Gibson, the company known for legendary guitars and killing your favorite DAW in the 90s … now gets the chance to remind the pro audio crowd of the latter.

Gibson is discontinuing all development of Cakewalk products, which would include the SONAR flagship DAW. The explanation: they want to focus on consumer audio electronics, namely Philips:

Gibson Brands announced today that it is ceasing active development and production of Cakewalk branded products. The decision was made to better align with the company’s acquisition strategy that is heavily focused on growth in the global consumer electronics audio business under the Philips brand.

Cakewalk has been an industry leader in music software for over 25 years by fusing cutting-edge technology with creative approaches to tools that create, edit, mix, and publish music for professional and amateur musicians. Gibson Brands acquired Cakewalk in 2013.

For perspective, this means Gibson is pointing to an acquisition that took place just one year after the acquisition of Cakewalk, namely WOOX Innovations. That sale, which cost US$135 million (plus an unspecified brand licensing fee), covered home audio and music accessories, with video products moving to Gibson this year.

And it means that just as Dutch giant Philips moves to “health and well being,” Gibson is moving from being a guitar company into being a consumer electronics megacorp.

Armin van Buuren selling his collaboration with Philips – a product included in the acquisition.

Cakewalk’s SONAR DAW, while it may not be relevant to each reader here personally, had retained a passionate following with many producers, particularly because of its focus on the Windows platform. It’s also one of a handful of tools that has survived multiple decades of technological change. (From the same generation: Logic, Cubase.)

The loss of SONAR will sting in the Windows community and among many circles of producers. But adding insult to injury, just as recently as 2015, Cakewalk had gone to a subscription model – including touting that investing in the subscription would allow “lifetime” ownership.

It may be a mistake to focus exclusively on the high end here, though. Cakewalk’s entry-level products were a generally overlooked cash cow. As the entry-level market has refocused on mobile, it’s unclear whether a desktop tool aligned with higher-end products makes sense in the same way. To their credit, Apple has managed to position their GarageBand product across iOS and desktop – but, then, Apple gives away that product and they make iOS.

The announcement comes on the heels of Momentum, a tool for capturing ideas on mobile and then translating them to a DAW. But then, discontinuing the Cakewalk products means Momentum doesn’t have a DAW vendor to migrate to – only a plug-in. And it loses the Cakewalk name.

Momentum already was a questionable investment: for anything better than MP3-quality audio, you pay a hundred bucks a year, which is a steep price to pay given the fact that tools like GarageBand are free or a few bucks on iOS, and $100 a year easily buys you massive amounts of storage for whatever you want.

Now, Momentum’s future is called into question, which I think makes investing in the subscription downright insane.

The other puzzling thing is mentioning Philips-branded consumer electronics in this context. In 2013, the Cakewalk acquisition was meant to complement pro, not consumer, products. And Gibson at the time promised to rebrand Cakewalk software as Tascam – which never happened. Now, it’s using a 2014 acquisition to justify the 2017 discontinuation of the 2013 discontinuation as a “realignment” with the 2014 acquisition. Right – got it.

So, where did the pro products go? Why did Tascam software products never materialize? It would seem that Gibson are themselves pivoting to consumer electronics.

At the risk of being blunt and making some enemies, though, I think musicians might well be suspicious of corporate acquisitions and whether they really further innovation. There’s reason for users to be hurt and angry. And telling users of a professional music creation product line with a 30-year history that some branded speakers are the new direction adds to the sting.

There’s some business risk for Gibson, too. Consumer sound electronics are commodity markets – and big players can set themselves up for big failures.

For pro music creation, of course, terrific alternatives abound on Windows, including software developed by independent companies, from Reaper to Renoise, FL Studio to Ableton Live. And it seems independence and longevity go hand in hand.

But I have to be personally nostalgic. Cakewalk for DOS was the first sequencer I ever used, the first music software I ever owned. (My parents actually bought me the box.) Greg, the developer, had his name right on the screen.

To this day, I still like knowing the engineers behind the tools we use by their first names. I wish everyone at Cakewalk the best – and I’m certainly happy to keep getting to know individuals who work on stuff, and not just faceless brands.

And thanks, Greg – because without your work, I probably wouldn’t be writing this now.

