Death of a Multimedia Phenomenon


In the cool dual worlds of movies and rock ‘n’ roll, the boys of OSC—the so-coolly named Our Stinking Corporation—were the hippest dudes of all.

When the founders of OSC strode through the halls of trade shows, session musicians and movie sound editors turned heads and murmured names. Flocks of garage-band punks repeated OSC’s irreverent marketing slogans as mantras. Twentysomethings of every faith adorned their walls with OSC iconography. Indie filmmakers sang OSC’s praises.

The boys—Josh Rosen, John Dalton, Mats Myrberg, and a half-dozen Bay Area slackers they hired along the way—were exquisitely revered because of the seemingly magical musical computer software they first threw together in Rosen’s apartment and eventually fashioned into a white-hot Silicon Valley start-up corporation. By allowing any garage band with a Macintosh computer to produce a studio-quality CD or professional movie soundtrack, the OSC boys gained an international network of overwrought fans and were the subject of panting tributes in music and computer magazines. From brain to garage to corporation to cash, these modern-day planters farmed the rich economic humus of the Bay Area’s high-tech economy and came away heroes.

But that was before the buyout.

After four years of struggling to make ends meet, the OSC boys sold out to the San Francisco software firm of Macromedia Inc. for what was to have been more than $2 million. But they agreed to be paid with Macromedia stock—just before Macromedia shares took a precipitous plunge.

From a spring 1996 high of $46.50 per share, the stock’s value plummeted to a low of $9.62 per share this May. While people who know them say the OSC owners sold some of their stock before the worst of the plunge, the founders each acknowledge they ended up with much less money than they had hoped for. The entire deal may have dwindled to less than $600,000.

The corporate fit between Rosen’s crew of garage engineers and musicians and Macromedia’s stuffed suits turned out to be horrendous. Within a year of the sellout, Macromedia had eliminated OSC as a division, and sent its founders packing.

When they sold their company, the OSC boys gave up all rights to use the Deck recording technology they had created—including the right to improve it. The half-finished Deck III upgrade project that OSC engineers had been working on at Macromedia is condemned to rot on a shelf. Meanwhile, numerous competitors have entered the multitrack digital sound processing business, and these competitors’ technology has reached the performance-price level that used to belong exclusively to OSC.

In short, OSC, formally Obscure Software, is dead.

The rebellious group of rock ‘n’ roll youngsters who turned their passions into a high-tech Cinderella story found the end of the tale to be a dark, Silicon Valley countermyth. The OSC boys sold what they loved for a song, and there is no way they will ever even work on it again, much less get it back.

The denizens of Silicon Valley and Multimedia Gulch indeed remember the OSC boys as the guys who got to have all the fun. The boys agree, almost arrogantly; every last one of the company’s male employees (we’ll talk about the females later) recalls OSC as the funnest place he’s ever worked. “I’d go back in a second” is a refrain that comes up, at one point or another, in most conversations about the company.

These fond memories have something to do with the grown-up-boys-in-a-tree-fort atmosphere that Rosen and his cohorts fostered at their South of Market offices. Several of the employees stole away to the office’s sound studio most afternoons at 4 p.m. to discuss work problems, and—more important—to smoke marijuana. The bosses made a special point of hiring only physically attractive female office assistants. Employees would knock off early during slow periods to compose music, drink—whatever.

“If the karma got too heavy, you were certainly encouraged to take a shot of whiskey. If tech support’s bringing you down, take a fucking bong hit. It didn’t matter what steps you had to take to get to the goal. Just carry the ball across the goal line,” recalls former OSC Marketing Director Todd Souvignier.

At trade shows, where other high-tech start-up owners would arrive in tie tacks and loafers and with felt-lined display boards, the OSC boys wore leather jackets and strung up chain-link fencing and black vinyl as a backdrop to their software displays: “Sort of a combination baseball backstop and S/M motif,” one ex-employee recalls.

The look, the atmosphere, and the attitude came naturally to a group of post-college men, of course. But it was also part of a studied ideology/marketing approach rooted in the founders’ past as Pacific Northwest musicians.

