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Daniel Haver has been the driving force behind Native Instruments for over 20 years and continues to lead its success today as a passionate and visionary CEO.

Prior to NI, Daniel focused his entrepreneurial energy on the design world, forging a highly successful design agency in Hamburg where he discovered the power of software to transform industries.

He then embarked on a mission with NI to change the world of sound creation forever. This ambition was offset with a talent for empowering and inspiring talented teams to reach beyond their goals, which guided the company through pivotal growth stages.

Daniel is characterized by a relentless pursuit for innovation and a shared genuine desire to better the world through music together with Chief Innovation Officer and President Mate Galic.

 

Music Tech Pioneers: Daniel Haver

Interview by author Kim Bjørn on the Interviews Stage at #MTFStockholm
9th September 2018, 17:30

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I’d like to welcome Daniel Haver from Native Instruments - CEO. Welcome to the stage.

Thank you! Thanks very much. Great to be here.

Great to have you here. We had a really interesting conversation in the hallway but we decided to continue it here on stage. When I started out with music, I actually started with Native Instruments software. So, I want to thank you for that first of all.

You are very welcome. Thank you for being a fan.

I think many people are, because you’re reaching a lot of people these days.

[To audience] Any of you using Native Instruments here? Oh, we have power users! Are some of you hacking it? Oh great - so you need to talk with Daniel afterwards…

In fact, just a few days ago, you actually announced a whole lot of new upgrades, software-wise and also hardware. How many was it? Like 9 instruments?

Yeah, you know you can count it in diverse fashions but we simply say 9 plus 3 major updates of our online platforms so 12 things altogether. That are supposed to really increase the accessibility to music making and I believe we’ve put a lot in the market that can support exactly that.

How many people do you think you are reaching now? How many customers do you have?

We have – So customers? Or users?

Let’s say users.

I don’t want to get too funny here but I think customers are people that left some money with us. We are talking a few millions. Users - we’re probably talking 10 million and more.

That’s a lot of people.

That’s quite a bit of people. Yes.

But let’s start with you because, I mean you started in 1997 - and the first… what we know as Reaktor today was called Generator.

That’s right. I started in ’97, so a year after Native Instruments was established by Stephan together with his buddy Volker - and in ‘97 another 4 people joined the 2 founders and basically formed… if you want the founding team, the greater founding team, I was one of those. I was the guy that had the job to try to transfer something that was an amazing idea and first incarnation of a product that was very techy, if you like, into a vision and into a company that would allow to get this tech into more hands.

It’s in many hands now as we see. You started DJ’ing at some point. That’s your way into this?

No, I’m really rare in this industry and will be blunt about it. I’m not a musician - period.

I play the guitar right now a little more diligently than I used to because of my son and I like to play to him. And I DJ’d at private parties just for my friends and on my own birthdays but I never “DJ’d” in that sense - so I’m literally not a musician. I’m not an engineer either, to say that upfront. My capabilities lay in different areas.

But I mean also you have a lot of people to do that for you if you wanted to do - because you had DJ software coming out - that was some of the more popular stuff coming out very early after the initial software, right?

Yeah, I think we released the world’s first professional DJ software back in 2000? Traktor version 1 was in 2000 and it was really because my partner, Mate Galic, who joined Native Instruments back in ’99 - we together felt that all the great stuff we were doing for producers, we actually want to take it to the dance floor and not just the result of it but the actual performance because we were clubbing a lot. Back then, I kind of lived on the dance floors. Those days, it was just an obvious opportunity and we did it. It was actually 2001, to be precise.

Okay cool. I just wanted to show this controller - the Kore controller.

Why are you bringing that up? Oh, I love that.

I bring that up because I loved it. I’m upset that it’s not available anymore.  There were 2 versions of that one. That was kind of your first hardware device. There was a prototype of this before that and then maybe something else…

No, it wasn’t the first hardware device but it was actually our first instruments-focused controller because before that we had Guitar Rig controller. That was our first, if you want, “official” controllers, but if you go back through history there were devices that I just don’t count now because… actually maybe I’ll give you that anecdote: Native Instruments’ very first product was not a software-only product. It was a software and hardware product because Generator version 0.9 something shipped with a sound card because - a mono sound card - because there were no sound cards with low latency in the market, so Stephan decided back in the day to ship it with some hardware but besides that, Guitar Rig controller, that would be the first. And yes Kore was our biggest ambition that unfortunately we couldn’t in the end get right but I believe if you look at Komplete Kontrol today, the different keyboards and the control part of it, its not that far away from what Kore used to be. Just - it’s working.