From CDM ten years ago (in time for Cakewalk’s 20th anniversary):
Interview: Cakewalk Founder Greg Hendershott, 20 Years On

PS – hey, by the way, Gibson, my second DAW wound up being Opcode Vision, so this is what I’ve got to say to you:

Update

Steve Fortner at Synth Expert has an insightful article (and requisite tombstone graphic), which notes Gibson is moving to a smaller factory for its guitars and – more significantly – faces a debt crisis. That could make Cakewalk the victim of the, say, $140+ million Gibson Brands blew on the Philips home electroonics acquisition. If Gibson Brands can’t restructure that debt, their voracious consumer buying spree may look foolhardy indeed – and this story will get bigger than Cakewalk.

Gibson Kills Cakewalk

But also significant in that announcement is this statement from Noel Borthwick. Noel has long been a friend to CDM, spending literally hours sometimes helping with research on archaic intricacies of Windows audio.

Even if you’ve never used SONAR, if you’ve ever used Windows, you’ve benefited from Noel’s tireless advocacy of high-quality audio performance and musical features on the platform. Noel also advocated 64-bit technologies for music production first in the industry, among other technologies.

Those sorts of things aren’t visible on balance sheets. But technology competence does have an impact on the bottom line, even when it isn’t seen. My belief is that technological competence is a special edge even in consumer electronics, because the profit will be made by the companies able to differentiate.

It’s meanwhile nice to read that Cakewalk’s people are putting care into the transition so this end-of-life doesn’t come too bluntly for users. And I wish the best to Noel and everyone for what comes next.

“After 30 years of Cakewalk’s long and illustrious history, I am saddened to announce that we ceased new product development and reduced overall operations this past Friday. You can read the formal announcement from Gibson here, which states that this decision was made in order to align with the company’s acquisition strategy, focused on growth in the global consumer electronics audio business.

“Working at Cakewalk has been an incredibly positive experience for all of us who worked here. This can largely be attributed to the incredible people who worked here, past and present. I’ve been at Cakewalk 19 years and I’ve never come across a more dedicated and talented group of people. Our greatest motivation was the joy in producing software for an astonishingly passionate base of artists, musicians and producers who used our software to create music on a daily basis.

“So what does this mean for you, our loyal customers who’ve been with us all these years? Cakewalk’s servers will continue to operate, you will still have access to all of your online assets, and your software will continue to work normally. A dedicated team has been established during this transition period to continue to serve the Cakewalk community. Monthly updates to SONAR from Cakewalk will however cease during this time. We will continue to post notifications to keep you informed with any relevant developments. A sincere thank you to everyone in the Cakewalk community.”

  • I feel for the quys who worked for Cakewalk and also for users who have invested time and money into a now dead plattform. While I can understand that it might have been hard to keep the platform profitable, I ask myself why they bought it in the first place…Sad news for the audio industry.

  • Gunboat_Diplo

    FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFUCK.
    So much for paying for the lifetime membership.

    I hope DP is stable on Windows.

    • Baron Von Creepz

      Same here – thought I was on a winner with the lifetime membership. Pretty annoyed. Guess I’ll be looking at Studio One now – good thing it’s on sale for Black Friday. Have to say I’m gutted though – been using Cakewalk for over 20 years!

  • chaircrusher

    Gibson is hideous, they ruin everything. Their guitars are a parody of what the company used to make.

  • RangerJay

    I loved Studio Vision, and ran it as long as I could. It was cranky software, but just so intuitive.

    • Ashley Scott

      Yup it was the ‘killed off for no good reason’ aspect of Opcode’s demise that rankled. Funny to think that the Zicarelli commercial branch of Max only just survived

  • Graham Metcalfe

    Unfortunately I really like Rapture and Dimensions. All I can say is “Opcoded again dammit!”

    • Wall of Dorf

      Thankfully Dimension Pro is largely just a collection of Soundfonts, so can continue to use Dimension’s sample library with the help of e.g., Sforzando. Thank deity for open formats.

      • Graham Metcalfe

        Hmmm. Didn’t know that. Thanks for the info!

  • Corey Kretsinger

    Will never buy anything connected to Gibson or Philips again.

    Also, Philips? Seriously?!? That brand is sold in the Family Dollar for crying out loud. Inexcusable.

    To the employees of Cakewalk, I’m sorry you have to deal with this during the holidays. What they are doing is despicable and won’t be forgotten. They will pay for this.

