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.

  • Jamsire

    Insane. I have a Tascam DM4800 Digital Console. Running Sonar though it is not on my radar, but let’s see what the future brings.

  • gunboat_d

    hmmmm….bought X2 and wasn’t impressed. I don’t know if a guitar company can really push Sonar into mainstream. the issues i had with sonar were workflow issues and windows management, not sound. Can Gibson really fix those issues? i give them credit for trying.

  • Ruben D.

    Juszkiewicz destroys things and that personality trait doesn’t change over one’s lifetime. There is no chance that what happened to Opcode won’t happen here as well.

  • BongBong

    Good grief, I used to use that software…

  • Chris

    R.I.P. Cakewalk

  • Chris

    R.I.P. Cakewalk

  • parma

    Not being snarky, genuine question: What are Cakewalk’s innovations?

    • Peter Kirn

      I can list a few.

      They deserve credit for popularizing music making on DOS, and then Windows, when the dominant platform was the Atari ST.

      That included helping to standardize the Roland MPU-401 as the primary PC MIDI interface, which had a big impact on the evolution of MIDI.

      They were way out in front on 64-bit computing – not only in front of the rest of the music software industry (including the likes of Apple), but even in front of most other mainstream software development, full stop.

      I also think the V-Studio line was significant in terms of the notion of integrated hardware/software (outside the DSP model of a Digidesign).

      They could point to lots of specifics in DAW development, but that’s where I would say there’s a great deal of copying and leapfrogging, partly because us as users say “hey, I want this” – there are loads of things we all want, certainly when we see them in a rival tool but even if we don’t.

      Now, apart from that, they have a lot of clever people working for them, and there aren’t *that* many people in this industry with the skillset you need to make music products, because it’s simultaneously so specific and multi-disciplinary in nature.

      None of this ensures that you’re competitive going forward, and the industry has shifted a lot since the move to SONAR. But I’d argue these are things that have had a big impact even if you aren’t a user of their products.

    • Jeff Lionz

      Peter, terrific points. As an amateur Sonar user I just learned a few things from you. Excellent!

    • parma

      Ah, I didn’t realize they went quite that far back (“far” being relative of course). Thanks for the reply!

    • aaron

      No fan of Cakewalk myself, but Cakewalk’s GUI/Sequencing/Editing approach was the fore-bearer of practically everything since then that isn’t related to Trackers or (to a degree of seperation) Ableton.
      That said, it has been a long time since Cakewalk has managed to stay relevant.. basically since Cubase VST, Cakewalk has been struggling for identity and none of its gambles ever really paid off.

    • Peter Kirn

      Whoa, hold on. I’m not sure that’s true. It seems a lot of these things were happening at once from Cakewalk and the Atari ST apps from Dr. T’s, Steinberg, C-lab (later Emagic), MOTU, and Opcode. I think there was a lot of stuff moving in the same direction. Actually, someday we should write a sort of early DAW history and work out how we did wind up with this stuff.

      The earlier examples were Page R on the Fairlight and, interestingly, saw a piano roll editor at XEROX PARC. (really)

    • heinrichz

      Dr.T’s on the Atari was the first to use this Ableton like pattern/clip approach for composition and there was even a cool way to save a combination of parts as launchable ‘scenes’

    • aaron

      Not sure about the others, but Cubase on ST didn’t appear until ~2 years after Cakewalk.

    • frankz00

      Rapture is a good synth I have to say…

  • parma

    Not being snarky, genuine question: What are Cakewalk’s innovations?

  • DPrty

    I don’t use cakewalk. To bad about Opcode and Studio Vision maybe I can find an old copy and an old PC to run it. However if I were to go through that trouble I might as well instead find an Atari ST and old version of cubase. I miss my cubase on the Atari. .. anyhow … long live Reaper! He he

    PS .. I wonder if Gibson will make CakeWalk more of a guitar players DAW?

    • djsmps

      Long live Reaper!!!

    • DPrty

      Reaper Rulez!!! …. hehe

  • tom

    I purchased a Tascam DM-24 years ago, cost $3500. … It didn’t take them very long to drop support on that product. I wound up with a very expensive boat anchor. Will never buy another Tascam product. Good Luck Cakewalk, You’ll Need It !

    • Will

      Maybe if they were backed by an actual software company they wouldn’t have needed to drop support.

