Category Archives: Music Gear

Native Instruments Acknowledges Bug, End of Relationship With Guitar Center

As I previously posted, I was having an issue with Native Instruments’ Kore 2 not being able to operate the way I needed it to, and the way I specifically asked about before purchasing the product. Native Instruments has acknowledged the bug, but this post isn’t about that, even though the ordeal is almost over (by Monday I should be able to move on, keeping in mind that Monday marks the end of the *second month* of trying to get this resolved!). This post is about the amazingly bad way I was treated by my Guitar Center sales rep during our last conversation.

It used to be that companies needed every customer they could get, and would do whatever they could to keep their customers satisfied and coming back. Now, maybe there are companies out there that are so big, and do so much business that individual customers don’t actually matter, and maybe in a slight twist of irony, the negative word-of-mouth that can be spread so easily via the Internet (say, via blogs) is obviated, or at least offset, by the increased business a company can do on the ‘Net, creating this situation in the first place. In any case, I’m sure these guys still work on commission, and whatever they’d like to think looking at their weekly or monthly pay checks, their customers *are* important.

So if you’re one of these, here’s a little tip: don’t tell your customer that he’s not important (actual quote: “sorry I forgot about this, but I see 200 customers a day”), don’t blame your customers or call them difficult (“I tried to work with you, and you changed your mind”), and don’t put your vendor sales reps in a bad light (“I just talked with him, and he said you weren’t interested in working with them, you just wanted to return the product” – this one especially got me, as I spent a *month* waiting for their tech support to eventually acknowledge a bug I knew was there from the first day I used the software). Oh, and I’m not just dumping on the sales reps – the store’s general manager and the district manger (whom I spoke to directly at one point) were both involved in this debacle as well. So after Monday (or whenever this is resolved), I plan never to set foot, or spend another dime, in a Guitar Center store (or website) again. I can’t (and won’t) tell you to do the same, but the next time you do, remember that you’re likely just a number to them, and hope that you don’t need to take anything back. And if you do, I hope you’re treated better than I was.

Edit: The first part of this is here.

Information For Potential Kore 2 Buyers

Keywords: Native Instruments Kore 2 2.0.1 MIDI bug

As part of the story relating to my experience with Kore 2, I wanted to have a separate entry warning potential purchasers of Native Instruments’ Kore 2 Product. Although it would seem that there aren’t very many people buying Kore for the reason I had, this might be useful to someone in making a decision. I purchased Kore 2 with the intent to use it as a host, and specifically to be able to send MIDI program changes to external gear when switching to a new “song” (my terminology, not Native Instruments’). Although Native Instruments claimed version 2.0.1 could do this, my experience was different, and after a month, Native Instruments technical support acknowledged that there was indeed a bug in this functionality. The original Kore product (and indeed, Kore 2.0.0 as well) was completely inward-focused as a host: it could not communicate with external gear. The apparently-too-quickly-added functions to allow this in 2.0.1 were not well-tested and I’m recommending anyone with external gear to control look elsewhere for a host solution until Native Instruments fixes the bugs.

Horrible Customer Service (or, The Customer’s Not Always Right)

Although I was hesitant to post this until the matter was resolved, this has been going on long enough. Last December 4th, I purchased a software/hardware music package from my local Guitar Center. As a band, my friend and I spend and have spent a non-trivial sum of money there in the last year or so, and had developed a working relationship with one of the sales guys.  The package in question was Native Instruments’ Kore 2.

I have pretty specific needs when it comes to software of this nature, and I know what it needs to be able to do.  The Kore software version 2.0.0 did not have the functionality I required, and was interested to learn that the upgrade (2.0.1) seemed to have added it (that alone should have warned me).  I called our sales guy at Guitar Center, and asked him specifically if the new functionality would meet my requirement.  He didn’t know, but he promised to ask his Native Instruments rep (NI).  A little while later, he called me back with the news: it would do what I wanted.  I made the purchase, and a few days later (they had to ship me a copy from another store location), I had the product.

