Chris Halaby recently had an interesting chat with Enrico Iori, CEO of IK Multimedia, about the history of IK and what the future holds for them as they expand into the emerging mobile market. Read on...
What about you personally? Are you a musician? What drove you to this market?
I have played music since I was 8 years old. I played in bands, a typical gigging teenager. I got my first electric guitar when I was 14 and my father bought me a Stratocaster and a used '64 Fender Deluxe Reverb amp (in fact we modeled that amp and it has been included since the first version of Amplitube...). I always had a passion for musical instruments, recording and studio gear, building my first computer based studio in the early '90s.
Before IK I was doing marketing and sales for my parent's company that was making electronic sensors that were being used for industrial automation. The company was sold in 1995, and at that point I started off on my own with the help of Davide Barbi, today IK's CTO, who was working with me as an audio engineer at the time.
First off, a little history about IK Multimedia would be great. How did you guys get into the plug-in business, and what exactly was your start?
After we started as a privately owned multimedia studio back in 1996, we developed our first loop-based interactive multimedia player in 1997. This same concept was then evolved into our first music software in 1998, called GrooveMaker, which was initially based on Macromedia's Director application.
Shortly after, we started researching into analog-modeling and released our first audio processing product called T-RackS in 1999 as a standalone software, and while we were developing our first virtual instrument (originally meant to be a standalone) we noticed an interesting press release from Steinberg - announcing the possibility to make instruments VST plug-ins.
It was from this moment that we could see the potential of our instruments and effects being hosted into sequencers, and that is how SampleTank was born and released in 2001 as the first multi-timbral, sample-based, sound module plug-in, with AmpliTube coming right after as the first amp and fx plug-in for all native platforms the year after, in 2002.
The IK Multimedia history as pioneers of the computer music industry goes back 14 years, and we are doing our best to be at the forefront of new markets like the mobile.
When did you know that IK Multimedia was going to be a force to be reckoned with in the music industry? What is your measure of success?
Our mission has always been "Helping people that listen, play and produce music with a new generation of revolutionary software instruments, powerful and easy to use" - our motto is "Musicians First" - and we have tried to keep following both during all these years.
Our team is very talented and full of hard working, very bright minds and the series of premieres we have developed in all these years is the evidence of that:
- 1999 T-RackS - The first analog-modeled desktop mastering solution.
- 2001 SampleTank - The first multi-timbral, virtual instrument workstation plug-in.
- 2002 AmpliTube - The first guitar amp and fx plug-in, modeling the entire rig.
- 2006 StealthPlug - The first audio cable interface.
- 2009 AmpliTube Fender - The first official Fender software amp and fx.
- 2010 AmpliTube iRig – The first guitar multiFX app + interface for the iPhone/iPod/iPad.
We keep innovating as a part of our mission and we use to measure the success of our accomplishments with our growth. We have constantly grown during all of these years and that is the best indicator that what we are doing is working and is appreciated by our customers.
How would you summarize the changes to our industry that have occurred since then? Would you say that all the changes in music technology have been for the better? What's better, what's not?
There have been many changes and the ones that have been benefited the most are the customers.
The offer in software and computer accessories has grown enormously with anything that could be desired in a producers' wish list to exist in the market place today, generally at a very affordable price - since also prices have gone down in all these years. It has never been a better time to build your own studio and equip it with your dream list of gear.
Another trend has been the build up of features in all music software from DAWs to plug-ins thanks to increased CPU power, with possibilities unthinkable a while ago. A "plug-in" like AmpliTube 3 has over 160 modeled gear inside, functionalities like a mini-DAW when used in standalone mode and a 320-page manual. So it has evolved into more of a sub-systems with the inherent customization, variety and flexibility. At the end this has only benefited the users which now have products with more features for a more competitive price than ever.
When did you first start coupling your technology to a mobile platform? Why did you do it?
We made the decision to develop apps for the iPhone in 2008, as a way to differentiate our product lines for what was already a very fast growing market for devices with finally enough CPU power. We were also fascinated by the opportunity to have a computer always with you in your pocket and the applications we could design for such a device.
The iPhone was only in the market since 2007 and we were watching the music app market closely. As an experiment we decided to develop GrooveMaker for the iPhone – which was not available anymore for the Mac and PC – since we thought it was the most suitable app to be of interest for the iPhone/iPod type of user. GrooveMaker was released in August 2009, and in less than one year we got nearly 1 million downloads.
Another very interesting development was the release of the iPad for which we were among the first developers to port their music apps. We immediately realized the advantages of combining the large multi-touch surface of the iPad with music apps, for making software that's all in one with its integrated controller.
At today the GrooveMaker product range – we do have 15 apps with more to be released soon – steadily keeps ranking in the top free and paid apps, and it has been very well received. Anyone with an iPhone/iPod/iPad can try it out by downloading the free version of GrooveMaker in the iTunes app store.
Tell us about your new products...
It's AmpliTube iRig, the first mobile app + interface adapter solution to plug your guitar into your iPhone, iPod or iPad and play, practice or simply have fun anytime and everywhere with the sound of amplifiers and effects.
The AmpliTube app offers a full rig of 3 stompboxes + amp + cabinet + microphone with a selection of 11 effects, 5 amps + cabinets and 2 microphones, plus it also includes a metronome, a backing track player and a 36 presets' panel.
