Ten Questions for Composers Investing in Technology

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Tascam’s decision to discontinue sales and support of the entire Giga platform and technology should give composers good reasons to look very carefully at any major technology platform or format that requires a substantial financial investment. To use a metaphor from the “musical chairs” game, you don’t want to be the person – like the giga users found out last week they were – who doesn’t have a chair when the music stops.

Technology, especially sample platforms, are often a major investment for composers, because the libraries and associated hardware and software necessary to use them can easily add up to tens of thousands of dollars. With so many hard-earned composer dollars at stake, we’ve come up with some questions you may want to ask those vendors and manufacturers that are asking for a big chunk of your money.

These questions should be asked of not just the primary manufacturer of the technology you’re considering, but of the manufacturers of all products necessary to use the technology you’re considering – especially if that technology is dependent on proprietary third-party software or hardware in order to function properly.

1. How long as the manufacturer been in business and supporting the technology you’re considering investing in? If the manufacturer is relatively new, you may want to get more details on their future plans. That’s not to say that you should be wary of new technology! But the success of your investment is tied to the success of the technology itself, and without a track record, you may need to look to other aspects of the technology and manufacturer’s capabilities and plans in order to gain the confidence you’ll need to be comfortable with a major long-term technology investment.

2. What is the financial viability of the manufacturer for the long term, especially given today’s declining economy? This question is just as valid for large manufacturers as it is for smaller ones – as we all saw with Tascam, just because a product is produced by a large manufacturer is no guarantee that it won’t be discontinued.

3. What provisions, if any, has the manufacturer made to continue support and development for the technology if the manufacturer should no longer be able to continue in business or chooses to discontinue or end support for the technology? In the business world, customers of proprietary software are sometimes provided with a “software escrow” service that maintains a current copy of the source code for the software in escrow so that in the event the manufacturer is no longer able or willing to support it, the source code can be obtained by end users or those wishing to create an open source version of the software.

4. What is the product support commitment by the manufacturer, and at what cost? If support is not free, a close examination of the support agreement is in order. Also, check on the support role, if any, of the vendor that sells you the technology vs. the manufacturer of the technology. A good reason to select certain vendors – especially system integrators – is the value they add to the sale by providing an additional level of support that can sometimes be far more accessible than a large manufacturer’s support department.

5. How does the manufacturer support communication with users? Examples include by email, phone, “live help” online chat, and others. Email-only support can involve long time lags between each individual question and answer, and is generally not useful for time-sensitive support needs. In other words, if you need to deliver your score in 4 hours and your system is down, you simply don’t have time to send off an email and wait and hope for a timely response. In these cases, phone support is a must for mission-critical technologies in composer studios.

6. If the technology comes with a warranty, under what circumstances can the warranty end up voided? For instance, will the warranty be voided if you attempt to expand the capabilities of the technology by using components (like memory modules, etc) not purchased from the original manufacturer?

7. If the technology is computer based, what version(s) of which operating system(s) will the manufacturer commit to supporting? Microsoft’s continued advance towards discontinuing support for Windows XP despite the fact that many users currently prefer it to Vista is an excellent example of how an operating system’s availability for sale and upgrades can have a major impact on composer studio technology.

8. What are all the costs involved in upgrades and updates going forward? Make sure you consider the costs of both minor maintenance upgrades and major new functionality upgrades. Remember that for many software companies, income from selling upgrades exceeds income from new software sales. Also, find out the “grace period” for free upgrades – that is, for what period of time after you purchase the technology do you qualify for free upgrades. There’s nothing more aggravating that purchasing new technology – especially software – and being asked to pay for an upgrade only weeks after initially purchasing the software.

9. What is the manufacturer’s commitment regarding interoperability of their technology with other technology and industry standards? If the technology needs to work with other technology in your studio, what commitments will the manufacturer make about current and future interoperatbility with other technology and various industry standards such as those for networking and communication?

10. What is your overall comfort level with making a substantial investment in the technology, given all of the above plus any other considerations you’re looking at? If you’re not comfortable, ask for more information, or wait and see how the technology evolves and is accepted by the industry.

Today, composers are vitally dependent on the technology used in their studios for writing and production. The extremely tight deadlines often present in film and television scoring provide no room for faulty technology, incompatible software or sluggish support from manufacturers, and if you don’t deliver your music on time, nobody cares why – it’s your name and reputation on the line, period. No filmmaker’s going to give you a “second chance” to deliver a score for a film because you encountered technology had problems.

For these reasons and many more, take a good, close look at any technology you’re considering investing in and make sure you’re comfortable with not only the technology, but the company and people who make it and support it. If and when you’re comfortable with the technology and those behind it, invest and enjoy, and make sure you continue to keep close tabs on those companies and people you are dependent on for the health and well-being of your studio technology.

1 Comment

  • July 29, 2008 @ 4:58 pm

    Mark, nice piece but I think the most important question people
    might want to ask is… “Do I need THIS?” Technology is about
    options not name recognition. Giga has the name recognition but
    obviously that wasn’t enough.

    Gigas pending obsolescence has been evident for a while. If you’re a
    Mac person (like a lot of composers or music professionals are) that
    means you have to buy an additional PC, which you’ll probably only
    use for Giga (or Wavelab) anyway. That’s fine if you work in a Santa
    Monica music factory, but not so great if you have to power a few
    Giga PCs and a G5 in a small WeHo apartment. With awesome power
    of the new Macs, you really don’t need to spread your studio over
    nine, noisy machines anymore.

    Also many samplers for the last few years have been able to
    successfully and convincingly convert Giga files. Also, many
    libraries (Vienna comes to mind) can just bypass Giga and create
    plugins on their own.

    I have a hard time believing Tascam didn’t see this coming down
    5th avenue in a cab. Music professionals come at all levels. A single
    decent Giga rig can be expensive, a few decent rigs, prohibitively
    so. Did Tascam think rich Hollywood composers would keep Giga
    alive forever?

    As my old guitar teacher used to say, it’s not the guys who buy the
    Les Pauls that keep the store alive, it’s the guys who buy everything

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