When recording was based around multitrack tape, pretty much everything connected to everything else, and, as a rule, if you learned to use one piece of gear, such as a studio mixer, you could find your way around most other similar items without too much trouble. If a company went out of business you could probably get their gear serviced somewhere, and if you couldn't, you could probably buy somebody else's product that would do more or less the same job in the same kind of way and would be compatible with your existing equipment.
Today the digital audio workstation predominates, with only half a dozen or so major players serving most of the recording market, and as the recent demise of Tascam's Gigastudio has highlighted, having a piece of software that has been a major part of your life for several years suddenly cease development can be a real wake–up call.
It's not as if the version you have will stop working overnight, but any bugs it may have will be there for good, and when the systems you work with evolve to a point at which your old software will no longer run, you can pretty much kiss your investment goodbye. Obsolete software has no resale value, and unlike old hardware that breaks down, you can't just get an engineer to pop around with an oscilloscope and test meter to fix it for you.
The cost of switching to a new piece of software varies enormously, depending on which part of your system you are having to replace, but as well as the financial cost there's the mental investment required to learn a complex new piece of software. Getting used to a new Digital Audio Workstation to the extent that you feel comfortable enough to tackle commercial sessions in front of a paying client is no trivial task, and it can take several weeks to learn all its essential tricks and wrinkles. Then there's the question of how best to transfer your existing projects to the new DAW before the old one is no longer supported.
In the days of tape, you moved the reel from one machine to another, made sure it was lined up properly and that you had the right noise-reduction system hooked in, then you hit play. Not so with a DAW project that probably includes not just audio files but MIDI data and plug–in settings. While advances have been made in file transfer protocols, I don't know of any that can promise a seamless transition from DAW A to DAW B.
Is this a reason to panic? Probably not, but you should maybe be thinking longer term when you archive projects — saving audio and software instrument tracks as discrete audio files, one version dry and the other with plug–in processing perhaps? There's no reason to believe that any of the mainstream DAWs are on the point of disappearing, but given the world's turbulent economic state and the increasing rate at which everything changes, it can only be prudent to be as prepared as possible.
Paul White Editor In Chief