In 2009 – while we were in development of GrooveMaker for iPhone – we already started specifying AmpliTube for the iOS platform. Given our leadership position in the Mac/PC market for amp and fx modeling software this was a no-brainer decision for us. We then were faced with the problem of getting the guitar signal into the device. We analyzed various solutions and we decided to go for the one that was to use the mini-jack for the headphones and mic set as the most affordable for the user and the faster to develop.
AmpliTube for iPhone has just been released on the iTunes app store on mid June 2010 and it immediately has ranked in the top free and paid apps.
The iRig accessory started shipping the beginning of July and we have received an unprecedented interest and coverage for it. Also here anyone with an iPhone/iPod/iPad can try AmpliTube by downloading the free version from the iTunes app store.
Do you plan to support other mobile platforms? Which ones?
There is still so much to do on the iOS platform for IK that we prefer to focus our resources there for now. However we are watching the most requested alternative mobile platforms closely and we have already started experimenting with coding.
What is your philosophy about copy protection, and what do you say to people who believe it's okay to use cracked software or sounds?
Our pro-audio software challenge-response system is being redesigned right now in order to give a simplified and better user experience when installing IK products. It was a deserved update – mainly for new users. We should be able to release it right after this summer.
Using cracked software or sounds has never been justifiable. We never took the policing approach that some other music software companies have rightfully done, but again with the price of software today and the vast availability of trial, demo and free versions there is no reason why anybody should use illegal software.
Software companies like us depend on software sales to invest, hire and make better products so there is really no argument that can be brought to the table by people using illegal versions.
What goes into making a new mobile platform product? How long does it take, and how is it different from developing for the Mac or PC? How do you decide what to do?
To make quality apps like AmpliTube or GrooveMaker for iPhone requires a certain investment – at their level of complexity these apps are not a one man gig - and this must be well thought out also because these apps are sold for very few $$.
We had to build a 10 person team between code developers, product managers, audio engineers, testers, graphic designers and web developers just for these apps.
The process of development also has different challenges: while there is plenty of multi-core CPU power on Mac/PC today - and we can focus our effort on sonic realism and accuracy on our pro-line - devices like the iPhone 3G or iPod Touch do not offer more than 800Mhz processors, so to squeeze an entire guitar rig comprised of 3 effects, amp (with reverb and tremolo), cabinets and mics into the iPhone we had to rebuild the DSP code from scratch, focusing on performance while preserving the attention to the sonic details IK is world renown for. In fact we can ensure that you can get the best possible sound for the platform with AmpliTube for iPhone.
Plus also the graphical user interfaces have to be condensed into 320x480 pixel screens so this too represents a challenge in terms of usability and real estate GUI space, that has to be completely redesigned for these platforms.
And at the end while it is true that OS-wise we are talking about a single platform here, there are several differences between iPhone 3G, 3GS, iPod Touch, iPad and iPhone 4 - even more when it comes to developing hardware accessories - so what may apparently seem to be an easy development process, is definitively not when it comes to make quality apps.
Concerning development time, so far every core app we have developed took us around 8-12 months which is not that much faster than our regular MI software for similar levels of complexity.
How do we decide what to do for iOS is a mix between current company experience, market opportunities and intuition.
What have you learned about the way that musicians work with IK's plug-in products that you can apply to mobile computing products?
Our pro-audio products are constantly used by producers, composers, songwriters, mixing and mastering engineers and they are professional studio-oriented tools.
Our mobile apps are targeted more to the casual players and mobile musicians. In both of these cases customers always want great sound, easy-of-use and a complete first-class, feature-set for the given platform.
Since our apps are designed by the same team that developed our best pro-audio products, and the development process applied is the same, our mobile users can be guaranteed to have products designed with the same care and attention to quality they can find in our pro-audio products – as well as the best possible sound for the platform.
What can people expect from you next?
As usual IK Multimedia has rich plans for future releases of new products and updates.
In the mobile market, the next imminent release will be AmpliTube for iPad. It has been already submitted to the iTunes store and should be available any day now. It offers more stompbox effects than the iPhone version (4 simultaneous) thanks to faster CPU together with the possibility to always have the tuner engaged. With a larger interface the entire rig is now visible in the same screen with all the controls immediately available for fast multi-touch editing.
There is also a new round of GrooveMaker packs in the making for both the iPhone and the iPad.
In the pro-audio market our next release is StealthBoard, right after the end of this summer, our USB/MIDI hardware floor controller for AmpliTube and any other MIDI controllable studio or stage software and hardware.
In parallel we are also working on all of our major pro-audio product lines including AmpliTube, T-RackS and SampleTank and some other very interesting new developments that we are sure our current and new customers will love.
If you want to stay tuned you should join our IK Multimedia newsletter or our Facebook, YouTube and Twitter channels, where we generally post sneak peaks on the latest news and where we are pretty active in engaging conversation with our users.
It is going to be an exciting future for all - mobile and studio - musicians.
Given your experience in this field is there any advice you would give to other developers?
Give it a lot of thought before you start because everything is always harder than you expect. It's not easy, but if you have the passion, go for it.
Learn more about IK Multimedia's products at www.ikmultimedia.com