concern for independent manufacturers. Eurorack makers have long expressed a fear that a modular “bubble” could make it difficult for new products to compete with used equivalents. The modular market is presumed to be especially vulnerable to that phenomenon, because if modular makers don’t continue to find new customers, the amount of used gear begins to accumulate faster than would-be customers for the new stuff. At least modular buyers have proven deep pocketed and interested in new stuff. The desktop market faces the dual pressure of loads of used gear and cheap mass-market products and clones. I wouldn’t panic yet, though – this danger exists with or without Etsy and Reverb. And I’m personally glad at least music gear finds new love rather than winding up in landfills like so many electronic items.

Reverb already offers the potential of being a storefront for music gear – something Etsy has tried for musical instrument makers on and off over the years. (See my personal notes at the end.) So it might even be that Reverb will court these very manufacturers outside of the usual gear distribution channels.

I think the real trends to watch are how investors are valuing areas of musical instruments, and just a importantly, where value in the communications chain may lie. Facebook at the moment is poised to dominate musical life and the business transactions around it, from artists posting Instagram pics to Facebook Groups to its own marketplace. That includes intangible value (artist buzz) and tangible (if you buy a used synth directly through Facebook, which is possible already).

Reverb might advertise heavily on Facebook-owned properties to acquire customers, but they’ve also built a sticky destination site all their own. They’ve added significant editorial content and community features around the marketplace, too. Indeed, if independent music tech publishing has declined, the integrated editorial-marketplace seems to be the wave of the future. Etsy says they will (wisely) continue to operate Reverb independently as a site and brand, serving an audience of musicians whose interests are far from the “put a bird on it” ethos of Etsy. Even as Reverb advertises on Facebook- and Google-owned properties, they have an opportunity to create value chains for musicians outside of the dominance of those two companies, whether individual musicians, DIY enthusiasts, or smallish manufacturers.

The issue with this as with all acquisitions of this size is whether the hunger for growth will outstrip the actual demand for the product, and whether Reverb.com will continue to innovate post-acquisition. (I’ll try to talk to Reverb’s management during the transition, once things settle down. I did read in one report that there will be a new CEO at Reverb, but I’ve yet to confirm that.) It’s certainly a big moment in our industry, though. And it seems a smart move, if an awfully big number (without knowing the existing data or projections behind that).

Side note:

CDM has some history with Etsy, going back to their early days. I knew co-founder Jared Tarbell first through his generative creative coding before his Etsy adventure in the really early days, and I started the MusicMakers series in Etsy’s offices in Brooklyn with partner MAKE Magazine. (We re-dubbed the series Handmade Music for a time, and Etsy stayed involved until I relocated to Berlin.) We even had some attendees get stuck in Etsy’s antiquated elevator during an event. Bre Pettis showed up before starting MakerBot, known mainly to us as a vlogger who worked with Etsy, back when “vlogger” was a word because YouTube wasn’t yet dominant.

None of this is terribly relevant, other than to say times have changed. And it’s also safe to say the “maker movement” isn’t exactly at a high point. Maker Media, of Make Magazine and Maker Faire, abruptly imploded this year, though founder Dale Dougherty is working to get some version of the community back. Etsy, too, has refocused as a market for vintage and personalized products, not just handmade.

The ongoing question for CDM and friends – and one I’d love to hear from you about – is how best to support the DIY end of this spectrum. I think ultimately it’s a distinct niche from what Etsy or Reverb – or perhaps even MAKE – were able to serve.

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How to patch 3D visuals in browser from Ableton Live, more with cables.gl

Now, even your browser can produce elaborate, production-grade eye candy using just some Ableton Live MIDI clock. The question of how to generate visuals to go with music starts to get more and more interesting answers.

