Monday, December 12, 2011

New Developments, Major Changes & Open Letter To The Music Industry

Well, since my last post, things have been changing quite rapidly with the agenda regarding The Reconcile Center and all the associate projects.  These changes are not something I want to see happen, but they are probably going to be essential to the survival of the Mission as a Whole.  And the mission is the most important thing – The Mission.

So this is going to be the last of the anti-piracy focused posts.  This will always be a part of the goal, but there have been several recent events that have encouraged a reevaluation of priorities. 

I believe the first and foremost priority of The Reconcile Center should be raising the awareness of the vast amount of free and inexpensive resources of QUALITY music software and plugins available to the starting and budget musicians and this directly ties into the second part of priority number 1.  Promote the software and plugin developers in the lower and middle levels of the market.

This industry, like most, is compartmentalized according to social class.  Just like we have the Middle Class and Upper Class, there are what I call the Mid-level, and High-end developers.  Here's how I break it down.

[The ranking has no implications toward the quality of the products, though that can be a factory as to why they are at this level of the industry, I am not making that distinction here.  The high-end sector is notorious for producing over priced pieces of shit, but that doesn't affect the price of their products nor their position in this system.  Also this ranking is not intended to reflect any industry or social standard, only the way I have categorized the company in regard to the Center's agenda.]

Lower Level – Typically free self-made plugins by individuals using any of the various modular environments available, including the amature coder posting their works for free at source-forge and similar sites.

Mid-level – These developers typically charge a fee for their products ranging from about $10 to about $75.  Usually no more than $100, but there can be exceptions. They may offer them as donation-ware or free with the appreciation of donation.  It is often the case that most of their products are free with only a small percentage being sold, and very often when a new product is released the older ones are 'retired' and offered for free as a promotion of the new payware product.

 High-end – These developers offer their products at prices ranging from $100 to a couple $1,000.  They often develop products across the board including plugins as well as DAW production environments, audio editing suits, and even hardware.  For the most part their products are not intended for the customer base of armatures or hobbyists and are marketed to the established career musicians or producers.

Myth-Level – This sector includes those developers who's products are vastly unobtainable by anyone below the level of corporate status.  Some plugins can be $1000's by themselves.  It would be a waste of time to even describe them in any further because like, Elvis and Aliens, anyone below this economic class will probably never see or use them.

For the purpose of The Reconcile Center's Mission, I will focus my attention on the Mid and Lower-level developers, giving exception to certain High-end products on a case to case basis.  I should also point out that there is an unseen level of the market much like America's middle class that is divided into upper and lower divisions.  This level is typically occupied by the developers who specialize in certain products or have specifically chosen that position in the industry.  A good example of this would be Image-Line.  While their products are of high-end quality they are not priced as such and tend to market themselves to the hobby musician and the career musician equally where I categorize them as shifting between an upper and lower mid-level market..  Then there are companies like Native Instruments who's customer base ranges from the high-end to the upper mid-level.

My intention is to obtain demo versions (or in the cases where I have personally made a purchase a full version) of the products offered by these companies, evaluate and review them for my readers who are also their customers; and where appropriate a short song made using the products under the microscope.  Should a company feel that this is a worth while promotion in their, and their customers, regard I will very gladly accept a full version under the condition that my review not be influenced in anyway; but I will not be soliciting any company for full versions of their products unless I feel their demo or trial version is too restrictive to conduct a proper evaluation.  I am setting this standard for my own personal and professional ethics, no matter what any industry standard may be.  I am also actively accepting any invitations to conduct interviews with developers about their products and their company as a whole.  Those wishing or willing to participate should know that there will be at least one question directly related to the issue of software piracy, so be prepared to make a statement on the subject.  It may no longer be the focus but it will always be a major part of the Center and what it does.

Simple product reviews can be found all over the internet in other blogs or online publications.  I want to provide a relation to my readers with a customer/potential customer based experience.  That includes all aspects of the product including the company it comes from.  The support they offer and how they treat a customer having issues will all be a factor.  So if I find that a company is unwilling to provide a customer with support for an issue – ESPECIALLY IF IT RELATES TO A PURCHASE DECISION my readers will hear about it.  Good or bad.  The clock is ticking on one product already and I'd really hate to have to tell the general public about this on-going experience.  I'm not trying to extort any one with this statement.  In the end, it's your business, you can conduct it however you want.  It's not like I have a mass following of my blog, or several thousand forum members that will suddenly cause your pie chart or line-graph to sag any if I publish a negative account of my experience.  To do a thing like that would be wrong, and be a further promotion of the elitism that already plagues this industry through and through, now wouldn't it?

