Just a few months ago we got the opportunity for doing an interview with the current CEO of Focusrite (and Novation) Phil Dudderidge. After doing some reasearch we found that mr. Dudderidge is quite a remarkable man. In his early years he worked as a sound engineer. For a while he was even the live sound engineer of Led Zeppelin. From here on his path lead to developing and customizing PA systems and live mixing consoles and eventually in founding Soundcraft. Short after Soundcraft got sold to Harmann Industries, mr. Dudderidge bought the assets of Focusrite from, initial founder, Rupert Neve. And that’s where this journey began.
How did you become interested in getting involved in Focusrite, up to the point of acquiring it?
I was a co-founder of Soundcraft in 1973 and having sold the company to Harman in 1988 I found myself, in January 1989, with money in the bank and all the time in the world! During that month a good friend called me to say that Rupert Neve’s business, Focusrite, was in difficulties and would I like to go with him to visit and find out the true situation. The situation was too bad to contemplate getting involved and the company ultimately went into liquidation and closed down. The liquidator contacted me as I had already shown an interest and I made an offer to purchase the assets of the business, mostly intellectual property (the trademarks and designs) with a view to starting a new business close to home based on the development of the brand and the product range, based on the original designs. In those days the company was producing studio mixing consoles (very large and expensive) and outboard Mic-Pre’s, EQ’s and Dynamics Processors.
When engineers are developing new products, do they involve you in this process, like for instance during testing or reviewing?
We have evolved a quite sophisticated process for identifying product opportunities, leading to a specification and target manufacturing cost. We call this Product Marketing. Once a prospective new product reaches the point where it goes into development it is signed off by all concerned including myself. I will usually see pre-production units when they are being tested but as I am not an engineer I am not involved in that process. We have a lot of musicians, DJ’s and electronic music producers in the company working in all departments so there is a lot of internal review of products from real world users before they are designed and before they reach the market.
How do you see the music industry develop, and how is Focusrite preparing (responding?) for this?
The music industry is one thing and music creation is another. Music creation knows no boundaries and genres evolve, merge and splinter. Focusrite started life when recording studios were commercial and plentiful. Today music recording and production has been liberated so that anyone inspired to do so can create music and record it, share it and potentially exploit it commercially without the involvement of a conventional record company. That said, most recordings that chart are likely to have an element of Focusrite and/or Novation in the process of production.
However only a fraction of all recordings will be conventionally released by major or indie labels. Digital distribution via iTunes, SoundCloud, etc. provides much more opportunity for today’s musicians. Indie labels will continue to develop artists, some of which will get signed to major labels once they achieve commercial success.
Majors have the power to market internationally but are no longer in the business of developing artists. Indie labels will sign bands or artists that have achieved a level of success by their own efforts. A YouTube hit is the best way to get signed I think. Madeon is a good example. We are very proud of his success and his use of the Novation Launchpad in such an exemplary way, his career launched by a viral hit on YouTube with “Pop Culture”, 20,488,534 views to date. First signed to Ultra he’s now signed to Columbia (Sony).
With our sister brand Novation, we are developing products for the person who may not yet be a musician but who likes electronic music and would like to create music from clips and samples. We are looking to the iPad as the petri dish of musical creativity which will lead some to become more ambitious and create more complex productions or start to record conventional music with multitrack and overdubbing. We don’t know how the iPad and other tablets may evolve and displace the Mac or PC but we will be developing software and hardware tools to fully exploit that potential as it evolves.
Today most of our customers are using Macs and PC’s for their music recording; there is no massive financial barrier to anyone producing release-quality recordings; as with any professional discipline it requires talent, drive, practice and commitment to reach that level. Fortunately there are many ways to bring your productions to the public attention and social networking is a great way to build a fan-base. Focusrite and Novation share a common goal; to always offer the Best Choice in any product category, balancing price point with best features and performance, with ease of use and reliability at the forefront.