And really, why not? In that moment of inspiration, how many of us see elaborate fantastic imagery as we listen to (or dream about) music. It’s just been that past generative solutions were based on limited rules, producing overly predictable results. (That’s the infamous “screensaver” complaint.) But quietly, even non-gaming machines have been adding powerful 3D visualization – and browsers now have access to hardware acceleration for a uniform interface.

cables.gl remains in invite-only beta, though if you go request one (assuming this article doesn’t overwhelm one), you can find your way in. And for now, it’s also totally free, making this a great way to play around. (Get famous, get paid, buy licenses for this stuff – done.)

MIDI clock can run straight into the browser, so you can sync visuals easily with Ableton Live. (Ableton Link is overkill for that application, given that visuals run at framerate.) That will work with other software, hardware, modular, whatever you have, too.

For a MIDI/DJ example, here’s a tutorial for TRAKTOR PRO. Obviously this can be adapted to other tools, as well. (Maybe some day Pioneer will even decide to put MIDI clock on the CDJ. One can dream.)

They’ve been doing some beautiful work in tutorials, too, including WeaveArray and ColorArray, since I last checked in.

Check out the full project and request an invite:
https://cables.gl/

By the way, note those cool visuals at the top. That’s not video – that’s cables.gl actually running in your browser right now.

Previously, our introduction:

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Learn synthesis basics in your browser, free, with Ableton

If you still don’t know your LFO from your amplitude envelope from your square oscillator – or you’re trying to answer this for someone else – Ableton have made everything visual and playable and sonic, in a browser, for free.

Ableton’s educational tools have been uniquely popular among users, even those not using Ableton Live. And “Learning Synths” doesn’t make even the slightest passing reference to Ableton’s hardware and software products, though you will see their recent signature graphic style.

Instead, you get playful graphics and simple, clear explanations, and little in-browser toys you can play with. True to the company’s German roots, it all feels like stylish design in the nation of Bauhaus – for kids or adults. It’s a great reminder that playing synths is play – and can be friendly to total beginners, too.

It’s enough fun to mess around with that you’ll probably enjoy paging through this, and the finishing playground, even if you do know what you’re doing. If you don’t, it starts at absolute zero, holding your hands from step one – so now is the time to brush up.

You’ll get only those basics, but for oscillators, amplitude envelope, and modulation, it covers the nuts and bolts. And it should be inspiration to anyone hoping to make educational materials for more.

By the way, this is doubly relevant as toolchains for plug-ins begin to support Web development, too. It means we may soon see learning as an interactive process that happens on phones, tablets, and computers, rather than the painful method of having a PDF in one window and tabbing back to a computer screen. But it’s also important that Ableton recognize that teaching some concepts is best done without the usual chrome and knobs and widgets of the interface you use day to day. I expect we’ll see education evolve in both lines. It’s time for the interactive Web to replace the static PDF.

And personally, while this may seem basic, I never tire of returning to thinking about the basics, both as a musician and as a teacher. I think it always refreshes the brain.

Now, if someone can just teach us all to mix better… ahem. (I know that’s the question people constantly ask me.)

https://learningsynths.ableton.com/

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Learn synthesis basics in your browser, free, with Ableton

If you still don’t know your LFO from your amplitude envelope from your square oscillator – or you’re trying to answer this for someone else – Ableton have made everything visual and playable and sonic, in a browser, for free.

Ableton’s educational tools have been uniquely popular among users, even those not using Ableton Live. And “Learning Synths” doesn’t make even the slightest passing reference to Ableton’s hardware and software products, though you will see their recent signature graphic style.

Instead, you get playful graphics and simple, clear explanations, and little in-browser toys you can play with. True to the company’s German roots, it all feels like stylish design in the nation of Bauhaus – for kids or adults. It’s a great reminder that playing synths is play – and can be friendly to total beginners, too.

It’s enough fun to mess around with that you’ll probably enjoy paging through this, and the finishing playground, even if you do know what you’re doing. If you don’t, it starts at absolute zero, holding your hands from step one – so now is the time to brush up.

