One of the recurring themes of conversation amongst exhibitors at the recent NAMM show, especially those selling music software, was the low selling price of Apple's Logic Studio audio production software and the implications of that for their businesses. There's no denying that Logic now represents a great deal for the end user, but at the same time it might also be responsible for distorting the perception of what other software, especially plug-ins, ought to cost. With Logic 8 you get a top-shelf sequencer with over 100 integrated plug-ins and a number of other bundled software applications too, yet for the same money you may only be able to buy one or two third-party plug-ins.
The commercial reality, however, is that anyone producing a mainstream sequencer can actually afford to give you far more for your money than any individual plug-in designer, simply because of economies of scale. After all, there's only a handful of mainstream DAW packages out there but there are dozens of plug-in companies selling hundreds of different plug-ins to the same customer base. It stands to reason, therefore, that there will be far more copies of any of the popular sequencer packages sold than there are individual plug-ins, and as sales have to pay for development, speciality plug-ins that sell in smaller quantities clearly have to cost more.
Leading on from this was an underlying concern that the low cost of Logic 8 would inevitably undermine the sales of other sequencers running on the Apple platform, unless manufacturers adjusted their pricing to compete (as some have done). Of course, this is not an issue for existing users, as people tend not to 'change horses in midstream' unless they have a really good reason for doing so — there's simply too much mental investment that has to go into learning any of the major sequencer packages. Logic users also need to factor in that Apple now charge for all tech support calls, whereas many of their rivals continue to offer free support. A lower price for an equivalent package is clearly going to be a factor in attracting new users to the platform, though, and that obviously makes business sense from Apple's standpoint. It is a logical extension to giving away their entry-level Garage Band audio application with all current Macs, especially as Garage Band songs can be seamlessly imported into Logic if the user develops a serious interest in music recording.
I guess everyone will have their own view, but my take on all this is that all of the mainstream sequencers, along with their bundled plug-ins, represent a great basic construction set for producing music, but you have to accept that the same construction set will be in use by thousands of other musicians. You can make your own productions more 'individual' by adding tools that complement your personal tastes and requirements, and by driving down the price of DAW software, it could be argued that Apple have actually freed up more of the end-user's cash to be spent on adding high-quality third-party plug-in processors and instruments, which has got to be good news for both software designers and users. By the same token it places more pressure on the purveyors of 'me too' plug-ins, but then the Darwinian imperative to evolve or die applies just as firmly in the commercial world as it does in the natural one.
Paul White Editor In Chief