[Ardour-Users] Could this solve Ardour's financial headache?

Dewey Smolka dsmolka at gmail.com
Mon Jan 12 20:45:22 PST 2009

Hey everyone,

Sorry if this thread has been already beat to death, but it's been
about the most interesting bit of conversation I've ever come across
on this list. I would have replied sooner but work and weather and
yada yada yada. My greatest hope is that all this talk will actually
help to find some solution.

Clearly there are intelligent and thoughtful people at the core of
this project. Also, there are clearly dedicated users beyond those
doing the primary development.

There are are also, quite fortunately, a lot of people here who are
able and willing to contribute to the project.

On Thu, Jan 8, 2009 at 10:53 PM, Thomas Vecchione <seablaede at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Thu, Jan 8, 2009 at 11:12 PM, Dewey Smolka <dsmolka at gmail.com> wrote:
>> I would argue that 4) and 5) are non-starters.  [...]
> While I agree that no revenue stream worth enough to pay someone would come
> from it, and am not advocating the idea, some revenue might come of web
> ads.  [...]

> Likewise option 4 is what we are currently on, as you have noticed, and
> while it is not bringing in enough, it is bringing in some, and some is
> better than none, even if only slightly.

I'm hardly suggested these be ignored, and even less that they be
abandoned. Nor did I mean to suggest that Ardour is doing things
'badly' (as I clearly wrote). My big reservation about it is that in
order to achieve financial sustainability through small donations or
advertising, one needs a critical mass of donors and/or a large enough
number of site visitors.

Anything is possible, I suppose, but I guess I'm just skeptical that a
DAW (and no DAW will ever interest more than a very small percentage
of people) can generate enough dedicated interest or traffic to have
more than a minor impact on the overall budget, particularly if that
budget is to include salaries.

But my gut feelings have been very wrong before.

Small donations and advertising should be a part of any strategy, of
course, but I'm not sure how big a part they can really be. I hope
they make a bigger impact than any of us can now guess, but I'm trying
to keep things realistic.

>> Option 1) seems to be what John originally proposed -- that the
>> software has a free branch and a commercial branch. In this case it
>> would be the opposite of Red Hat, in that the Fedora pushes updates
>> while commercial RHEL prefers stable packages.
> Similar, but aren't organizations like SQL still providing access to their
> source/SVN of either branch for free?

It's been a long time since I read the MySQL license. From what I
recall, binaries and source are free for all comers. MySQL (or Sun
now, I guess) are happy to sell you support and custom
setup/programming. MySQL also allows (and sells) proprietary modules
that run on top of the db system.

I believe the license even allows binaries, provided that any GPLed
code that has been altered to run the binaries is also released in

This brings up two more potential revenue streams that hadn't ocurred
to me before. Both involve plugins.

1) The LADSPA plugins are really quite good, but it's pretty deep
water to throw someone into. A new user doesn't necessarily
understand, for example, that GVerb is only one part of a proper
reverb chain. Some presets and predefined chains would go a long way.
And this is not to mention more flexible interface design -- maybe I'm
old fashioned but I like EQ pots and aux sends on the strips.

Ardour could sell (or offer in return for donation) predefined and
preconfigured effect-chain units -- e.g. a reverb unit consisting of
EQ -> Tube PreAmp -> Early Reflection -> Delay -> Reverb ->
Convolution -> EQ -- with a bunch of presets.

This would also create the benefit of allowing dedicated users to
contribute presets, chains, etc, which would help the project
financially. I've got a few compressor and reverb chains I'm happy
with. I'd be glad to share them, if there was an easy way to do that,
and particularly if I thought someone else might find them useful.

And if there were a way to buy 'units' with the 128 best presets (I'm
old fashioned that way), I'd be interested in a compressor,
reverb-delay, room+cab simulator, and maybe other units. There is a
certain satisfaction in building things, but sometimes you just want
to dial something in.

This would require a modicum of QA, but then look at what's on the
market. Ten solid presets are worth $50, easily.

Ardour could also sell the ability to put pots on strips (at least to me).

2) I don't know how much of a stranglehold Steinberg has on VST or
what you need to port code built for it, but if enough people use
Ardour (and in this market that's not a large number), and if it's
easy enough to port code written for VST to something Ardour can use,
then that's a market that current VST writers might want to pursue.