You’ll get only those basics, but for oscillators, amplitude envelope, and modulation, it covers the nuts and bolts. And it should be inspiration to anyone hoping to make educational materials for more.

By the way, this is doubly relevant as toolchains for plug-ins begin to support Web development, too. It means we may soon see learning as an interactive process that happens on phones, tablets, and computers, rather than the painful method of having a PDF in one window and tabbing back to a computer screen. But it’s also important that Ableton recognize that teaching some concepts is best done without the usual chrome and knobs and widgets of the interface you use day to day. I expect we’ll see education evolve in both lines. It’s time for the interactive Web to replace the static PDF.

And personally, while this may seem basic, I never tire of returning to thinking about the basics, both as a musician and as a teacher. I think it always refreshes the brain.

Now, if someone can just teach us all to mix better… ahem. (I know that’s the question people constantly ask me.)

https://learningsynths.ableton.com/

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No, Beatport’s subscription will not kill music – here’s how it really works

Pioneer and Beatport this week announced new streaming offerings for DJs. And then lots of people kind of freaked out. Let’s see what’s actually going on, if any of it is useful to DJs and music lovers, and what we should or shouldn’t worry about.

Artists, labels, and DJs are understandably on edge about digital music subscriptions – and thoughtless DJing. Independent music makers tend not to see any useful revenue or fan acquisition from streaming. So the fear is that a move to the kinds of pricing on Spotify, Amazon, and Apple services would be devastating.

And, well – that’s totally right, you obviously should be afraid of those things if you’re making music. Forget even getting rich – if big services take over, just getting heard could become an expensive endeavor, a trend we’ve already begun to see.

So I talked to Beatport to get some clarity on what they’re doing. We’re fortunate now that the person doing artist and label relations for Beatport is Heiko Hoffmann, who has an enormous resume in the trenches of the German electronic underground, including some 17 years under his belt as editor of Groove, which has had about as much a reputation as any German-language rag when it comes to credibility.

TL:DR

The skinny:

Beatport LINK: fifteen bucks a month, but aimed at beginners – 128k only. Use it for previews if you’re a serious Beatport user, recommend it to your friends bugging you about how they should start DJing, and otherwise don’t worry about it.

Beatport CLOUD: five bucks a month, gives you sync for your Beatport collection. Included in the other stuff here and – saves you losing your Beatport purchases and gives you previews. 128k only. Will work with Rekordbox in the fall, but you’ll want to pay extra for extra features (or stick with your existing download approach).

Beatport LINK PRO: the real news – but it’s not here yet. Works with Rekordbox, costs 40-60 bucks, but isn’t entirely unlimited. Won’t destroy music (uh, not saying something else won’t, but this won’t). The first sign of real streaming DJs – but the companies catering to serious DJs aren’t going to give away the farm the way Apple and Spotify have. In fact, if there’s any problem here, it’s that no one will buy this – but that’s Beatport’s problem, not yours (as it should be).

WeDJ streaming is for beginners, not Pioneer pros

This first point is probably the most important. Beatport (and SoundCloud) have each created a subscription offering that works exclusively with Pioneer’s WeDJ mobile DJ tool. That is, neither of these works with Rekordbox – not yet.

Just in case there’s any doubt, Pioneer has literally made the dominant product image photo some people DJing in their kitchen. So there you go: Rekordbox and and CDJ and TORAIZ equals nightclub, WeDJ equals countertop next to a pan of fajitas.

So yeah, SoundCloud streaming is now in a DJ app. And Beatport is offering its catalog of tracks for US$14.99 a month for the beta, which is a pretty phenomenally low price – and one that would rightfully scare labels and artists.

But it’s important this is in WeDJ as far as DJing. Pioneer aren’t planning on endangering their business ecosystem in Rekordbox, higher-end controllers, and standalone hardware like the CDJ. They’re trying to attract the beginners in the hopes that some of those people will expand the high end market down the road.