  • Graham Metcalfe

    I have to say that I LOVE the intro photo! :) I miss StudioVision’s MIDI capabilities still. Anyway, I don’t hold out a lot of faith that this will do Cakewalk any good – Gibson’s history in the software arena doesn’t bode well for Cakewalk. I feel that Gibson can maintain their diversification in hardware reasonably well since they understand that business, but software development is a pretty different business, with a totally different way of looking at the bottom line, ROI, etc. etc.

    I really love the Cakewalk Rapture and Dimensions softsynths, but since it looks like they stopped development of the Mac version a year ago (leaving it stranded at OSX 10.6.8), I guess this won’t affect me much…unless of course they decide to make it compatible with the latest OSX (hint hint). I’ve heard good things about Z3ta as well but haven’t tries it yet.

    Best of luck to users and devs alike!

  • frankz00

    It’ll be different this time, I swear!

    • Peter Kirn

      Well, I’d argue the Tascam and KRK acquisitions, for instance, have already been quite different. The nineties were almost a decade and a half ago. So, yeah, things are different.

      I’d be more concerned that generally acquisitions are hard.

  • Jeff Lionz

    Been using X2 on my Windows machine, have long wanted to upgrade the studio to a Mac, was hoping Sonar would do this eventually but it looks like a long shot at best. My plan, switch to ProTools I’ve long resisted the move it may be the perfect time to make the transition.

    • DPrty

      Jeff … before you go ProTools give Reaper a try. It runs on Mac or PC.

  • Jim Harrison

    “Collaborations between Roland and Cakewalk and Yamaha and Steinberg didn’t necessarily lead to “virtually unlimited” possibilities”

    Undoubtedly, they did, as will the marriage of Cakewalk & Tascam. Whether those possibilities will find their way through probability into product is another question altogether, and one only time can answer.
    Having 12 years inside an acquisition beast (MS), I can tell you that the survival rate for most uniquely acquired products (as opposed to technologies) is statistically about 50%. Hopefully, the Cakewalk product line will see the living side of that statistic.

  • joel

    Back when we were using DOS and computers could only do MIDI at best (no audio) Cakewalk was a pioneer and really quality software. They still have their fans, although I have moved on. Gibson has a long track record of buying hi-tech companies, such as Music Quest (MIDI interface boards) and others and shutting them down within 6 months.

    • Peter Kirn

      We really are talking ancient history here.

      Onkyo, TEAC, TASCAM, KRK, Stanton, and Cerwin Vega – all still running.

      Like I said, I’m not saying the acquisition will be a success. I am saying that shutting down the businesses has not been the recent track record.

    • djsmps

      All the companies you mention were acquired recently. I guess we just wait and see? I’m not optimistic.

  • Wheat Williams

    I totally did a spit-take when I saw the Opcode StudioVision box at the top of the article. Peter Kirn, you are awesome.

  • heinrichz an old studio vision user this picture just got me excited for a moment. Studio Vision was the first program that integrated midi with audio tracks, way before Logic. It also had some cool clip like pattern launch features if i remember right and the possibility to assemble a song as a playlist of pattern.

  • Joe Belknap Wall

    A feature-packed update for Cakewalk is coming this January…sorry—we mean July!

    While you’re waiting, try out our newest cool axe, the Lenny & The Squigtones Special Edition Les Paul™, or enjoy the Limited Edition Nickelback Smooth Fuzzachino™ in our factory tour coffee shop and grille! Before you leave the gift shop, don’t forget to pick up a Signature Edition Hootie & The Blowfish Axe-Strap™ with genuine hand-tooled Rich Corinthian Leather™! Now with a dock for your iPod! Jam along with your favorite axe-wielding rock stars!


    Anderton should be ashamed of himself.

    • Peter Kirn

      Well, he shouldn’t be ashamed of himself *now* – those things haven’t happened yet. Unless he’s ashamed of things that exist in your head.

      Now, if that does come to pass, of course, it’s another story.

    • Joe Belknap Wall

      I’m basing my suspicion that bad things will come to pass on the fact that bad things have come to pass with virtually every previous acquisition by Gibson. Sure, I could be upbeat, but it wouldn’t be justified by statistics.

