OUT OF THE VOID

Much like how I can’t understand what’s going on in the above picture, I can’t fathom why people seem to keep fighting over the same things on the internet: Mac Vs. PC, software Vs. hardware etc. Topics like these can usually grind a forum to a halt and usually result in hurt feelings and locked threads. In fact, in some places they’re strictly verboten.

I think most of the disagreements are largely unnecessary as the answer is much more simple than most people realize: use whatever help you work best, right? As simple as that answer may be though, I feel that while there are a large number of people that use software successfully, there exists an almost equal number of people that claim not to understand it. I find this interesting because you don’t tend to hear the same argument with regards hardware.

Without diving into a raw pro and con discussion of hardware Vs. software, I just want to offer some food for thought on why I don’t think software should be lamented so easily. The first thing to understand is that software is by it’s nature, a very different product from hardware. Whereas hardware synths and keyboards are typically designed by multinational corporations that employ a standing army of industrial designers, engineers, programmers and sound designers, software in contrast is usually made by companies that consist of only 3 or 4 individuals; or less. The next issue we encounter is that a small software company is, almost by default, going to lose 80 to 90% of it’s profits to piracy.

You have to consider at this point, that those few people are doing most of the same work as all those teams of people at the bigger corporations. All that work is calculated in hours which is then compared to the expected return in terms of profit compared to the loss through piracy and gain from overall sales. For most of these companies to survive, a compromise has to be made somewhere.

Ergo, the most common complaint about software is that it simply doesn’t sound as good as hardware. As an unfortunate consequence of those compromises, the answer is no, they don’t. Especially when compared to synths or keyboards that are meant for live players that come with thousands of presets that have been mastered and sculpted at the factory.

But that doesn’t mean they can’t sound as good. In fact, it’s quite possible to have the equivalent of an expensive keyboard workstation running on a personal computer. It’s just not probable given the sales to investment ratio we just covered.

In practical terms, what that means is the end user has to spend their own time and extra money purchasing extra effects and patches for their soft synths to massage the extra sound out of them. And that’s really the trade off with soft synths. It’s understandable in this case for users who aren’t familiar with compression and other mastering techniques to rifle through a few presets and conclude that “wow, my hardware is better.”

Electronic music production has a huge learning curve; that’s a simple fact. One bedroom producer has to wear many hats at once: sound engineer, recording technician, producer, arranger, etc. Soft synths, by practical necessity are an extension of that. Soft synths can sound as good as hardware, but the cost of that has been shifted onto the user in terms of the time and money spent in sculpting the sounds out of them.

I could easily delve into a discussion about how piracy is now limiting the options we have in terms of soft synths. In fact it’s already happening with new software being shifted off of open platforms such as the PC and Mac and onto closed ones such as the iPad or into hardware dongles like Maschine and Spark. But I won’t.

But anyway, should you wish to delve into soft synths, that’s the facts as they stand; they simply take more work to sound as good as hardware, but it’s completely possible.