Despite initial marketing difficulties, FL Studio (formerly known as FruityLoops) by Image-Line has become the world’s most popular digital audio workstation. Additionally, Image-Line has developed a DJ mixing software called Deckadance, which has been quite successful. With zplane and Image-Line collaborating on a few projects, we talked to Jean-Marie Cannie, the company’s founder, to find out more about the progress they’ve made over the last few years.
– Hi Jean-Marie. It is a great pleasure to interview you. Before getting into what Image-Line and zplane have accomplished together, let’s start with some background about you. What drew you to the music industry? And how long have you been in the business? How did Image-Line come to be? Could you share with us the story behind its creation?
Being bored doing financial (stock trading) software, Frank Van Biesen and I started a little gaming business doing (adult) video games. As this got some traction we hired Didier/Gol (more about that later).
While developing EatThis, a 2D platformer, Gol also created Fruityloops, which was a midi-only step sequencer at that time. You can still download it here.
– From developing video games to building the most sought-after DAW – that’s impressive. As you mentioned, I also came across Didier Dambrin (Gol) while researching Image-Line. When and how did your relationship with Gol begin? Is he still an active part of Image-Line?
In 1995, IBM held the “Da Vinci” contest where 1st prize included color laptops (which cost about $8000 back then). As we didn’t have a lot of cash to spare we reworked an existing game, mailed it in, and won 1st prize in the multimedia category. The most important part wasn’t the win, but the fact we met a 19-year-old developer called Didier Dambrin (known as Gol by our customers).
Didier not only won 1st prize in the ‘Game’ category but the overall ‘Grand prize’ too. A trip to the US. We immediately saw his talent and convinced him to come and work for us. Gol’s first game for us was Private Investigator. It was a little gruesome then but mild by today’s standards, causing the rapper Ice-T to shout: “This game beats drugs!”… after playing it for like half an hour on our booth at a show in Las Vegas.
We decided to use Gol’s talent for something better and asked him to develop a platform game, Eat This. Sadly, this was the same time that games were all going 3D and so it went unnoticed. You can check out a ‘Speed Run’ here on YouTube.
It really shows off Gol’s coding and visual skills.
Meanwhile, Gol was being drawn into the music scene by applications such as Hammerhead and Rebirth 338. He had the idea of merging both into a step sequencer, so he started developing FruityLoops. When he dropped it on our machines it was a simple, MIDI-only step sequencer that we were having trouble placing in our existing product range, leaving us scratching our heads on how to market it.
This turned out not to be a problem as people went WILD about it and sucked our servers dry (downloading the demo) a few days after the launch. It was also around this time we came up with the idea of Lifetime Free Updates for the program, that existing customers should get the latest version of the software for free.
The first couple of years were pretty tough as there were hardly any sales and we had to beg people to host the Fruityloops demo on their servers (thanks Maz!). To generate some additional income, Gol developed an EJay-type program called FruityTracks that was “OEMed” for Mattel into Pro-DJ (for France & UK) and Radio 538 Music Machine (for Holland & Belgium). During this time FruityLoops slowly grew from a simple midi drum machine into the fully featured virtual studio that a wide range of musicians use today.
– Viral success from humble beginnings. In 2003, “FruityLoops” was renamed “FL Studio”. What led to this rebranding?
After producing FruityLoops for about four years we changed the name to FL Studio, here’s why:
- Kellogg’s decided to challenge us when we applied for the FruityLoops trademark in the US. We had a very strong case AND we received the trademark in Europe as the two markets are obviously separated. But later they claimed to have released software CDs and games in their cereal boxes, and so were already in the ‘Software’ industry. As we didn’t want to fight them in court for 5 years.
- ‘Fruity’ seems to have all sorts of meanings associated with it that we thought best to avoid for the sake of marketing appeal.
- The ‘Loops’ part of the name implied that music was made from pre-canned loops and no ‘musician’ wants to be associated with that. We even had one customer almost lose a contract, because their label heard about them using FruityLoops and thought they were using ‘pre-canned loops’.
- Program development was in the opposite direction to loop-based Acid/Ejay, so people buying ‘FruityLoops’ thinking it was a similar app didn’t have a clue what to do when they were confronted with a Step Sequencer and Piano Roll.
- No one ever took the ‘FruityLoops’ name seriously. Whenever we went to a meeting to discuss bundling with hardware manufacturers, we ended up explaining for half an hour that FruityLoops WAS a real music production package, while their marketing managers opposite, were looking at us with grins on their faces.
Since we changed the name we started to be taken more seriously and customers are happy to tell people what application they are using to make music. The FL Studio trial is now downloaded over 30,000 times PER DAY (10 million times/year) and is used by some of the biggest names in the industry. We have definitely come a long way thanks to our customer’s support.
– Those are well-deserved numbers and a big congratulations to FL Studio for turning 25. Are you satisfied with this performance?
We certainly never expected to be selling 100.000s of licenses/year for over 2 decades but it’s just as rewarding to see that we were part of democratizing music production and allowing millions of young producers to get their musical ideas to their speakers in the shortest possible time.
– Following great success on Windows and MacOS. Image-Line took up a new challenge and released FL Studio Mobile in 2001. How successful was the launch, based on Android users’ desire to get everything for free?
Android sales have always been on par with iOS sales but I guess we have less competition on Android than we have on iOS. This said we probably have more FL Studio Mobile users than we have on Windows & MacOS.
– Taking into consideration all these different departments that exist within Image-Lines (FL Studio for Windows & MacOS, FL Studio Mobile, Deckadance). How many members are on the team?
The actual FL Studio development team is small (9 developers) but extremely efficient and requires virtually no management. We have an online database (that recently crossed 10k feature requests) from which they democratically decide what features they’ll tackle. I’m hardly involved here.
– For part two of this interview, I would like to talk about the Image-Line x zplane collaboration. Having been a licensee for over a decade. How did this relationship with zplane come about?
We added Elastique as part of our audio support to FL Studio 5.0 in 2004 so it’s almost 2 decades. We were looking for a time-stretching algorithm and Elastique was (and still is) by far the best option out there. We met up with Tim & Alex at Frankfurt Musikmesse and got this relationship started.
– It is an achievement to have a partnership that has lasted two decades and counting. Thank you! What was the process for integrating zplane’s technologies with FL Studio? Were these critical implementations?
Integration of technologies was usually fairly easy. The only real problem was the speed of real-time stretching at one point, which was resolved by using a different memory manager. Figuring out what exact libraries to use and combining libraries from the different SDKs could be improved, however.
Some of the integrations were critical, such as real-time stretching. Other times they were useful additional features.
– As far as integrations go, what are your thoughts on zplane’s NewTone plugin?
The development of NewTone went very well. The zplane team was always responsive to change requests and bug reports.
– It was a pleasure to speak with you, Jean-Marie. We look forward to the next collaboration with Image-Line. Let me finish by asking you, what is the plan for 2023? Do you have any new releases, plugins, or major updates planned?
We have a lot of plans but since most of what we do is heavily dependent on R&D and hasn’t been done before we never disclose anything before we have it in alpha.