There used to be a relatively simple delineation among creatives who use technology in their daily lives: those who are “early adopters” and those who take a “wait-and-see” approach. Each camp has their reasons, generally having to do with the way their overall system is set up, their workflow needs and their general take on the expected bugs and fixes and what they are willing to live with in order to have the newest version, most recent rev, or all-new product of the year.
But the delineation is actually more fundamental than that. Some people simply have to have the new. They’re just wired that way. On the consumer side, that’s perhaps most evident in the lines outside Apple stores for each new iPhone release, or in the game market, where a new console release like the recent PS4 draws midnight mania, even though the number of titles is still somewhat limited.
On the professional side, the early adopters are not so easily defined. Yes, there are people who will “virtually” camp out for the new Tracklist Version in Cubase 7.5, or upgrade to Pro Tools 11 HDX the second it comes out, plug-in availability be damned. If it works for them, and it fits into their needs, then they should do that. Absolutely. But that’s not what I consider a true early adopter. A true early adopter—someone who sees a new technology on the horizon and imagines its possibilities, then makes the leap—is rare. These are the people who saw the potential for MIDI in its nascent stages and began writing. Or the people who saw the first iteration of a digital audio workstation back in the ’80s, with a mind-boggling 8k of memory, and made the jump from tape.
The role of the early adopter has been on my mind lately because of two recent interviews. The first was with Herbie Hancock, discussing his collaboration with Meyer Sound in a live multichannel performance, controlled in real time through SpaceMap technology and incorporating multiple keyboards, sample-based effects, controllers and iPads. Hancock—early into MIDI, music video, composing with computers and countless other technology firsts—is 73 and still loads all his own presets and maintains his system. On the day we visited, he had an iPhone in one hand, an iPad in the other, figuring out how to set up his new Eventide H9 stompbox to work with his Yamaha piano. Then he just flat out played, and he was brilliant.
The second conversation was with Hans Zimmer, a mad genius by all accounts, one of the few people who lives in a unified left-brain/right-brain world. From the day he bought a Roland MC8 MicroComposer in 1977, his first real computer, he hasn’t looked back. “I’m not an early adopter. No. I prefer to go to these technology companies and say, ‘Can you build me this?’” he says, without a hint of arrogance. “By the time something gets to market, it’s already compromised. Artists do this all the time, guitarists. They go to the manufacturers and say, ‘I want this. Can you do it?’”
And finally, early adopters come to mind because of this month’s cover. DTS Headphone:X is a surround technology, so that’s not new. And it’s not quite ready for primetime as the tools are still being worked out. But it is in use, and it’s being used by a whole host of top-level audio professionals, those I would consider early adopters. A handful of them are right there on the cover.
Early adopters can look at an emerging technology, or even a variation on existing technology, and see a future that most of us just don’t see. Once they were called visionaries. But since we live in a world dominated by Moore’s Law, we’ll settle for early adopters.