Indie VST Developer Expectations


#21

Hey guys,

Figured it’s about time to give this a proper update for anybody who’s interested in following along.

The short story is that it is hard to break into this industry, and there’s a lot of effort that I either didn’t really foresee, or had only a naive understanding of. Here’s a bit about my experience:

I released my plugin, Temper, in the beginning of July, 2017 through a web service called Sellfy. It’s a small distortion plugin that I made available for $10. In the first few weeks I was actively promoting it around KVR, Reddit and social media. I ran about $30 in paid ads on Reddit. In these first few (two, I think) weeks I made 14 sales, which netted me about $130 after Sellfy’s fees.

In the following weeks, I began to run out of new ideas for how to promote my announcement and my product, meanwhile my day job stress started picking up, and the engineer/hobbyist in me decided it would be both fun and a savvy business move to start working on my next plugin. So I slowly started taking off my marketing hat and putting on my hobbyist hat again, and in the five months after my announcement only 5 new sales have trickled in. Luckily, my second plugin is almost ready to launch, and looking back at how this went with my first plugin I have a lot of lessons learned that I’ll be applying to this round.

Here’s my major takeaways, and the advice that I wish I could go back in time to deliver to myself a year ago:

  • There is no “if you build it, they will come.” Even if your product is amazing, if you are new to the scene you have a ton of work to do to make yourself visible to potential customers.

  • It takes money to make money. By the end of those first few weeks promoting, I was a couple hundred bucks (domain name, hosting, ads, etc) into this project. I hadn’t really considered my budget up front, so at that point I was thinking “I can ease up on my spending, wait for some revenue to roll in, then use that money to cover my costs.” What I should have done was seriously budget a decent amount of money for marketing, advertising, and content, because if you’re not willing to spend a little bit of money there then the alternative is to very slowly build an audience organically via social media, blogs, etc. And if you’re trying to build plugins, and make some money from them, building an audience organically over several years isn’t ideal.

  • Get your price right. Releasing for $10 was a mistake; I went into that announcement thinking “Man there is no way I can compete with the likes of these other companies,” and figured drastically undercutting was a smart move. Initially I got some pretty excited reactions, but what ended up happening was that a $10 price point became ineffective for me to continue investing sales efforts. I get N customers to my site and M% of them buy the plugin, but from that I’m making tens of dollars… it doesn’t make sense financially to invest a lot of time in that funnel. On top of that, it’s hard to raise your price once customers have seen it. It’s a lot easier to run a sale every month because you came in too high initially. (This realization actually drove a decision to make my plugin available for free in an effort to build my audience)

  • Be careful of the “grass is greener” feeling. Once the rush of the release had slowed down, it became really easy to tell myself that the next best thing I can do is develop another plugin, or make my website better, or make my logo better. And I spent time on that stuff. But what I should have done was take all of that time and focus it back to building an audience and making sales. Which, again, was compounded by the previous bullet.

Moving forward, I have a bunch of new ideas and somewhat less naivety, so this story will continue over the next few months. If you guys are interested, I’ll be happy to give another update around summer time. When I wrote this question initially, I couldn’t really find any information or stories like this from indie plugin devs, so I hope this is helpful to some of you!


#22

Thanks for sharing! Interesting story.
I wonder whether people releasing audio apps for mobile have a similar experience, or if they’re seeing more traffic on mobile marketplaces.


#23

Thank you for this. Please keep us updated as you continue, there needs to be more of this info out there.

I don’t have first hand knowledge, but I’ve heard discovery on Apple’s App Stores is terrible, you need to do marketing to drive people to your app. And the prices are lower on iOS, so I don’t understand how it makes sense. If somebody has first hand experience I’d like to hear it.


#24

Yes, thank you for sharing great information. I am struck by how similar your experience is to mine. I agree 100% with your comment, there is no such thing as “if you build it, they will come”. It just doesn’t work that way. I get a steady flow of traffic to my website (www.directap.com), but it is a very small flow of traffic, in the tens of page hits per day. On exceptional days, like when I make an announcement on KVR, it can spike into the hundreds, but then it ramps back down over the following week.

We really do need a better way to get the word out!


#25

youtube. send your plugins to folks with high subscriber counts and have them demo it in a video.


#26

I love the idea, but how does one find the youtubers to send to?


#27

…the search bar?

Seriously, just go and find some folks who make music production tutorials and have relatively high subscriber/view counts. They’ll almost definitely have a way to contact them via email or social media listed. Ask them if they’ll check out your plugin (for free) and/or do a video. If they can make something cool with your plugin and share it via a tutorial, that will drive sales from exposure due to “check out this cool sound that can be made with this neat looking plugin”.

As far as I can tell, the two real avenues to getting your audio product in front of potential customers is either through YouTube folks with lots of viewers, or famous musicians with lots of fans. Either way, the sales are coming via testimonials from producers/musicians people want to sound like.

If you look at literally any successful audio company (even ones where it’s a side gig like Apple), their homepage is filled with testimonials from artists with the biggest names first. If I’m a new producer looking for crazy bass distortion, I’m going to go to end up buying Ohm Force’s Ohmicide because Skrillex and whoever else is known for making crazy distorted music says they like using it and it produces good results. Not to mention there’s countless tutorials for it on YouTube.

