I’m writing this leader column just a week or so before setting off for yet another Winter NAMM show, and though this will make it 33 years for me without missing a single one, I still look forward to it immensely, as in addition to all the expected big names, there are countless startup companies offering new products and new ideas. Sadly, many of these are doomed to failure, but deep in the bowels of Hall E, which is where newcomers are invariably exiled, there are occasional gems, and a number of today’s familiar names started out there. While it is not unreasonable to guess that most of the show will be about offering a new slant on an existing product, often at a more attractive price, I’m hoping that we’ll come across at least a few truly new concepts.
Over the past three decades I’ve seen a lot of genuine paradigm shifts, starting with affordable narrow-format multitrack analogue tape, affordable samplers, MIDI sequencing, the evolution of digital recording, software instruments, Auto-Tune, Melodyne and spectral editing. Some of these, such as Melodyne DNA, just came out of the blue and really took us by surprise, while others seemed inevitable — for example, audio being grafted onto MIDI sequencers just needed hard-drive prices to drop from their mid-’80s price of around four million pounds per Terrabyte to something a tad more affordable.
For some, progress means looking backwards, and I’m sure that Roland’s new take on the TB-303 will attract a lot of interest, even though you couldn’t get arrested with the things when they first came out. For other folks, it might be looking at all the various DAWs and wishing the best ideas from all of them were incorporated in the one they use.
One thing is very clear, though, and that is that we are becoming ever more dependent on a computer industry that sees audio as a very small part of its business. I have a great admiration for all the brilliant people who work in our industry, especially when it comes to music software, but it must be very frustrating for these companies to have to take people away from development just to update existing plug-ins so that they will continue to work when a new OS comes along that doesn’t support the existing versions.
Despite the false hopes of BeOS or the smattering of alternative DAWs running in Linux, the idea of a dedicated music-specific OS built to run on a generic PC and able to run all the popular DAWs still seems a way off, but done right it could save the industry and the end user a fortune in unnecessary goal-post shifting costs. In fact, it might save enough to enable all those audio software developers to pitch in and bankroll it. Then again, it seems some of the gaming companies are looking at specialised operating systems that may also be suitable for serious audio work, so maybe we can hang on to their coat tails for a change? Now there’s a thought.