This will be the future of The Reconcile Center and it's public agenda.  Since this post reflects the move away from that focus I feel it only fitting to deliver a final rant on piracy and the state of the industry the way I see it.

I want say that the forum will still host threads (though now entirely hidden from unregistered guest view) for users of pirated software to come and learn about the proper steps of ridding themselves of the problem and starting new, and given the recent move away from an anti-piracy focused message on this blog there will be a new section dedicated to the discussion and debate surrounding software piracy.  I encourage the readers of my blog to actually join the forum (instead of showing up as an unregistered guest just to exploit the resources I am compiling).  Registered users will soon be allowed to vote for and suggest products for review in the blog and will be able to read blog posts earlier than the non-member.  I am VERY sympathetic to the fear of joining a board with a directive such as ours, especially if you are planning to use the Recovery Center.  So to avoid earning yourself the KVR Bitchslap for trying to actually go legit. (Yes, you and KVR should take that as an insinuation to the idea that, by their banning practices, they are subconsciously PROMOTING the continuation of Pro Audio Software piracy! - Don't like that? Then change your policy to something more proactive or contact me so we can make arrangements for my forum members.)  Though I wouldn't worry too much because my forum explicitly does not allow (but will also ban the living shit out of you too) for the promotion of piracy, while it appears that their banning policy is limited to those who promote, either passively or directly, copyright infringement.  Though, I wouldn't trust anyone who displays the ignorant intolerance I've witnessed in archived posts or live as an unregistered 'lurker' (more about this, and a personal side note to KVR below).

To these individuals I recommend that you obtain yourself a private email address dedicated only to this particular message board.  It and your screen name should be original and non-derivative of your KVR screen name or any screen name used during your illegal downloading (including message boards on or connected to torrent sites or any other method by which your warez were obtained) and if you don't have a KVR account but would like one once you've gone legit, then you should do the reverse by creating a new set of accounts for AFTER you've cleaned up your computer and are ready to head off into the world.  Also, stop going to those sites and participating in those communities, you WILL NOT like how you get treated.  Remember, you are not selling out – You're Buying In!

Now, KVR, listen and listen closely.  I do not like your practices and the fact that I lost my account with you has little to nothing to do with that fact.  This is just business, nothing personal.  You cannot treat people that way and expect them to change the way they work.  You should take a lesson from IMSTA (though I'm on the fence about their recent lack of public attention to the subject) and try offering someone a little more than contempt.  All you do is send people off burned and offended.  Especially when you get Dystopic and Orwellian on that ass and ban someone defending the developer and their business practices that protect them from abuse.  You have been very fair in the past.  I've witnessed some extremely wise decisions made by your mods regarding the banning of certain individuals, so I know you aren't ALL bad, but when a person is handled the way I was it has a tendency to make them paranoid and only sends them further into underground, and thus deeper into their use of illegitimate products.  I have talked to other people about this and I have had it explained to me that in the past your boards had some serious problems with criminals trying to sell warez and promote their sites to your members.  I understand and completely agree that these people should be quickly removed from the honest community, but now things are a bit different.  I'm offering you the opportunity to, once again, become an industry pioneer.  Send them to me.  Let me deal with them.  I'm willing to have all the arguments on the subject that they can handle and once they've accepted the reality of this world, I'll teach them how to clean their systems and practices.  I'll even be willing to share screen names, IP addresses and whatever else I can offer about individuals who simply do not accept change.  Get in contact with me and we'll discus this situation.  Remember it's just business.

Ok, now that I've addressed that, I'm about to address the industry as a whole.  I'm mainly talking to the people who use illegal software, but will off and on shift direction to the businesses that operate in the industry.