By the same token, it’d be incredibly short-sighted if Beatport were to give up on customers paying a hundred bucks a month or so on downloads just to chase growth. Instead, Beatport will split its offerings into a consumer/beginner product (LINK for WeDJ) and two products for serious DJs (LINK Pro and Beatport CLOUD).

And there’s reason to believe that what disrupts the consumer/beginner side might not make ripples when it comes to pros – as we’ve been there already. Spotify is in Algoriddim’s djay. It’s actually a really solid product. But the djay user base doesn’t impact what people use in the clubs, where the CDJ (or sometimes Serato or TRAKTOR) reign supreme. So if streaming in DJ software were going to crash the download market, you could argue it would have happened already.

That’s still a precarious situation, so let’s break down the different Beatport options, both to see how they’ll impact music makers’ business – and whether they’re something you might want to use yourself.

Ce n’est pas un CDJ.

Beatport LINK – the beginner one

First, that consumer service – yeah, it’s fifteen bucks a month and includes the Beatport catalog. But it’s quality-limited and works only in the WeDJ app (and with the fairly toy-like new DDJ-200 controller, which I’ll look at separately).

Who’s it for? “The Beginner DJs that are just starting out will have millions of tracks to practice and play with,” says Heiko. “Previously, a lot of this market would have been lost to piracy. The bit rate is 128kbs AAC and is not meant for public performance.”

But us serious Beatport users might want to mess around with it, too – it’s a place you can audition new tracks for a fairly low monthly fee. “It’s like having a record shop in your home,” says Heiko.

Just don’t think Beatport are making this their new subscription offering. If you think fifteen bucks a month for everything Beatport is a terrible business idea, don’t worry – Beatport agree. “This is the first of our Beatport LINK products,” says Heiko. “This is not a ‘Spotify for dance music.’ It’s a streaming service for DJs and makes Beatport’s extensive electronic music catalog available to stream audio into the WeDJ app.” And yeah, Spotify want more money for that, which is good – because you want more money charged for that as a producer or label. But before we get to that, let’s talk about the locker, the other thing available now:

WeDJ – a mobile gateway drug for DJs, or so Pioneer hopes. (NI and Algoriddim did it first; let’s see who does it better.)

Beatport CLOUD – the locker/sync one

Okay, so streaming may be destroying music but … you’ve probably still sometimes wanted to have access to digital downloads you’ve bought without having to worry about hard drive management or drive and laptop failures. And there’s the “locker” concept.

Some folks will remember that Beatport bought the major “locker” service for digital music – when it acquired Pulselocker. [link to our friends at DJ TechTools]

Beatport CLOUD is the sync/locker making a comeback, with €/$ 4.99 a month fee and no obligation or contract. It’s also included free in LINK – so for me, for instance, since I hate promos and like to dig for my own music even as press and DJ, I’m seriously thinking of the fifteen bucks to get full streaming previews, mixing in WeDJ, and CLOUD.

There are some other features here, too:

Re-download anything, unlimited. I heard from a friend – let’s call him Pietro Kerning – that maybe a stupid amount of music he’d (uh, or “she’d”) bought on Beatport was now scattered across a random assortment of hard drives. I would never do such a thing, because I organize everything immaculately in all aspects of my life in a manner becoming a true professional, but now this “friend” will easily be able to grab music anywhere in the event of that last-minute DJ gig.

By the same token you can:

Filter all your existing music in a cloud library. Not that I need to, perfectly organized individual, but you slobs need this, of course.

Needle-drop full previews. Hear 120 seconds from anywhere in a track – for better informed purchases. (Frankly, this makes me calmer as a label owner, even – I would totally rather you hear more of our music.)

There should be some obvious bad news here – this only works with Beatport purchased music. You can’t upload music the way some sync/locker services have worked in the past. But I think given the current legal landscape, if you want that, set up your own backup server.