Understand that I'm not talking about getting VST binaries working in
Ardour; I'm talking about getting packages currently built into VST
binaries rebuilt as something Ardour can use. Maybe this is
technically impossible. But I wouldn't be sure of that until I found
out how much of the original source can or cannot be rebuilt with
tools outside of Steinberg's domain.

This isn't about building functionality into Ardour so much as opening
vendors to a new and potentially lucrative market. An open interface,
even as simple as in-out (I know they have that already in JACK but
maybe it needs to be made more simple), and an easy port, and Bob's
your uncle.

I'm probably greatly underestimating the technical challenges here,
but want to leave no stone unturned.

>  In fact I
> thought both RedHat and MySQL followed a service model, where they bring in
> the majority of their money from the service contracts that accompany their
> commercial products.  That is not really something I can see succeeding with
> Ardour myself.

Alas, no. A DAW is a product, not a service. Consulting on
studio/recording environment, hardware, construction, etc is a
service, but I'm not sure a salable one -- too niche a market, and
your potential customers already know what they want and how they want

>> Options 2) and 3) are not as out of the question as you might think. I
>> would think of 2) as being an arrangement with someone like Behringer,
>> who as far as I can tell sells budget mixers that come with cheap and
>> simple USB intefaces but no software.
> Already has existed in the past, with Harrison Consoles. [...] The problem, as Paul pointed out already, is that similar
> agreements are hard to come by, because unless the company can make money
> off of it they don't really want to support it.  Harrison was able to turn
> it into something they could advance their product with, but they are a very
> specialized market.

> I wouldn't treat Behringer as a possibility in that
> regards myself, plus if Ardour is trying to portray itself as a professional
> DAW, you do NOT want to be associated with Behringer, Mackie, or similar,
> not to mention that a computer DAW is somewhat out of their market, even
> Mackie has ceased operation on its HDR units, which were the closest things
> to it.

There's a lot of interesting stuff in here. Firstly I wasn't aware
even of the existence of Harrison, but nicely done. It's interesting
that Ardour is already trying to approach this from the top of the
market, while it instinctively occurred to me to start at the bottom.

I guess I would go after the Behringers and Mackies and such because
their prices put them in the range, and  potentially Ardour in the
hands, of a lot of your potential market. If you want to grow the
userbase, there's a bit of room in professional shops, but the growth
is in home recording and/or small-scale web production.

Prices on all types of gear that a person needs to produce media are
falling rapidly, to the point where the capacity to record, edit, and
produce all manner of audio and video have fallen into almost anyone's

There is a market of potential users/contributors in everyone who has
a story to tell or a song to sing and figures it might get seen on
YouTube -- and wants powerful multi-track recording to make it happen.
They're buying Behringers, Mackies, Tascams, etc.

As for the whole 'professional' thing, People already have Cubase
and/or Protools and/or TakeYourPick for free anyway -- either crippled
LE versions with gear they bought, or because they're broke and pro
versions are quite easy to find.

I guess I'm just not ready to exclude any potential partners or any
potential market yet.

>> There also outfits like M-Audio -- some of their gear ships with LE
>> versions of ProTools, for example. Are they paying or getting paid in
>> that deal? What's it cost them?
> M-Audio is owned by Digidesign, the makers of ProTools.

Did not know that. I wonder what their conversion rate is between
users of LE and buyers of a full version over, say, five years.

> One the
> Tascams, and other similar devices from companies like Yamaha or Korg, have
> economy of scale going for them.  Two, as of right now Ardour still runs on
> a general purpose machine, to build a specialized machine like you are
> talking about would take considerable effort to my knowledge, and probably
> some pretty strong modifications to Ardour.  So really what you are looking
> at is the opportunity to build a custom PC at that point, and adding on the
> other bits.  See Harrison's XDubber for an example.  It exists, but the
> quesiton on whether it can support itself is not known, though apparently
> there is some conversation on that front that I am blissfully unaware of;)

Of all the options I mentioned earlier, this is by far the costliest
and most difficult to develop. Plus, because so much of it would be
hardware-specific, it would mean all the less development on
functionality for general-purpose hardware.

I only offered it because it's an option, and one that offers a
slightly higher likelihood of interesting potential financiers than
simply shipping a Linux+Ardour CD with their board and warning buyers
to back up their data.

