Bosphorus Cymbals Goes Digital: The Interview

Virtual Instruments: A New Business For Drum And Cymbal Companies?

DRUM! Interviews Michael Vosbein

Forget what you know about sampled sounds. The new software engines capture sounds in their full dynamic spectrum, much less like “sampling” and more like virtual instruments.

In 2009 Bosphorus Cymbals hooked up with FXpansion to release the Stanton Moore Signature Series BFD Expansion Pack in its popular BFD2 Format. The entire line of hand-made cymbals was recorded and produced by John Emrich, capturing them in high-definition audio. Effectively this gives the full power of the Stanton Moore cymbal line to any producer or composer anywhere.

Is this a new trend? Can we expect other companies to take control of their sound by copyrighting their own virtual instruments? And, is it a viable business for a drum or cymbal manufacturer? We talked with Michael Vosbein (left) to get insight into some of these questions.

DRUM! What made you get interested in having your cymbals sampled?
Vosbein I first wanted to offer our cymbals in a virtual format three years ago. I got introduced to a sample company and met with them in Nashville. They make a great product but run a closed shop. That is to say, they were not interested in making their architecture available to outside content developers. That meant I could never achieve a revenue-producing stream from an association with them. Keep in mind that these companies are able to sample everybody’s products and include them in their offerings without asking manufacture permission or paying royalties. They just can’t offer a manufacturer’s branding on the packaging.

Finally I ran into John Emrich, who produces content for FXpansion’s BFD2 software. He explained that FXpansion is interested in licensing manufacturers to produce their own content for BFD2 format. The larger the user base of BFD2, the more relevant the outside content becomes, and visa-versa. BFD2 is presently $400 retail, but they will have a much less expensive engine available soon, BFD Eco, that will accommodate the expansion packs and grow their user base.

DRUM! How long did it take you to move on it?
Vosbein I decided on the spot after talking with John to go ahead with a virtual instrument project and we had the whole thing done in a couple of months. Bosphorus is now the first percussion manufacturer to offer a branded product for the new era of virtual instruments. What I’m interested in is a discussion of what the implications of this are to the percussion industry at large. I know that other drum and cymbal companies have to be considering virtual products of their own, so I’m sure we won’t be alone on this for long.

DRUM! From a manufacturer’s point of view, many questions arise about this.
Vosbein They sure do. Is there enough of a user base to generate the sales numbers needed to warrant such projects? Can we afford not to get into this arena when others already are? If we don’t, will independents release virtual instruments using our products? What about our signature products? Do any of the artist contracts address virtual instruments? Who owns the rights to them? What do we do when virtual instruments are much more widely used live and in studio? Do we want it known that our artists are not playing our virtual stuff? Can artists record and produce their own virtual offerings independent of a manufacturer?

DRUM! What are the distribution issues you face?
Vosbein From a distribution standpoint, we also have a host of new questions to address. Drum shop owners don’t know about this stuff. They don’t sell software, nor do they have the wherewithal to train their personnel in its use or demo it in store. I’m actually forced to become a software retailer, though we will always partner with dealers on our cymbals. Also, our first offering, the Stanton Moore series, was released on a DVD. Our follow-up offering will be a corresponding MIDI groove library of Stanton's actual playing, which will be offered as a download. Eventually all virtual products may be simply downloaded so there wouldn't be a need for packaging, or physical distribution at all for that matter. With a download model, after recouping production costs, the marginal cost of reproduction is zero. What are the retail implications of this? Will new kinds of dealer relationships need to be forged for the virtual world? Time will tell.

DRUM! Who's your customer?
Vosbein Primarily, the largest user base for BFD2 products is singers, songwriters and producers, though it is very cool to actually play the virtual instruments with electronic drums. I think more drummers will soon begin to explore virtual environments and that they would be well advised to do so as this is increasingly the way records are made. It is very valuable now to studio owners, engineers, singer/songwriters, TV and film producers, keyboard players, guitarists, beat mixers and so on. That means percussion manufacturers now have access to a completely new customer base that easily dwarfs the number of drummers in the marketplace looking for gear on any given day. Conversely this new audience can now be exposed to Bosphorus products.

DRUM! The electronic drum companies could have much to gain or lose here. Originally, they all made their own sounds.
Vosbein The question is, "To what extent will they accommodate independent content by making it easier for their products to commingle with virtual libraries in addition to their own sounds?" For example, FXpansion offers files for the Yamaha DTXtreme 3 kit, making it "plug and play" with BFD2. This gives drummers the tools they need to work in a modern studio environment.

DRUM! Any closing thoughts?
Vosbein When we see an entirely new set of instruments distributed in an entirely new way to an entirely new user base, we're looking at something that has significant potential. Could this open a whole new world for our industry? In time I think it just might. What it has done already is made the sounds of Bosphorus Cymbals available to a larger portion of the music world.

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