Pace, which is famous on audio production circles for its anti-piracy solutions, acquired Juce, a programming library in the field of audio software development. Juce belonged under Roli, the makers of the Seaboard MIDI keyboard.
But what this means and who it concerns?
Let’s start by a who’s who.
Juce is one of the most used programming frameworks for developing audio plugins, sequencers and DAWs. It also offers a free open source version with similar licensing. Many audio plugins, virtual instruments, utilities, and even complete digital audio workstations are made with Juce.
Roli are the makers of the Seaboard master MIDI keyboard and had Juce under their umbrella for about 6 years. Together with Juce’s mastermind Jules Storer and with famous artist Pharrell Williams as their creative director, they help shape the future of multi-dimensional MIDI messages (aka MIDI polyphonic expression or MPE), which is now part of what is now known as the new MIDI 2.0 protocol. They also created the ADC, the Audio Developers’ Conference, helping the audio development community to grow. Needless to say that Roli together with Juce probably spawned a renaissance ecosystem for people looking to enter the digital signal processing world of creative audio production.
Roli didn’t go so well last year and reported some significant loses, while this year received a grand from a capital investor firm specialized in dept investing. The last Audio Developers’ Conference streaming was offered behind a paywall, which made me suspicious. Even more, their latest hardware product had to launch on Kickstarter (maybe reasons of financial difficulties?), and apart from a successful crowdfunding campaign, a large portion of the orders seems that it’s still not shipped to the backers (although I feel confident saying that they will ship every unit, they are a serious company). But, the sky is starting to look cloudy.
Pace on the other hand is doing well on insurance for anti-piracy. Pace are the makers of the infamous iLok USB stick. It works like this, when the software developer house wants to make sure that its products are not cracked and distributed for free, licenses an anti-piracy software library from Pace and embeds it in its products. Then the end-users of those products, have to buy a USB stick from Pace, called the ‘iLok’, and then they have to activate the software they bought into that specific USB stick. That ensures that the user has proper license to use the software, and everybody is happy. Well, not everyone, there are discussions on the net with negative sentiments on some of the practices of Pace, mostly the extra selling of insurance to not lose software licenses if the iLok dies or gets stolen, or similar issues from users of their technology. From their business strategies we can say that they are a classic-minded business, some say too much. But this maybe change now that they are entering a broader field with the acquisition of Juce. Security-wise it’s good to note that, a more complicated lock in your house may lock you on the outside. I guess this is why many software houses do not prefer to use Pace’s solutions, because it brings together complications that many end-users really hate. It’s a big topic and out of the scope of this article, but keep in mind that it’s a thin line between losing money from piracy and spending money against piracy. Ohh, ethics, no real reason to go there now.
So, here it is, Pace, a hardware-based anti-piracy firm, acquired the DSP programming library Juce from Roli the famous MIDI keyboard makers for an undisclosed amount.
What does that mean for the future of the creative audio industry?
Here are some key takeaway thoughts and questions that came to my mind, right when I read the news:
Will this make Juce less available to open source or low profit teams?
Did Pace finally saw the real opportunity to rent the room and not the key? It would be nice seeing them, from being the tough guys at the door to be the AirBnB of audio software.
Maybe this is good news, as 2 days before the announcement of the acquisition, Juce announced an update, lowering of it’s pricing and also raising of the pro tier to allow more indie developers to jump on the train of developing with Juce.
Another interesting connection my mind made, is that some months ago Juce announced that developers can target their builds for Unity, the game development engine. That means that some top notch audio processing can be now done more easily for the popular game creating platform, and the games that are made with it. This together with the slow but steady improvement of the DSPGraph Audio Framework, may change the way our games sound in the near future. Does that mean that hardware based anti-piracy may enter the game development circles? I believe that we have to see the bigger picture. Unity and Unreal have both included updates supporting real-time content creation, like using Unreal for film production, and Unity on live concerts. Now, that’s place that hardware based anti-piracy on DSP products could work well, right?
In general, I’m optimistic about this, Pace is spite of the cloudy reputation between users and developers, which is mostly based on the worldview of the individuals, is at heart a software development company with expertise and interests in the creative sector of the audio industry, decades of background on protecting the developers and offering service to the end users, and, it seems now, an open-minded view for the future of creative audio software development.
Make no mistake, this is a monumental phase in the democratization of audio development, as similar moves have been done in all creative media industries in recent years. To close with some references, I hope that this will not be the case of Gibson and Opcode and that Juce becomes the Unity of the audio dev scene and not something like Amazon’s Lumberyard.
I’m eager to see which will be the next framework that will jump out of nowhere and allow people to develop creative audio software. After all, competition makes everybody better, everything more accessible, and accelerates progress.