BEAT MAGAZINE (GERMANY) INTERVIEWS AKAI PRO
Beat Magazine: Glen, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. The APC40 is a great piece of hardware. How did this project start? Was it Akai Pro's idea or did Ableton contact you?
GD: This was a product idea that I’d had for about three years. I have been an a Live user since version 1.0. I've never found a controller that did the things I wanted it to do with Live. There were many things that would work, but I could never find an elegant solution. Akai Pro president, Jack O'Donnell, was familiar with Ableton Live and he saw how it was growing in popularity. He recognized Live’s potential, mated with our hardware designs. I approached Ableton at the 2007 Winter NAMM show and we started discussions at that time. A year later, we finalized the deal and got moving on developing what would eventually be the APC40.
BM:If you look at Live's Session View, a hardware controller seems so obvious actually. Why do think it took so long before a company made it happen?.
GD: I'm not sure. It was pretty obvious too me – it has been since I first bought the software all those versions ago. Other manufacturers had approached Ableton over the years wanting to develop Live controllers. Ableton had been holding out for the right partner — who would build a controller that had high standards of excellence. The quality and design ethic of our MPK and MPD series of controllers impressed them in a way that no others had. It was really about the right company coming at the right time, with proven success in controllers and the right product concept.
BM: How close was the collaboration - especially concerning design and layout? Did Ableton already have a concept of the hardware in mind or did you work together on the whole concept?
GD: We brought our own initial design concepts and drawings to Ableton. And those early drawings probably held up to make up about 90% of what you see in the final APC40. Once Akai Pro and Ableton decided to work together, we did a lot of brainstorming together to come up with the final feature set. We each had our own pools of end users, who gave their input. Many emails and conference calls followed. The final decision on each feature was really made equally by both companies.
BM: Was there something like an APC-Team with members from Akai Pro and Ableton?
GD: Myself, Alex Souppa and Daniel Gill were the leads at Akai and Gerhard Behles, Jesse Terry and Jan Buckholz were the lead people at Ableton. There were many others involved from sales, industrial design, firmware and software development, beta test and many end users. Both Akai and Ableton are fairly small companies so all of us were involved in this and other projects at the same time. We have expertise in making hardware and have quite a few dedicated Live users in house. There was a range of different kinds of users: fans of our controllers, fans of other manufacturers’ products, and even some who made their own custom controllers for Live, all of whom were represented on the initial feature committee. Once actual development of hardware and software began, the team scaled down to a few core people. The others came back during beta testing.
BM:When did this whole project start?
GD: Our kickoff meeting was in March of 2008.
BM: What were the main goals behind it?
GD:Our goal was to make a unique controller that gave the user a more musical experience than you get with a mouse. In fact, that is our goal with all of our controllers. A mouse and a track pad are not very good musical controllers or input devices for audio software. The integration of the hardware and software was key as was the build quality. We also wanted to make something that brought back the performer. There is nothing more boring to me than watching some guy hunched over his laptop during a gig. For all I know he's checking his email or uploading stuff to his facebook page. A live gig should be about performance; a controller should be about enabling the musician to realize his ideas.
BM: Looking at examples like NI's Maschine or Vestax' TR-1 for Traktor building dedicated hardware seems to be a recent trend. Why do we see this happen now after long years of 'software-only' for so many companies?
GD:Music software started out with very general purpose programs like sequencers, then sequencers and audio recorders, then adding plug-ins, mixing, etc. The first sequencers like Logic, Cubase, and Sonar have grown and added plug-ins and features galore. What they lack is a concise workflow that helps you make better music and allows you to realize your ideas or jumpstart new ideas. They have incredible feature sets but it gets back to the point of “what are you trying to do?” Do you want to make music or become a programmer or engineer? In the last few years we have seen more dedicated programs that have fewer features than the DAWs, but they do something – whatever that is – very well. I think we are at a time, or coming to a time at which feature sets are less important than the musical experience.
The MPC is a testimony to that. DAWs can do a lot, but the MPC gives you a musical experience that many have tried to copy but just have not matched. We are seeing a growing DIY market and there are more modular synths on the market than ever before. People are looking for different ways to make music. Programs like Ableton Live and Serato Scratch LIVE and Traktor offer people better and different ways to make music, but they lack the hands-on experience though that artists want. This has opened up the dedicated controller market that wasn't there before. We saw this early on and applied a hardware workflow approach with our products like APC40 and Numark's NS7 that has proven to be popular.
BM: May this only be the first product in a lasting relationship? Can we expect something like an Akai Pro-Ableton audio interface for example?
GD: This joint project went as smoothly as could be imagined. Ableton is a great company with people who are passionate about their product and customers. We are as well. We have strong friendships between the two companies as well as a healthy business relationship. I can definitely see more things happening in the future, but you will just have to wait and see!