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Frank Simmerlein: cubist master

Steinberg’s partnership with Yamaha since 2005 has provided audio professionals with an ever expanding box of tools to which there seems no limit, as over 1.5 million users worldwide will testify.

With more than a little help from marketing director Frank Simmerlein, audio software pioneer Steinberg has come a long way from the days of geeky computer mavericks. And like Apple, the company is celebrating its 30th birthday this year: a good parallel, because the world has adapted to the lifestyles and techniques prompted by both organisations in a way unimaginable in 1984. But this is no Orwellian dystopia. Steinberg’s partnership with Yamaha since 2005 has provided audio professionals with an ever expanding box of tools to which there seems no limit, as over 1.5 million users worldwide will testify.

When, why and how did you join the company?

I started out my relationship with Steinberg more than 25 years ago. At the time I was working at an advertising agency; I was also an active musician using Steinberg’s first sequencer, the Pro16. It so happened that I spotted a Steinberg advert in a German music magazine and I remember being appalled by the entire campaign. This made me reach out to Steinberg and from then on I was commissioned with creating their ads. Soon after, I left the agency and co-founder Manfred Ruerup asked me to join Steinberg. And that’s when I joined the company in 1989.

What was the flagship product at the time, and what was the next big breakthrough after that?

The second release, the Pro24 sequencer sporting 24 MIDI tracks, was the bestseller back then, although soon after the initial version of Cubase running on the Atari was released to great acclaim. After introducing the world to sequencing software I personally believe the next big breakthrough was our Virtual Studio Technology, finally giving users the freedom to connect effects and so on, similar to a real-life studio environment.

What was your educational background and which other companies have you worked for?

My interests have always revolved around the creative arts. While my educational background was in art, which I studied here in Hamburg, I had been taking piano lessons and playing in bands. Soon after I became a composer for jingles and industrial films. I also worked for smaller and larger agencies, with tenures as art director and ‘FFF’ (film, radio and television) producer.

Steinberg-Yamaha, Sonar-Roland, Soundscape-SSL… what are the advantages of owning both the software and the hardware?

Usually, every company has a special qualification in its business field. One would hope that bringing both worlds together results in providing best solutions to the market. This however is certainly easier in theory than in practice. Take Yamaha and Steinberg’s collaboration for instance: both software and hardware have entirely different development cycles, a completely different approach. It’s not an easy accomplishment but the advantage lies with those that are able to align the differences.

How does Nuage benefit?

Nuage is a good example of the potential for co-operative research: decades of experience in building rock-solid hardware on one side and the flexibility of software integration on the other. The Nuage system with Nuendo integration has perfectly turned the theoretical possibilities into a reality.

Thinking of DiGiCo-Waves SoundGrid (another hardware/software project), what potential does Steinberg have in the live touring market?

Alongside the thousands of sold Yamaha live-mixing consoles that come with our Nuendo Live software, our company looks back on a long tradition in the field of live touring. Over the years Steinberg software has been used for recording or playback at many shows, such as at last year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Sweden.

What kind of piracy solutions have you considered? For example, both Adobe and Microsoft are now ‘leasing’ their packages like subscriptions, rather than sales…

We listen closely to our customers’ demands, and this is one of the reasons we hosted a user survey. The results left no room for doubt: the large majority of our customer base does not favour a subscription model. This may change in the future but for the time being there’s no demand in our market, no need for us to offer similar business models, and we can respect this.

Should used software be re-saleable, like second-hand hardware?

Software licenses offered through Steinberg are re-saleable like any other product you own.

Ravenna, Dante, AVB… what works for you?

In my opinion, networking is the next big thing. Nuendo already supports Ethernet collaboration in the same network. And with our VST Connect technology we’re opening up a whole new world to our users where distances no longer exist and recordings between different continents are only milliseconds away. I’ve made intensive use of this tool and I’m completely blown away by the possibilities that it has to offer.

VST: how did you do it? How did you overcome the pitfalls that seem to hold back other ‘universal’ standards?

From today’s perspective, it’s indeed a bit baffling. It was 1996, which I’d still refer to as the ‘the early days’, and everything was possible: Charlie Steinberg was writing the code and I was contributing the interface. We developed software that we wanted to see in our own small studios. It was that simple. So introducing this technology to the world was easy, there was no real alternative to VST. And as we’ve always been open-minded at Steinberg, we decided not to hold back with this beautiful technology. Manfred always called it “die Demokratisierung der Mittel” – the democratisation of the means.

There’s Cubase in Stade de France, Nuendo in the National Space Centre museum, UK: what potential does Steinberg have in the install/AV market?

We’re open to any market relevant to audio and music. This is our domain, and our customers can benefit from our many years of experience. And with Yamaha as our parent company, we are able to respond to a very wide variety of situations.