    • Philips is now no longer just one corporate entity, so … depends on which Philips you’re buying. The lighting, healthcare, and home electronics *apart* from these audio brands are all a different company and have no relationship to any of this.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philips

      • Corey Kretsinger

        Anything with the Philips name on it is synonymous with poor quality in my experience. Not going to bother to figure out what is connected to what. So many big fish gobbling up little fish that’s it’s impossible to keep up as an average consumer.

        Oh well. R.I.P. Cakewalk. R.I.P. Gibson. R.I.P. Philips. You’re all dead to me now.

        • Lookout. Philips is Dutch. I am Dutch too. Philips invented cassettes. And with Sony: the CD. Historical company no doubt.

          • HA! 🙂 Yes…

            Well, it’s interesting to see the Philips backlash. Of course we know there was some really peculiar stuff that happened with Philips’ consumer brands, that diluted a lot of this reputation.

            The business unit in question is anyway wOOx Innovations. And they’re headquartered in Hong Kong. (Though Hong Kong is cool, too…)

            Don’t worry; you’re never going to see me trash Eindhoven.

          • Thanks for the added info. And yes, Eindhoven is cool indeed!

  • Wall of Dorf

    Gibson’s Cakewalk decision is uglier than their monitors. : Poor developers and users.
    https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/gibson-les-paul-6

  • I cut my teeth on Cakewalk after using Cubase (or whatever it was called then) on the Atari. And once I even had to use Sonar. Sorry to see these products go into the dustbin of history.

  • John Sandlin

    At least they didn’t kill Cakewalk within a year of it’s purchase. But Dang! I plan to continue using SONAR as long as it will work – but with the continuous upgrade schedule for Windows 10 – who knows how long that will be? I’ve been using Cakewalk since version 2.0 – so I have a lot of time invested, and money…. and… well, Gibson just keeps making me sad.

  • Ashley Scott

    yup the axeman’s revenge strikes again!

  • skyL0rd

    Old Gibsons fetch so much money cause their new guitars just plain suck. check out YT for all the complaints.

  • Wall of Dorf

    Hey, I found a pretty cool interview with Greg Hendershott, the original developer. 🙂 Guess who wrote it?

    http://cdm.link/2007/11/interview-cakewalk-founder-greg-hendershott-20-years-on/

  • Dave O Mahony

    Jesus! I remember using 12 Tone Systems Cakewalk Home Studio (no number as it was the 1st iteration) with a ram-boosted AWE 32 and a joystick to midi adapter as my very 1st system.
    I could get one sample to play on one single channel if it was triggered right as the transport was started – learning I could load soundfonts and play em with midi was mind-blowing!

    RIP Cakewalk & thank you very, very much!

    🙁

  • cubdukat

    They should have just stuck with Roland. They never would have done them like Gibson did. What the hell does a guitar maker know about marketing a DAW?

    Kinda glad I didn’t upgrade any higher than Sonar Artist…

    • Sabre38

      Was not their decision… Roland sold them out, and gibson killed them.. No more business for either company from me

  • Jarmaine Jenkins

    I mean dam…Just when I just invested in the rest of my studio…I’ve had the Sonar X2 Producer for 5yrs now so does this mean I have to change up now?

    • Sabre38

      No.. See if you can upgrade to platinum if the store is still active.. 50x better than x2.. Then you will be good for another 5yrs

  • Dubby Labby

    Maybe MicroSoft should buy it and make it the Logic X counterpart?

    • jimsimonz

      Or open source the whole thing, at least it would stay in use.

      • This is a tall order. Even presuming the code base is going to be accessible to people who’ve never seen it before, you have some number of proprietary dependencies that would have to be removed.

        I’m sure the desire has been there, but there’s a reason we haven’t seen projects do this in the past.

        • jimsimonz

          I hope someone at Cakewalk tries to open it up at least. The code base can’t be any harder to deal with than PureData for example. I volunteer to look after it if they open it up 🙂

          I see your point re dependencies. Juce/Tracktion came from a similar scenario though. Speaking from experience of having projects closed down by parent companies be nice not to see loads of development work thrown away.

          • That presumes there’s something that can be conveniently split off…

            The fact that Pd’s code is a bit of a mess doesn’t really make me *more* encouraged here, either. 😉

            I hear you, but… I’ve never gotten any indication that something like this is practical. JUCE seems to be a special case where there was an engine that made sense to share; I can certainly look into that early history (as I know more what happened to it afterward).

            The larger question might be, why isn’t there more energy put into supporting open code bases for music?

