Cut To The Chase with Black Rooster Audio / André Kirchner
Black Rooster Audio - André Kirchner (GER)
“2020 is going to be game-changing for me personally and the brand that is Black Rooster Audio ... with lots of great new opportunities, signature series, hardware cooperations, new artists to join the roster and pro audio content, that will make us a first call for sound enthusiasts, beginners and professional mix engineers.”
André Kircher is the Co-Founder and Manager of Black Rooster Audio, an audio plugin company which I like a whole lot. I have no affiliation whatsoever with the company but I want to say that I thoroughly enjoy the plugins that I have of Black Rooster Audio. A lot of it is popular vintage gear, which André and his team make available as software.
Canary - a drum refinement tool
Cypress TT15 - an amp simulation
VHL-3C – a vintage high/low pass filter
If I could mention one particular plugin really quick though: I use their VPRE-73 on a lot of channels as a preamp emulation, when I take on a mixing project. It is one of my absolute go-tos for coloration and it’s very! very! highly! affordable. That said, the whole product pallet is affordable. But VPRE-73 was my intro to Black Rooster Audio and made me a fan. Please check it out.
I came across the idea to Q&A (yes, to Q&A is a verb from now on) André because I realized that Black Rooster Audio has taken an approach to social media, which I find very likable. I got the feeling that there is a real person behind it - and let’s be real here, actual people tend to have real life struggles, plugin-maker or not - and I sympathise with that a lot. I had only little interaction with André before he kindly said yes, but I feel like he’s a great guy and, as strange that might sound to everybody else, that makes me value my products of his company more.
Without further ado, let’s Cut To The Chase...
Let’s cut to the chase...
1.André, would you introduce yourself as brief or as extensively as you like? Where are you from, your age if you would reveal it and what is your educational background? I am from Gotha, a quite small town in East Germany, born 1984. Even though it’s been the cold war and GDR oppressed their people economically and culturally, my dad has been an active musician and my mom loved “Westmusik” – so a broad variety of music has been around me since my early days and ultimately led to my parents inviting me to learn to play drums. I took the chance and it became the love story of my life. I have been practicing and making music ever since and wanted to make a profession out of it. Though, seeing befriended musicians hardly making a living, I decided to combine my passion for music with a professional education as a sound/broadcasting engineer in Düsseldorf. That’s where I first got in touch with programming and DSP software. So, basically I studied drums, mixing and programming, which turned out to be a great fundament to starting a plug-in company, right?
2.Let me ask what I ask every “guest” on here: Which are the first memories that you have of music?
The first thing I clearly remember is listening and singing to Roxette with my mom, back in the 80s.
3. What are your favorite music genres, if you have any?
That’s a hard thing to ask. I don’t really prefer genres over each other, neither do I have a list. The one thing that is important to me, that the song, album or concert is touching me emotionally – through lyrics, instrumentation, arrangement and sound, of course. My childhood and youth, my education, the bands I have been playing with have introduced me to so many great examples of each genre, resulting in such a broad musical spectrum, that in every genre I will find at least something that I can adapt with. For example, the other day I was listening to “Hijo de la luna”, and those changes and the lyrics are really dramatic, and it’s been goosebumps for the whole song. Super intense!
4. You are a drummer, how did you come to pick up the drums and were you a “Dave Grohl type rebel”, drumming away on anything within your reach (pillows and buckets) or did you receive music training?
I did receive training from an early age at our local public music school. My teacher, Ralf Hähnlein, an excellent drummer and accordionist, really inspired me, not only by his deep understanding of music, but by the simplicity of his view on even the most complex standards. Practicing for me always has had a good balance between pain/blockade and relaxation. I don’t remember any substantial crisis, that would have prevented me from playing – that kept me hungry. I have been able to participate in the music school’s orchestra and big band projects, that also gave me practice and self-esteem. And from there I have been able to achieve a lot of goals musically – master classes with Marcus Horn, having my own bands, playing in a military band and studying music.
5. You are a professional software developer in the field of audio engineering. Before we get into developing software and your company, what sparked your interest in the world of audio/music engineering in general?
As mentioned, I wanted to be a musician, but I have also been interested in computer science and technology. From early on, I was wanting to be able to record my own music. Being able to play along my own loops was really something that excited me, years before getting it on at the technical college.
6. Besides running Black Rooster Audio, are you an actual working audio engineer by definition? (Studio owner, recordist, mixing/mastering?)
