Within Reason – Part 3: Competition and Competitive Advantages

In the early 2000s, while other software studio applications were on the rise, Propellerheads received the most critical praise for its approach with Reason. It was super-efficient and powerful for the time.

Seeing the need and practicability of software instruments, Steinberg (after working with Propellerheads to develop ReWire 1) released VST 2.0 in 1999 2. VST 2.0 included support for new “virtual instruments” that could work directly in a DAW. Until that point, VST had only provided sound manipulation – not generation.

Yet, despite this, I believe there are a few other circumstances for Reason’s success and its ability to hold back the VSTi onslaught for a little bit – most of them having to do with an uncertain audio production software industry.

They Have Studios on Computers Now?

The whole software landscape was changing. You could make a whole record right on your computer.

Engineers who grew up on analog weren’t quite ready to embrace the digital revolution. They weren’t given any more motivation or encouragement with the state of audio production software.

Things were being changed around – a LOT.

The Flood of New DAWs

Arguably the most popular and well known DAW (besides ProTools) is Cubase. Before the new century, Cubase had just integrated VST technology into its latest version. Perhaps realizing the future of studios and software synths, Steinberg redesigned and rebranded Cubase VST as Cubase SX.

Cubase SX represented a new generation in music production for Steinberg. It came with a new interface, new audio engine, new software instruments, and MIDI Plugins (Steinberg’s answer to environment objects, which I hope Apple is seriously taking a look at).

Cakewalk was also busy tweaking some things. Similar to what Steinberg did, Cakewalk redesigned and rebranded their product, Cakewalk Pro Audio, as Sonar.

Logic was also undergoing a minor revolution. Apple bought Emagic in 20023 and discontinued support for Windows applications. Logic became a Mac only program, and pissed off Windows users were more than willing to go to the competition.

There was also a new kid on the block – Ableton Live, at first just an incredibly innovative looping utility, but would later become the biggest threat to Reason.

Other software not listed here was also changed (such as supporting VSTi and other plugin formats) effected by something more fundamental. Not only was music software undergoing a revolution, but so was computing in general.

Operating Systems

With Windows XP, Microsoft promised a huge improvement in stability and general usability. XP moved away from merely being Windows installed on-top of MS-DOS and used the NT kernel. While Microsoft always makes compatibility a priority, it’s never guaranteed. Anybody using in-the-box tools to create music (and money) wouldn’t dare risk productivity to try out a new fancy operating system.

And then there was OSX.

The Mac represented a strong base of creative users, including musicians. OSX was a completely new operating system compared to OS9. Apple‘s compatibility solution was the “Classic” environment, which basically ran a session of OS9 underneath the current session of OSX. It hogged more resources, it didn’t work for all applications, and it especially didn’t work for DAWs. Anybody serious about making music on OSX had to wait for the first versions of their favorite DAW to arrive with native OSX support – and even that was taking a risk. Core Audio, Apple’s audio API for OSX, didn’t arrive until 2003 with OSX Panther. Many stayed on OS9 until it was safe.

But with the release of version 2.0 in 2002, Reason worked fine on OSX and Windows XP. It was really the first computer music application that was a joy to use on OSX…in my opinion.

1. ReBirth History – Part 6
2. Steinberg History
3. Apple Acquires Emagic<br/>
Previously: Within Reason – Part 2: The Birth of Reason