Yeah, it’s kind of a tight integration between hardware and software that you’ve gone into and that’s really interesting. You’re kind of covering all the bases, right? You have the whole DJ set to cover, complete keyboards with the new great screens and you have the Maschine with the 4X4 patch so - I should end with this question but what are you working on now?

You know what? What we really want do is enable about anyone on Planet Earth to express themselves musically. So we have this really bold ambition to get music making into the hands of everyone, if you want, and there are two ways to do that. One is to provide product that maybe more accessible on its own. That’s just, you know, Teenage Engineering is great example of that. One of these little devices you can have a lot of fun with - but the other big opportunity is to actually integrate all the different things that exist in the system that is conveniently and easily accessible.

So - a lot of stuff that we are working on is about integration. We see some of that - so let’s go back in the past. We did Maschine, Maschine version 1 had not even the ability to host instruments. So we had Komplete on the other hand and you couldn’t even play them together connected in a way so we added the VST plugin interface and suddenly, you know, you have the instruments there. That’s just an example of how tight things should be and how easy. We believe that we can facilitate, actually, to the whole industry, standards and platforms that help everyone to have a different and more convenient experience.

Different and more convenient experience that’s the thing because you also have these different levels in each kind of instrument category like here’s the S2 Traktor. The new one coming out in a month or so.

Actually, this in 2 weeks.

In 2 weeks already - oh great. So, you have these different, the big one, S4 also. Is that to achieve this goal of having every base covered, every kind of user?

Yes, offering different price points is important and this is the first time in Native Instruments history that we actually have offers for Maschine, Traktor and Komplete controllers below $300 - so that was a big step for us to get there. Now, you can get a complete A series 25 keyboard for 150 euros.

So that’s really a different game we can play now to enable many more but that is basically the price point game, if you want. Get all the great features from the big products but make them available at lower price points. But the other thing is really how do you connect all these devices?

And another example that we established in Native Kontrol Standard, NKS, which is basically adapted by let’s say 90% of all instrument makers and I don’t know, 80% or 60% of all effects makers so that is one such contribution that brings things together in this case. In Komplete Kontrol, you have all the presets of everyone at your fingertips, you just select analogue, dirty… and BOOM, you got it. All of our competitors, which we don’t consider competitors anymore but partners, at your fingertips and that’s the kind convenience I am talking about. A convenient integration of all the amazing stuff that people are doing in our industry.

So, acknowledging that as an artist, you don’t only ‘obey’ one brand, so to speak, but you have different stuff you want to integrate. I think it’s a very nice way of saying it as partners or more friends than competitors at least.

This is dead honest. There are barely any competitors to us in our philosophy anymore and that was completely different ten years ago.

Ten years ago, I was still on a path, let’s say the old Apple, a closed ecosystem versus now a very open ecosystem because in the end, its exactly as you say. You know, we can create the most amazing instruments. You will always as a musician want to use this or that from a third party. We can never as Native Instruments cover anything that you need. It’s impossible. So, the only other option is to make it more convenient and better to use all of that and embrace everyone so to us, literally again, NKS is the example here - all of these companies that considered themselves probably competitors, they support that standard and we ran sales specials in our website with them and I can tell you most of them make in the few weeks the money they usually make, I don’t know let’s just say 6 months depending on the partner. So, we prove that we can really provide value to them and they use us.

Yeah, for the user also, I mean I am just going a little bit back here because you have, the way I see you also you provide value in upgrading your instruments all the time. There’s almost every year something new - an improvement like the bigger pads in the Maschine. The kind of jog wheel knob also. You are improving the experience, the ergonomy. But also, I mean if this is the Maschine and it looks like you want to play drums in this piece but you can actually play keyboard in a very convenient way. That is also why in a way you are integrating all these stuff it seems.

Yeah, let me get to the first part of your statement. We could obviously let’s say 20… 50 different hardware products of very different kind but instead we choose to focus on a few or maybe a dozen based around our three brands: Maschine, Komplete, Traktor - and just get this right - and take it forward and take price points down.