First, I want to tell the users of warez, cracks, pirated, or whatever you call it – illegal software.  It's time to stop.  Seriously. This isn't from some self righteous soap box either, I'm telling you out of concern for my fellow musicians.  The days where you could just hop online and do anything without anyone knowing are gone.  Sure there are some of you with the savvy to figure out how you can truly be anonymous, and if you're cool with what you're doing, by all means laugh your ass off at me and move on; but to the torrent users and whoever else that hasn't been operating a virtual machine based security system to protect yourself (since June at the very least), listen up and take me DEAD serious.  They know who you are. I do not know what they plan to do about it, but if you don't think that a business or an entire industry that is suffering from exactly what you are doing is going to sit back and just watch while you are doing it, then you're mentally defective in the first place and software piracy is merely a symptom of the true problem.  So I'd prepare a mental defense just in case.

For the rest of you, especially the ones who've noticed some pretty odd things going on recently, it's time to cut the bullshit and get to work.  The old argument of 'they don't know who I am so they can't prove its a crime' will not fly anymore.  And even if they don't know who you are right now, they will the moment you publish your music.  If you think for one second that they cannot recognize the sound of their own products, no matter what you've done to it, you've got to be a fool.  I can pick most software synthesizers out by name when I hear them in a song, and they MADE the damn thing!  Right now, if I had to hazard an assumption, I'd say they view you as a potential customer and are just waiting to see what happens next on your end, but there are equal odds that I'm wrong and the reality is that a complex legal action is being built. Personally its not worth the risk to me.  I'd rather take care of the issue and make things right between me and them as best as I can and leave that past behind me.

The industry is eerily silent on the subject.  There is ONLY ONE company that is a member of IMSTA that seems to be honoring the conditions of its membership, not even Steinberg, Cakewalk, or Native Instruments have the required 'Piracy Free Zones' the charter states should be put in place after joining the group, follow those links and see for yourselves (also, check out the IMSTA message board and see how dead it is.)  Those three companies have members on it's board of directors for Gods sake!  So either being on the board offers the benefit of not having to actually comply with its requirements, or these areas are hidden from the public, totally defeating the purpose of informing and educating them of the impact piracy has had on this industry; either way, I'm left only with the assumption that something is just not right with the situation and can only guess what that is.  My paranoid mind wants to make some suggestions, but I'll refrain because I really do not know, but I'm not about to underestimate anything or anyone.

I have made attempts to contact certain companies with absolutely no results.  I've even made direct attempts via phone, not just a bunch of emails.  I've done real world off line shit that has gotten nowhere.  So I can really only assume that I am getting laughed at, or that I'm not being taken as seriously as I should be, or I'm seen as being disingenuous.  I'd be willing to say it's a mixture of them all; they find it funny that I'm here trying to justify my misdeeds online.  Allow me to set the record straight – I'm here to Reconcile my misdeeds.  I know what I did, and I know it was wrong. 

I'm guilty, but not ashamed.

That's why in the wake of the KVR fiasco I proceeded to use the same screen name as the one they banned – the same one that I was using to defend one company's abuse protections when I did get banned, and then informed that the reason was because they were aware of my activity on 'various other pirateous boards'.  (Yeah, I got e-stalked by KVR.)  I kept my screen name for a few reasons, but the one they should know and understand the most, is that I am willing to admit my mistakes and own my wrong doings.  If I had just slipped off into the shadows and changed my screen name and hidden the past, I would have been continuing the same type of behavior that the piracy was a symptom of to begin with and therefore, would have never learned anything even if I never downloaded or used another piece of pirated software, I wouldn't have become a better person by learning and growing from my mistakes.  So does that mean KVR is actually is doing a good thing by treating people this way? 

No, because the fact is that I was already changing at that point.  I was already uncomfortable about using pirated software and sort of hanging in limbo or stasis dealing with it in my own mind when I made the mistake of joining a conversation I probably should have kept my nose out of, no matter how wrong I thought the situation was.  Getting involved while I hadn't done anything but think about changing made me a hypocrite and karma dealt with me. (And I love her for it.)  Like some sort of divine miracle the events had the opposite affect on me than they should have given my psychology.  So because of that, I appreciate what happened that day at KVR, without it, I wouldn't know the joy of a special little code that belongs only to me so I can make the music inside of me come alive! 

At first I went a little nuts on the subject thinking way too much about it trying to blame everyone else for the problems I was faced with, and when I finally took a moment and a deep breath I realized what was going on.  It wasn't until then that I was able to think straight and finally see what piracy was doing to this industry.  The only reason I still have an issue with KVR at this point is because I don't believe that it will happen the same way next time.  Karma does not enjoy it when you take her job into your own hands.  I believe the reason I was blessed with this was because of my state of limbo and already having begun the process of change.  It was a mutually beneficial outcome for this to be the result of those events.