            It’d be better to invest in Ardour and Paul Davis than to try to wish for the scrap of the end of Cakewalk to wind up open. That’s not just as a reward to Paul’s work, either – it means you’ve got someone who has experience in maintaining an open project and who engineered it with that end in mind. (Ardour has likewise been used by other developers – see Harrison MixBus. Servicing developers outside of your own organization is a different thing.)

          • jimsimonz

            Useful info, I’d totally forgotten about Ardour.

          • PaulDavisTheFirst

            Don’t forget that Ardour is also the basis for Harrison MixBus and also Waves’ Tracks Live (also a product from iZ/Radar that seems to have been still-born due to company ownership changes).

            We already have the experience of writing and maintaining a truly cross-platform DAW in an open source environment, and we intend to continue doing that.

            The problem for contributors or “I’ll use Ardour as the basis of …” tends to come from their ideas about how to design and implement GUIs, which typically differ in hugely substantive ways from our own.

      • onar3d

        This is very unusual, as Peter also argues – but not entirely unheard of. The example of Blender comes to mind: https://www.blender.org/foundation/history/

      • Dubby Labby

        Of course but how many times it gone that way? I want to believe too.

    • I think there are plenty of good options on Windows – FL Studio, Reaper, Cubase, Ableton, Bitwig… just to name some I’ve used recently. The list goes on. The Windows ecosystem is healthy; this is just a tough pill if your daily production environment is SONAR, though even there, there’s no immediate implication.

      • Sabre38

        The only daw in comparable features is Cubase..

        • Stefano

          however no other DAW has been so carefully optimized for Windows systems. It’s known that they studied every bit of Windows’ audio subsystem.
          I think an acquisition might be a great move for MS: they can buy it cheap…
          It would be interesting to know what was the state of business for Cakewalk though…

          • Sabre38

            oh agreed, simply stating that the others mentioned are quite the subset features wise, and personally prefer Sonar to Cubase, based on the massive improvements over the last few years.. It could and would be a very inexpensive acquisition for MS

          • Stefano

            sure, I was actually backing your opinion! Instead I don’t get why Peter replied to Dubby Labby that there are many other options for Windows, as if MS could choose among them for an “official” audio app.

      • Gunboat_Diplo

        i wonder about the viability of DAWs like Motu’s DP. I assume they make their money on hardware. But if the software dev cost got too burdensome…
        Ableton is also a small company and their customers are very passionate. But the same could be said of Cakewalk.

        Does anyone know what the leading DAWs are in sales figures or installed user base?
        1. ProTools
        2. Logic?
        3. Cubase?

      • Dubby Labby

        I was wondering like Logic, Garageband, iMovie for Apple. None of these (aside Cubase which is cross-platform) will suit the Logic competence like Sonar.

    • Danny Valentino

      There already is a Logic Pro X counterpart if you’re taking about a main stream DAW being exclusive to one platform. It’s called FL Studio.

      • Dubby Labby

        Yes it was more for that path but since Image-line grow from drum machine more than DAW sequencer to me it’s near the Sonar paradigm inside that possible strategy.

      • Rocketpilot

        Not exclusive to one platform for much longer. macOS version is in beta.

    • Noel Cosgrave

      So that it can be loaded up with telemetry? No thanks! Just look at the “success” Microsoft had with their acquisition of Nokia.

      • Dubby Labby

        Different MS but legit. Anyways I was wondering the chance for Sonar to keep alive like Alchemy reborn inside Garageband as example.

  • agentrichie

    This is a profound lesson about the nature of impermanence. Hold your loved ones close.

    • PaulDavisTheFirst

      Unless you love open source projects. Then you can let them breathe a little bit, because nobody can take them away from you (or at least, cannot take them away from a community that includes technical capable members).

  • Talk about losing Momentum!
    The controversy involving members of the Audiobus forum takes on a new meaning, now. Not that it really explains the tone, but it does bring things into context.
    http://discchord.com/appnews/2017/10/26/momentum-music-by-cakewalk

    And, @peterkirn:disqus, congratulations on the coverage! Including the update about competence and things which may be difficult for “bean counters” to grasp.
    You mention the risk you’re taking in saying some of these critical things about acquisitions and realignments. My first reaction was that you’re saying things which likely go in line with what most of your readers think of these corporate moves. But it’s true that criticizing such moves may make it harder for you to get “access”. At the same time, the most solid corporate entities are likely to remain unfazed by such comments and their spokespeople will probably give you the same kind of access as they give anyone, which ends up being a set of shallow talking points.
    As you say, there might be a link between independence and longevity, though that would make business theorists raise their eyebrows.
    Of course, there’s money changing hands among the more independent groups or between them and faceless corporations. You also report on some of these, maintaining your critical thinking stance. There’s still a sharp contrast between independent developers who are interacting directly with us on a regular basis and those public entities which have musicking software and devices as a small part of their offerings. If this is a niche, those who pay attention to the ecosystem are more likely to survive, even if the resources are scarce.