“Everyone who knew us knew what a bunch of dirtbags we were, so if we ever tried to act like corporate geeks, we’d be busted as posers for sure,” says Souvignier, who, like Dalton and Rosen, was a musician hailing from Portland, Ore. “So we figured we might as well let it all hang out and express ourselves as clearly and plainly as we could. And it worked, man. It really worked.”

Underlying OSC’s rebellious ethic was the company’s manifesto—called the Audio Anarchist—published in the form of OSC sales fliers. On one edition of the manifesto a torch-carrying rebel waves his hand to proletariat masses, who carry banners saying, “Tools Don’t Equal Talent.” Inside, the pamphlet rails against the very copyright laws that allow software companies to exist.

“We object to this legal fiction called intellectual property,” the flier says, calling on customers to “put the ‘play’ back in plagiarism.”

Another motto scorned the digital format that OSC’s software revolutionized, contending that “analogue is best.”

These OSC pamphlets boasted of a new, anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, anti-Silicon Valley ethos that was more evocative of Frederich Engels than Bill Gates.

“We are a small group of music industry refugees tired of business infighting, corporate greed and pursuit of the next big thing,” proclaimed the Anarchist. “We are not venture capitalized, we do not intend to ‘go public.’ In fact, we do this because it means something to us. We make things only when we want those things. We use things only when we need those things.”

Hollywood couldn’t have cast a better troika of cutting-edge entrepreneurs than the ones who founded OSC, despite the company’s anti-corporate ethic.

As corporate sharpie, there was the dashing, articulate, and charismatic Josh Rosen.”He’s got a magic mouth,” says one friend. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s mayor of San Francisco someday.”

In the serious, efficient, affable Swede Mats Myrberg, OSC had every corporate headhunter’s vision of a chief operating officer: Myrberg’s speech is efficient and concise, and unlike others formerly associated with OSC, he betrays a crisp understanding of the business realities that eventually tore his company asunder. Myrberg was also the electrical engineering genius behind the early versions of OSC’s Deck music editing software.

In the wry-humored, scraggly haired John Dalton, OSC had its scatterbrained visionary. Dalton’s brilliant ideas helped launch the company. But his long, unexplained absences from work and the lumbering, monolithic blocks of computer code he wrote gave engineers fits.

The grunge-inspired, rebellious spirit with which the three infused their company was no accident. Before they moved to San Francisco in the late 1980s, Rosen and Dalton worked as rock musicians in Portland’s fertile, cross-pollinating music scene, where a single musician might play in half a dozen bands at once.

But the Bay Area beckoned.

“It was kind of like there was this incestuous band thing going on up there,” Dalton recalls. “We always wanted to move down to San Francisco, because it seemed to be a hipper city and a better music scene.”

In 1987, Rosen moved his techno band R-Complex to the Bay Area, and got a job at a firm called Blank Software. Dalton followed him to San Francisco within a year.

In addition to a better music scene, Dalton and Rosen sought a way to produce compact-disc-quality recordings without having to subject themselves to the tyranny of $200-per-hour recording studios. Within a remarkably short period of time, they invented the hippest, coolest, and cheapest way to make studio-quality CDs, and made themselves the hippest, coolest, newest thing in Multimedia Gulch.

By the end of the 1980s, computer engineers had teased the components of sound into bits and bytes, zeros and ones. There was a system for generating tones through the computer, and there was a way of recording music in a digital format that could be stored on a computer’s hard disk.

But digital sound was expensive. Professional-quality digital recording still took place only in high-cost sound studios.

To “multitrack”—that is, to record each instrument separately, so sounds can be subtly mixed and edited together—required equipment costing as much as $150,000. Making matters worse for aspiring home-music publishers, engineers had developed two, largely incompatible digital languages for computer-based sounds.

The widely used Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) is a computer tone-producing protocol that consists of a limited library of computer instructions for notes, pitches, note lengths, and volumes, designed specifically to run on limited computer power. The field of digital audio recording is a different game entirely. It attempts to reproduce sounds by creating digital representations of actual sound waves—an extremely complex mathematical task. These cyberwaves require huge storage capacities.

Trying to force a computer to simultaneously perform the quick, simple calculations involved in MIDI-based music, and the complex, heavy-lifting computation required to play a digital audio recording was a maddening endeavor. The two formats inevitably fell out of sync.

