Indie VST Developer Expectations


#1

Hey all,

I’m not sure if this is the right kind of place to ask, but other than these forums and the KVR developer forums I’m not sure where to find a better audience. So, excuse me if this is actually the wrong place.

After about a year or two of kicking around the idea to try my hand at VST development, I finally dove in a couple months ago with the plan to build and sell a simple effect plugin. So far, learning DSP, learning the necessary maths, and learning JUCE has all been a blast and this little side project is a lot of fun.

My questions come in on the topic of selling a VST as an indie developer. I’d imagine many of you are in a similar boat here and maybe have some insight to share: selling digital audio software seems like a non-friendly market for small-fish competitors, and a market where maybe there’s not a ton of capital floating around anyway. Is it worth trying to sell a product like this? Will the work of selling it just earn me pennies? I’d be happy to release it as free software, but happier if I could find a way to sustain continued work like this. The comparison I draw is to indie game developers, many of whom aren’t making anything despite working really hard to sell their games.

For example, I see Sean Costello’s ValhallaDSP (https://valhalladsp.com/) as a great example of a successful indie VST operation. As far as I know, it’s just one guy making and selling VSTs. I have no doubt that he’s building plugins far far better than what I’m working on, but just to put my expectations in perspective I wonder what kind of income a project like that realistically makes in this market. I’m sure there are plenty of other similar examples, and I’d love to hear about them here if you have any.

Hopefully that’s not too much of a question, I’d love to hear any sort of insight you all have here. Thank you!


#2

I’ll give this a quick bump I suppose, although I suspect it won’t get any answers still :slight_smile:

I think my best bet at this point is to just finish up what I’m working on and try to sell it! For those of you who are following along, or who have similar questions, I’ll do my best to put together a progress report if and when I start earning anything here, and I’ll write back on this thread to update y’all.

Thanks!


#3

I have painstakingly tracked the hours spent on developing my LUFS Meter plugin (www.lufsmeter.com) since the very start of it. I have started it while having an 80% day job as a C++ developer. Since two years this is my main occupation. I’m still doing live audio engineering on weekends to have another source of revenue (and because I love it).

If you’re experienced you can have a working prototype in a few hundred hours - maybe even below a hundred hours -, depending on the complexity and novelty of your plugin. But making it a joy to use, stable in every major plugin host, support host specific features like AudioSuite in Pro Tools, write a comprehensive manual, create installers, setting up a web and mail server (getting the big mail-providers accepting your emails is a major p.i.t.a. nowadays), a website with a backend to automatically handle purchases with some encrypted backup functionality, dealing with legal issues like the EU VAT 2015 law etc., …take a lot of time. For me it was around 3000 hours.

How is it going? Well, so far I can maintain a modest life.

Tips:
I recommend to talk to your potential customers as early as possible. Do they want your upcoming plugin? Do they need it? Would they pay for it? Provide alpha and beta versions to a closed group of testers, again, as soon as possible. Create something that is unique and that provides a lot of value to your customers. Having another source of revenue might be a good idea at the beginning. Keep your life expenses as low as possible. It would of course be great to release your stuff for free & as open source, but in my experience this doesn’t work with audio plugins.

I don’t want to demoralize you at all. By all means, give it a try! It’s tons of fun, a lot of interesting people will get in contact with you and you’ll learn a lot.

Cheers,

Samuel


#4

You have to find out if there is a marked for your plugin idea, as samuel mentioned. You maybe develop a very limited free version of the plugin to get some feedback. It’s a huge step from a free plugin to a commercial one, but it’s possible.
You can choose a re-seller to avoid any problems with the payments and Tax. All you have to implement is a IPN callback from the re-seller that sends the serials to your costumers. You will need your own domain and web page.
It’s possible to choose something like a google pro email address with your own domain name for serial delivery instead of running your own mail server for the mails. Think it costs 4$/ month.

Don’t try to do a very complex plugin. Keep it simple and stable.

Edit: Don’t try to host your own mail-server. It’s almost impossible to send mails to specific mail hosters as a small company. Also do not try to do the TAX stuff by yourself. Paying around 4% to a re-seller is worth it.


#5

Hey all,

I realize I’m somewhat reviving a long dead thread, but I wanted to give a quick update here for anyone interested in following along. As of yesterday, my plugin is finally finished and available for purchase: https://www.creativeintent.co/. I will update this thread again in a few months with some info on site analytics, purchases, etc.

