A reader in our letters section [Tape Op #75] recently bemoaned the fact that a virtual instrument plug-in he had purchased was no longer functioning properly and that he had received no support from its creators, as it had been outmoded. I responded to his situation at length. We know, as our operating systems and DAWs upgrade over time, we will always find incompatibilities with our older plug-ins and such. In our reader's case, a $60 investment would get him comparable replacement software — not too bad of a loss or investment. But then, during a recent upgrade to Pro Tools HD 9, I lost a plug-in that I had been using for years, but to replace what appeared to be a randomly outdated version I would have to cough up $1,000. No upgrade plan. No workaround.
Wow. One thousand dollars is a lot of money for any studio owner. For a single plug-in? Logic Pro 9 is only $499. Pro Tools 9 is $599. So why is one plug-in $1,000? There's still a native version, which is what I had owned for many years (and had the iLok authorization for), but for some reason, all of a sudden, it wasn't able to run on PT HD 9.
If I am using any software for my work — either audio recording, magazine
editing, communications or even bookkeeping — none of that software is "borrowed" or illegally downloaded. I don't use equipment I don't own or have rights to. Of course I'm use to paying for upgrades as computers, operating systems and software change underneath us. Usually the payoff is faster, more efficient software with increased features. But in this case I was left simply wishing I still had what I'd bought in the first place.
I guess I'm old school. When I drop $1,000 on a piece of audio hardware, I plan on owning it, and having it work, until I decide I don't want it anymore. Sure, there may be some maintenance along the way, but until I sell all my gear or decide this $1,000 device isn't worth owning, it will reside in my studio rack. But when something I own has been effectively taken away from me, I feel I've flat out lost my investment. Looking back, I can't even remember all the plug-ins I've lost with each major Pro Tools upgrade.
I believe in paying for the tools one uses to make records. I believe software is worth paying for, if it does what you want. I believe companies that make software shouldn't have to sit and watch as people download and use their creations for free. I also believe that when people see an investment in plug-ins wash down the drain, they are likely to place a different value on those same plug-ins and software in the future. Price point, value and perceived longevity are things every software developer should be very aware of.