Interview with Ivo Ivanov of Glitchmachines (Part 2)

Published on June 4th, 2015

This is the second part of our interview with Ivo Ivanov. If you missed the first part you can read it here. Enjoy!

Where do you get your plugin ideas?
They come from all directions. I take a lot of inspiration from modular synthesis, as I think software synthesis often suffers from unnecessary limitations that you don’t see in the modular hardware domain. So I think to myself “what if this module were inside a plugin” in a sense, and then the idea is refined to make sense in the software realm.

That’s not the only source of inspiration though. I have been working with synthesizers and effects since the late 1980s so I’ve got a huge cache of ideas naturally always in the back of my head. One of the biggest challenges is finding the balance between a crazy idea and something that could actually be a viable product. That is to say, I can think of all sorts of strange plugins that I would personally love to use, but in the end they wouldn’t make much sense as commercially released products.

Thomas and I are very similar in that way, and together we compliment each other ridiculously well. We’re different enough to broaden our collective spectrum of ideas, but similar enough to be able to nearly read each other’s minds. This is extremely rare in my experience and I’m beyond fortunate to have the opportunity to work with someone whom I can connect with on that level.

In search of science fiction sounds.

How do you go about designing the user interface?
During the early days of the development process, the interface is really unimportant. At that stage, we’re just prototyping concepts and building separate elements to get a feel for how they work and sound. Once we get to an alpha build, Thomas will put together a rough UI and send it to me.

At that point I usually make a lot of annotations and we go back and forth until we agree on the best possible approach for the interface. I’m quite picky about UI in particular, which is why I find it somewhat annoying when I read criticisms about our design aesthetic. The thing some people seem to miss is that the look/feel of our UI is totally deliberate and quite a lot of thought goes into every nuance. We actually love the look of our plugins because we feel that it’s a nice balance between minimal and modern design.

The goal is for the plugins to look dark and understated, with bright highlights and simple, clean lines. We are totally against the whole concept of skeuomorphic design so you wont ever see pistons and gears or realistic looking knobs on our software.

Does that mean that the look of our plugins won’t evolve? Of course not! In fact, once I get up to speed with C++, my first area of focus will be to take a more active role in the coding of the UI of our software. I’m already heavily involved in this process anyway, but at that point I will be capable of making contributions that come from a more technical perspective. I predict this will lead to a lot of refinements and improvements since I’m really interested in the field of UI design in general.

Convex by Glitchmachines

What tools and programming languages you currently use to create your software?
Our plugins are written in C++ using the JUCE library. Brainstorming sessions happen mostly in Max, or at a higher level building complex processing chains in Renoise or Ableton Live.

Do you have any specific genres in mind when making plugins?
Not at all. Actually this would be a good time to point out that our plugins are absolutely not intended exclusively for use in glitch music production, since we’ve seen this said many times. From a business perspective alone, this wouldn’t make too much sense. To clarify, Thomas and I are big fans of experimental electronic music, but the plugins themselves are not oriented toward any particular genre or user.

We have customers from all walks of the music sphere as well as some of the biggest game companies and film studios, so our tools aren’t really limited to one particular use. The overall goal for us is to make plugins that push the envelope by giving the end user something you usually don’t see in other software, and I think we’ve earned our reputation for delivering some interesting tools that do just that. We put our efforts into the overarching creative concepts and technical capabilities of the plugins. If the core concepts and mechanics of the plugins are solid, then the application and results can be defined by the user.

"...there are lots and lots of people who will just go torrent our stuff, and this actually hurts our business tremendously..."

Glitchmachines offers quite a lot of free plugins and sample libraries in addition to your commercial products. How has offering free plugins helped your company?
For about a year, we were taking email addresses in exchange for our free products. I thought this would be a viable way to build our user base, since it’s a pretty common strategy, but I’ve changed my mind. I found that many of these people did not want to give up their info and in the end, we just wound up paying high monthly fees to maintain a mailing list comprised of a huge percentage of fake accounts or addresses from people who would prefer not to receive our newsletter anyway.

So I finally made the decision to weed out all of these emails and I narrowed our list to 100% registered users of paid products. I then made all of our free products legitimately free in that we no longer even ask for contact information. You just add them to your cart and at checkout, you’re presented with the download links - no questions asked.

