Guessing a bunch of people are going to start talking about the 1990s. But that may be premature. Photo (CC-BY-ND) reducer, via Flickr.

Guessing a bunch of people are going to start talking about the 1990s. But that may be premature. Photo (CC-BY-ND) reducer, via Flickr.

Gibson’s buying spree through the music and sound industry continues, creating a giant serving audio creators, pros, and musicians. And while the acquisition of a DAW manufacturer is likely to bring up the specter of Gibson’s ultimately-fruitless acquisition of a failing Opcode and Studio Vision in the 90s, this seems different. It ends years of ownership or investment by Japan’s Roland, returning ownership to the USA via the Nashville-based name, associated with guitars but now diversified across audio products. And unlike Opcode, Cakewalk remains a healthy business serving both consumers and high-end users. Now, the question is, what next?

The acquisition marks some changes for Cakewalk – like the end of the name’s appearance on the pro products, after decades as one of the marquee brands for music making on computers – and will presumably bring big changes, primarily, in distribution and marketing, as they shift from Roland infrastructure to Gibson infrastructure.

Breaking news on the breaking news: A second press release in my inbox lists existing Cakewalk press contacts will remain, but includes an addition under the same heading. Craig Anderton, the massively-prolific veteran music tech journalist, is listed as “Chief Magic Officer” for Gibson, under press contacts. Given the comments on the Web, it’s apparent not everyone associates today’s Gibson with “magic” – not, at least, on the order of the company that makes the likes of the Les Paul guitar. So it’ll be interesting to hear what this means. (Craig Anderton joined Gibson in February, as Executive Vice President, Evangelist, coming most recently from an editor-in-chief gig at Harmony Central. Worth reading his whole bio, and what Gibson said about maintaining his objectivity and independence.)

The Boston office and employees will remain, Gibson says, and development will continue on both pro and consumer products. The pro products will be re-dubbed TASCAM Pro Audio, while the consumer products become Cakewalk. SONAR is the new TASCAM computer flagship and standards-bearer, as the lucrative consumer product line remains as Cakewalk. (Don’t underestimate the consumer products, one of which recently appeared even on the Steam site associated with gaming. They’re big sellers.) Cakewalk itself will become Cakewalk Development.

The acquisition is best understood in the context of recent Gibson strategy, not the 1990s. Gibson has lately bought Onkyo, TEAC, TASCAM, KRK, Stanton, and Cerwin Vega. Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz talks mainly about human assets and technologies. He even appears to imply in the press release that Cakewalk’s innovations were ripped off by others (or, at least, leveraged by rivals rather than successfully marketed by Cakewalk). Juszkiewicz says in the announcement, “If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Cakewalk must be very flattered that so many of their innovations have become industry standards.” (Certainly, I would argue there’s fairly liberal borrowing of features in the DAW market in general – often, by necessity, as users have long lists of demands. But there’s no question Cakewalk deserves some credit here, and there aren’t that many big shops doing this kind of development.)

Gibson has been on public campaigns for years touting re-imagined guitars for the digital age, with Ethernet ports and so on, even if that direction hasn’t translated into a popular product. (Certainly, it’s delivered nothing like the Les Paul, which Gibson naturally brings up in the press release). In any event, it seems R&D is the thrust of the press announcement and the re-labeling of Cakewalk, as Gibson says the new division will “pursue provocative R&D initiatives” as well as continue to develop the pro product line. Gibson also says they might leverage technologies in other divisions, though it’s not obvious what that would mean in practical terms.

Yes. One of the main strengths of Gibson Brands is the constant dialog among its divisions. As just one example, the possibilities of combining TASCAM’s leadership in professional audio hardware with Cakewalk’s industry-leading software are virtually unlimited.

That last bit remains to be seen. Collaborations between Roland and Cakewalk and Yamaha and Steinberg didn’t necessarily lead to “virtually unlimited” possibilities. But as far as the health of the company, that may be more a matter of whether the new distribution and marketing apparatus works well, and whether it can support development that keeps the product competitive with other offerings.

For now, the acquisition has only a letter of intent. The biggest test may be if Cakewalk can remain healthy through any transition, up against competition from a variety of developers selling similar products.

And we will also see how this impacts Roland strategy and products, since Cakewalk was that company’s main gambit in the computer realm.

Cakewalk has already changed their website to read “Cakewalk Development,” with the footer reading “developers of TASCAM Professional Software.”

Gibson FAQ [Spoiler alert: no SONAR for Mac. Sorry.]
Gibson Brands Announces Intention to Acquire Cakewalk Inc.