I don’t really have something like a large studio playground. More like 2-3 desks with audio equipment. And a lot of music making is done mobile, with headphones and programming drums and synths for later recordings. I would the rent a place for the recording itself. But producing music really is somewhat of a hobby, as I am super busy with Black Rooster Audio.
7. What led you to creating audio plugins?
I really wanted to create tools, that I can use by myself and that fulfill my requirements for a great sound and a great user experience.
8. Very generally and for noobs like myself, can you say how a plugin is made?
It depends on the style of plug-in you are trying to create. For example, we are producing plug-ins, that basically are emulations of existing studio hardware. So this comes with analyzing und understanding the schematics, calculating the transformation into the digital domain, creating graphics and combining it all together in a product. Reimund, the main developer has implemented a framework, that would allow us for implementing plug-ins in a more standardized and quick manner, so that we can easily create additional software, while being able to maintain the existing codebase.
9. What are the challenges programming for different operating systems and DAW environments?
You can think of this as sort of a multi-dimensional game of chest, where a simple move would cause changes on multiple boards. Maintaining different OSes (Win/Mac), in different versions (Catalina, Win 10, Mojave, Win 7 etc.), in different architectures (32bit, 64bit), with different target hosts (DAWs), in different formats (VST/AAX/AU) comes with a lot of pain, as there is simply no abstract software layer to build upon. The complexity of this is so high, that it is hard to keep up with every minor DAW update, etc. You gotta dive deep into the very substancial parts of third-party code and you need to do that constantly. So it is always: Learning & implementing, learning & implementing …
10. When and how did you start Black Rooster Audio? And what was your initial goal or vision?
Coming from a plug-in company, I was just wanting to experiment with the learnings I had from there, with good intentions on what to do better and a vision of a brand to create and plug-ins to be implemented, that would fulfill my musical and quality standards. That brand has become Black Rooster Audio in 2012 and we are producing audio plug-ins ever since.
11. Do you keep an eye out for what other plugin manufacturers are doing? Do you find inspiration in that or would you be turned-off by some of the practices of others?
I should scan the competition more, not because of marketing aspects, but for the great products they have and for inspiration. Of course, there are some strategies or opinions I don’t agree with, but I tolerate them, as long as they don’t touch my business. But overall, the community of small audio software brands is somewhat of a brotherly bunch. We do support, or at least respect each other. And sometimes we do find time for great cooperations. Competition shall vitalize the business, right?
12. Again, I have no idea about this and I don’t know if this question can be answered well, but: You are offering software that clearly reminds of popular vintage gear. Can you say what analog modelling is and how it is done?
Think of it this way: The substantial sound, represented by the corresponding parts of an electric circuit, can be transferred into the digital domain by mathematical calculation or statistic approximation. The resulting functional system can be measured against the original hardware and would then be matched (by playing around with the parameters of the underlying circuitry). This basically is electrical engineering, paired with the basic rules of digital signal processing.
13. Would there be licensing and legal issues involved in making an emulation of for example an 1176 compressor or is that something we can just do? As long as you don’t call it 1176 and violate copyright on schematics or any other intellectual property of that corresponding brand, you can do it.
14. What does “a day at your office” look like?
I usually arrive at 09.00am – first thing would be a coffee and support mails, after that: planning the day, meetings and calls, lunch, programming & marketing, calls and a second round of support, if needed. After 8pm, I usually have additional calls with distribution & marketers in the USA.
15. Making free or commercial plugins, do you think that it is something people can do on the side?
If you want to make a living out of selling commercial plug-ins, I would say you can’t do this on the side. The technical requirements and investment (licensing, certification, etc.) are just to heavy. So starting is really a tough thing to do! If you want to do it for fun – go for it!
16. Which skills do you recommend somebody to acquire, if they are interested in dabbling in audio plugin/software development? Electrical engineering, DSP theory & programming, studio history.
17. On that note, if somebody wants to take it to another level, what are good attributes to have for an entrepreneur in that field.
Honestly, I don’t really understand what a good entrepreneur is. I feel that the main driver for running a successful business would be passion. If you are passionate and really believe in the product or service you are providing, you will be able to make a living out of that. If you are trying to run a business in Germany, be prepared for some bureaucratic hassle :D
18. There are some plugins/software who limit the amount of features or controls for easier, more intuitive usage, with less technical aspects to worry about. What is your opinion on that? What do you think when you see for example a compressor like Klanghelm’s DC1A or Baby Audio’s New York?