Dalton got around the synchronization problem by producing his own duct-tape and baling-wire version of a digital recording studio, using two computers, a MIDI sequencer, and the Sound Tools digital recording software made by the Palo Alto firm Digidesign. Later, the OSC boys developed a proprietary interface language that forced the two formats to play in step.

Another drawback to early computer-based recording was the medium’s in-ability to record and play sound simultaneously—an essential component of modern, “multitrack” music production.

A typical commercial recording may consist of dozens of tracks, each containing an individually recorded instrument, voice, or other sound. These individual tracks are blended together into a complete stereo recording.

Digidesign had fired the first salvo in the digital-audio revolution with its Sound Tools, Macintosh-based editing system. But it was still expensive, and couldn’t truly replicate the capacity of a top-of-the-line studio.

Rosen and Dalton wanted some sort of multitrack capability for their own techno compositions, and they found their salvation in Myrberg, the brilliant Swedish engineer who worked with Rosen at the audio software company Blank Software.

Rosen asked Myrberg if it would be possible to soup up Sound Tools to work the way a professional sound studio worked. That is, Rosen wanted to be able to record one track of music while listening to another that had already been recorded, thereby adding greater depth to his compositions.

Myrberg approached the problem by going to the source. Much like a true classical scholar will read original works in obscure tongues rather than in Greek or Latin translations, Myrberg approached Rosen and Dalton’s problem by using programming language closer to Machine Code—the original ones and zeros at the heart of a computer’s instructions. In this way, Myrberg discovered that he could force Digidesign’s Sound Tools to record and play back simultaneously.

Myrberg had taken the revolution begun by Digidesign to its next logical level: Multitracking, the essence of modern stereo recording, was now possible directly on a home computer. Myrberg, Dalton, and Rosen brought their discovery to Digidesign in hopes of selling it through a licensing agreement.

At first, Myrberg, Dalton, and Rosen sold their software as a licensed product to Digidesign, which, in turn, packaged OSC’s software with its Sound Tools and Pro Tools sound editing systems.

“We did this deal where they distributed it, and we kept ownership of it. That’s when we decided to have a company,” Myrberg recalls. “In a short amount of time—I think it was about six months—we finished the product and shipped it. I think that was July of 1990. We manufactured the product in Josh’s apartment, and delivered it down there in the back of his car. We just gave them a bunch of boxes once in a while when they needed them. We’d stay up late one night and lick envelopes, or whatever.”

As fortuitous as it initially seemed, the relationship with Digidesign was not to last. Because Digidesign sold several, differently priced systems of digital audio editing hardware, the firm’s management insisted that OSC dumb down its software for cheaper Digidesign editing systems, and that it tweak its multitrack recording and editing software so that it would work best with the company’s more expensive, top-of-the-line equipment.

The Deck founders felt their software was being used to lure musicians into buying expensive Digidesign hardware they didn’t necessarily need. And as the OSC boys saw it, the two companies were operating according to completely different philosophies.

“That was probably the least fun time in the whole OSC era,” Myrberg recalls. “They were growing, they had formal investors and venture capital. Their intent was to take [Digidesign] public. We were just three guys trying to put something together.”

Pressure to go public and professional programming jealousy led Digidesign to begin fashioning its next generation of sound software entirely in-house. The OSC boys saw what was going on and started developing a stand-alone version of Deck that didn’t require Digidesign hardware. This “native” sound processing—which relies only on a computer’s native capability without outside hardware—was the final step in bringing digital recording to Everyman.

The technological leaps made by Myrberg et al. were enormous. By the mid-1990s, any dabbler with a cheap computer could produce the crisp, seamless recordings that previously came only from big studios. OSC’s Deck software was an instant hit.

“It was a pretty big success in that it was the first cheap thing—relatively cheap, anyway—that you could produce a professional recording on. At the time, our software was $399, and you had to buy a big hard drive—so you had to shell out a couple of thousand total,” says Myrberg.

Besides being cheap, the software also extended the reach of individual musicians by allowing them to have absolute control over their published work.

