Posts Tagged ‘vst’

How to fail at marketing audio software

I spent a good chunk of 2005 working on Mopis, a granular soft synth.  Commercially, Mopis was a minor failure.  Fewer than 100 copies have sold, and at current rates it seems unlikely to crack the century mark.  I would have put 200 copies as a sort of “break-even” point and the goal was around 500.  I have no idea how many people are using pirated copies (which are easily available– I’m not totally clueless) or content with the free version (which is not too badly crippled), but many thousands of people downloaded the trial.

Mopis lets you easily manipulate samples in many complex and interesting ways.  That sentence sums up everything interesting about the plug-in.  There are also some VA capabilities, but they are nothing new.

Here are some examples:

Drum manipulation by Aaron:


Ambient sounds by Wakax of Makunouchi Bento:


An incredibly silly, yet catchy, tune by me:


It’s somewhat limited in scope, but it does provide useful and unique features.  So what did I do wrong?

The presets are crap. I was obsessed with reaching 128 presets without really thinking why.  Perhaps I was worried the MIDI Fairy would not bring me a quarter.  I ended up including piles of generic VA sounds to make count.  So typical users download the plug-in, skim through the presets, and say, “gee, another decent, yet generic, VA.  I’ll file this away for later.”  But what they mean is, “I’ll file this away for never.”  Mopis was never intended to be a preset machine anyhow; the whole point is to load up your own samples and mutilate them.  I should have included maybe a few dozen presets to demonstrate the range of the machine, then encouraged users to explore on their own.

The GUI is awkward. This is by no means a slam at Roland, the excellent graphic designer I worked with.  In fact, it’s an indictment on myself for not relying on him more.  I sketched an interface on paper, mocked it up with monochrome controls, and then asked Roland to skin it.  The result looks like it was designed by a software programmer.  I allocated space poorly.  On the one hand, the interface is so big it takes up three panels, requiring a fair amount of switching back and forth; on the other hand, the fonts and labels are awkwardly small.  I should have worked with Roland all through the development of the interface.

Presets + GUI won’t make your plug-in, but they can break it. With so many free and free-trial VSTs, you have to grab users quickly before they move on to the next one.  The first thing a user sees is the GUI, and the first things a user hears are the presets.  Oops.

So that’s the bottom line.  If I started a new commercial audio project, I would avoid these mistakes.  But it seems unlikely to happen given how busy I am these days.

A source for new audio toys

Techno producer, DJ, and fellow Buzzard Ronny Pries recently re-launched his blog.  Among other things, he has been posting many valuable tips on which of the hundreds of free VSTs are worth downloading.  His latest is on Nomad Factory’s Warmer Phaser plug-in.

Pondular demo video

A couple years ago I made an experimental soft synth called Pondular for the KVR Audio Developer Challenge. The sound engine is a pretty generic VA, but it has a physics-based interface that is fun to watch and occasionally hypnotic. Here’s a short video demonstration:

Tech note: I would like to make more video demos, but I need easier screencasting software. Suggestions?

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