Feb 202013

In what could perhaps be the longest gap ever between multi-part blog updates, I’m finally going to continue my recap of the last decade and just how amazing the changes that took place over that timeframe were. While the first part focused on the convergence of hardware and software companies and the drastic consolidation that took place, there were fascinating developments in other areas – some obvious, and some less apparent.

Think back again to the turn of the century. To refresh your memory, the music charts had been dominated by newcomers Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, and Cher had a hit with the “Auto-Tune effect” when the general public had never even heard of Auto-Tune. Bruce Willis was seeing dead people,  The Blair Witch Project turned people on to the “mockumentary,” and Regis Philbin was asking “Is that your final answer?” – and Steve Jobs was Apple’s new CEO.

Over the course of the 21st century’s first decade, people went from using pagers to having pocket-sized wireless computers (today we call them smartphones). Napster’s quick spike in popularity gave way to viable business models for paid electronic music downloads (like iTunes). Chat rooms and forums later gave way to social network sites and blogs. AOL was a dominant player and, believe it or not, there was much speculation over whether Amazon would survive or ever turn a profit – this was the decade that the world grew its “long tail.” But what about music instruments and music production tools?

Part 2: Music Production Technology Matures

If you were making or recording music with a computer back in 2000, you probably spent a lot of time dealing with drivers. Downloading them, updating them, cursing at them – you had to, if  you wanted the gear you’d connected via SCSI, or a serial port, or via a MIDI interface, or who knows what other kind of connector to work with whatever you were connecting it to. Sure, things were easier than they had been prior to 1990, but they still weren’t easy. Fast forward 10 years, and while we hadn’t yet reached a DAW utopia, there finally was some validity to the term “plug & play,” with an amazing number of devices being connected via USB, FireWire, and/or Ethernet.

And bang for the buck – at the start of the “noughties,” when you bought a DAW you got, well, a DAW. Want virtual instruments? Those were extra. Plug-ins? Same deal. Loading up a copy of Logic ran up the bill at your music software dealer alarmingly fast (remember back before the App Store?), but Apple changed all of that after acquiring eMagic back in 2002. Two years later, Logic Pro 6 included some virtual instruments and plug-ins, and in 2007, Logic Studio included all of Apple’s virtual instruments and plug-ins – for just $499 – in one of the boldest drops of the street price “limbo stick” that has ever happened in the music software industry.

Track count limitations in DAWs went from being very real limitations in the capability of the software, to open-ended track count specs reliant only on the processing power of your computer. Native Instruments went from being a brand name to describing the reality that its founder had envisioned when starting the company in the first place.

On the coattails of Moore’s Law, keyboard polyphony, which had moved from 32 voices into the fairly comfortable 64-voice range, quickly moved into the 128-voice polyphony range – plenty enough for most applications, and high enough that there are likely some keyboard players today who have never had to alter their playing style to accommodate limited polyphony. Samplers with limited RAM began to give way to keyboards with built-in multi-track audio recording capabilities and internal hard drives.

The technology tide had definitely turned in favor of musicians and producers. In the 3rd and final part of this article, I’ll discuss some less-obvious developments that occurred in the music products industry from 2000-2010. With any luck, the last part won’t take nearly as long for me to finish and post as this one did. Stay tuned!

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