What I like about this, at least, is that this store isn’t losing stuff you’ve bought from them. I think other download sites should consider something similar. (Bandcamp does a nice job in this respect – and of course it’s the store I use the most when not using Beatport.)

The new Beatport cloud.

Beatport LINK Pro – what’s coming

There are very few cases where someone says, “hey, good news – this will be expensive.” But music right now is a special case. And it’s good news that Beatport is launching a more expensive service.

For labels and artists, it means a serious chance to stay alive. (I mean, even for a label doing a tiny amount of download sales, this can mean that little bit of cash to pay the mastering engineer and the person who did the design for the cover, or to host a showcase in your local club.)

For serious users using that service, it means a higher quality way of getting music than other subscription services – and that you support the people who make the music you love, so they keep using it.

Or, at least, that’s the hope.

What Beatport is offering at the “pro” tiers does more and costs more. Just like Pioneer doesn’t want you to stop buying CDJs just because they have a cheap controller and app, Beatport doesn’t want you to stop spending money for music just because they have a subscription for that controller and app. Heiko explains:

With the upcoming Pioneer rekordbox integration, Beatport will roll out two new plans – Beatport LINK Pro and Beatport LINK Pro+ – with an offline locker and 256kbps AAC audio quality (which is equivalent to 320kbps MP3, but you’re the expert here). This will be club ready, but will be aimed at DJs who take their laptops to clubs, for now. They will cost €39,99/month and €59,99/month depending on how many tracks you can put in the offline locker (50 and 100 respectively).

You’ll get streaming inside Rekordbox with the basic LINK, too – but only at 128k. So it’ll work for previewing and trying out mixes, but the idea is you’ll still pay more for higher quality. (And of course that also still means paying more to work with CDJs, which is also a big deal.)

And yeah, Beatport agree with me. “We think streaming for professional DJ use should be priced higher,” says Heiko. “And we also need to be sure that this is not biting into the indie labels and artists (and therefore also Beatport’s own) revenues,” he says.

What Heiko doesn’t say is that this could increase spending, but I think it actually could. Looking at my own purchase habits and talking to others, a lot of times you look back and spend $100 for a big gig, but then lapse a few months. A subscription fee might actually encourage you to spend more and keep your catalog up to date gig to gig.

It’s also fair to hope this could be good for under-the-radar labels and artists even relative to the status quo. If serious DJs are locked into subscription plans, they might well take a chance on lesser known labels and artists since they’re already paying. I don’t want to be overly optimistic, though – a lot of this will be down to how Beatport handles its editorial offerings and UX on the site as this subscription grows. That means it’s good someone like Heiko is handling relations, though, as I expect he’ll be hearing from us.

Really, one very plausible scenario is that streaming DJing doesn’t catch on initially because it’s more expensive – and people in the DJ world may stick to downloads. A lot of that in turn depends on things like how 5G rolls out worldwide (which right now involves a major battle between the US government and Chinese hardware vendor Huawei, among other things), plus how Pioneer deals with a “Streaming CDJ.”

The point is, you shouldn’t have to worry about any of that. And there’s no rush – smart companies like Beatport will charge sustainable amounts of money for subscriptions and move slowly. The thing to be afraid of is if Apple or Spotify rush out a DJ product and, like, destroy independent music. If they try it, we should fight back.

Will labels and artists benefit?

If it sounds like I’m trying to be a cheerleader for Beatport, I’m really not. If you look at the top charts in genres, a lot of Beatport is, frankly, dreck – even with great editorial teams trying to guide consumers to good stuff. And centralization in general has a poor track record when it comes to underground music.

No, what I am biased toward is products that are real, shipping, and based on serious economics. So much as I’m interested in radical ideas for decentralizing music distribution, I think those services have yet to prove their feasibility.