Are there competing products of which you think: it’s good that Focusrite wasn’t the first one with gear like that, or on the other hand that you would have wanted to be the first one with? Can you give some examples of these products or technologies?
We are glad not to have been first with Thunderbolt. The first generation technology didn’t work and we continued with Firewire as the Best Choice technology. Now is the right time to develop Thunderbolt audio interface technology which will become available next year.
Wish we had done first? The premium quality audio interface for the customer wanting uncompromised recording/playback and mobility. Apogee were first with the Duet and after giving them a respectful five year head-start we entered the race with our Forte interface last year, which is both Mac and PC Compatible unlike the Duet. Whilst having a passing resemblance to the Duet there are some significant differences and Forte has expanded the market for this form-factor and price point.
With hindsight I wish we had developed a DAW back in the 90’s but we had no competence in software then and frankly no inspiration to do it as we were then very much a hardware company. Today software is in everything we do.
Do you think the ‘rebirth’ of analogue synths and studio gear is temporary?
The counterpoint to Innovation is Heritage. As with musical styles and genres, people will always want to revisit the sounds and styles of the past and either reproduce that or incorporate elements into something new.
Popular music as we know it evolved in the late fifties and the technology evolved from products designed for another era, of orchestras and big bands for example. When you listen to music from a particular decade you get an impression of the music and sounds of that era and maybe want to capture that.
There is a lot written and spoken about the superiority of analogue recording from the point of view of the listener. I would not disagree but digital recording has also made a lot of things possible that were just not possible in the past. So I am of the view that everything is valid and that it is up to the person creating a work to choose the technology that enables or inspires his or her desired outcome.
As vintage equipment becomes hard to find or unavailable, but is in demand, it is perfectly valid for someone to replicate it or use the “old” technology to make a new product that exhibits the characteristics of that vintage of technology. So the rebirth cycle will no doubt continue.
We recently introduced the Novation Bass Station II, an analogue synth that draws on the Bass Station of the 1990s but is in other respects a very modern instrument.
Use of tablets and mobile devices is increasing, and so more and more (pro) audio gear is being developed for this platform. Can you give us an idea of how mobile a studio can get, from your point of view?
The Focusrite iTrack Solo is an audio interface specifically designed for the iPad, with mic and instrument inputs. You can record using Garage Band or the new Focusrite app “Tape”, which has a GUI (graphical user interface) that replicates a tape machine. This is a free app and there will be more sophisticated versions (at a price) coming soon.
Novation has introduced two apps for the iPad: Launchpad and Launchkey for iPad, which allow you to create music on the move with no other equipment required. Connected to the Launchpad or Launchkey hardware from Novation, the apps extend the capability of the hardware too.
Almost every company is developing for Apple’s iOS instead of for Android. Why do you think this is? Some say it is because Apple offers better developer support for audio app developers. Do you think this something that makes a difference for Focusrite? What could be reasons that Focusrite will be developing Android based products?
Apple has been at the forefront of designing computers for music for two decades and were first to market with the tablet computer. They created the app ecosystem. So the iPad is the natural choice for developers at this point in time.
Also there’s one huge reason why iOS is the platform of choice for music making – latency. Yes, it is possible to get workably low latency on some Android devices (Samsung Galaxy Nexus is the best I know of) but there are an awful lot of them out there, and choosing which ones to target and test with is a problem too.
Of course, not all music apps are latency-bound – sequencer and beat making apps can work very well on Android (e.g. Audiotool Sketch or FL Studio Mobile) but the fragmentation of hardware and operating system versions out there make it a significantly more complex proposition.
There’s also the USB stack, which on iPad gives reliable low latency audio with our whole range of Scarlett interfaces, and MIDI support too. Nothing like this exists yet on Android – USB audio support is currently on an app by app basis – some developers have written their own custom USB stack for their audio apps, most haven’t, and so high quality audio inputs and outputs are rarely available.
