If I Were President (of NI)

Trevor Meier
Trevor Meier Member Posts: 69 Advisor

So here's a little bit of armchair quarterbacking.

Native Instruments is a company with incredible potential. They sell a library of top-quality hardware and software products. They've built an accessible ecosystem with NKS. They have best-in-class integration between hardware & software. They've got the fresh benefits of partnering with iZotope and Plugin Alliance. And undoubtedly they have an incredible team of people.

But from the outside, they've been floundering. Since the mass layoffs some years ago, there has been almost no visible innovation coming from what has historically been one of the most innovative companies. The pace and quality of groundbreaking product releases pre & post layoffs is stark. As someone who uses and admires NI's many products, it's been heartbreaking to watch the potential wither as time passes. Many have moved on, and new users are frequently disappointed when they realize we've been waiting years for bug-fixes and features that never come.

It feels like NI is limping along, bleeding on the floor. They've stemmed the bleeding just enough to make it through the VST3 and Apple Silicon transitions, but it's a temporary reprieve. On every side, rivals are besting their once-dominant products with new ideas and innovations.

NI needs a fresh vision that's connected to its roots: great quality musical products based on first-class DSP, re-imagined for the modern musician. They need to pivot quickly in order to survive, which means making maximum use of some of the incredible tools already in their library.

I'm guessing (hoping?) that a soul-searching process like this has already taken place internally, but as a thought experiment, here's what I would do if I was the Head of Product at Native Instruments:


First, I would establish a handful of priorities:

1. A common codebase and format for all NI products going forward

2. Ease-of-build: make it easy to have products based on NI DSP on every popular platform (including those which haven't emerged yet) 

3. Envision the NKS ecosystem as the first and best choice for musicians at the centre of an ever-expanding world of tools for their live & studio workflows.


This is what I'd do internally to make it happen:

1. Establish Reaktor as the internal codebase for all products:

  • Write an API so Reaktor elements (DSP, snapshots, metadata, controllers, GUI elements etc.) can be built programmatically and integrated into other products
  • Introduce a new scripting engine based on the Reaktor API for realtime control of Reaktor-built objects
  • Prioritize ARM as a first-class platform
  • Expand sampler tooling & functionality
  • Integrate best-in-class DSP from other products (Traktor, Plugin Alliance, iZotope)
  • Introduce AI for ease-of-use and quality of life upgrades (e.g. painless importing of multisamples, automated GUI layout, sample editing, basic scripting etc.)
  • Write (and re-write) with future platform portability in mind


2. Establish a "Kontakt Lite" product (based on Reaktor) with the goal of a common, modern sampler instrument and file format that works across all NI platforms:

  • Common preset, multisample, automation, modulation & file format
  • Common DSP engine
  • New scripting engine (to replace KSP; based on Reaktor API)
  • Prioritize ease-of-use for building instruments (EG use AI to detect root keys, tuning, round-robin, automated sample-editing etc.)
  • Build feature by feature until it reaches maturity and can replace Kontakt as a first-class product

   

3. Rework the user-facing side of all file formats. Replace the confusing cornucopia of file formats with a simple, logical, user-friendly conceptual design and implementation. To that end:


4. Create a universal, open-source NKS plugin, preset and tag format across all NI products (based on Reaktor, potentially using CLAP):

  • Update Reaktor Blocks to work as individual plugins or components on Maschine, KK and Traktor (with an eye towards future expansion to VST3, CLAP, AU / AUv3, M4L, Bitwig etc.)
  • Create an end-user Block Building Kit (LEGO for musicians)
  • Establish a cross-plugin "Control Voltage" modulation & automation format (with the intention of releasing it as an open standard in the near future). Allow plugins (including 3rd party) to interact with each other through CV to create new musical possibilities
  • Investigate CLAP (or other options) for a single ground-truth plugin format that all other plugin formats can be derived from
  • Create an open metadata format that's easy to manipulate and translate to different environments with the goal of a tagged plugin & preset format that's accessible from every type of browser (KK, Maschine & Traktor at first; VST3, Bitwig, Logic and other new platforms in the future)
  • Once established, create a cloud platform for syncing user-built plugins, presets, tags and settings across all NI platforms; and for purchasing new plugins and presets

   

