With the latest Propellerhead Reason 6.5 announcement, there’s a lot to discuss in the world of Reason. I have been fairly silent over the last few days, even though the forums have been ablaze will all kinds of chatter. Until the dust settles, it’s never wise to jump out and state your opinion. Did that once and it bit me in the behind. But I wanted to provide some of my thoughts on all these new changes, since they are fairly huge, and developing rapidly. So here are my preliminary musings, all of which are subject to change.
By now you’ve probably heard of two new changes to the Reason environment. If not, here’s the official news release. And here are the two core changes that you’ll see in the Reason 6.5 update:
- Figure: The iPhone / iPad app that will be available in the Apple App store soon.
- Re (Rack Extensions): Propellerhead’s own proprietary Plugin format, which opens the Reason rack up to new devices that are developed by third party companies. In other words, Korg, U-He, Arturia, Peff, or any other developer or instrument company keen on developing a Reason Rack device can now do so. Propellerheads are launching the “Rack Extension” store on their site, where Extension devices will be sold and delivered, via the click of a button, to your Reason software.
Out of the two features, “Re” is the earth-shattering news, and “Figure” is exciting for those on the Mobile iOS platform who enjoy music-making on the go, but not so much for those of us that already use the full version of Reason on their computer. Figure is slated for release in the next few weeks, while Re is slated for release at some point in Q2 of 2012, and in my opinion, it will take some time to see how this will all unravel.
First, let’s take a look at the Keynote speech by Propellerhead:
So, what I’m getting from this video, other than the fact that I need to get a cool Reason tattoo in order to be included in a slide during the next Propellerhead release, is the fact that this is a huge paradigm shift for Propellerhead.
On the one hand, Figure is the first real outing for Propellerhead into the world of Mobile devices. Sure, we had ReBirth for a while, but that seemed like a test run. This is the real deal; a new introduction into the app market.
While all of this is preliminary, based on what I see in the above video, I have my own personal list of Pros and Cons. Bear in mind none of this is released yet, so it’s all subject to change. But these are just my own thoughts on Figure:
First, let’s look at the Pros:
- It’s built with Kong and Thor as the background devices for your sound, so it probably sounds fantastic!
- It’s easy to use. Big plus in a mobile environment
- It brings some of Reason into the mobile realm. Never a bad thing.
- It probably won’t crash your device, being a Propellerhead product.
- Price. It’s a buck (one dinero, one dollar, one smackaroo). So there’s no reason not to pick it up. Even if you only want to try it out a few times and never use it again. I spend more on a cup of coffee. So yeah. Of course I’ll get it.
Now for the cons:
- If you already own Reason, this isn’t going to add anything new in the way of sound.
- If you don’t use mobile devices or make music on-the-go, then you can probably pass it up.
- Like most other iOS music apps, it looks like great toy, and should be fun to tinker with, but is it as functional as Nanostudio or Beatmaker? Not sure yet, but doubtful. Of course, Nanostudio and Beatmaker are also 20x more expensive at $20 each.
In summary, if you own an iPhone or an iPad, getting Figure is a no-brainer, even if you own the full version of Reason. It brings a little bit of Reason into the mobile world, and if it lives up to the Props mantra, it will be easy to use and simple to sketch out some nice ideas. And it opens up more creativity, which appeals to me. I have to give the Props a big thumbs up for their official first step into the Mobile world.
Re (Rack Extensions)
Now let’s look at Re (Rack Extensions) — and don’t call it “ReRack” or the Props will give you a sour look and shake their finger at you (just kidding).
As with any preliminary announcements, it’s hard to judge how it will work, and how accepting people will be towards the technology. Again, going by the video above, I’m going to throw out a few thoughts on it, all of which are just my own personal assessment, questions, and the like. Let’s look at it from three different perspectives: The Musician, The Sound / ReFill Designer, and The Re Device Developer.
- As a musician, you’re probably having an orgasm right now. You finally have your dream of plugin instruments and effects inside Reason, as long as they get developed. And I have no doubt that the floodgates will open, and you’ll see all kinds of great new devices in Reason.
- The Re Store is a great implementation. You have a single location where you can try out or buy any of the Re devices. With one click, you purchase the device and it gets downloaded and installed on your computer. I assume it’s tied to your license so that wherever you go and wherever you install Reason, the new devices can get installed.
- It’s interesting to note that very few people have discussed the Re Store concept yet. The Re Store seems like an exact replica of Apple’s App Store, and as such, you could say that most of the arguments that people levy against the App Store could also be levied against the Re Store. For example, this means that the Props are the ultimate arbiters of which devices make it inside the store and which are left out of the store. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not going to take any sides in this debate. I’m just pointing it out.
- Anytime you switch from a closed-architecture to an open-architecture (or rather, like Thor, this seems like a semi-modular Rack system now), you also open yourself up to the potential of having lots of poorly constructed devices. So are we going to see hundreds of poorly contructed devices? Or are we going to see only the best of the best? Or some combination of both? This ties in with #3 above. Are the Propellerheads going to decide which devices make it in and which don’t?