Finally, it would be foolish not to mention Audiobus here. They’ve been instrumental in uniting iOS music makers and developers around a deceptively simple app that makes it easy and fun to combine different tools to achieve an enormous variety of results. Nothing similar exists on Android – there’s the recently announced Patchfield, but that’s a protocol, not a consumer-friendly app.
Would Focusrite like to develop for Android? Of course! Despite the various challenges described above, we know our customers want to make music on Android, and we’d like to help them do that. Maybe one day!
Social media are big in marketing, but do social media also have influence on the way new gear is being developed? If so, can you share some examples with us?
Our social channels are our fastest route to engaging with our tribe. They don’t hold back in telling us what they think, so we don’t hold back in asking. Of course we see a lot of discussion about the creative we generate, but Focusrite and Novation fans are primarily gear junkies. They love talking about gear. Old gear, new gear, and gear that doesn’t yet exist. Whether it’s polls, picture sharing or videos and the comments that these generate, our social channels play a very significant role in shaping our future products. We need to make gear that our community wants. Our social channels are the best way to truly understand this.
Given a platform with perfect USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt and Ethernet ports. Now there are three audio interfaces available. If it were your studio or project, which type of port would you choose for your audio interface, and why?
There are not yet any true Thunderbolt audio interfaces available, though when there are they should be superior in terms of latency to USB or Firewire. There is little to choose between these two now; the choice has more to do with your computer, whether you have a Firewire or Thunderbolt port available. If you have either on your computer then the Firewire interface is probably your best choice. Using a Firewire to Thunderbolt adapter from Apple, you can use the Thunderbolt port. In that respect all our Saffire range Firewire interfaces are Thunderbolt-ready.
We developed the Scarlett USB range initially as a hedge against the possibility of Firewire disappearing from computers and also to have products for the PC user where a Firewire port was often not present. As I mentioned, technically there is not much to choose in terms of latency or other performance considerations between our USB or Firewire products, they are all excellent. Saffire Firewire is the best choice for use with Thunderbolt ports on Macs though (using the Apple adapter).
Our RedNet Ethernet interfaces are designed for professional applications where more complex installations benefit from the networking capability provided. In addition RedNet offers significantly lower latency so it is applicable to smaller production rooms too, budget permitting. RedNet also offers state-of-the-art AD/DA conversion and the finest remote mic preamplifiers available in the World.
I put this question to Rob Jenkins, our Director of Product Strategy. He replied:
“I choose my interface based on my own unique problems or values. I’m a guitar player and I want easy low latency audio. USB is a no brainer because it’s everywhere. The interface technology (USB or Firewire) is part of the decision making process but it is subordinate to the application.
Some application considerations where the product choice makes a difference are, in no particular order Reliability, Latency, Clocking, Channel count/sample rate (bandwidth) and Expansion.
Considering these are the bigger problems to solve the user will easily solve the “how do I get it into my computer” problem, so Thunderbolt to Firewire adapters are valid here if everything else is satisfied”.
Can you give us an insight in what to expect from Focusrite in the near future? Can we expect more high-end gear for the pro user, and high-end gear for the low end/serious amateur? (Is there room for like an entry level version of RedNet?)
We have divided our product marketing and development engineers into teams that address different market segments. You can expect more high-end RedNet-type products from our Professional Applications team for different applications including live and installation. RedNet is being specified for large-scale music education establishments, opera houses and other situations where the flexibility of the system and its “plug and play” ease of use and configuration software make it an ideal solution where the requirements are regularly changing (and saving a fortune in copper cable too).
The Project Studio team are working on a few very exciting products at the moment. We are looking at opportunities and requirements for products in the price range above €1,000 and below the cost of RedNet for professional applications.
Our Home Studio team, who were responsible for the Scarlett Range, are developing further new products for the entry level recording musician, including iOS applications.
The Novation team are busy developing new keyboards and controllers, having recently released Launchpad Mini, Launch Control and Launchkey Mini.
Marc van den Hurk – Gearjunkies Network