Continuing in my series of interviews with the some of the executives in the dance music world that do their works in offices instead of on stages, I'm happy to present my interview with the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Image-Line Software, Jean-Marie Cannie. The company responsible for some of the most widely used music creation and performance software, namely the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), FL Studio, and the mixing sotware, Deckadance, has seen great success. As many dance music producers have made Image-Line products into their tools of choice for music-making, Ifigured it would be a good idea to get some insight into the company and one of main the men behind it. He has kind enough to make some time to talk to me, and I fired away questions about his work, his company and what it’s future plans are. Pardon some technical jargon here and there; he is a software developer after all.
Hi Jean-Marie Cannie! What does your typical work day look like and involve?
Since our employees are scattered all over the world (Belgium, Australia, Russia, Spain, UK, Luxembourg, Sweden, …) they all work from home, and we don’t have a classical office building. Instead we have our internal forums where our developers, sound designers post their latest efforts, and a selection of alpha-testers checks it out and comments on it. Since our developers also post on their personal interests, this functions as our virtual coffee machine where we exchange other links, pictures & gossip. The result is that as CTO, 90% of my time is spent in front of my 6 screen set-up, answering mails and begging our developers by Skype to implement the features our users have been asking for.
Is it a stressful job of paperwork, or the opposite?
I’m proud to say that I more or less embody the paperless office, where 90% of the invoices & payments are all on the cloud these days. But to be honest, this is only possible because my business partner, Frank Van Biesen (our CFO), handles all contracts and other financial aspects of the company.
Would you say that Image-Line has ended up in place that you expected it to, with regards to sales, support from users and your team?
Nobody could ever predict or expect the success we are having now. With over 30k demo installs per day, over 500k users in the past 15 years and now over 150k users on iOS & Android, this really is a dream come true.
During the early years of FruityLoops, when sales weren’t doing well, did you ever feel like giving up the project? How were you able to keep afloat if sales weren’t were you wanted them to be?
The first couple of years were pretty tough, as there were hardly any sales, and we always had to beg people to host the demo on their servers (thanks Maz!). To generate some additional income, we developed an EJay-type program called “FruityTracks” that was “OEMed” for Mattel into Pro-DJ (for France & UK) and Radio 538 Music Machine (for Holland & Belgium). During this time, FruityLoops slowly grew from a simple midi drum machine into the fully featured virtual studio that a wide range of musicians are using today.
What do you think is the single most important thing to be mindful of as the head of a music software company like Image-Line in the 21st century, in order to keep your user-base, as well as your team of staff happy?
We just try to build the best possible products, and hope our user-base keeps using it & recommending it to their friends. The advantage here is that FL Studio comes with lifetime free updates, so we don’t really have to convince anyone to install & try new versions.
What do you think of today’s DAW market, which has considerably more DAWS than when you started with FruityLoops? Is the diversity a good thing?
It’s nice to see some diversity, but while the market may look more crowded now, we’ve seen a lot of projects that used to be heavy competitors in the past either disappear (“Project 5″ from Cakewalk), or slowly fade out and hardly get mentioned anymore.
As someone who’s been able to keep his DAW product at the forefront of the market, what do you think is the key thing for any new DAW to succeed in today’s market? Do you even think that there’s any space on the market for new DAWs that are coming out?
There’s always room for new products as long as they are filling a specific niche or catering a specific work-flow. With millions of people making music out there there’s always room for more. A lot of tracks are the combined work of different tools (both DAWs & plugins).
Even though FL Studio is immensely successful, do you ever have concerns of losing market share to other DAWs? Or is FL too dominant a force in today’s market to cause such concerns?
We don’t have a crystal ball here, but we’ve seen the number of users grow every year for 15 years now. As I mentioned earlier, we can’t do a lot more than develop our products further and offer them as a free update to existing users.
In addition to it’s technical functionalities, FL is also known for it’s visual design, such as bright colors and sleek, almost sci-fi, feeling. Was there ever any specific image that you had in mind when marketing FL Studio over the years? Or was it just someone’s personal taste that led to it’s current visual look?
It’s safe to say that our lead developer (Didier Dambrin) is the genius behind the work-flow & look of FL Studio. While we were accused of making a DAW look like a toy over a decade ago (when most competitors looked like gray accounting products), all of those other DAWs now look a lot darker & graphical like ours.