And I think it’s fair to give Beatport some credit for being a business that’s real, based on actual revenue that’s shared between labels and artists. It may mean little to your speedcore goth neo-Baroque label (BLACK HYPERACID LEIPZIG INDUSTRIES, obviously – please let’s make that). But Beatport really is a cornerstone for a lot of the people making dance music now, on a unique scale.

The vision for LINK seems to be solid when it comes to revenue. Heiko again:

LINK will provide an additional revenue source to the labels and artists. The people who are buying downloads on Beatport are doing so because they want to DJ/perform with them. LINK is not there to replace that.

But I think for the reason I’ve already repeated – that the “serious” and “amateur”/wedding/beginner DJ gulf is real and not just a thing snobs talk about – LINK and WeDJ probably won’t disrupt label business, even that much to the positive. Look ahead to Rekordbox integration and the higher tiers. And yeah, I’m happy to spend the money, because I never get tired of listening to music – really.

And what if you don’t like this? Talk to your label and distributor. And really, you should be doing that anyway. Heiko explains:

Unlike other DSP’s, Beatport LINK has been conceived and developed in close cooperation with the labels and distributors on Beatport. Over the past year, new contracts were signed and all music used for LINK has been licensed by the right holders. However, if labels whose distributors have signed the new contract don’t want their catalog to be available for LINK they can opt out. But again: LINK is meant to provide an additional revenue source to the labels and artists.

Have a good weekend, and let us know if you have questions or comments. I’ll be looking at this for sure, as I think there isn’t enough perspective coming from serious producers who care about the details of technology.

https://www.beatport.com/get-link

The post No, Beatport’s subscription will not kill music – here’s how it really works appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Welcome to YouTube Hell: A MIDI pack reseller silences criticism

YouTube is elevating new voices to prominence in music technology as in other fields. But the platform’s esoteric rules are also ripe for abuse – as one YouTube host claims.

The story begins with around a product, the Unison MIDI Chord Pack. This US$67 pack is already, on its surface, a bit strange. Understandably, users without musical training may like the idea of drag-and-drop chords and harmony – nothing wrong with that. But the actual product appears to be just a set of folders full of MIDI files … of, like, chords. Not real presets, but just raw MIDI chords. They even demo the product in Ableton Live, which already contains built-in chord and arpeggiator tools.

You can watch the demo video on their product page – at first, I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. They claim that this will help you to create chords “with the right notes, in the right order” without theory background – except most of the drag-and-drop material is made up of root position triads, labeled via terminology you’d need some theory to even read.

It’d be a little bit like someone selling you a Build Your Own House Construction Set that was made up of a bag of nails… and the nails were just ones they’d found lying on the ground. Maybe I’m missing something, but I definitely can’t figure out this product from their documentation.

Ave Mcree aka Traptendo, a well-known YouTube host, decided to take on the developers. Calling the product a “scam,” he says he pointed to other, free sources for the same MIDI content – meaning that, as it wasn’t actually original, at best the Unison product amounts to plagiarism.

As if it weren’t already strange enough that these developers were selling MIDI files of chords, they then responded to Ave Mcree’s video by filing a copyright claim. At this point, our story is picked up by Tim Webb at the excellent Discchord blog, who choose a nice, succinct headline:

Fuck Unison Audio [Discchord]

I’ve reached out to Unison for further comment.

Ave writes:

A video about Unison Audio copyright striking my “Unison Audio Chord MIDI Pack Scam” video! This is a channel strike which is affects my monetization rights and could get my channel deleted. I don’t care if that happens because I’m not going to stand for people hustling you. It’s sad that YouTube allows shills and dishonest companies to strike honest reviewers. It’s censorship at it finest! YouTube as a company has lost all of it’s charm when it stop caring about the community on here. Do I like doing videos like these? No, but it’s necessary when people are using their influence for the wrong things. I’m not knocking their hustle by NO MEANS, but offer a product that is 100% YOURS!!!!!

What makes this story so disturbing: not only is YouTube’s lax structure vulnerable to abuse, it seems to actively encourage scammers.

