Music merger and acquisition season continues. The latest development is the addition of Brainworx and Plugin Alliance to the conglomeration of NI and iZotope. But there’s one important note you might have missed – and some software you should go download for free for the occasion.

Grab some free stuff

Okay, you don’t really need to think too much about this one. You should just go grab some good plug-ins. That’s what I did first.

The launch offer is detailed on NI’s site – through April 26 only:

NI Ethereal Earth is a soundscape/texture instrument. Quality stuff if you’re up for it, from Komplete.

iZotope Neutron Elements is two products in one. It’s a guided tool for mixing, including EQ learn and some assistants. And it has four additional tools – Compressor, EQ, Exciter, and Transient Shaper. I’m not totally sold on these smart assistants, but I’ll give them another go as I’m curious.

Plugin Alliance / Brainworx give you six tools – actually of the freebies, these are my favorites:

  • Black Box Analog Design HG-2 tube processor (it’s great, though yeah, some UI/UX lolz – we all love this series, I know)
  • Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor (which was used by Coldplay but – believe it or not you might still want to use it anyway [rimshot!])
  • Ampeg SVT emulation
  • bx_masterdesk an analog-style mastering desk and tools
  • bx_oberhausen their soft synth, based on the thing that starts with Oberh-
  • bx_console Focusrite SC console tool

Now these are actually fantastic – some of the nicer stuff they make, and great to have as a giveaway. The Shadow Hills alone is invaluable.

And honestly, those are good enough that you could just grab those. But these tools are ubiquitous enough that they probably deserve some additional discussion.

About Soundwide – and Sound Stacks?

So, back to the M+A, if you hadn’t been paying attention, Native Instruments and iZotope had already merged some time ago. Now to that, you can add a new name (the somewhat forgettable “Soundwide”) and the fresh acquisition of Brainworx and Plugin Alliance. (Plugin Alliance is a kind of services + distribution for a set of other plugin makers.)

WIth any merger or acquisition, there’s reason for some healthy skepticism. The problem is that acquisitions don’t necessarily lead to better products. They can – synth maker Novation was all but saved by its integration into Focusrite, for one example, and has had a great run since and plenty of happy users. The big variable I think is often whether companies either create unwieldy, hard-to-manage hydras, and/or try to “downsize to greatness” – and kill the engineering teams that make the stuff users actually love.

But without judging this particular merger, I want to point to the bit I expect most folks missed. From the press announcement:

Alongside these new additions, Soundwide welcomes the newly formed Sound Stacks, born from the minds of Cesare Ferrari and Julian Storer, the creator of the industry-standard open-source audio application framework JUCE. Sound Stacks will drive the development of new audio platform technologies aimed at improving productivity and performance for audio developers across the industry.

See, that’s actually a bit more interesting. Look, Native Instruments – even as we love some of their tools – had a massive, overcomplicated portfolio full of legacy code and incompatible frameworks, to which they added another company with its own enormous portfolio (right after firing big swaths of the product teams and engineering that could have made sense of it). I don’t mean to be mean; that’s just a tall order. And now they’ve added two more companies with still more complexity.

This is why this footnote is compelling. Adding Sound Stacks gives them some tools to make a new generation of software. If Soundwide wants to be a Nintendo or Adobe of music software, they’ll likely need that.

The thing to watch will be if they can manage this. So I’ll be watching – it is sounding like time for a fresh check-in with these teams.

Just don’t sweat it all too much as a user. I think the irony of consolidation is, it shows some contrast with independent developers. I continue to be impressed by all the individual, a la carte plug-ins out there. They’re very often less of a hassle to buy and install than the bigger players’ offerings. And they do have ways of reaching consumers.

That’s good for everyone – it might even just keep bigger players like this on their toes.

Ultimately, it’s your happiness that makes or breaks the whole industry. So on that note – let’s get back to playing with the plug-ins. I’m ready for some late-night Oberhausen and seeing if I can squeeze a little mastering life out of some of tracks and even finish stuff, too.