For those who haven’t used FL yet, would you say that it can do everything needed to create a finished, radio-ready track? Could it measure up in terms of mixing, arrangement and creativity to other DAWs that boast of their superiority in these different aspects?
We’re glad that the market has finally matured to a state where you can produce any track with any DAW, and it’s up to your personal work-flow preferences on what you use. Of course, every product has its own strengths, and if you want to record a 20 people orchestra you might be better looking for a more classical recording DAW, just as you’re better of with FL Studio for anything else.
Congrats on the release of FL Studio 11! Will it be a game-changer, do you think?
The main new feature of FL Studio 11 is its performance mode, allowing users to either play their compositions live or make new song arrangements triggering the individual components of their track.
When working on new features for the different versions of FL Studio, do you ever draw inspiration from what other DAW manufacturers are doing?
With over 15 years of gathering feature requests I don’t believe there’s a single feature that’s not on the to-do list somewhere. It’s usually our users that keep begging to implement feature “XYZ” that’s available in DAW “ZYX”.
You recently launched version 2.1 of FL Studio Mobile. What are your predictions for how the iOS market will develop with regards to music software? Do you think of FL Studio Mobile will see similar success to the main version?
FL Studio Mobile really was a hit from day one. Both on iOS (last year), as on Android (last month). It’s hard to say how this market will develop, as we’re still years away from creating the CPU power we’ve grown accustomed to on our desktop, for mobile devices. The problem is that the CPU needs of a content user (listening to music or looking at a picture) aren’t the same of that of a content creator (using FL Studio or Photoshop to create music & images).
Do you think that FL Studio as a DAW has reached anything near it’s full potential, or can we expect major upgrades in future versions?
We have enough features on our to-do list to make 11 more versions of FL Studio, but they all take their time to develop & get implemented, so you can expect a lot of more upgrades & updates in the future.
As any software user knows, illegal downloading of music software is rampant, and there are very few products out there that haven’t been cracked in some way, and pirated by the public. Does a company like Image-Line feel the effect of that? Or do you make enough off what you sell to offset what many people may steal?
Partially due to warez, FL Studio didn’t make a penny in the first 3-4 years of its existence, so if this would have been our only product we wouldn’t be talking to each-other right now…and that’s quite astonishing if you think about it.
Interestingly, I came across a page on your website titled “9 reasons to think about pirating”. In one of them it says “Don’t forget that you do not own the copyright on your own music projects if you do not own a legal copy!” Would you ever go after an illegal owner of FL Studio if you found one? Even he had blown up bigtime?
Of course we would, but most users are smart enough to get legit before they release or sell any of their music.
Another statement on the list was “Believe it or not, there won’t be future FL Studio…if people keep pirating.” Do we have anything to worry about with regards to this? Would the possibility of using iLok licenses ever surface?
We don’t believe in any kind of special copy protection, as there’s not a single piece of software that’s not available as a crack somewhere, so in the end you only end up punishing the people that pay for your software. We’ve seen quite a lot of people on stage with cracked versions of software they payed for, as they can’t afford to get muted because a dongle got stolen or broke.
Moving onto your other major product. The next edition of your DJ mixing application, Deckadance 2, just came out! Let’s talk about that. What are your expectations for it’s performance?
The growing path of Deckadance seems very similar to that of FL Studio. The product has to sink into the market, get the right number of users and grow from there.
Another aspect which sometimes feels overlooked among Image-Line’s creations is your sample libraries. Can you tell me about how these packs came about, and some of the people who made them?
The sample collection is a combination of libraries we have developed ourselves (eg. the Varazin Orchestral) or licensed from third parties (eg. the Shreddage Guitar & Bass libraries built by Impact Soundworks, which will be spectacular).
Are there any plans for more plugin releases this year?
We have a couple of products in our pipeline, but we have only just released FL Studio 11, Deckadance 2, FL Studio Mobile for Android so we’ll let the dust settle for a minute first.
What other things are Image-Line working on that we can start to get excited about in 2013?
We are currently working on FL Studio Groove, a product that’ll run on Windows 8 (both RT & Intel) & iOS but we can’t release a lot more of that yet.