Unlike some of their more prominent Berlin neighbors, Ableton has been steadfast in refusing buyouts. But now that story gets added to their ethos, thanks to an article out now in Billboard.
It’s all a great read, but the eye-popping moment is at the outset. Last summer, with Ableton largely doing home office, founder Gerhard Behles (also a former Monolake bandmate of Robert Henke) was on what has to be one of the weirdest Zoom call lineups I can imagine:
It was July 2020, and Behles and another Ableton executive were on the call with an unlikely group of potential investors: Diplo, the DJ-producer; Scooter Braun, the entrepreneur who manages Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, among others; and Joshua Kushner, brother of Jared, husband of model Karlie Kloss and head of Thrive Capital.
(Investment calls do get strange, though; I’ve been on conference calls with MC Hammer so I guess I’ve gotten some glimpse of this world.)
In and of itself, this isn’t news – Gerhard will routinely volunteer this as part of the history of the company. But normally what you don’t get is this kind of particular story.
Check out the full article:
This article making the rounds comes at a significant inflection point for music tech – and perhaps a reflective winter in general. As other music-related businesses have melted down (see streaming, festivals), music creation tech is in the sights of a lot of investors. It’s doubly true at this moment, thanks to the fact that a lot of makers are flush with cash after lockdowns prompted big upticks in purchases of gear and software. And we generally live in a world where some folks are struggling and others seem to have cash burning holes in their pockets – traditional and crypto alike.
It’s refreshing to many in the industry just to see a company pursuing slow, steady growth and independence. News the other direction is familiar. ROLI infamously hit reboot. Native Instruments cut deep into product teams with a restructuring in 2019 – removing a lot of the talent that made the products. And they ceased to be independently owned, ending an era for Berlin music tech. (This month started with the naming of a new CEO to lead the joint Native Instruments – iZotope endeavor – more on that later.)
But more than anything on the instruments/creation side, the point is that independence means greater control over values. And the simple reality is that big money in tech is often also in bed with defense.
That was in stark relief this week, as Daniel Ek, founder of Spotify, bragged he was personally investing in a defense startup. That raises ethical questions not even around accepting investment, but how money gets spent:
“Helsing” is certainly an unnerving name, but it’s not so much the fundamental nature of the business as the question of who they sell to and how the tech gets used in a larger context. Throughout the tech-AI-defense interface, the big issue has clearly been how you decide which is an ethical client or use and which is not. It’s also not lost on musicians – many of whom decried the move – that Ek’s whole fortune was built on their backs, even as artists struggle to earn anything from music themselves.
Musical instrument making – whether in the form of synths and Eurorack modules, acoustic instruments, software and plug-ins, or DAWs – remains dominated by a lot of people working out of love, a lot of outlaws and rebels and, to quote the Billboard article, punks.
It’s encouraging every now and then that the outside world notices that there’s a choice.
For a look back, here’s Resident Advisor talking to Gerhard in 2013. Ah, a different time…