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KENNY CAMPBELL: Mac Users, Get Together

Sounding Off
Published June 1998

KENNY CAMPBELL: Mac Users, Get Together

One day we all might drive a compact hatchback. Until then, Mac musicians should rally support for their beloved computer. Kenny Campbell sounds the call...

You've got a 266MHz Mac G3? What a sorry sight you are. I bet you've got a Betamax, haven't you? Couldn't buy that Clavia Nord modular, eh? Didn't have any use for that Yamaha DSP 2416? That's the millenium coming up, that is. EVERYONE else has a Pentium PC. They are so much better, aren't they? No, nobody actually cares; you're a dinosaur. If you actually want to make music, 21st Century boy, you'd better get with the program. Those manufacturers like things nice and tidy, they do.

The funny thing is, you're probably still in the majority within your particular field. Among your friends and fellow musicians, PC users are a bit thin on the ground. You've been keeping an eye on hard disk recording and the idea of an 02R and 24‑bit conversion on a little card really looks like it could be the way to go in the not‑too‑distant future. You'd actually go out and buy a Nord Modular tomorrow... it's just a pity that you're not really demographically quite the sort of customer that they want. Yes, I know you're a professional musician.

I know you're a bit of a whizz‑bang synth programmer. I know you've got gear stashed everywhere in your house. It's just that the accountant next door has a BMW and a bigger bank balance. Last Christmas, his wife bought him one of those keyboard things. It looked ever so complicated but really it does the most amazing things. Here, if you push this button marked 'Demo' it sounds fantastic...

What's that? The music was written by a clever man with a Macintosh and the samples were edited the same way? What's a sample? Oh, you mean a WAV.

Alright, joking aside. A lot of you might recognise yourselves. I know you're out there, because I work with you and I work with other people who work with you. We all use Macs. You've put in a lot of time and effort to become Mac literate. You like being Mac literate. Apple seem to have weathered the worst of the storms and have some great computers to hit back with. It's an exciting time to be a Mac owner. They have the fastest notebook computer in the world and the Gossamer II board is rapidly sobering them up over at Intel. Quicktime v3 is set to become a world standard. So why has this Pentium PC thing started to take precedence in one of the few fields where the Mac still dominates?

If the number of Windows‑using musicians has increased to the point where they make up around, say, 25% of the music market, then the arithmetic is against the Mac. It doesn't matter if we constitute the majority of music technology customers. All it takes is for 1% of the overall computer market to start buying computer‑related music products and it means that we are a minority in the overall market for these products. Scary, isn't it? It then means that the target market for complex computer‑based music products is driven by people with no real clue how to use them. When the gear becomes so cheap that you can buy a pro synth card as a Christmas present for the kids, why not?

What's the difference between a PCI card with a software front end and a MIDI module? No more painting the hallway through the letterbox (good phrase that — it originated in SOS in a Yamaha TG500 review, if my memory serves me). If you can have a flat panel display for your computer (and they are the next big thing); if you can keep all the cabling for your audio in a single loom at the back of your computer (or not, if you want to mix on your computer); if you can have digital hard disk recorder and DSP; have software synths that sound as good as Rebirth and have the potential of the Nord Modular; if it takes up no more desk space than your present computer and is portable, thanks to your great new flat screen; if you can have all this and save money as well, what are you going to do? It doesn't take a genius to see the way things are heading.

You're a manufacturer. It used to be that all you had to worry about was MIDI compatibility. Now you have to worry about whether to produce two sets of software to drive the same product, when it would be much cheaper and more sensible to make one. So you choose. The rest of the world has already succumbed to the might of Microsoft, and you need to bet on the winning horse.

In this case it's a unique situation. The majority of people who really want your product and who have supported the growth of your company do not really count, because you know that as you make cheaper and more sophisticated products a larger percentage of the overall population will decide to buy them. That means businessmen who have Windows at their office and are comfortable with it. That means kids who have grown up knowing that all the best games are for Windows and have never been introduced to the joys of the Mac.

Effectively, you are going to be coerced into using Windows without even having the chance to vote with your cash. If you can't buy what you want, because it's not compatible with your Mac, what can you do? If you desert the Mac, then they were right. SoftWindows might work. A PCI card that pretends to be a Pentium PC will, but if you end up running two operating systems in parallel, experience tells you where that slippery slope will end — with just one OS (and it won't be the one Mac users like). Now is the time to shout about it, because in another year it might be a done deal. Happy? No?

Then tell them.

If you'd like to air your views in this column, please send your ideas to: Sounding Off, Sound On Sound, Media House, Trafalgar Way, Bar Hill, Cambridge CB3 8SQ.

Any comments on the contents of previous columns are also welcome, and should be sent to the Editor at the same address.