Actually, also we have some higher priced stuff in the making as well so it’s not only going down but also going up. But we just want to get that experience right and at all price point and for all used cases so that from the stage use case, to the bedroom use case, to the little party in your garden - its all covered but it’s all covered by the same paradigm. Its not like you have to learn an all new instrument and an all new piece again just by going one level up or down or outside or inside.

They have the same kind of interface approach then. The Maschine micro to the studio version.

Exactly - yes, we try to be as consistent as we possibly can. Obviously, we have to make compromises that come with the price but we try to be as consistent as possible to really provide to everyone more or less the same features.

I’ve been talking to a lot of people, engineers and musicians, most of them. Very passionate people. You’re in charge for this whole little boutique thing. What are the values that you want in people that you are putting together in teams? I mean a lot of people would love to work for a tech company like yours and do this stuff and help improve and make all this available to other people. What are the values you are looking for? Is it curiosity, creativity, technological skills?

I mean you mention one term already and that’s true for most of us: Passion. You should really be passionate on what you do. And then we have just some of the most amazing talents in different the domains…

The DSP. You know, it’s the heart of the company, it’s the algorithms if you want it or not and of course there’s tons of other engineers and designers that work around it but at the core, if the sound isn’t right, you can do the best possible hardware and it doesn’t help.

So we have these people. And my job was always basically to empower them and to bring them together. You know, how can, I guess people here, you know the community as a whole, there’s a lot of very nerdy people with a very specific view on things and then they want to do it in their own way so they have a hard time to collaborate with ten others in maybe a different way.

So if I simplify what we do at Native Instruments specifically what my job was from the beginning - and I can tell you, the 6 shareholders that we were - not one is like the other. Literally, the most heterogenous combo you can imagine. So my job was to really bring us together, to work to something together while getting the best out of each of those talents. That’s what we really try to do and strive to do everyday and its hard. Now, we have - I don’t know - 20… 20-something development teams, hardware and software and they are in London and Berlin and Los Angeles and everyone has in the end to work towards the same thing. So, that’s a challenge over and over again but as long as everyone understands what we are working for, it’s working.

Yeah, collaboration seems like a key point. 

[to audience] How many of you guys want to make your own company? Yeah, we have one… If you’re listening to what Daniel says - it’s important, I think.

Let’s take the Reaktor user library as one example of community and the way you kind of making a base for people to collaborate on and there’s wonderful and scary stuff. Its amazing.

Yeah I know.

Because you are a big company with so many people, how do you see your social and cultural responsibility in this whole game?

Are you talking our industry or in general in the society?

I mean as a company, how do you navigate in those terms? Because when you start facilitating a forum for example or a collaborative platform, there are certain responsibilities…

Of course, we have a responsibility towards our users that use our stuff and we cannot just pull stuff away, which we had to do a few times and got a little punch here and there for that, but in principle, what we really try is to keep the spirit of a product and just really evolve it to the better - and I think Reaktor is a great example of that. I believe since the company was founded when it was still called Generator… Reaktor is a good example on how could we maintain something but for example we are at the core level - I don’t know many years ago already but we didn’t take anything away. We just added something made everything more usable over time. I mean more intuitive.

That is the responsibility that you have as a maker, as a company. As a matter of fact, that’s a completely different level. I don’t know if your question wanted to go there. I don’t think so but I will still make that comment. I am actually dealing right now with that question of how we, as a company, have to also position ourselves in society.

With all the political stuff going on, I believe that companies will need to take a stand - but obviously shareholder value is important and how far can you go? So that’s another question that you have - but of course there’s social responsibility. We have, I don’t know, I think right now probably 25 different outreach projects in Madagascar, in youth centre right next to our company and in our neighbourhood with a youth prison. I don’t know how many people we enable with being able to get into the creative spirit of music making. We do a lot of that so this is another area that we tackle but the political one is right now, to me personally, the one that I like to tackle and find a solution because I’m really concerned where things go on planet earth right now.

I don’t think that companies can just pretend they are all about profits and growth but we have a social responsibility not only for our employees and for our users but actually for society in general. This is an interesting question that I try to resolve.