Any “marketing expert” will cringe at this, but I strongly feel that this has helped us stay focused on our actual paying customers while also retaining our brand integrity. My thinking is that this kind of genuine generosity can only lead to good karma and hopefully it will also inspire other companies to take the same approach in the interest of stimulating a more thoughtful market and healthier user community. In essence, I feel that if people come to our website, they are already interested in us to some extent. If they just want the free plugins and samples, then at least they have come to our site and determined for themselves that they aren’t interested in our paid products.

Alternatively, if they come to get a free product, chances are that they will also be interested in our other products, which may lead to a sale. In that sense, the decision is ultimately up to the customer and we feel much better about this than forcing people to give us their info so we can constantly annoy them in an effort to generate sales.

Of course, there are lots and lots of people who will just go torrent our stuff, and this actually hurts our business tremendously, but that’s another subject entirely. On the same topic, we set our prices very low because we want our plugins to be attainable. Hopefully a 30 or 50 dollar plugin, that would normally cost 100 dollars or more, will be more accessible to the average musician or producer. It’s things like this and our top-notch tech support and customer service that we hope will encourage people to choose to support us with a genuine purchase.

Getting creative in the foley room

Can you give us any estimate on how much torrents hurt your business?
Well, the topic of software piracy is a deep one and a sore subject for all developers, but I would gladly share some thoughts. I think there is something to be said about the culture that has been built up around it. In my opinion, it stems from the inherent intangibility of software. In that sense, I think that a lot of people simply don’t see their actions as stealing since the items don’t actually physically exist. This is a very complex concept, and it’s the source of lots of heated debate, but in the end I feel there really isn’t much difference between downloading a plugin illegally and walking into your favorite retailer and stealing a physical product.

I also believe that there is this common misconception among the collective consciousness that torrenting software only hurts the 1% and you’re not affecting anyone directly. Makers of these products are thought to be huge corporations with billions of dollars who won’t even feel the impact of a few thousand illegal downloads. In reality, this is very much not the case.

In the case of audio plugins, most of these companies are at best no larger than your average pizzeria and they are comprised of real people who work hard to make a living to support their families. Once you start to think about these things from that perspective, they start to get pretty heavy but that’s the nature of this subject.

Anyway, I’m extremely sensitive to the fact that there are lots of people out there that want to make music who simply can’t afford the tools. That’s where our free stuff comes in - we take great care in making these tools just as compelling as our paid products. We also price our products very fairly specifically because of this kind of thing, and I think that’s a very thoughtful and reasonable compromise. In the end, things won’t change until the culture changes and people begin to realize that they are hurting others directly. So to answer your question more specifically; torrents hurt us in a very real way and they have the potential to force us to close our doors permanently. Think about that next time you steal a plugin from your favorite developer.

"Later on this year, we have another big plugin coming out..."

What do you think about established artists using pirated software? What is the real problem here?
Again, I think it has a lot to do with the culture. The general thought process is probably “well, I didn’t have to pay before, why should I pay now?” Or maybe it’s “well, if the plugin had these other features that I personally want, maybe I would consider paying, but at this point I don’t feel 100% satisfied with the product so I wouldn’t actually spend my hard earned cash on it.”

In contrast, I know a lot of people who used pirated software, but once they began using the tools professionally, they started purchasing them legitimately. Therein lies part of the catch 22. A big chunk of the people downloading torrents justify it by telling themselves that they will eventually pay, as long as the endeavors supported by the products pay off. The question is: why does that somehow make it OK? Not only that, but who says that this day will ever come.

It also helps to apply this topic to a slightly different context - I like the analogy of physical products, as I mentioned earlier. When you start to apply these ideas to tangible goods, suddenly they are seen in a totally different light. The first question we need to ask ourselves is ‘why’ this is the case, and the second question should be “what” can we do to change our perspective? I’m just grateful to have such a supportive and loyal customer base at Glitchmachines, and we will continue to go out of our way to show how much we value them by making their experience as rewarding and positive as we possibly can.

Quadrant User Interface

What plans do you have for the future of Glitchmachines?
We’re working on a long term project that will become our big flagship product and we’re extremely excited about it but it’s still in the conceptual stages so I can’t give you any details other than to say that it will be more than a plugin. Meanwhile, there are still several Inear Display plugins that will get ported over in the near future.

Later on this year, we have another big plugin coming out that will be our most ambitious project to date. Lots of projects are on the schedule, so there will definitely be no shortage of new products in the forthcoming months and years.