- On the other hand, as Ernst said in the above video, this does make it easier for musicians to a) get Plugins downloaded and installed on their systems, and potentially allows for an easier experience sharing music and collaborating. However, as anyone who has collaborated with fellow Reason users understands, if the other party does not have a specific ReFill, it’s more difficult to collaborate successfully (but still easier than collaborating with non-reason users, more or less). Both parties must have the same ReFill in order to open and play the songs (or self-contain the song). With the introduction of Re devices, this existing issue that was in the ReFill domain now extends itself into the Reason Rack. If the other party doesn’t have the rack device, they won’t be able to open the song, or at the very least, they will be able to open the song, but won’t hear the same thing that the other party intended them to hear. What’s more, there’s no “self-contain” setting that will rectify this issue. What you will have to do is bounce down the audio and share the audio track. And while this is a perfectly valid solution, it is limiting because once it’s audio, you can’t edit the effects from the devices directly. The audio is static.
- Because collaboration of the .reason song files can pose these kinds of problems, I predict that most people will collaborate using bounced audio files only, even between reason users. If you think about it, that’s the only logical way we can go. Otherwise, the onus is on the Musician to figure out which extension devices they have and also figure out which extension devices the other party has; making collaborations more complex. And if you share audio files, as I said, this is limiting in certain ways.
The Sound Designer / ReFill Developer
- Looking closely at the video with my “ReFill designer’s eye,” I noticed that some of these devices have the ability to save patches and some don’t. Possibly this is because the devices are not completely developed yet. But it brings up the question of whether or not Re developers can allow their device patches to be saved or not. Or do all the devices have to have a “Save Patch” option? This has implications for ReFill developers who want to design patches for the Re devices. It also brings up the issue of whether or not ReFill developers will be allowed to design patches for these devices? My hope is that all devices allow for the ability to save patches, and the developer SDK demands that patches can be saved.
- If patches can be saved on all devices, this opens up some new questions. Firstly, it creates a lot of different patch formats for all the different devices that we expect will flood the Re Store. Things could get a little confusing and convoluted.
- Are the Propellerheads going to stop producing new instruments for Reason? In some ways, Re removes the need for them to put together new instruments for Reason. And if they still produce new instruments for Reason (which I highly hope they do), will they continue to be a part of the core program, or a new Re device? There’s something to be said for a closed system. As a Patch designer, if the Props don’t provide new instruments as part of the core program, this means those devices are subject to the same potential problems outlined in #3C below.
- This fragments the ReFill developer into a few different camps:
- Those that develop for the traditional Reason devices. This is the safest bet for ReFill designers, as anyone that owns Reason will own all these devices, and so the ReFill will work for all Reason owners.
- Those that develop for specific Re Devices. Designing for specific Re devices is more of a niche market than group “A” above. This doesn’t mean sales will be less than in group “A,” but it does mean that your market is a smaller subset.
- Those that develop for a combination of both A & B. As a ReFill designer, if you develop Combinators that contain both traditional Reason devices and Re Devices, you then have to worry about whether or not your users have those Re devices installed on their computer. If not, the Combinator won’t work, or it may work, but not work as expected because it can’t load the proper Re device(s). This is another “to be determined” question which is left unanswered. I’m speculating here, but I am willing to bet that most ReFill designers will either a) not use the Re devices in combination with traditional devices, or b) they will limit usage of Re devices to just one or two that are the most popular. And if my bet is true, then this limits the development of some really interesting and creative Combinators that make use of many different Re devices.
- Those that develop using traditional Reason devices to imitate Re devices. Now here’s where it gets interesting, and my mind is always looking for new opportunities. So I said to myself, well, if Re devices are now available, wouldn’t it be interesting if intelligent sound designers attempted to recreate the sounds or capabilities of a particular Re device using the core Reason devices. This can potentially open up a new avenue for designers.
The Re Device Developer
- This is a brand new position that just opened up where Propellerhead and Reason are concerned. So as a developer, if you want to try your hand at creating a Re device, you simply need to ask for the SDK. From there, you can potentially get a device inside the Reason Rack.
- If you are BOTH a ReFill Designer AND a Re Device Developer, you’re probably in the catbird’s seat. You can now develop both a Plugin product and a ReFill product; taking both to the Reason market. Not a bad deal for you.
In summary, Re seems like it’s going to be very beneficial for most everyone concerned; musicians, sound designers, production engineers, etc. And I’m cautiously optimistic. But there’s no question that this brings up a few concerns or additional questions, at the very least. Anytime a company make such a sweeping paradigm shift, there’s bound to be some rough patches; call them growing pains. How the Propellerheads address these questions, and how this all develops over time is going to be very important for all of us. And right now, it’s still too early to tell. But I don’t want to be a naysayer either. I think the future looks bright and creative overall.
A little note about pricing. While it’s true that Reason 6.5 is a free update from Reason 6, and I commend the Props for providing it for free (I’m sure there was quite a bit of development work that went into the core update), that doesn’t mean that the new Re devices are free. So upgrading will have to take into account the fact that you will have to pay for each device individually, and that cost is as yet to be determined. This means that you need to factor this into your purchasing decisions. I’m also not sure if the 6.5 update will include any new devices inside the core product for free? But I don’t think so.
Lastly, here’s a little preview of the Bitspeek Rack Extension device for Reason 6.5:
And here’s an update from Rack Extension developers “U-He” on their plugins, also from Musikmesse in Germany:
Until next time, don’t stop working with Reason as it is, and don’t stop supporting the Musicians and ReFill developers. From the sounds of it, nothing that currently exists inside Reason will change. All of the news centers around added functionality. All the beautiful bells and whistles that work in Reason 6 today will work in version 6.5 tomorrow. And please share any thoughts you might have. I’m interested to hear everyone’s opinion. Cheers!