I went through the install and upgrade.  In order to get the upgrade from NI’s website, you need to register the product, which I did.  After getting everything running, I started experimenting with the new software, trying to figure out how I could configure the new environment to work.  After several failed attempts, and reading the mostly-unhelpful manual addendum, I turned to the user forums, figuring I was just missing something.  I had noticed, as part of my research into the product, that several NI reps were active on the forums, and I figured a detailed post would allow them to point out where my oversight was, and get me going.  After a few days without any response, I posted a follow-up asking if *anyone* knew what my problem might be.  One response gave me a glimmer of hope, but it turned out not to be the answer.  Note I’m deliberately leaving out technical details here, post comments if you want to know more!

After a few more days of no response, I contacted my Guitar Center sales guy, who suggested I call their support line, and gave me the number.  I called, and after a rocky beginning (“this is not a tutorial line, sir”), admitted that this was something he’d have to talk to their German team about (Native Instruments is based in Berlin).  I should have asked for a ticket number, but forgot.  A week later, having had no response, I once again called Guitar Center, and explained that they hadn’t called me back.  I expressed my reservations about NI’s ability to address their customers’ issues, and asked for him to process the return.  He told me he’d get back to me, but that it shouldn’t be a problem.

Fast forward to the new year: January 4th, a month after my purchase.  Guitar Center is now back-pedalling, saying because the product was registered, they can’t take it back without NI authorizing the return.

Another week goes by, and my call to Guitar Center actually gets me the District Manager for Guitar Center, who, after a few hours, puts me in direct contact with their NI sales rep.  I’m told that the only way Guitar Center will take back the product at this point is if I can get NI to authorize the return.

The NI sales rep promises to look into the problem I’m having, get their tech support to handle my ticket, and if they can’t solve my problem, he’d authorize the return.  Over that weekend, NI tech support actually contacted me – but without any history: their email was basically “how can we help you?”.  Of course, the big music trade show, NAMM, was on this past week, meaning the sales rep was unavailable the couple times I tried to call to put an end to this.

So where am I?  At this point, I’ve pretty much lost any confidence in NI’s tech support.  If I have this kind of problem right out of the box, and they can’t fix it in a month and a half, what does that say for the next problem I have?  (By the way, I should mention that I’m not just missing something: I’ve been using MIDI applications on computers since the late-eighties/early nineties – I think I know what I’m doing)

On top of that, it’s not like I’m fiddling around with this in my bedroom – the package was going to be the center of my live stage rig, and there’s no way I’m taking a product into that situation without understanding what it does and how it behaves.  In other words, trust is important here, and I don’t have a lot of it for Kore’s host capabilities.

The other problem, the one that’s left me the most jaded, is that between two companies, neither one wanted to step up and do the right thing, and still haven’t, even after a month and a half.  The moral?  I’m going to be a lot more careful about the exact terms under which I buy things from that store, if indeed I still choose to continue to spend my money there.  I’ll post a follow-up when this has been resolved.

1.5 Gigs Done; 1 To Go

Yeah, I know I wrote earlier that we only had 2 gigs this weekend. More on that in a minute. Last night was the first gig in Burlington, NJ. We were the inaugural act for a new coffeehouse starting at the Broad Street United Methodist Church. It wasn’t a huge crowd, but they were appreciative, and it was a fun night. The only major mishap was my main controller locking up right at the end of the penultimate song of the first set. It’s connected to my laptop via USB, and when a USB device goes away in Windows/Usine (yes, yes, I’m using Windoze – Usine is that good!), there’s no getting it back without rebooting. Fortunately, Dan has no problem filling in the spaces with his ability for extemporaneous speaking! I was able to reboot fairly quickly, and we closed the set.

Also, my friend Ben was there in the capacity of official band photographer. Thanks, Ben! Looking forward to seeing the results (even if it turned out to be more of test run – who knew what our backdrop would be?)!

And now the “.5 gig” explanation: Dan’s father is the senior pastor of our church, and he and his wife came to the gig last night. He heard one of the songs, and realized it would be perfect for the service the next morning, so he asked Dan if we would do it. This proved to be interesting, as we don’t have enough time to set up our entire rig Sunday mornings (although we do have some gear there: Dan and I play on the Worship Team for the first service), so we needed a “B” rig. For Dan, that meant one guitar (which happened to be the one he uses Sunday morning), using a clean sound (ie no pedal board), and his laptop and MIDI pedal board. For me, that meant my Korg Karma (which I usually use Sundays), my X-Station and my laptop. The laptop provides the environment, and any number of soft-synths, and the X-Station turned out to be the hub. Not only is it the audio interface for the laptop, but I ran the audio of my Karma through one of it’s inputs, and thus only needed to run one input (going mono here) to the sound board. I also needed to make a second copy of Usine (one of the things I like about it is that there’s no install, and nothing in the registry), with a separate config (Windows/Usine tends to freak out a little when all of the devices it’s expecting aren’t there – I’ve had some re-mapping in the patches going on, which wasn’t fun to recover from).