I’m also bringing it up because of some artists and some people working in really DIY or at the hacker level kind of see big companies like yours like the enemy or the Big Brother stuff. I find that the root of all this, to me sounds like it’s really a deep passion to enable people to make music. And also, I have this screen dump from your blog…

[to audience] I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the Native Instruments blog. That’s a really great source of inspiration and also techniques… and not just because I’ve written a few articles myself, but really I’ve really learned a lot by just watching and reading about artists.

So, you are working very closely with artists and it seems like an advantage to developing products but it seems like it’s so close to your heart. That’s just the way it is.

Absolutely. We could not build these products without being in touch with artists all the time - because I will admit there were some occasions in the history of the company where we thought we are smarter than our customers, that was the moment when we failed.

Just talking about Traktor, a few years back… Actually the press loved the S5 and the S8 but the people wanted their jog wheels back and I respect that and I understand that. We were thinking that we can show them something that was better but that was really being arrogant and not talking enough to the users and our costumers and just doing what we think has to happen - but this is an exception.  I think that for the very most part, we really talk a lot to the people that we served and try to understand what they need to progress to make better music - and yes, the blog is representing that interaction with our artist and I also love these personal stories that come out of it.

For example, the accessibility for the visually impaired. That’s a very good example of where we also invested in an area to really uplift Komplete Kontrol and the NKS to the visually impaired and blind people for them to allow them to get faster to greater sound results.

I really find this very appealing - like the whole approach you have to instruments, and to music as an artistic creative kind of thing that you do and live from. You also made this Sounds.com. Can you just briefly, while we are rounding off, explain what Sounds.com is?

It’s about sounds. Its simply speaking, it’s a place where you find all the loops and sample you could possibly want in one place at, I believe, a great price performance ratio - so three price points between 10 and 30 dollars per month. Right now, I believe 750,000 loops and samples that you can then choose a certain amount depending on the price tier that you have chosen, download to your computer.

For us, it’s I think what you see right now is just the very small increment. It’s a really cool service for just that but you’re going to see a dramatically different experience over the next 12 months. It’s going to evolve in content types and integration. Integration is the key. At this point, it is not yet integrated and I am embarrassed to say that but some things just take time and we want to do it right and its going to be right.

So, at a practical level, you will be able to browse Sounds.com from your Komplete keyboard or something.

Eventually, that’s exactly what going to happen and it’s not going to be limited to that.

That sounds very convenient and flexible.

That’s exactly what we try to resolve because I think the one thing is the products themselves - any software synthesiser - but the other thing is the convenience of how I actually deal with all of these different things and we are going to check the box on maximum convenience for sure.

Okay, the next 12 months.

Yes.

That also we have to look forward to.

This is actually, I don’t know if that sounds too bold but what we just announced it’s just the first step to a lot more stuff. You are going to see a lot of stuff happening in the next 12 months. The company is doing a big leap and I will not hide that also this is a transformation for the company and also challenging sometimes for all of us, for me, for my teams. But we’re getting there. This was the first proof point on the announcement on Thursday that it’s happening - but this is just the beginning.

It’s a good beginning.

I appreciate it.

Thank you Daniel.

[to audience] I’m wondering if does anyone have a any question for Daniel?

Audience member: What you said about earlier about competition versus collaboration. Is this a competition with Splice?  This seems like you’re in a similar space…

No - Splice, they are not a competition because they have a similar offer but the providers of contents for the platform, they are not competitors and if they give sounds to Splice or to us or or/and, that’s totally cool with us.

Yes, in terms of the Sounds platform itself, there is maybe 2 or 3 competitors in the market but not when it comes to the people that actually create content or samples or effects - they are not competitors to us in the way we think about. And maybe one more word about that - because we still strive to create the best software instrument and the best software effects as much as we can and also great sample libraries but we have no intention of being the dominant player in this aspect but we are very happy if others create even better synthesisers than we do. As long as we can collaborate.

Thank you Daniel. And Thank you for the question. We are going to talk about Splice a little later actually. I find this interesting because a lot of us are staying in a hotel called Generator and we have a Reactor just close by.

Well chosen.

Thank you, Daniel. Let’s give Daniel a big hand.

Thank you!

Thank you very much.

[Applause]