Thanks for your input above, I tried to stick to your advice and definitely some of it has been very hard (like even finding a small set of dedicated customers to try early beta/alpha versions). Already it’s been a good learning experience!

I welcome any feedback you have, but I don’t want to derail the thread, so please DM if you want to share product feedback!

Thanks


#6

Hey ncthom, congratulations on your achievement of getting your plugin out there! I went to the website and it looks very nice and professional. It looks like your plugin GUI has taken a lot of inspiration from the look of Output products. However on my browser (Safari / macOS 10.12.5 / MacBook Pro 2017) the navigation bar at the top shows fine but it looks like a completely blank page after that. After trying to reload a few times I realized that the content was way below the viewable area on my screen. Edit: It looks like the page was just taking a while to load completely and the large blank space filled in to be a video.

2 minor tips:

  1. Why have the price say $10 right next to where it says “Buy now $9.99”. Just make it $10 and be done with it.
  2. Don’t make the Youtube window so large, let the user enlarge it if they want it so big.

Other than that, it looks awesome! First impression - visually it looks very pro!


#7

@verticalaudio good points :smiley: I just updated the price and I will work on that page load experience. Thank you for pointing it out!!


#8

Welcome to the club, brother!

To answer your earlier questions, with some context, we started Audio Damage in 2002, but I didn’t make my entire living from it until about 2008. During that 6 years, I worked at least one other job simultaneously, and also was doing the usual musician side-hustles. In mid-2008 we lucked in to a product that sold very well, and once we were able to devote our entire day to the company, things really picked up.

Fast forward to 2017, and we have an extensive hardware line, and over 60 products (if you include deprecated SKUs.) It’s still just the two of us, though. We hire contractors for some things, but on the whole, we do everything. Adam mostly does the books, and I mostly do the logistics for the hardware, and we both code.

As far as actual money goes, the plugins are still our bread and butter, and comprise well over half our income. The hardware is actually kind of a money sink if we consider the time we spend on it that we could be doing other things. Speaking strictly for myself, I make a fairly good living; I’ve turned down head-of-product-design and product owner jobs at several audio tech companies because they simply didn’t pay what I make sitting on my couch in my swim trunks. I am not “rich,” taken as however that means, but out of the last 10 years, I’ve made over six figures (in US dollars) in 8 of them. It goes up and down, but on the whole it’s a fairly fulfilling experience. My wife doesn’t have to work, I can pay my mortgage and my car payment, and I have a swimming pool. So no complaints.

Things I wish I had known 16 years ago when we released our first product:

  1. Copy protection is a stupid waste of time and resources. People that pay will pay regardless, and the DRM just punishes them, and people that steal will find a way, and the DRM barely slows them down. Our products have no DRM whatsoever, and obviously we do fine. Your mileage may vary. But it won’t. Nobody ever believes me on this.

  2. NAMM doesn’t matter, unless you sell physical product to brick-and-mortar stores, and even then it doesn’t really matter unless you sell guitar strings. Superbooth and Machines In Music and other boutique shows are much more useful. The same press shows up, but the signal-to-noise ratio is much higher.

  3. If you find an alpha or beta tester that is worth a shit, treasure them and love them and give them a pet name and buy them Christmas presents. Everyone says they want to beta test. Nobody actually gives you anything more useful than “WORKS FOR ME!!!”

  4. If you have to fork your code to release on a different platform, don’t release on that platform. The maintenance will kill you down the road, and the platforms that don’t have a huge userbase (Rack Extensions, etc.) are literally more trouble than they’re worth.

  5. Don’t be afraid to deprecate. If something takes more resources to keep alive than it produces, axe it. Make something new instead.

Anyhow, that’s my two cents. Hope it’s helpful!


#9

To folks reading this thread, @ncthom also released the source under GPLv3. An …interesting… decision from a business standpoint, but hopefully people can learn from his hard work!

https://github.com/creativeintent/temper


#10

@crandall1 that was really really helpful, thank you for taking the time to write that. I have some questions and follow up, I’ll PM you!

