I’ve been using Reason ever since version 1.0 to make video game remixes. Reason has always been plagued with problems that its community has suffered through, accepting its flaws as features. I have always been a huge supporter of Reason but it’s only until recently that I have grown to dislike Reason 6.5 due to certain features offered in the latest software. I’m talking about Rack Extensions, which is essentially Propellerhead’s version of Plugins for Reason. It’s such a gamble to allow plugins after releasing 6 versions of Reason that I feel it’s only fair in critiquing them on their flaws surrounding Rack Extensions. For me, these flaws are so bad, I’d rather not use Rack Extensions. I’d like to go though some of these flaws, and offer some solutions to the problems in Rack Extensions.
More after the Jump.
Make Rack Extensions Easier to Buy
The video above is six minutes long, making it seem as though it’s very easy to download, try, and install Rack Extensions. However, the process can vary. It took about two hours to properly install the Reason 6.5 update, and another hour just trying to download and install Rack Extensions. Just a quick glance at the comments on the video points to people complaining about installing plugins after having spent a considerably large amount of money.
The fault is entirely on Propellerhead to fight piracy. You see, you need a dongle to use Reason, and you need to download these Rack Extensions and install it onto the dongle. If you are using a demo version to try Rack Extensions, then you have to login to your account using an internet connection regardless of if you have the dongle plugged in, no exceptions. Makes you wonder why you would even have a dongle if you get prompted to log in anyways. It’s a bit redundant. The dongle already has my information, and it knows what Rack Extensions are installed, there really is no real need to log in other than to accuse the user of piracy if they don’t.
Propellerhead is currently going after the pirates by going after the consumers. Because piracy is an issue, it shouldn’t be an excuse to give the user a detrimental experience. These software developers can learn something from the mistakes of video game software developers such as Ubisoft to Electronic Arts. There are more than enough examples suggesting that punishing the consumer for piracy is not the best course of action to take for any developer.
A solution to this could be to have the user log in once and have the codemeter software, which is always running in the background for the dongle, take note of this so you can open and close Reason software without logging in every time. Of course, this throws anyone under the bus who has a Reason DAW disconnected from the Internet. If Propellerhead continues to alienate the consumer like this, it doesn’t matter how long the consumer has supported them; they will either abandon Propellerhead software out of pure frustration, never update to get Rack Extensions, or never use the Rack Extensions, which is currently where I stand.
Make Rack Extensions Cheaper to Buy
I understand this is not something Propellerhead themselves can control as the market will decide the prices. However, Propellerhead themselves can be pioneers, setting examples for other developers.
Propellerhead’s Rack Extensions could be a game changer if instead of charging $99 for one plugin, they’d charge $10. Purchasing plugins would be like buying candy. People would want more, and would want it often. It would be cheap, and to the consumer, worth-every-penny. The argument that somehow the plugins are worth $99 doesn’t work in our software driven society. People are not naïve. All you have to do is compare the workload of one software company to one developing Rack Extensions.
If I had a $100 and a choice between buying two different software; Propellerhead’s Radical Keys Plugin, or Halo 4, I would purchase Halo 4, and have money left over to purchase a cheaper Plugin. Halo 4 is a bigger project consisting of a couple of hundred contributors, from a couple of dozen artists, animators, FX artists, along with designers and a hefty amount of programmers, to hundreds of testers off and on through the life-cycle of the project, the asking price is $60. Something like Radical Keys can be (and often is) made with two to three programmers, maybe one artist designing the interface and a few engineers. The asking price of $99 for Radical Keys is steep compared to other software prices. Some might say that Halo 4 is more popular than Radical Keys, but that isn’t any justification for charging people so much over such a minuscule workload.
A solution to really making Rack Extensions accessible, and have them be a real game changer, is if the price for Instrument plugins like Radical Keys drops down to $10. 10 people purchasing Radical Keys for $10 would be more beneficial than one $99 purchase because of the increased number of exposure from those 10 users. Effect plugins could be cheaper ranging from $5 to $0.99. Introduce seasonal sales, with prices ridiculously low when people buy bundles, like a Steam Sale . Consumers loves sales, they love bundles, they love paying less for more. That would be more of a game changer. This move would also be a huge blow to piracy. It would be too much of an effort to hack something so cheap.