  • I hope they open source the Cakewalk stuff. Don’t kill it, let it live!

    • me

      this – why on earth would you just let it die?

  • Mark Dawes

    Gibson killed Cakewalk… maybe Cakewalk will eventually kill Gibson?

    • Noel Cosgrave

      It sounds more like Philips will kill Gibson, at least if they don’t manage to restructure the debt they incurred buying the consumer electronics brand.

  • Eduardo Vaisman

    Thank you for the article Peter, Cakewalk for DOS was my first sequencer and I wouldn’t be the professional I am without that in my history 😀

  • Will

    What I don’t get: why not sell it? Are they holding out some hope that they can sell the IP later?

    > And thanks, Greg – because without your work, I probably wouldn’t be writing this now.

    Amen.

  • Will

    I remember upgrading to Cakewalk for Windows 3.1 because it had an amazing feature for a MIDI sequencer: you could trigger samples from the timeline! We were blown away.

  • during this transition period

  • Bot

    I am a little concerned about products purchased through Cakewalk from other vendors e.g. AAS. And I am really concerned for my favourite VSTs that have a history of issues post an OS Upgrade e.g. Z3TA+2.

  • praveensharma

    Didn’t these punks kill off studio vision pro / opcode too? That was my first daw 🙁

    • paulhazel

      Yes they did. Still haven’t forgiven them for that one. Best DAW ever.

  • Andrew

    Absolutely appalling – and feeling we should all boycott all of the Gibson brands, including the newly acquired Philips home audio as well as Onkyo (apparently licenced from Onkyo & Pioneer Innovation in Japan) and see what Philips and Pioneer do with the reputational damage being caused by Gibson to them!

  • Mdb Madison

    It’s reckless. Gibson didn’t invest millions in Cakewalk to later “Kill it off”. The bean counters had to have seen profit, somewhere. The excuse to align with the company’s acquisition strategy makes you scratch your head as to where that strategy was during the purchase of Cakewalk. If Cakewalk doesn’t align now, it didn’t align then either. I believe Gibson never intended to buy Cakewalk as a profitable operational business venture. This was simply a innovation and patent grab, netting a bag full of research and development goodies along with control over conceptual competition access. The blending of technology, software and purpose under “one” roof has never been good for users and general consumers. Innovative visionary genius and greedy bean counters rarely ever see eye to eye. That being said, something is in the works, it will base itself in software and present itself in Gibson hardware products.

  • Per Gunnar Merakerli

    I know this !!! I remember the day Cackewalk announced the “life time update” ! I asked directly in their live channel. TTo aks 200 dollars for a life time update , is typical for a company that wants to suck the last dimes out of a dying product. I bet they knew this, and all customers that payd this scam-deal should stay togheter and sue, and ask out money back . I said it !

  • Will

    @peterkirn:disqus A former Cakewalk employee did an AMA. https://www.reddit.com/r/Cakewalk/comments/7fwb6h/former_employee_here_ama/

  • Jon Padgett

    I was distraught when Gibson discontinued/killed Opcode Studio Vision back in the 90’s. Like the author of this article, my first DAW as Cakewalk on a PC, then switched to Studio Vision on Mac and loved it. I can’t ever remember being more angry at a company. I’ve since moved on to DP+Logic+Reason. The problem with Gibson is its (alleged) “enfant terrible” owner Henry Juszkiewicz, a Harvard MBA who can’t seem to make good business decisions. They have a stable of consumer electronics brands (Philips, TEAC), pro audio KRK and Baldwin pianos. Just hope they never acquire your favorite software … it will be the death knell of it!

  • Bogeybum

    As a user of Sonar, this stings. At least I didn’t stretch my budget to buy the lifetime updates they offered a year back, then I’d feel truly mugged off.

  • Chris Sullivan

    Well the latest windows 10 update broke Sonar for me and others. I wonder where we go from here.