@jonathonracz yep, this plugin is open source! It’s a bit of an experiment from a business standpoint, but I feel I have a couple really good reasons to try it:

  1. A lot of the successful indie businesses that I’ve seen have a free offering; I like that idea but I can’t really offer a free plugin and make back any kind of revenue to offset costs (or fund a JUCE license for my next plugin) when I have only one plugin to sell. So open source is a way of offering something for free but still making some money (hopefully) from whatever sliver of my audience doesn’t care to deal with the source code.

  2. I get to both leverage it as a marketing angle, and a way to give back to the community/say thanks to everyone who has helped me out on this journey (a huge shout out to the JUCE forum community there).

  3. As this is my first plugin, with the source in the open I have an easy path to feedback on the DSP algorithm, the UI structure, etc, which I’ve already been able to leverage, and it’s been great.

There’s also the point that I don’t have to pay for a JUCE license this way, and that I can use the Faust language for the internal DSP specifics which greatly sped up development. (Faust is GPL).

So I got a lot out of this decision which helped me get a product to market. Maybe my second plugin won’t be OSS, but it will depend on how the business side of this experiment fares. We’ll see.

Glad you noticed though. I’d be curious to hear if you have other thoughts on it!


#11

With the open source thing, I don’t have any opinions to offer with respect to whether it matters to the customer. You have some cost savings in not licensing JUCE, which of course you can then pass on to them. But on the whole, the vast majority of users don’t care/know. They just want to make dope bangerz. You’re essentially providing a “build your first plugin” kit to devs just starting out, in my opinion. I don’t think it will affect actual sales figures.

If you develop unique IP that has value, it will be a much different story. The commercial plugin market is very competitive, and many folks will have no qualms about taking it and reorganizing it in to a new product. FOSS is mostly a tool of academia, at least with respect to the music business, because you don’t really have the means to actually enforce the license.

That said, there are some big success stories for commercial FOSS music software. The best example I can think of would be Mutable Instruments, who open source both their firmware and hardware designs. This has resulted in them having a huge market share in the Eurorack community. The negative is that Olivier has to support a whole lot of DIY messes. This is hardware, of course, so it’s a bit of a different story, but reading a couple interviews with him may enlighten you as to his experiences.

As far as free plugins go, it really depends. We spend a lot of time supporting Rough Rider, our free compressor, which is a darling of the hip-hop community and has over a half a million downloads just off our site, never mind all the magazine disks it’s on, and all the Free Software sites that side-load it. That translates directly to brand recognition, and a general feeling of goodwill, but I couldn’t pin a hard figure on its value. We do get a lot of traffic to our site as a result, and that will inevitably translate to sales. So other than the support load, there’s no real downside.

My suggestion would be to wait until you have a couple commercial plugins that are broader in scope than what you’re currently offering, then make a nice, simple freebie.


#12

I believe you can build C++ code with Faust that you can use in a closed source application. The Faust compiler is GPL but the C++ output doesn’t have that restriction.

Just wanted to point out that JUCE is free and open source software so it’s really a tool of industry as well.


#13

Just wanted to point out that JUCE is very much not free, and those of us that use it commercially almost uniformly pay a fairly hefty license fee.

(EDIT: It is actually pretty cheap in the context of the other tools we pay for, considering what we get from it. I am in no way complaining about the license. Just pointing out that JUCE is only free inasmuch as the products you make with it are also free.)


#14

Closed source, commercial products are allowed under the new license terms. You just have to be alright with data collection.


#15

When you use the term “FOSS” and “free and open source software” it doesn’t refer to price, it refers to freedom. GPL licensed software (e.g. JUCE) is the epitome of free software.
What you pay for is an exception to the GPL so you can use it in a non-free program.


#16

Hi @ncthom,

I just wanted to know, if you’re ok, how much did you get with your plugin at this moment ?

Thank,

Kyrillos


#17

That’s not true. With a “pro” license you pay a small amount monthly ($65) and there is no data collection etc.


#18

Anybody have any marketing tips? I put my plugins up on KVR, and they got picked up by vst4free, bedroom producers, computermusic.jp, and a few more. I’m doing ok for downloads. Any other obvious places to advertise?


#19

@Kyrillos yes, sorry for the slow response! So far I haven’t accumulated enough data to be able to share a valuable report… I’ve made about 20 sales with little to no marketing. I am currently working on a much more focused marketing effort, and after that I intend to come back and give a follow up report on this thread.


#20

Send your plugins to youtubers with lots of subscribers.