Waves Plugins Offered Only On Subscription Causes Backlash With Musicians

NOTE: Due to the storm of protests, Waves has now dialed back the subscription-only model and will continue offering package licenses as before (alongside a subscription for those who prefer that option). The following article was written prior to that decision.

Waves suite of plugin effects has long been the defacto choice for professional engineers and a large number of home recording artists.

As of today, Waves has gone to a subscription model, no longer offering its plugins individually or in packages. There are two subscriptions offered: Essential and Ultimate. You may choose to pay monthly or annually (saving two months off the monthly price) and cancel any time. The Ultimate subscription gives you access to twice as many plugins as the the Essential.

Being the day after the announcement as I post this, there is a lot of negative feedback coming from the musician community. It’s exactly the same uproar that Adobe’s decision to pursue a subscription model elicited with designers and the graphics industry. There are differences between Waves and Adobe offerings that compound the negative response Waves is receiving.

Waves has over 200 plugins available in their effects suite. Many recording artists enter into the Waves platform by purchasing one effects plugin for $29. Many need only one or a few and those few become a chain of effects that we use time after time in our recordings. Once purchased we assume the plugins are pretty much as we purchased them. Are there continuous, incremental updates to their reverb, EQ, maximizer, compressor, limiter, etc., plugins? Are significant new features added at a steady pace?

I’ve been using Waves only since version 11 and came to the platform through a purchase on a third party plugin platform at a seriously discounted price. I think I was initially attracted to a single $29 plugin, but as I explored the offerings more fully, landed on the Diamond package. My guess is that most recording artists haven’t made it a practice to update their Waves software annually or even regularly. As a printshop manager I upgraded Adobe either annually of I would sometimes skip a year. There were usually enough improvements that there was incentive to purchase new versions.

For many Waves licensees there was not the same incentive. We were largely prompted to update Waves after moving to a new operating system that no longer supported our old version. Waves operated on a kind of built-in obsolescence model and such was my personal case just last month after moving to a new Apple Silicon computer which no longer supported my license of Waves Diamond 11.

I was, in fact considering purchasing an update to version 14. I think the cost was $299. I hesitated because I also own suites containing plugins from Arturia and Native-Instruments. NI added Ozone to its Komplete bundle and I’ve been working with that for the past month or so. That along with other select effects seemed to be filling my needs. At the moment.

This is the current trend. The playing field offers musicians many choices and Waves is not the defacto choice it once was. It offers great and many exceptional plugins to be very sure. For some, they constitute a chain of default settings for nearly every track produced.

For many of us, it’s probably a question of whether Waves fills in the cracks left open by suites we already own (and feel we must own). In Arturia and NI’s case, it’s not the effects that are the major draw for artists in most cases, it’s the instruments that are the main thrust of their packages. For Waves, they only offer effects.

In my case, I “own” version 11 of the Diamond Waves collection. The ownership is parenthetical because it’s not compatible with M1 macs. Prior to the subscription I would be “upgrading” for at least as much as the cost of an annual Ultimate subscription. So even pre-subscription era, you might say we never really owned the software; there was always a perpetual need to upgrade.

I was currently on the fence about purchasing the latest Diamond collection. NI’s mastering options were filling the void left by Waves’ absence in my quiver after getting the M1 Mac. But the subscription has me thinking I might go for it. It makes sense for me AT THE MOMENT. But two or three years down the line is when the diminishing returns kick in. And every subsequent year gets worse.

It was the same with Adobe. At the time, they offered the subscription for $29 monthly and for our printshop we saved money with the subscription model. Now the subscription is more than double that initial offering so that’s always the trepidation going into this with Waves. We’ve been down this path before.

There is another model we’re happily enjoying with many of the machines we own that makes this subscription model from Waves a little suspect. We have Akai dropping huge software updates that make owning a Force or MPC a better and better experience, all for no additional cost. It’s the same with Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 and Roland’s SP404. The OP-1 recently got a robust vocoder in a recent update and Roland dropped way too many additions to list here.

The idea is we buy these machines and join a community of both artists who use the machines and the company who supports them. I don’t even want to say it, but what’s to stop Akai, TE, Roland, NI, etc., from making a subscription too? (I know Roland has their Cloud).

Visit the Waves link below to check it out for yourself. Waves has also jumped on the AI train, but I think they mean something different than what I would consider AI when they throw “AI search” into their marketing copy.


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I am Briyan Frederick (aka Bryan Baker), probably best known as the publisher of GAJOOB and a founder of Tapegerm Collective I’m collecting all of that and more on dabodab, where I write about and document my life as a graphic arts professional, songwriter, experimental recording artist, zine and web publisher, local and personal historian and silver creative. read more.

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