I'm not going to say it's been an easy time in the least.  In fact it's been down right hell in some regards.  Do I mean because I had to come up with the cash to pay for the software I used?  No, that was always the plan, this merely hastened it.  I'm talking about the way I've been treated since my transition into the use of legitimate software.  There have been a few very gracious individuals that have, at the very least, taken me at my word.  But I can't say that about some.  I get the sense that I'm regarded with an air of suspicion.  I'm not about to go into the details about it, because I have no one to blame but myself, and understand that a certain level of suspicion is justified given my past.  I just want to let you know how hard it is to recover from what I've done to myself.

Lets take a look at something I've had to accept will never be a reality because of the choices I made.  There are several plugins available at certain resources like source-forge and others dedicated solely to plugin source code sharing.  I've always held the dream of being able to learn how to compile those codes into a VST with custom GUI's that would elevate my work flow.  I have several open source plugins that have been compiled into VST by their creator, but lack a GUI, and this makes working with them very clumsy and awkward.  Do you think I really want to be caught dead with any kind of program designed to alter software in any way, even legitimately?  Have you read the EULA's associated with the software you use?  I have, and I could have my licenses revoked simply because of this blog, but that risk is one I'm willing to take.  I don't think any company wants the PR associated with revoking a license of someone blogging about anti-piracy; that's the kind of thing Zero Paid lives to report.  It wouldn't be so good in the end, but I can guarantee you, its not winning me any points anywhere either.  Though the reverse PR could possibly go pretty far into the direction of progress.

So why do this?  Why not save myself the embarrassment and just move on silently?  I don't know.  I've tried, it made perfect sense to me the day I bought my first legal program to just drop it and turn this into a review site.  It didn't last long.  I was soon motivated back into it, where I hit brick wall after brick wall.

All I want to do at this point is make this industry a better place for developer and customer alike.

Lets look at something else.  I recently read that a certain developer spent 2 years coding his latest release of a very innovative software synthesizer, which happens to be just one more in a line of previous innovations made by this developer; but he also spent 4 years developing the protection it employs to defend his new uber-synth from piracy.  That makes me sick to my stomach honestly, and even if it's not true or an exaggeration, its a real possibility that someone who could have spent all that time working on more and more innovations, and improving the industry on the artistic level, was busy effectively building walls.  Music is supposed to tear walls down, not build them.  Urs, if this is true by any adjustment of the numbers, I am so sorry.  My apology means nothing in the end, but you should know that at least I recognize the injustice of your talents being misdirected. 

It's not his fault.  He deserves to be compensated for his labors, even if they are so obviously a personal passion. (I recently found out that he's also spent time optimizing and refining code for free plugins designed by others just so they were better products).  It's our fault.  Those of us who have become dependent upon illegal software, WE, are the ones who have stunted the growth of our art and by extension ourselves.

I'm going to close this entry off on this note.  It seems only appropriate.  The conversation will continue at my forum in the appropriate threads, but as far as this public blog – it's over for now.  This is my official invitation to everyone in the industry to come and work this out on neutral ground.  The silence has to stop, its ruining the mix.  It needs to be discussed, there are people who WANT to discuss it in the proper context, but it's not being allowed to happen on the message boards of relevance.  There was a recent thread that I watched unfold nearly from the beginning, about a guy wanting to know what people would do if they discovered someone they knew and respected used warez software.  His intentions were good but because of fanatical behaviors of some participants, the discussion quickly turned into a war ending up with yet another person being banned.  He was only temporarily banned because of his insulting statements that were clearly anti-piracy (like I mentioned it's not all bad), but this was still the result.  Negativity and nothing more.  I don't expect or want KVR to suddenly allow something on their message boards that they clearly have a justified right to disallow, I want proactive solutions.  So lets all gather round the campfire and have a go.  Even if you want to argue your point and justify yourself and ill gotten goods, come on, lets play the game; just know that I am Epic Win, and like one very wise person said in the above mentioned conversation; 'eventually karma will win and you will grow up.'

Til next time,

You've already sold your soul.  Come buy it back – free of charge.

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