>> Option 7) is not out of the question either. There are a lot of people
>> out there that a project such as this would appeal to -- successful
>> artists, internet billionaires, well-meaning philanthropists.
> Probably the most likely sadly. Heh some portion of my mind wonders if NIN
> or some other large name like them that is advocating a break from the
> current production model of music might be worth approaching at some point,
> but that requires them actually have money to start with and I don't know
> how much Trent or anyone else would have.

I was actually going to mention Trent earlier. Off the top of my head,
I came up with Trent Reznor, Chuck D, David Byrne, Peter Gabriel, They
Might Be Giants, Radiohead (a longshot but they seem to get it). There
are, I'm sure, many more. You may not get in the door with any of
them, but even an endorsement (even a comment in an interview or a
link from a web page) can generate positive attention.

Get users and proponents and the money will follow. Almost every
musician I know has seen Protools or Cubase; none had ever heard of
Ardour until I told them.

Here's another idea: Is there enough of a market for a
prebuilt/preconfigured recording workstation? You need a roomy case,
ultra-quiet fans, tons of RAM, high-end desktop-class processor, big
drive (optional 2x big drive), a base and optional audio i/o -- e.g.
base is 2-in 2-out USB interface, optional is something like Delta
1010 --, add-on dual-monitor video card*, optical combo drive, etc.

Software is a remix of UbuntuStudio that drops unnecessary apps
(there's a lot of fat that can be trimmed into a very spry system),
and is preconfigured to use the packaged hardware.

I rebuilt my Mythtv system last fall, and looked over a lot of gear
that faces the requirements and use patterns typical of a DAW, namely
staying nearly silent while maxing out CPU throughput. Mythtv is not
at all dependent on realtime operation, and that may be a key
difference I'm overlooking.

But I bet I could spec out such a machine at retail prices for under
$1,000, including the 1010 and the second HDD (assuming 500 GB
drives). I've seen similar hardware on sale at Guitar Center and major
internet retailers for two grand and up.

Lots of work, but an opportunity.

* Just out of curiousity, does nvidia's VDPAU have any implications
for audio processing in Ardour/JACK/Linux? As I understand it, Nvidia
has finally opened the source for (certain of their) video drivers and
there are now fully native linux drivers under heavy development that
allow pretty much full on-card decoding of HD video.

That's a lot of goddamn throughput. I had a P4 2.5 with an nvidia card
and using XvMC for acceleration and it could only play HD when nothing
else was running. They say on the Myth list they've got nvidia
9000-series cards (earlier ones don't support VDPAU) running full HD
playback on Atoms, without hardly touching the CPU.

I'm not a hardware engineer, but it seems that video chips can do
massive real-time processing. If the VDPAU driver is as open as it
seems, can it be used for audio co-processing? Could it provide a
plugin layer? Could this be a potential SoC project? Would Nvidia be
interested in having a chat?

>> A company may also be enticed to offer support for the brand
>> recognition they could get from being associated with free creation of
>> music (tm). I imagine a good pitch could at least get you a meeting
>> with Google.
> Google at least supports Ardour some through the Summer of Code stuff.  It
> would be interesting to see if they would be interested in more direct
> support,but I am not sure I would hold my breath.

Another longshot, to be sure, but SoC is good visibility. I wouldn't
count on a check next week, but it's definitely worth staying on their
radar. In a perfect world, I'm sure they'd like to give away
pro-quality tools for producing Youtube content. Especially when it
would cost them so little.

>> I use Ardour because it's Free, not because it's free. I know I depend
>> on others to make it so, and I appreciate it. But I don't think the
>> project is going to support several full-time jobs out of paid svn
>> access, web ads, or nagware.
> I tend to agree with you last line there myself.  But on the flip side there
> is still something to be said for anything is better than nothing in many
> cases.

There are a number of ways an open-source project can support itself
financially. There are also a number of ways that *any* project can,
and they often overlap.

The fact that the DAW market is such a niche is an impediment to many
of the financing options we've discussed. But it's also an
opportunity, in that there's a relatively small number of users one
needs to be a viable commercial conduit.

Thanks for the patience, you guys. I appreciate anyone who's waded
through all of this.

Also, please let me know if Ardour.org has US 501(c)3 status. If so, I
believe I can get a company matching gift. Presumably this is also the
case for a healthy number of Ardour users.

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