People might argue that plugins don’t have a big market as opposed to games like Halo 4, but that feels more like an admission that the Rack Extensions weren’t anything special to start with. From an economic standpoint, people love things that are free, or are on sale. You will have people lining up in drones for a sale regardless of what’s being sold. You’re guaranteed a demand on selling cheap unless you’re selling shovelware. I can imagine a few plugin developers complaining about making the price of plugins cheaper, but I find that view egocentric. Reminds me of developers who mocked the price of software in the App store, only to see them become hypocrites a year or so later developing apps because it yielded a higher return. Making things cheap really does work.
Make Rack Extensions Easy to Program for, and Open Source
Or charge the developer $99 for the Rack Extensions SDK like Apple does with theirs. Currently, Propellerhead requires that a developer be associated with a company that is registered as a technology partner with Propellerhead. So someone like average Joe can’t program and release Rack Extensions unless Joe was with a registered company. You also have to sign an NDA, and Propellerhead has to approve your registration, and then you can have the SDK. It also seems as though it is not easy to program Rack Extensions either, as Chris Randall of AnalogInsudtries.com  describes
“If a plug-in dev doesn’t have someone on staff that has a fairly extensive knowledge of 3D modeling software and how assets from that software are utilized, that plug-in dev is gonna be pretty much out of luck when it comes to Rack Extensions.”
A solution, which I might point out is everywhere from Google , to Microsoft , to Apple , to even Valve , would be to make it easier for the consumer to program Rack Extensions. User friendly is the key here. Perhaps getting rid of that NDA, and allowing people to post videos of how to program for Rack Extensions wouldn’t hurt. It would be like opening the floodgates of the gigantic Reason fan base to rescue Rack Extensions from corporate jumble. Buying a plugin would not be about which company developed it, but browsing what good quality plugins average Joe has developed. Some major developers are currently using Rack Extensions to create overpriced, copy-n-paste, deformed versions of their VST counterparts, which in turn hurts the image of Rack Extensions. (I’m looking at you iZotope’s Ozone ) Thank FMS you can try before you buy.
If Propellerhead was really willing to emulate the app store, perhaps it’s time to consider hiring a team of people who approve plugins at the Rack Extensions store, instead of approving developer applications before the plugin is even made. Perhaps it’s time to hire a team of people who can program with ease in mind for the developer so even the average Joe can pick up the tools to learn and create plugins. Since our culture is changing to where we are considering teaching elementary kids how to program, perhaps it’s time to not hide behind an NDA and “trade secrets”, but to teach your own community, and become a beacon for other software developers to follow.
I know I’ve rambled on about Rack Extensions and the potential they hold. Propellerhead has always been a strict and tight group of people who go against the tide of VST’s. However, consider that Reason has never been the sole DAW for the majority of musician who use them because it lacks so many fundamental elements DAWs need. Currently, you can purchase a more powerful tool than Reason called Reaper , priced at $60, 10 times cheaper than Reason, with VST support, video Support, and more. But I don’t like using Reaper, I like using Reason, therefore I feel absolute justification in criticizing Propellerhead for lacking those fundamental elements. I can’t help but feel that Propellerhead is now selling a brand name, even their iOS app  was nothing special compared to other music apps. Currently, with the quality of Rack Extensions, the installation, the price, and the development, Rack Extensions feel like a Band-Aid not even properly placed on the problem area.
Again, I’m critical because I like using Reason. Almost every one of my songs currently is 99% Reason, the rest is another DAW, mostly for mastering. I will continue to use Reason, sadly without ever indulging in Rack Extensions, unless they make those changes challenging today’s VSTs, or throw in the gloves and create a Rack Extensions VST. I wonder, is a Rack Extensions VST the reason Rack Extensions SDK isn’t available to the average Joe? I think Propellerhead is essentially building software around protecting their philosophical image, more so than being innovative with Rack Extensions. There is potential there, I see it, it’s clear as day. But I recommend that no one else use Rack Extensions because it’s just so much easier to ReWire to another DAW with VST support. VSTs can be used on a handful of other DAWs, and there are free VSTs all over the internet, so it’s a win-win without ever using Rack Extensions. Maybe in the coming years, this may become a more prominent, I really do hope so. You have to wonder if Propellerhead ever realized its musician don’t use Reason exclusively because, unlike other DAWs, musicians still don’t trust Propellerhead with their audio pipeline. And that’s saying a lot.
What do you guys think about Rack Extensions? I liked Polysix but am hearing complaints that after purchasing, it’s difficult to activate if you tried the plugin already.