I love the approach of simple user interfaces, as long as they really provide a great user experience. If it fits the requirements of its targeted user, everything is fine. I don’t think, you will impress any professional broadcast audio engineer with a one-knob plug-in, but musically it might make sense to a guitarists chrorus track.
19. You work on digital tools, but I would still like to know, where do you personally stand on a seemingly eternal argument of “analog vs digital” in music production/recording, mixing or even mastering for that matter. I find this whole discussion quite boring: There are things you can’t cover in the digital domain, and there are things you can’t get a grip of in the analog would. For me it is all about sound and how to utilize tools for achieving my musical vision. So why argue? Another aspect – in this modern world, who would have the money for building a senseful analog studio? Especially if one just wants to produce the simplest of music. Why should there be any boundaries or limitations and why would we judge over music or its creators based on the tooling? If the sound is good and the emotions are coming, enjoy it!
20. Considering that you run a company and have a family, I would like to know are you super dedicated to consecutive hours of work time or do you sometimes have to split it up into little bits and pieces whenever you can?
It is all about balance. The main lesson for me is: I cannot be good at anything without taking care of the other important aspects of my life, that mainly are represented in like 5 pillars: Family, job, personal freedom, social and surroundings – with the first one being the true fundament for the others. If one or more of those are not incorporated in my daily or short-term activities, I will lose balance and get sick – emotionally and physically. Especially if you are having kids, this comes with responsibility – not only for your child, but for yourself. You will never get back the time lost with your children, period. So, I will never again do extra hours, if my baby girl is asking for her daddy!
21. Talk about work-life-balance. Is that a struggle sometimes.
It has been, but I am doing quite well at the moment.
22. Do you try to stay on top of the game which is audio technology in general, its innovations and its potential future?
It is hard to keep up with the fast changes in technology, maintaining your codebase and being innovative at the same time. But I am trying…
23. Is that done through thinking and fantasizing a lot or do you know of resources to check out for other people who are seriously interested?
For me it is about inspiration, that usually comes from talking to friends and producers, sometimes from listening to music or playing drums. I am trying to have this inspirational aura of the “studio” throughout the day and I am maintaining this, because it makes me feel happy and it’s bringing in some ideas.
24. Does the way in which music is distributed, offered and consumed nowadays, affect the way you approach projects with Black Rooster Audio?
No, because I don’t assess music or art as something of economic substance, but as a human value. The reach of an artist has never been as big as today, so if you have a message, you can spread that and really have an impact. If you need to make a living out of that, try to work complementary to what gives you reach but doesn’t pay well – have concerts, live events, find new strategies of financing your art and life. Some artists are pretty good at that. The way people would create music would then not be affected, so neither would my work be affected by that.
25. Who are your favorite personalities of the industry?
I have to say: Reimund Dratwa, who is one of the greatest DSP programmers and has this extensive knowledge of studio gear. I am blessed to be working with him.
26. Looking back at how you got here, do you have one piece of advice for young André from 10-15 years ago?
There is actually quite a lot I would love to tell him.
1st – Get out of school immediately and learn from life. There is nothing, NOTHING that I have learned from school, that I wouldn’t have been able to study on my very own. Not being able to follow your personal interests and being forced to engage with things, that are not useful for your life by any means is a backlash in anybody’s life. It will cost you focus, it will cost you creativity, and it will cost you time – and that’s just terrible.
2nd – I would tell myself to start meditating and find a connection to my feelings, because that is something that has gone lost during this time and ultimately led to some frustration and bad decisions.
3rd – I would insist on practicing mindfulness and awareness, as those are some virtues, that are and have been missing with people at my young age. Those three would end up in some satisfying views and probably happiness by that means.
27. What are you most proud of?
My baby girl! And her interest in music :D
28. Why should we keep an eye out for Black Rooster Audio in the future? And - granted I’m a mastering engineer 80% of my work time, so I just have to ask - are there any plans to develop mastering tools specifically?
We are working on some huge plugin series at the moment, with one being a signature artist series, that is most probably going to be presented by the end of February. Besides that, we are pushing VST3 and Linux support and our licensing system is going to be refactored. Mastering tools are on the list, too.
André, thank you so much for your precious time.
Thank you very much!
Until next time.
Author: Robert Hundt // Date: January 31st, 2020