Do you know there are plenty of great products that never sell enough to be a success? They have great sound and have plenty of features, but still fail to eastablish themselves and become part of the audio production landscape.
How is that possible you might ask, surely the key to a great piece of audio gear is sound and features? What more does a professional working in audio or post-production want from the hardware or software they use?
Were these products launched at the wrong time? Was the marketing bad? Were they just unlucky? Of course, all of those things are a possibility.
Some of my work these days is helping audio hardware and software companies with their product development. I am enormously proud to have helped take some products from conception to birth and then see them flourish.
A few years ago I got a call from a guy starting a new hardware/software company; it had been suggested I could help with bringing this new product to market. As we spoke (and after signing another NDA!) he explained about this innovative hardware and software he was creating and asking advice on getting the message out. After he had explained it to me, he asked if the next best thing was to show it at NAMM, the event where many manufacturers showcase their products. However, after hearing his pitch, I already had some questions about the product that if they remained unresolved could kill it soon after it was born.
I advised that Instead of getting a stand to hire a condo near to NAMM and set up a studio where I would send some of my highly experienced and opinionated producer-engineer friends to experience the product in a real studio environment. I selected those who I knew would be sceptical about this new technology, in some cases who would rip the idea to shreds.
He took my advice, and those meetings took place, valuable feedback came from those meetings and went into making the product even better. It had a record breaking launch and has gone on to be the leading product in its class.
If you are wondering what concerned me about the product, it was this - workflow.
In the world of house buying and selling, there's an expression about what makes the ideal house; location, location, location.
I would like to suggest that what makes the ideal piece of gear for an audio professional, assuming the sound is a prerequisite necessity, then I'd say workflow, workflow, workflow.
It seems too many companies making gear for this industry try and see how many features they can add to entice buyers. It's understandable, they want to wow the world, they consider how the marketing hype can say it's better than X and has more stuff, but if the workflow is ignored, then you can end up with a white elephant that some may buy but soon no one wants to use.
There are endless debates in forums about the sound of this interface, the converters, preamps etc. Or the curve on an EQ, the tail on a reverb, the debates go on and on ad nauseam. I do chuckle to myself sometimes as I see arguments take place about the audio convertors in two different interfaces and knowing they are exacty the same component.
The reason I choose what piece of equipment to use when trying to hit a deadline is how easy it is to get the sound I need. To be frank most of the time you couldn't tell an audible difference anyway.
I saw a review by Pro Tools Expert Alan Sallabank a few days ago where he said that the first thing he did with a new piece of gear was to have a play around with it to see how far he gets. (para) Many of us are too busy to read the manual; we'll watch a couple of videos, Google a bit and read the manual as a last resort.
Audio professionals don't want to be slowed down when working, we like new stuff, but if it kills our workflow then we'll often pass in favour of something we can get a good sound out of fast. We have deadlines and limited budgets and rarely have time to find out how 'next level' and 'game-changing' something may be.
Some product developers hate it when their products are criticised, it's understandable in the modern age of forums and social media. 90% of the opinions expressed about new gear aren't worth the pixels it took to post it, but 10% of well-considered feedback could be valuable. In fact, a product's success could be resting on the criticism it gets and not the praise... if a brand is willing to listen.
Too often the brand did not do the homework and ploughed on with a new product without really consulting anyone who was going to use it in the real world. The worst thing a developer can do during this process is to surround themselves with fans who will tell them how innovative and amazing the product is, the last thing you need during product development is fan-boys telling you how smart you are. There have been plenty of products launched that beg the question, who did you talk to before releasing this?
In some ways I get the thinking that seeks approval from those who will tell us how beautiful our new baby is. I'm an ideas person, and my wife is the practical one who has to make these ideas happen. I hate it when I come up with my next 'brilliant' idea only for her to ask me a bunch of questions about the practicalities of my said moment of genius; it's such a downer.
But those people are the ones who take a good idea and make them great - trusted critics can be our greatest asset if we are willing to listen.
So this week's article is a plea to those who make the products we use - on the whole, you do a fantastic job most of the time. Of course, give us excellent sound and plenty of features, but for the sake of making sure your product the very best it can be don't forget the other three things; workflow, workflow, workflow