Obviously, you should only take this route if you believe your plugin is worth the time for someone to try and get into and make a video about - otherwise you might gain a poor reputation for wasting time with overly simple or poorly made plugins (not saying yours is either of these, just general advice). Similar to people who put out crappy amateur games made with pre-made assets in Unity then send keys to YouTube gamers who rip on it and make fun of it.

Someone who’s done this very well is @reFX, who has produced lots of his own tutorials, gotten major name testimonials (like Armin Van Buuren, one of the biggest if not the biggest DJ on earth), and picked up a fairly big community of happy users. I don’t know if he’d be interested in dropping in and sharing any tips…


#28

LOL…I think the “search bar” may have occurred to me…

My question was really asking, in your experience, what do you search for? And you did answer that. Thank you.

It still stands as an issue, however, how us small guys, with limited resources, and working in isolation, can get our products known. And I think this thread is answering some questions as we pool our knowledge. Please, everyone contribute wo we can all grow!

One question I have is directed to the Tracktion MarketPlace. Can we sell plugins there, as well as our own site? I am already using the JUCE marketplace code, so I am thinking it would only take a few mods to allow both. But is this permitted?


#29

It might also be worth contacting people you find online that are clearly vocal about their opinions on plugins (maybe via youtube, gearslutz, kvr, etc.) to help beta your plugin. This way they first help become a part of making your plugin as good as it can be, and secondly it’s a way to get it in their hands so they can promote it once it’s released. Probably best to think about non-disclosure agreements if you go that direction.


#30

I’m wondering if you have an update to this story? I’m interested in hearing more if you have something further to tell.


#31

I assume you haven’t seen this yet :wink:: https://nickwritesablog.com/adc-2018-breaking-talk/


#32

Yes! Thank you @fefanto :slight_smile: I meant to update this post with exactly that link, but had forgotten.


#33

I’m watching it now. Its a great video, but quite a shame (and kinda ironic) that there are audio problems with the recording. The volume is too quiet throughout and occasionally a word is lost due to a very brief audio dropout.


#34

Yes wonderful video, I would have said a lot of the same things.

You are just down the road from me in Boston. :slight_smile:


#35

Wow! What an awesome thread and video. Congratulations to Nick for getting both products to market. This entire thread mirrors my own experience. I’m a one person setup. My first synth was an Additive Resynthesiser on the Reason platform named Spectra. Contrary to the advice of one poster I chose the most complicated synth to do as a first product. My experiences are pretty much the same as everyone else in the thread. while I was developing Spectra I purchased a Roli Seaboard and was immediately attracted to making an advanced version of my synth Spectra with MPE support. I’m doing this synth in my own time with several interesting enhancements. Anyway I would also like to add that some of the things not mentioned are around the development of supporting videos, developing the manual and keeping the suite of unit tests in an executable state. For my release of Spectra, I produced 6-7 walk through videos of the functionality. This was an absolute must given the complexity and difference of the synth and in the end this really reduced the number of support requests I received. I felt like my release of Spectra was a technical success in that I’ve only had 2 defects reported subsequent to the release. I attribute this to the 225,000,000± (yes a quarter of a billion) unit tests I developed for the product. They were taking so long to execute (8 days end to end) that I had to break them up. These things aren’t sexy but they did facilitate a smooth launch. It was good to read others experience. It really resonated with me.


#36

I have a follow up question after watching the video. You recommended that people build communities, and you pointed to this forum as an example. I’m assuming you mean to build a community for the end users of our plugins and apps? Or are you talking about us building more communities for our plugin developer peers?


#37

Hi Nick - great vid and quite reassuring on my presumptions. I released my first major project in August and figures in the same ball park.

From my experience PPC is a waste of money even if incredibly targeted. My spikes have been through people just randomly reviewing my product and KVR Articles and alike have led to solid sales. There is no silver bullet other than developing relationships and being visible.

Thanks for the share…


#38

Awesome, guys, so good to hear all of this.

I meant more the latter; like being here on the JUCE forums and chatting about our shared experiences is building community. I think a lot of people show up to the JUCE forum never having touched audio code but wanting to make a product they have in their head. And a nontrivial percentage of those people dream about being able to do that for their career. Things like this thread (I hope) become a good resource for those people because of everybody who jumped in to share their 2 cents.

That said, I do think building community around your products is similarly a great idea. Probably the coolest thing about making audio software, as mentioned in the first question after the talk in the video, is that some people get really excited to use our software to make music. I think as the creator of the software, being engaged in that excitement and that experience for the end user is so rewarding, and probably from both sides.

Man, if I could echo this 1000 times. I completely agree. And simillarly I haven’t found paid ads to be worthwhile.

Cheers guys, really glad to see these posts!


#39

I totally get the community building aspect. I opened the thread about our first product yesterday and it just gives you confidence. Also I especially liked the part in your talk about giving back to community. It really helps, when you have a question about a problem and the developers that aren’t JUCE guys answer and help out. It creates a feeling that we are all in the same boat. There’s so many other communities where you feel a certain hostility just because you ask a dumb question (stackoverflow…). I like the positive energy of your talk and your ambitions @ncthom.


#40

From my experience, it’s that competition thing.

You have to wonder if a lot of devs just naturally ended up here because it is welcoming.