5. Make NI hardware the premier centrepiece of your music-creation environment:

  • Re-think future hardware products as the center of a larger ecosystem (i.e. not just NI products)
  • Optimize the sample organization, tagging and transfer process. Software should do most of the work for users; any work (tagging, favourites etc.) should only have to be done once
  • Elevate Controller Editor to first-class product and integrate with the Reaktor API & scripting engine. Build it out to support first-class controller scripts for 3rd-party software
  • Open-source parts of the system that can allow tinkerers and 3rd parties to build on the already-great NI hardware:
    • Maschine+ and mk3 display protocol
    • Maschine+ OS
    • NKS plugin, metadata and file format (possibly integrating with CLAP or another open-source initiative)


Externally, I'd focus on a few things:

1. Rework the Komplete bundles. Subdivide packages based on curation. Allow purchase or subscription, with fair prices for either. Re-think product search and purchase flow more closely aligned with current needs.

2. Prioritize a few quick-wins. Dedicate a process to implement a handful of most-requested features and bugs, and engage with our best users during the process.

3. Double down on recent successes with community transparency efforts

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate (same as #3 but hey)


And what would I stop doing?

  • Move all future hardware product development to ARM-based platforms
  • Sunset products, code, processes and people that are holding NI back
  • Stop further development of the current Kontakt codebase

That last one is bound to be controversial, but to mix metaphors it seems like the Kontakt codebase is the sacred golden egg-laying cow handcuffed around NI's neck. It continues to produce (presumably profitable) products but the writing's on the wall. It's been abandoned en-mass by formerly strong 3rd-party supporters. KSP is a scripting language from the past. It's not a tool anyone I know *wants* to build for; they build for it because they have to. I would continue to release products based on Kontakt's strengths while spending all of NI's resources on a pivot to a single DSP platform.


Who knows what NI will actually do? I hope there are grand plans in the works, something masterful far beyond this little bit of armchair speculative fiction. I'll be interested to find out!

Comments

  • Kaldosh
    Kaldosh Member Posts: 265 Advisor

    The only thing I saw for 2030 is

    • Elevate Controller Editor to first-class product and integrate with the Reaktor API & scripting engine. Build it out to support first-class controller scripts for 3rd-party software

    Very Inspiring …

  • Mutis
    Mutis Member Posts: 472 Pro
    edited January 2023
  • Trevor Meier
    Trevor Meier Member Posts: 69 Advisor

    Cuts are sad any time, it's true—however 8-10% cuts after a merger of several companies is pretty standard. There's a lot of duplication company-to-company, so hopefully the cuts will make the group as a whole healthier and leave more budget for product development.

  • Gee_Flat
    Gee_Flat Member Posts: 906 Guru

    I read this the day you posted it. Great mission statement, but just ill timed unfortunately. If you had a 100 megatons pointed at your head based on a Nord Stream lie, would you be interested in what the guy in a forum had to say?

  • EvilDragon
    EvilDragon Moderator Posts: 1,019 mod
    edited April 2023

    Taking Reaktor as the common API for all DSP would make everything incredibly inefficient when Cmajor exists. :)


    And no, you cannot replace KSP "just like that". If anything, Lua would be the one thing to stand in for it (because backwards compatibility is #1 thing for Kontakt so KSP would have to stay in there forever), nothing Reaktor based.


    And yeah, Kontakt is not going anywhere. It is the golden hen and brings way way way more revenue to NI than Reaktor ever managed to. It would be insane to focus on Reaktor as the major strength, especially since it is MUCH more complicated to built a Reaktor-based product than a Kontakt-based product.

  • LostInFoundation
    LostInFoundation Member Posts: 3,998 Expert

    Very, very, VERY interesting read 👍🏼👍🏼👍🏼 (NI: READ THIS!)

    Most important points in my opinion?

    All those in the “External focus” (specially 2 and 4)

    About 4: NI communicating when any kind of (comprehensible) troubles arise is key to a better public image

    About 2: NI still thinking “we have to hide our intentions till the last seconds” instead of asking users what products/features they want (and having in their hands like this a new product people will want to buy) is frankly obscure to me. Yes, I’m talking to you, “Maschine+ Standalone but with a cable plugged into the wall” (I’m sure if they asked to the users this would have been the first thing they would have told them)

    Again: VERY interesting read. Thank you @Trevor Meier

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