Waves goes subscription-only; upgrade plan renewals to end

Plug-in behemoth Waves has switched overnight to a subscription-only model. It’s also ending its existing upgrade plans once they expire.

This is big news from a company known for its aggressive sale-priced purchase campaigns. (They announced the change, slightly ominously, as a “full-scale plugin subscription.”) It’s also distinct from offerings like Roland Cloud and Reason Studios Reason+, each of which continues to offer buy-to-own licensing as an option alongside subscription bundles. And significantly, Waves’ offering is not rent-to-own – your software stops working when you don’t pay the membership fee. (There’s a seven-day grace period.)

This does follow a general trend in the industry toward more subscriptions from many of the larger brands. (See Avid, NI’s Komplete Now, Autotune Unlimited, Splice, etc. Not to mention Timbaland’s Beatclub, which also has software.)

Just don’t expect those shifts to come without an outcry from some customers – especially if companies go about the switch this aggressively.

Here are the basics of what the company is calling Waves Creative Access:

  • Subscriptions now cover all current and future plug-ins except live sound plug-ins.
  • Purchase options are gone for those plug-ins – subscriptions are the only way to get access.
  • Your existing purchased software continues to work, but
  • Waves Update Plans terminate after their current term. That means you still get upgrades for free until the expiration, but after that your only option is to upgrade to one of their subscriptions.
  • Two tiers: US$14.99 monthly for “Essential”; $24.99 “Ultimate” for everything. If you pay annually, you get two months free.

See the FAQ for more.

This also includes two months free of Splice Sounds+ – ironic, in that Splice is shutting down their Splice Studio collaboration feature this month. It’s not directly related, but it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in software-as-service for musicians.

Waves’ decision is likely to make ripples through the industry, by making subscriptions even more divisive. Subscriptions have seen a backlash from existing customers who invested in purchases and see the software, like their hardware, as having some element of ownership. Even as competitors have embraced choice, ongoing support for purchasers, and rent-to-own, all of which can soften the blow of subscriptions, Waves is doing none of these.

That’s not to say this model won’t work for some users. Like other subscriptions, this means all updates are always included in the monthly/annual fee – so you don’t have the issue of keeping your plug-in library up to date. Waves doesn’t offer any ability to “pause” subscriptions, but you can cancel any time and re-start the subscription.

Of course, that comes as little comfort to users who want to just own their software. One fairly typical Twitter comment:

Just in case your brain wasn’t full already, Waves decided to time the subscription offering with something they call StudioVerse, which they say uses AI to find existing plug-in chains. (Let’s just, uh, deal with that later.)

I have two outstanding questions.

One is, given how much the music community is into customization, choice, and relationships with makers, what are we going to do when there are a bunch of different plug-in makers vying for subscriptions? Subscriptions work well when you have one of them, less as they start to stack up. (Call me, plug-in developers, when you have your own baby Yoda. Actually, wait, bad example – they’re canceling, too. And frankly, plug-ins really aren’t nearly as cute.)

Two, and this is the one that genuinely interests me most, let us investigate –

The Legend of the Mythical Subscription Lovers!

Okay, yes, I don’t believe everything I read online or in forums. Often the loudest consumers are not representative of the majority. But as some other folks have commented, if there is such a public demand for subscriptions – from customers, and not, you know, from investors and accounting departments – where are they?

It’s like some herd of silent unicorns, apparently. From my Twitter comments:

[WUP is the upgrade plan.]

I mean, it’s a good question.

I’m happy to keep an open mind. I expect that for a new plug-in user, a one-click subscription is easier to manage than figuring out a bunch of plug-ins to buy. And the producer market is presumably growing. Maybe if you poll them, you do get a different answer.

I’m also happy to do the math and see if this winds up being cheaper for some users.

But I will say, for the price of a month or two of their “Ultimate” subscription, you can buy a lot of really good plug-ins from independent makers. The competition is especially fierce in the category of something like a compressor.

To state the obvious, plug-ins aren’t like, uh, Disney or Adobe. Your DAW already has a perfectly usable plug-in collection. The nature of plug-ins is that you might mix and match – meaning purchase plans make more sense. And musicians tend to use diverse combinations of hardware and software.

Waves I’m sure imagines they have a winning formula here – give folks more tools to find the sounds they need (with that AI-powered plug-in chain business). But I don’t know if that really deepens the level of happiness their user base gets. That depth comes from the joy of using music tools and getting some satisfaction out of the process, not a complicated additional solution to help you use the tools you already have.

And isn’t the “get AI to find a plug-in chain designed by some other producer” a sign that something is very wrong with this product? The base subscription of 110 plug-ins is already overwhelming, and Waves even exhorts you to install all of them in demo mode “just in case.”

I don’t doubt Waves will make this work, just because of the sheer power of their brand and depth of their plug-in library. But as the industry examines how to do subscriptions, it seems worth observing the differences in approach and why some are causing more outcry than others.

This is ultimately about you users and your needs. Let us know what you think. Now if you’ll excuse me, maybe I can see if Adobe will lower my monthly costs (cough). I guess someday soon we’ll have our own AI bots that talk to their AI bots and try to negotiate fees.

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