      Ask anyone who knew and loved Opcode, Oberheim, the EDP, and Zeta Systems for a start. Sometimes, it’s cynical to doubt, but the rest of the time, there’s a long history of Gibson screwing over both their acquired companies and the people who used those tools.

      I’ll happily recant if I’m wrong, but I doubt I’ll have to.

    • Peter Kirn

      Opcode: 1998. Oberheim: 1985. Zeta, EDP…come on.

      Now I see other people giving Stanton as an example, but complaints about Stanton started before the acquisition. And, for that matter, Opcode in 98 was bankrupt, still bleeding money, and had just badly botched a Windows port of Vision (I know – I used it). That’s not the state of Cakewalk. And that was 15 years ago, when none of us owned mobile phones, we browsed the Web on Netscape Navigator, and DAT tapes were still big.

      I mean, you could also predict Roland’s product line this year based on the launch of the 808.

      There are plenty of reasons to believe this acquisition could go awry. But I think you could find better reasons than, say, Oberheim – an acquisition of a fundamentally-different business 28 years ago in the days before GUIs were popular. (In fact, that example actually *predates Cakewalk’s founding* by two years, and they’re one of the oldest software companies in the business.)

    • Will

      “and they’re one of the oldest software companies in the business.”

      Kind of fascinating. Not just ‘daw’ makers or ‘music’ software companies, they are one of the oldest software companies around.

    • Peter Kirn

      Let me just be clear:

      Could this go badly wrong? Absolutely.

      Does it really have anything to do with somebody like Opcode? No, not really – though, of course, yes, it is likely to trigger flashbacks. (Me, too.)

      I see a different Gibson, a different acquisition strategy, and a very different developer.

      I think this has everything to do with Cakewalk’s current assets, Gibson, and how those mesh. Huge number of variables there, and acquisitions and mergers in this business *generally* don’t have a great track record. But I think you have to consider the present situation and not the distant past.

    • Joe Belknap Wall

      The CEO is the problem, and he’s still there. As long as you have a company run by a problem, there’s the potential for problems.

      It was this year, not in ancient history, that Gibson reworked themselves as a lifestyle brand with “Gibson Brands,” and just two years since Gibson got caught illegally sourcing exotic wood stock and Juszkiewicz ran crying to Fox News and the Tea Party, complaining that they were singled out for his politics, before admitting that Gibson did, in fact, illegally source exotic wood stock.

      I’d be a lot more inclined to let “ancient” history be ancient history if Juszkiewicz wasn’t so clearly up to his same tired old tactics in the here and now.

    • Will

      You might be right but I don’t think you could really compare sales or market share of any of those companies/products to cakewalk and sonar related products.

      I mean, I still want an EDP but that makes about 2000 of us. Sonar is a completely different ball game. Sonar’s email list is more valuable than the EDP.

    • sustainiac_93401

    Real story: Jeremy Harding, Jamaican Dancehall and Reggae Music producer, made the music to Beenie Man’s “Who Am I.” on using Cakewalk running on an Atari ST triggering a sampler. Hit single. Of course he admits it wasn’t easy and wouldn’t go back to that era because of the ease of Logic and protools but Cakewalk was where a lot of people had their start.

  • Dave O Mahony

    My 1st sequencer was Cakewalk Home Studio by Twelve Tone Systems. Loved Z3ta+ too. Long since moved to OS X but I hope this is the start of bigger and better things! Its taken Tronical a few years to be able to offer their tuner to the ‘average’ person!

  • Charles

    I’ve never used Cakewalk or Sonar, and now I never will.

  • boing boing

    Cakewalk/Tascam – the new standard in consumer digital audio workstations. Anyone hoping Cakewalk would make the big dog group of DAWs can kiss that goodbye. The Quad/OctoCapture units are AMAZING, but that stays with Roland I guess. If Gibson pushes Tascam as the audio interface, and minimalizes the Roland hardware, you can expect the only client base that will cling to Cakewalk are the folks who can afford the real deal products from RME and the like. It will limit that user base to consumer users, and pros who were considering Cakewalk will run to Cubase, MOTU, Logic and ProTools for better hardware with integrated support. I don’t see this ending well for Cakewalk/SONAR.

  • Anthony

    I know for a factTEAC in Australia is not owned by Gibson-but by “TT Holdings”.

    Gibson does own TEAC in most other markets
    Great to see TASCAM and Cakewalk under the same roof and I love SONAR