We got home from the gig last night about 10:30ish, and unloaded the truck, and then I spent the next little while programming the laptop software, imagining in my head (I didn’t want to get everything out and set up) how everything was going to hang together. Dan and I got to the church this morning a little earlier than normal, but were still up against the clock. Somehow, we managed to set up, debug, sound check (which doubled as a quick rehearsal), and get through the other practice (the regular service stuff), and still have some time left over for other special music to get in some practice time. Amazing. It all went perfectly, too. Well, OK, maybe not perfectly – I couldn’t hear myself very well for our one song (I had a headphone monitor, but it needed more gain than I could give it – I’ll have to work on that), but I got through it OK – I even nailed the solo!

A regular gig for us is 12 songs, so technically this was 1/12th of a gig, but I’m adding the other 5/12ths for all the work that was needed to get there. Hopefully, as it’s pretty inevitable we’ll be asked to do more things on short notice, or more confined spaces, that this “B” rig will work out for a lot of the things we do. It might take some re-working, but we should be able to pull it off. Eventually, I can see phasing out the Karma in the B rig in favour of my CME controller, and relying more on soft-synths.

This afternoon, we’re off to Barnegat, NJ (the Shore!) to lead worship at the Bayside Chapel. it’s a smaller set, but we’ll have the full rig with us (we might use their sound system), and it should be a little more relaxed.

Live Music and Technology or, “You came in *that* thing? You’re braver than I thought!”

Ah, the joys of being a tech geek and a musician. There’s nothing better: so much wonderful technology out there for making music. Infinite possibilities in infinite combinations. One can spend more time playing with the technology than actually playing music (a danger I must constantly avoid). But it’s so much fun, and so very satisfying to coax amazing, warm sounds from the “soulless machines”.

And then you decide to play live. Whether there’s an inherent anti-social tendency in these machines, or just shy and nervousness, things can and do go wrong. And the effect is amplified when they’re in groups. I know this for two reasons. First, the band I’m in only has two members, and we have a lot of gear to compensate.

The second reason is that the band I’m in is about to start gigging for the new year, and as this is the first official gig with this incarnation (last year the band had 5 members), we had what could be considered a “dress rehearsal”: we tore everything down from our practice room, packed it all in vehicles, drove to our church, set everything up on stage there, and ran through our set. I had more problems that day than I think I’ve ever had: stuck notes on one keyboard (MIDI issues), computer problems (OS crashes that nuked the configuration of my music software), and controllers that flat-out refused to do anything. The most interesting problem was in the aftermath of the crash. My music software has a configuration option for “CPU protection”. The idea is that if the CPU load goes above a certain threshold, settable as a percentage, the music software will stop processing things. Undesirable in a live setting, but better than the machine crashing completely. Unbeknownst to me, this got reset from it’s normal value of 90% to 0%. I’m trying to figure out why nothing is working (everything in my live rig goes through the computer at once point or other), but looks normal. That took a few minutes.

There are those who will point out that if the “dress rehearsal” went badly, the “production” should then go really well, and I’m still optimistic, but when you’re placing yourself in the hands of your technology, in front of people (oh, and did I mention that a lot of people we know are going to be there?), you have to prepare for the possibilities, and, well, I have to confess to being a little bit nervous.

I am glad we did this, if only for the fact that now I have a better idea of how things could go wrong. What’s interesting about this goes back to what I mentioned at the beginning: notice I didn’t once talk about the music itself; my nervousness stems from the technological uncertainties, not that I’m playing music in front of a crowd. If I was sitting at a piano all night, it would be completely different. It’s all part of the fun, I suppose. I’ll be sure to do a follow-up after the gig to let you know how it went.