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Thread November 21, 2015 editorial: comments

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1 November 21, 2015 editorial: comments

The Subscription Trend Continues

If you’ve read this column regularly, you’ve probably noticed that one of my pet peeves is the trend toward the subscription model in music software. Recently there have been more developments in that area, as two major plug-in makers — Slate Digital and McDSP — launched subscription plans. Slate Digital is offering a couple of plans including the Mix/Master/FX bundle, which features all of its plug-ins for $299 a year, or $24.99 per month. Subscribers will also get any new plug-in from the company for free and free updates for its existing plugs. McDSP’s native bundle consists of its complete native product line, and is now offered for $29 per month, or $295 per year.

Thankfully, both companies still let you purchase their plug-ins. They don’t require that you get a subscription, like Microsoft and Adobe do. I’m not going to argue that the Slate and McDSP subscriptions don’t offer you a lot of value, because they do. They let you to access a lot more plug-ins for the money than you could if you bought them à la carte. But the problem is the same as in any software subscription scenario — you’re only renting the software, so if your circumstances change and you can’t pay, or if the software developer goes out of business, you’ll lose access to the software.

In the first scenario, if you knew you were going to let your subscription lapse, you could first render all the tracks on which you used the company’s plug-ins before they turned off the switch. However, if the company were to go out of business, you’d likely have no warning.

I was also thinking about what it would cost to maintain a number of software subscriptions simultaneously. If all the music software companies switched to subscription-only programs, you’d be looking at some hefty annual or monthly bills, especially if you wanted some diversity in your plug-ins.

For the sake of this example, let’s say you have Pro Tools as your DAW. Subscribing to it (at today’s rates) would cost you $299 per year or $24.92 per month. If you also had the McDSP bundle for $295 per year, or $29 per month; and the Slate Digital bundle for $299 per year or $24.99 per month; your annual music software bill would be $893 or $78.91 per month. I have a feeling that’s a lot more than a lot of recording musicians spend on software purchases. In any case, let’s hope that the software companies continue to offer the option to own, so that we have the freedom to choose.

When I am forced to 'rent' only my software is when I will quit using that software. I use Sonar Platinum as my DAW and pay a yearly subscription, but if I stop the subscription plan I get to keep my software up till the last subscribed version. I can also re-instate the subscription at any time. With Sonar, the best part of this plan is that I get access to phone support which has been extreemly helpful (usually get answered in less than 3-4 minutes). Sonar subscription is a fair and wisely thought out one. If I had to 'rent' all my audio software and plugins, I could buy a house mortgage instead. When and if that day comes is the day I pack it up and quit recording. Besides, I've got some great guitars that need to be played more anyway.
For those DAW users out there concerned about the spiraling cost of subscriptions, you should check out Multitrack Studio. http://www.multitrackstudio.com/

The owner and developer, Giel Bremmers of Bremmers Audio Design, allows lifetime free updates to the software for its subscribers - after you have paid the initial subscription free, all updates are free. Forever.

The site has added a donation button to allow subscribers to donate whenever they choose to. I've used the software since 2006 and it is rock solid. Also, Giel is quick to reply to questions and concerns. Support is excellent.

It doesn't have the name recognition of some of the other DAW software programs out there, but it does have the performance for a fraction of the price.

Something to consider.
I totally agree. Like Moving back in time to the medieval system, where you didn't own anything, yet paid regular taxes..an indentured servant to the king. A business can make more money in the long-term by having people rent, and not letting them own.

Though Slate and McDSP still offer paid ownership, they seem to be gravitating towards this business model.I like being able to own my car, or eventually being offered the opportunity to own it after I pay it off. If we 'rented to own' software (making monthly installation payments) that would make much more sense to the consumer; but less business sense to music software companies.
The concept of "renting" software sickens me. For one thing, you never know when these companies are going to go belly-up, And yet they expect you to be a "loyal" subscriber. God forbid if you run into a financial bind and can't keep up with your monthly payments. You're out of luck. No fanfare. And, as rol123 states, it's like being back in the "bad old days". No wonder Internet software pirates are thriving. Everyone wants to feel a sense of respect from many of these companies. But, it's most certainly a two-way street. I have found that certain audio software companies go through great lengths to show their customers that they really do care. Albeit, this is becoming an increasingly rare commodity, there are a few of them out there. These few exceptions have learned that sometimes it's not always about the bottom line. I have no problem shelling out my dough to a company that does not make me feel like merely an account number.