Other than this, I can definitely see us getting more into the mobile realm at some point, as we’ve already talked at length about pursuing the iOS app market. We’re just waiting for the hardware to evolve a bit more before we make any concrete decisions.

In the long term, let’s say 10 years from now, it’s hard to say how the company will evolve. It’s not totally out of the question for us to pursue building some kind of hardware products, but this will not happen for many more years.

"...we’re agonizing over every minute detail of audio production, only to later crush the life out of the final result..."

Lately we’ve seen quite a lot of controllers that track body movement. How would you like to see your plugins being controlled by body movement tracking? Or do you see this more as a gimmick?
I know some people will scoff at this comment, but I do see it sort of as a novelty. I mean, things like Leap Motion are cool in concept but I’m not sure if I want to be waving my hands back and forth in front of my computer.

The sci-fi fan in me is certainly intrigued by the concept, but in the end it seems like it would actually just be another obstacle to have to work around. I think it would be much more applicable in a live situation, but even there it could seem a little contrived unless it’s truly in the right context. Don’t get me wrong, I am fully behind any such innovations, but I think people get so wrapped up in the hype and excitement that they forget to take a moment to determine how practical these things actually are.

Take a look at some sci-fi movies, for example, where they have really interesting gestural holographic computer interfaces. I can’t argue that these look ridiculously cool from an aesthetic point of view, as they definitely do the trick of looking “futuristic”, though I can’t help but to wonder how practical they really are from a real world, everyday-use standpoint.

In general, I think it goes back to the thinking behind having a secret weapon or some magical technology. Like when people first started using APC-40 controllers and putting them on a forward-tiled stand so that the audience can see the magical device flashing magically. In the end, there’s nothing that special going on, but to the average member of the audience, it essentially looks like alien technology.

Some time ago, I played Zelda Twilight Princess on the last generation Nintendo Wii console with my daughter. While we are big fans of the franchise and generally loved the game, we both found the use of the controllers to be more of an annoyance than anything that was genuinely increasing the quality of the gameplay or the overall experience. And look at things like speech to text - when it works, it’s good but when it doesn’t work, it’s infinitely more frustrating than just typing in your message in the first place.

I know that some of these things are still young technologies, but I’m of the mindset that the tech really has to make sense and actually yield logical improvements rather than just doing something in new way that looks more interesting than it actually is.

What kind of advances in music technology are you waiting for?
I’m looking forward to the days when audio isn’t experienced in compressed formats any more. CD specs are already a compromise in comparison to today’s pro audio standards like 24/96 and beyond, but we don’t even listen to our music at 16/44.1 most of the time!!

It just seems silly to me that as audio engineers we’re agonizing over every minute detail of audio production, only to later crush the life out of the final result and serve it to the listener as a fragment of its former self. I really can’t understand why this isn’t an issue for the general listener, though I presume it’s because they literally don’t know what they are missing.

I guess the general public isn’t concerned with things like audio quality and they are happy to simply enjoy the music for its entertainment value. I can definitely understand this, but then why are people so hell bent on high res video technology like UHD 4K? Is it just that the general population is more attuned to visual stimuli?

Other than this, I’m waiting for tablets to become more like laptops in terms of size, processing power and connectivity. This seems like a logical progression and as I mentioned earlier, it will certainly motivate us to branch out into the direction of creating some applications for the mobile market.

Cataract by Glitchmachines

Is there anything you would like to say about your latest products? Here’s your chance to advertise your plugins.
We just released a new distortion processor called Subvert. This one is capable of all types of brutal tones or it can be used in a more subtle way to give a little character to anything from drums to synths and sound effects. Guitar and Bass players should also take note, as the plugin offers some really unusual distortions that could interest people in search for something different. We have some detailed walkthrough videos on our site and I invite anyone who is interested in our plugins to take a look. For customers, these are also a great alternative, or at least supplement, to reading the User Guides.

Right now we’re working on some updates to our existing products, most notably Quadrant, which will see a free update comprised new features and modules that really increase the capability of the plugin. A few refinements for Cataract and Polygon are also coming soon. I think some people may have misunderstood Cataract because of it’s inherent complexity, so I plan to make a new bank of presets and a new tutorial video that will present the plugin in a different light and show how easy it can be to achieve extremely rewarding results.

Mostly I just want to thank our customers and the community at large and for their ongoing support. We really depend on you guys to keep this going and it feels extremely rewarding to know that our efforts are met with such enthusiasm!

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