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Independent But Allied

Cakewalk CEO Greg Hendershott affirms his company's independence By Frank Moldstad
Greg Hendershott
The announcement of a "strategic alliance" between music software developer Cakewalk and hardware manufacturer Roland last month followed a dramatic yearlong shuffle in which most other major audio recording software suppliers were acquired by large video-oriented companies. But with its Roland partnership, Cakewalk has retained its independence and a focus on the audio market, a fact emphasized recently by Cakewalk founder and CEO Greg Hendershott in an open letter to users.

?Over the last year, most of our competitors have been fully acquired by larger corporations, Hendershott writes. ?In my view, most of these deals were about the larger company wanting to buy an ?audio department, which would work on audio features for video editing software. Many of their original customers are concerned about the future of the software they use. Let me assure you that this is not the case here. This is a strategic alliance, not an acquisition.

With the backdrop of acquisitions among its peers -- including Emagic by Apple, Steinberg by Pinnacle, Sonic Foundry (desktop assets) by Sony, Syntrillium by Adobe, and Avids acquisition of Digidesign several years ago Cakewalk is one of the very few DAW recording software developers that can boast of both its independence and of a singular audio focus. Its also the only major independent PC DAW software company devoted exclusively to the audio market, ever since the Syntrillium-Adobe deal was announced in May. MAGIX, developer of the PC-based recording and editing application Samplitude, which it acquired from SEK'd last year, has a wider focus, including software and multimedia content for digital video, photo and music editing.

On the Mac platform, Digital Performer developer MOTU and Deck and Peak developer BIAS are also independent. (MOTU also has an extensive line of dual-platform hardware products, so its not strictly an audio software company.)

Cakewalks flagship product, the recording, editing and sequencing program SONAR, is a PC-only app, as is its newest product, Project5, a software synth. With a PC legacy going back to the DOS days, Cakewalk has amassed a huge user base, which a company spokesman says exceeds a million users for all its products. Cakewalk does not reveal actual per-product user figures.

But even for a market leader like Cakewalk, its hard to go it completely alone these days. Its competitors Steinberg, Emagic, Syntrillium, Digidesign and Sonic Foundry all have parent companies that can leverage their technology across other products, especially non-linear video editors such as Apples Final Cut Pro, Adobes Premiere Pro, Avids Composer and Xpress DV -- and now Sonic Foundrys Vegas NLE, plus Sound Forge and ACID, joining Sonys extensive line of video and audio hardware.

So far, aside from Apples decision to end PC development for Emagics Logic, the acquisitions have had no obvious negative impact on the audio applications. And as new technologies such as HDTV, DVD and 5.1 Surround Sound bring audio and video editing closer together, its clear why video companies came courting for audio expertise.

?It seems like its a natural progression for our industry that there be a consolidation at this point, says MOTU's Director of Marketing, Jim Cooper. ?I think one of the reasons MOTU has been able to hold its own is that we do the hardware and the software. A lot of the companies acquired were software only.

Their respective hardware and software expertise was clearly one of the things behind the Cakewalk and Roland alliance. Hendershott notes, ?With this alliance, Cakewalk and Roland are working together to realize a shared vision of tightly-integrated hardware/software solutions to make your music-making experience better than ever. You can look forward to news of these products in the near future. At the same time, both companies remain independent. For example, Cakewalk will continue to develop the software-only products that you use today, plus new ones of course.

The first fruits of the co-development effort between Cakewalk and Roland will probably appear in early 2004, according to Cakewalk spokesman Steve Thomas, who added he couldnt reveal specifics yet. But with the Winter NAMM show scheduled for January 2004, its a good bet that the two companies will have something to show in Anaheim.

Cakewalk's product line includes a wide range of applications, from pro audio programs such as SONAR, Project5 and Guitar Tracks Pro, to home recording and DJ-oriented programs. Rolands musical hardware products span the gamut: keyboards, digital recorders, V-Drums, monitor speakers, and audio interfaces, to name a few. Its Edirol and Boss subsidiaries have specific audio hardware niches of their own. In fact, the alliance with Roland also gives Cakewalk the opportunity to dramatically improve its distribution and marketing outside North America, according to Hendershott, using Edirols international distribution network.

Given all the changes taking place among their peers, how do independent companies such as Cakewalk and MOTU view the audio market? Theyre bullish.

?Its just been getting better and better for us, says MOTUs Cooper. ?The whole Native software direction is just taking off. Were thrilled about the development of the [Mac] G5. Its just going to blow open the whole Native thing. People are going to be very happy with the performance of Native audio with Digital Performer on the G5. He adds that there do not appear to be any major performance issues in the development of Digital Performer for the G5, and that the software should be ready when the G5s new OS ships.

Cakewalks Thomas has similar optimism, albeit from the PC side of things. "The PC offers such a rich environment to work in with all these other applications. I think the value is amazing, the price/performance ratio. Windows XP is one of the greatest things to come down the pike, it really works well for doing digital audio. Pentium processors are so much faster, and the cost keeps coming down, while power has increased tenfold.

Looking ahead, SONAR 3 is in development. And dont be too surprised to see a Surround Sound product coming from Cakewalk in the future.

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Related Keywords:Cakewalk, Roland, audio, recording, Hendershott, DAW

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