[ Post last edited on 11/21/2015 at 11:07:00 ]

I agree, if everyone turns to this model, we're all going to be facing a prohibitively high monthly fee, and we'd have to have to review and lower the number of vendors we subscribe to. That might backfire quickly on the marketplace and begin a culling or consolidation of the smaller, independent software vendors. (I'd even suggest the larger companies know this already).
Software subscriptions do however, offer a couple of benefits. The first and most obvious is lowering the barrier of entry. Software vendors will hope this is the incentive for all the users of cracked software to begin paying for supported, licensed software. (This also is hugely important to their business, because it offers them a flatter revenue stream. This means the ongoing development of new products is easier to fund, and less risky to undertake. In the long run, this could be beneficial to the consumer.)
The second benefit is for any studio that is an actual, registered business. When you buy and own software, it's an asset, which you have to depreciate and pay tax on. When you rent it, it's a recurring, pre-tax liability. This is better for your studio's cash flow management, and tax position.
Having done the math, it's not time for me to jump on the subscription bandwagon yet. I do hope, and expect, that as competition builds in the subscription space, the monthly rental amounts will drive down, and it should. If you're making money from your music, this is worth keeping an eye on.
I've been an Session 8, Digidesign, Avid and Pro Tools devotee for so long.
I just can't bring myself to upgrade to version 12 because it's a rent only software option. Why are they doing this?
I've paid them a lot of money over many years, and would've continued to do so - though now I'm very unsure.
I merely feel 'uneasy' about this concept, and why this has now come in to play.

I own all of my software licences and have never paid a subscription for any of them, it does not suit my ethics, beliefs & feelings - you subscribe for a magazine! If Apple ever said I could no longer buy a mac, but only rent it I just don't know what I would do!!
If I couldn't buy my home, had to rent my car, rent my iPhone... it simply feels so uneasy and I hate living that way!
Access versus ownership. The big topic of this age. I can understand the need for control of the software's availability to the consumer. It is no different than our royalty battles. The need for this change is based in our use and our whining every time our DAW crashes or acts up. Think of the time one spends to keep all of that software (and the plethora of passwords) running and valid in your studio. The intent behind this shift is noble but misguided. I have just "upgraded" to Pro Tool 12 from Cubase 7 and I can say that when I loaded Cubase from a disk it was WAY easier. I have just come off of 3 days of loading and authorizing Sibelius, Logic, Final Cut X, and myriad of others that Full Sail University made me get. All downloads, and all a huge pain in the buttocks. Between the iLok's, eLicensers, FireWire, USB, and the ten other connections one has to make, I can't plug a commercial in my systems. I run everything from an Ethernet connection and it still takes all day to get these huge files to download.
Then you run into the problem of activation. We have all bought that new software we have been drooling over for months only to have the installation goof up where the heck the activation code is. Then you have to contact customer service and we all know that is never a fast process. Then these Poindexters want your life story for a week before they even attempt to answer your question.
The problem is not solely the developers, we are to blame as well. What, with our using the software and finding faults in it and then complaining about it. Sheesh. I guess it's too much to ask to make something that works 100% of the time always. Maybe, if these geniuses would thoroughly test and develop the programs and then roll it out to the public, we wouldn't find things wrong and they wouldn't have to always "fix" the program with updates. But, I guess paying for 100% of something but only receiving 80% is the fairest standard by which all developers can get on board with.
The software industry is the only industry where "good enough" means sell it. I think those jackwagons do that on purpose. They think "ah, we can fix the rest with updates". Well how about this; no. If the auto industry thought the same way, how many three wheeled sedans would be purchased by the consumer? Here's a hint, zero. Yet we, who have NO choice apparently, are standing in line at the altar of Avid and begging for more scraps. Thanks to Spotify and the like, these pointy-headed nerds think that everything should be like that. Streaming and subscribed to. I tell you the truth when I say that if I was not forced to darken the doors of Avid by my school, I would never, ever, become a Pro Tools user. The platform sucks anyway, but because all of the a-holes in the industry fearing change, this is what we have, a big pile of stink. The odor of this pile is going to leave a stench for years to come.
I totally agree with you. If they are going to follow that path they will turn people to other solutions. I agree also with Wally Wood’s comments – suggestions above and Peter Green’s ones. Let us also not forget the Audacity project. Projects like this will be developed and grow if the companies follow the path of “renting” their software.
I purchased Arturia V3 and NI ultimate9 and they gave me a “fair enough” offer for updating. Nevertheless, I had to “confront” the update of V3 to V4, the update from 9 to 10 and the Cubase update… I was limiting my budget… If they are going to follow that path I believe that many of us with the home studios we will stop following these companies, we will stick to our purchased programmes and we will stop buying at all! I believe that many of us we are not “limiting” the capabilities of our plug-ins and our programmes. So we will stay there.
Why are we trying to convince ourselves that we have to constantly upgrade to the latest DAW’s like Pro Tools instead of focusing on making music? Technically speaking any engineer worth his or her salt should be able to create high quality recordings with older versions of their DAW’s. For example even though I have the recent versions of Sonar and Cubase, I still prefer working with previous versions of same, particularly Sonar Producer.

I find older DAW’s are less complicated and are much faster to work with. So on foot of this I have decided Not to upgrade to any new DAW’s, subscription or otherwise for the foreseeable future.

I think the way we go on about the upgrade trail, it’s a wonder any music gets recorded at all. In addition I learnt just recently an editor of well-known recording magazine apparently is so fed up with software synth upgrades, and where there are issues with backward compatibility, that he has decided to revert back to hardware equivalents.