The copyright claim appears to be based on the the pack included for demonstration purposes in his video. While I’m not a lawyer, this should fall dead center under the doctrine of fair use as well as the royalty free license provided by the developers themselves.

Here’s where YouTube’s scale and automation, though, collide with the intricacies of copyright law requirements (mainly in the USA, but possibly soon impacted by changes in the European Union). It’s easy to file a copyright claim, but hard to get videos reinstated once that claim is filed.

As a result: there’s almost nothing stopping someone from filing a fraudulent copyright claim just because they don’t like your video. In this case, Unison can simply use a made-up copyright claim as a tool to kill a video they didn’t like.

You can read up on this world of hurt on Google’s own site:

Copyright strike basics

After all the recent fears about the EU and filtering, automated filtering doesn’t result in a strike – strikes require an explicit request. The problem is, creators have little recourse once that strike is processed. They can contact whomever made the complaint and get them to reverse it – which doesn’t work here, if Unison’s whole goal was removing the video. They can wait 90 days – an eternity in Internet time. Or they can file a “counter notification” – but even this is slow:

After we process your counter notification by forwarding it to the claimant, the claimant has 10 business days to provide us with evidence that they have initiated a court action to keep the content down. This time period is a requirement of copyright law, so please be patient.

Counter Notification Basics [Google Support]

It was only a matter of time before music and music tech encountered the problems with this system, as YouTube grows. Other online media – including CDM – are subject to liability for copyright and libel, as we should be. But legal systems are also set up to prevent frivolous claims, or attempts to use these rules simply to gag your critics. That’s not the case with YouTube; Google has an incentive to protect itself more than its creators, and it’s clear the system they’ve set up has inadequate protections against abuse.

What kind of abuse?

Fuck Jerry, the Instagram “influencer” agency that ripped off memes and helped build the ill-fated Fyre Festival, used copyright strikes to remove a video critical of its operation.

And the system has produced a swarm of copyright trolls.

And it gets worse from there: the system can result in outright extortion, with Google proving unresponsive to complains. The Verge reported on this phenomenon earlier this year, and while Google claimed to be working on the problem, observed that even major channels needed their woes to go viral before even getting a response from the company:

YouTube’s copyright strikes have become a tool for extortion

This isn’t the only problem on YouTube’s platform for music and music technology. While the service is promoting new personalities, disclosure around their relationships with sponsors are often opaque. Traptendo also observes that videos touting various tutorials on working with harmony may be sponsored by Unison Audio, with little or no acknowledgement of that relationship.

That same complaint has been leveled at CDM and me not to mention… okay, all the print magazines I’ve ever written for. But we at least have to answer for our credibility, or lose you as readers. (And sometimes losing you as readers is exactly what happens.) YouTube’s automated algorithms, by contrast, mean videos that simply mention the right keywords or appeal to particular machine heuristics can be promoted without any of that human judgment.

YouTube has unquestionable value, and to pretend otherwise would be foolhardy. Traptendo’s videos are great; I hope this one that was removed gets reinstated.

At the same time, we need to be aware of some of the downsides of this platform. And I’m concerned that we’ve become dependent on a single platform from a single vendor – which also means if anything goes wrong, creators are just as quickly de-platformed.

And regardless of what’s going on with YouTube, it’s also important for humans to spread the word – at least to say, friends don’t let friends spend their money on … chords.

I don’t believe all music “needs to be free,” but I would least say triads are. Actually, wait… I could use some spare spending money. Excuse me, I’m going to slip into the night to go sell some all-interval tetrachords on the black market.

Here’s Traptendo showing you how to mess with harmony in FL Studio – minus the overpriced “pack”:

Oh yeah and – check out Ave’s site on the open Web, complete with full blog:

https://djavemcree.net/

The post Welcome to YouTube Hell: A MIDI pack reseller silences criticism appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.