Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Wronged by Digital Rights

Waves Ltd. considers Beatnik Turtle to be a criminal.

Beatnik Prisoner

We'd like to feel special on this one, but actually we're not alone. It's more fair to say this:


Which would make sense if they sold, say, lockpicks. But instead, Waves makes plugins for recording tools. Including, quite unfortunately, a very decent one for vocal equalization and sound processing, called "Renaissance."

This is another story about Digital Rights Management (DRM), but instead of being about DRM being imposed against our customers against our will, this is one where Beatnik Turtle is on the other side of the story. We are subject to it in order to use the Renaissance plugin.

We are not merely complaining about the fact that they have DRM. This particular form of DRM is extremely intrusive, cost us money to implement, required us to give up our privacy, and is so flawed that it hard-crashed our studio computer repeatedly many times during the installation without warning or explanation.

We want to be clear about this. It is the DRM driver that crashed our computer, caused the headaches told below, and wasted a lot of time and energy. Time and energy we should have spent recording and creating, not on the phone with Waves. If there had been no DRM, there would have been no problems...and no blog entry.

Unlike a Quentin Tarantino film, this story is best told from the beginning.

When it comes to recording questions, Beatnik Turtle relies on the sound and recording expertise of John Lisiecki, a professional recording engineer, Sound Guru, and all-around great person. John helped us work out how to redesign our studio when we decided to go for a computer based recording solution. One of his pieces of advice was to look into the Renaissance plugin, although he did warn us about some new Digital Right Management they were enacting that was pissing off the professional music community.

For those of you who are not familiar with what a plugin is with regard to recording, it is an separate mini-program that is incorporated into your recording software to add new capabilities. Plugins run the gamut as to what they can do. Some typical plugins are compressors or equalizers. Others are specialized effects processors that may add flange, reverb, or even make the sound have higher pitch. There are literally thousands of these plugins available that allow you to have millions of different effects. What Waves' Renaissance does is compress vocals and add EQ to help punch up and sharpen the sound. When we first tried the product out (while it was still in demo mode before we authorized it but after we paid for it) we were amazed at what it did. We were informed by John that most studios just use this on all vocals, and we could see why.

We purchased Waves' "Musicians Bundle II" via an on-line store and installed it while we were setting up and relaunching the new and improved studio. To our surprise, during the installation, it crashed our computer--hard. Locked it up. Went to "blue." Hosed it completely.

All we could do was reboot the machine.

At first we blamed Jason and his horrible computer-karma. But then only when he complained enough that "it wasn't his fault" and "seriously, he had no idea what was going on" did we realize there had to be a reason beyond him as to why the computer kept crashing.

Obviously, few activities depend on the flawless functioning of a computer like studio recording. It is time-based. A lockup at the wrong time could miss a performance or worse, damage an entire song and all time and progress on it. (Okay, we realize that it's here where you Mac folks point, click, and laugh, but that's a discussion for another day. Just be assured that we are well aware of the advantages and disadvantages of each, and believe us that Windows makes the most sense for our purposes.)

We tried the installation sequence a few more times "just in case," with a crash being the inevitable result. Eventually, we removed the device driver that Waves installed, and got on the phone with their tech support.

After about a hour on the phone - and, get this: pushing "1" every two minutes to remain on hold and not get disconnected as you wait - we started the long process of going throughthrough the standard list of possible problems (yes, the computer is receiving AC power; yes, the CD is in the drive). Their final suggestion? Call another tech support phone number: the one in charge of the DRM attached to the software purchase. Their guess was that there was an updated driver for it.

At that time, since we already purchased "Musician's Bundle II" we weren't sure if Waves would let us return it if it was unable to run on our computer. Some terms of the EULA led us to believe that we would have a hard time getting a refund. Our research on Waves on Google found many other blog entires and even webpages like this one where people were quite angry with the company and documented similar problems.

So, we ended up calling the DRM company. And, it turned out that there was a new driver. And, sure enough, it fixed the problem and the DRM software was installed.

And the problem was solved.

Or so we thought. But Waves proved us wrong.

When we finally got the program to install, we were back on the Waves tech support line (pushing "1" again every two minutes to stay "in queue") because it wasn't registering correctly over their complicated and bloated registration system.

That's where we found out the next surprise: we needed to buy a USB device called an iLok key in order to use this. The key cost $40. It did not come included in the software box. In fact, neither the instructions nor the box stated that an iLok key was needed.

Waves' explanation? We "must have old packaging, cuz the new ones tell you you need to purchase a key."

Yeah, but this one didn't and we got it shipped to us - it wasn't sitting on a shelf of a store for us to read.

"That's weird."

Now you're telling us we have to shell out more bucks so we can use your product?

"Yep. You need a key."

That's a hidden cost we never factored in when we originally bought it weeks ago.

"What's a hidden cost?"

This didn't seem fair to us. So, we asked them to send us a key since it was required to make their product work. But they refused. They don't give their customers all the necessary components to make their products work. We guess they just sell boxes at $100 a pop.

Since they wouldn't provide a key, we then asked for a rebate toward the purchase of the key. Or, if that didn't work a Waves-credit toward the purchase of a future Waves product. They refused. The key wasn't their responsibility. It was a separate company. They just make plugins.

Plugins that you can't use.

So, let's sum up. What this means is that Waves wants us - the customer - to pay for proof that we aren't stealing from them.

Actually, we're being unfair again, Waves wants EVERYONE who buys their products to pay for that proof so Waves can sleep easy at night.

It took a few days to calm down. After that, we decided, hell, since we bought the damn thing, we might as well see this thing to completion. The thing is, we wanted the plugin when we bought it, not weeks and headaches later. So, we decided to suck it up and purchase an iLok key. A week later it arrived.

And, it still got worse.

The key was easy to install. It plugs in and takes up one of your USB ports. However, to make the key work, you had to register the key at BOTH the DRM manufaturer of the key's website AND the Waves website! And, you need to provide them with your real contact information.

So, the purchase of the key for the purchase of the Waves' product required giving up our information and privacy to two separate companies just to finally use a $100 plug-in. And, it's not like we wanted to give them this personal information. Based on how we were treated and based on how they treat their customers, we didn't want to give either of them - Waves or the DRM company - any info. They didn't deserve it.

We're sure, given this horrible attitude toward their customers, that Waves probably had a lot of problems with piracy in the past. We're also sure, that this new elaborate, customer-supported anti-piracy and digital rights management surveillance system has solved all their worries. And, we're also sure there's no sarcasm in this blog entry.

The old business axiom that "the customer is always right" seems to be replaced here with the 2.0 version: "the customer is always digitally right when managed." That's certainly how we felt Waves' treated us throughout this unnecessarily hard installation process. A process that should have taken 5 minutes, tops. As a result of this entire month long headache, we have no intentions of purchasing any further plug-ins - or iLok keys - from or due to WAVES.

So, if you're a musician who intends to purchase a WAVES product, be forewarned.

Of course, we have heard that the people who pirate these types of products don't have any such problems. They simply install and go. They don't have to deal with the unstable drivers that crash their computers, give away their privacy, pay hidden costs for iLok keys, and deal with unhelpful and non-empathetic tech support lines all the while pushing "1" repeatedly to stay on hold and not get disconnected. While we don't pirate software nor advocate pirating any software product, the M.B.A.s running Waves should know that it is an attractive alternative for many other people just to avoid the problems they put their customers through.

Maybe we'll write a song about it making fun of them. You can bet we'll use their Renaissance to help punch up the vocals so they're loud and clear.