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View From The Top: Making Music Creation A Cakewalk – MICHAEL HOOVER, PRESIDENT/GM, CAKEWALK

BOSTON, MA—Michael Hoover began his professional audio career with a love of music and a necessity-born need for sound-system knowledge.

BOSTON, MA—Michael Hoover began his professional audio career with a love of music and a necessity-born need for sound-system knowledge. “I was playing guitar in a band in college,” Hoover recalls, “trying to figure out how to stop the neighbors from calling the cops on us every time we practiced at our house.” He checked out a library book on sound engineering and “was surprised by how much more I enjoyed this type of science as compared to the earth sciences I studying in college.” This new passion solidified when Hoover got his hands on a Yamaha multi-track cassette recorder; he was enticed by the idea of being able to produce music outside of an expensive studio. He switched schools, moving to San Francisco where he got a degree in audio production.

Michael Hoover Hoover slates his audio business career as beginning in 1992, in the international sales group at Passport Designs, developers of Master Tracks Pro, Encore and Alchemy. He progressed into product management at Passport then he “migrated back east to become a product manager at Cakewalk in 1998. After 17 years in various roles, I’m now managing the company as president/GM as an independent division of Gibson Brands.”

Hoover’s memories of “how cool it was to be able to compose and record a song on my own; the freedom to spend as much time as you like trying out new song ideas,” correlates with Cakewalk’s mission: “to give musicians the tools and environment they need to express themselves through music and sound—on their own.”

Cakewalk, founded in 1987 as Twelve Tone Systems by Greg Hendershott, joined the Roland family of products in 2008. Hendershott left the company in 2012, with Hoover taking over as CEO. In 2013, Gibson Brands bought Roland’s majority interest in Boston-based Cakewalk. “We focus on designing, building and testing the software,” says Hoover. “We have a team to develop and maintain our own web and social media, direct marketing and IT. We then work with Gibson’s sales teams for retail sales and distribution, as well as its Entertainment Relations and marketing teams for events, and we receive plenty of support from Gibson’s legal and HR teams. The relationship is great, because we get to focus on what we are best at and get to leverage the reach of Gibson Brands at the same time.”

Cakewalk’s employees have a passion for their jobs and products, says Hoover, based on an affinity with their customers. “I would say 95 percent of our employees are also musicians, so they know the pain points that people have in creating music.” His job is in part, he says, “to create a vision that inspires our employees and allows them to harness all of their creativity, energy and passion in a positive way. My focus is to grow our company and make better products that fill a need in the market place. In most cases, happy customers equal success.”

Hoover cites the prosumer market as the biggest part of Cakewalk’s current business, which it serves with “professional products that are geared towards non-professionals who want the very best. Our flagship DAW, SONAR, is a powerful piece of software that rivals any major studio set-up for a fraction of the cost. If you think about what The Beatles were using to record and compare it to today’s standards, it’s night and day in terms of power and flexibility.” He lists affordability and the ability to work in their own homes on their own schedules as additional priorities for Cakewalk’s customers, now extending to mobility—anywhere, anytime recording—an area where he expects to see growth for Cakewalk and other audio companies.

Internationally, Hoover says, “we have always been very strong in Japan and we believe we can grow even more. We recently signed a new distributor deal in China and are looking forward to bringing SONAR to Chinese musicians. And we’ve made some good strides in emerging markets like Brazil and Russia, where price parity was an issue and piracy was high.”

“Our aim is to give our customers the tools that inspire them to create in ways our competitors don’t, won’t or can’t,” declares Hoover. “In the past few years, it’s been all about integrating workflows. In SONAR X3, we partnered with Melodyne to integrate its advanced audio time and pitch editing, and this year, we created VocalSync Editor and Drum Replacer for seriously powerful audio manipulation. Our goal is to provide world-class editing tools that are fully integrated so that our customers can access them right when and where they need them.”

SONAR Membership is the company’s latest innovation—not a product on its own, but rather a retooling of the development and product release process. “It’s really about continuous innovation,” Hoover elaborates. “We used to release a major new upgrade every year and give it a new version number. It would include a lot of new features, enhancements and refinements to existing features and of course bug fixes and new content. Customers always love to get cool new stuff to play with, but learning that all at once can be frustrating. And for the company, releasing it all at once can be challenging, leading to short cuts and quality issues. Instead of releasing lots of new features at once, now we build it, perfect it and deliver it when it’s ready. Customers have less to learn, and we have fewer things to focus on at any given moment. The result is quality goes up, but, more importantly, the customer experience goes way up.”

Cakewalk has a legacy of technology leadership, says Hoover, being “forward-thinkers and five steps ahead. If you look back at our history, we’ve always been one of the first companies to adapt new technologies— 64-bit, Touch, etcetera—and our new development process and business model is no different.”

Cakewalk Membership, explains Hoover, isn’t about “selling the software as a subscription or service.” Membership (a year’s worth of updates and enhancements included in the purchase price of Cakewalk software) is “a better way to develop, learn and use software.” Cakewalk software can still be purchased up front, or through monthly payment options. After a year, customers can decide whether to keep working at their current software level or to sign up for another year. Comparing it to Microsoft’s plans for Windows 10 development and upgrade, Hoover states, “We believe strongly that this is the future of software development.”