“A guy in Chris Isaak’s band would bring stuff into the studio that he’d done at home using our software, and it was actually good enough quality that he could dump the stuff right into the record they were producing. There were a couple of other bands that were doing it, too,” Myrberg says. “They would do a demo on it at home with their Deck software, then they would go into the studio, and end up using the demo.”

Rosen, Dalton, and Myrberg hired salesmen, additional programmers, an office manager—nine employees in all. They took out advertisements in software catalogs, and they began setting up independent booths at trade shows.

They were a company.

But they wouldn’t be just any company.

Rather than maximizing profits, they would maximize the capabilities of garage-band musicians. True to their company motto—“Consume the Minimum, Produce the Maximum”—the OSC boys would eschew the high-end musical software market Digidesign sought. Rather than equipment costing thousands of dollars, they would produce tools for the common man.

They would produce computer music’s hammer and sickle.

OSC’s software would sell for the lowest price the owners could charge and still keep the company afloat. Where Digidesign rigs cost thousands, OSC began selling its Deck sound editing package for less than $400. OSC’s designers would maintain constant Internet dialogue with users, adding modifications to Deck as users suggested them. Through this incessant dialogue, the OSC owners broke the veil of secrecy that surrounds much of Silicon Valley software development. Deck’s developers were able to glean hundreds of engineering ideas from users, maintain a passionately loyal group of customers, and have a lot of fun.

The office would be much more than a “progressive workplace.” Employees would have to be shooed home because they so loved their jobs. As much emphasis would be placed on the musical and artistic projects of the owners and employees as on the selling of software.

It would be the anti-corporate corporation that proved to the world that talent, ideals, brains, and balls were worth at least as much as business degrees and tassel loafers.

“I wish I had the hindsight to realize what a good place it really was when it was happening,” says Kathy Tafel, OSC’s former office manager and now an editor at MacAddict magazine. “They were a very unique company. I think part of it was that they really did operate on ideals. Mats, the engineer, really could have made three times as much money working for other companies. He took a huge pay cut working for OSC. People don’t do that unless they really believe in something.”

So they hired Ron MacLeod, remembered as the “soul” of OSC, who handled the practical side of the business and helped create a library of electronic musical sounds that became part of the OSC product line. There was Todd Souvignier, the Portland musician-cum-freelance writer-cum-professional soft-ware peddler, who wrote much of the socialist-ethic propaganda in the Audio Anarchist fliers.

They hired Jeff Moore, the gregarious hockey-player type who also happened to be a student of music and electrical engineering. Moore became the brain behind many of the upgrades in later versions of Deck. There was Tommy King, the rock musician and composer who became OSC’s director of sales and its chief court jester.

“I woke up every morning wanting to go to work,” King recalls. “Instead of being 10 minutes late to work, I was five minutes late to work. Josh would have to send me home every night, or say, ‘When I get back, I don’t want you here.’ It was just the greatest experience; I mean, they were so open to letting us do what we wanted to do.”

And so it went, for a while. Work consisted of occasional months-long cram sessions to get new versions of the software out, some heated debates about design philosophy, and interludes of joking, musical jamming, and assorted substance abuse.

They conducted hours-long rap sessions with users around the world, many of whom came to view Deck as a valid subject of high-minded intellectual debate, a la Kant or Foucault.

“I would have one of these conversations with Josh, or with John Dalton over a hamburger, and we would get off on a philosophical tangent about intellectual property, and that tangent would, two weeks later, become an editorial in the Anarchist,” Souvignier recalls.

In another unique approach to research and development, OSC worked with the San Francisco avant-garde musical group the Residents, who set out to produce a record using an early version of Deck. The group was inspired by OSC’s music-production-for-the-masses sensibility, recalls Residents manager Hardy Fox. Residents members and OSC engineers huddled together for months to bring the software up to the point where it could produce a commercial-quality CD, Fox says.

“They set out to do the album Freakshow as the first digital project done on inexpensive software,” he says.

Perhaps the funnest, coolest, hippest part of all, though, was striding the globe like heroes. Session musicians for famous rock bands got in the habit of calling OSC to chat about compositional problems; they showed up at OSC parties and generally associated themselves with the OSC circle. A 1994 magazine article even quoted Chris Isaak band member Jimmy Wilsey as calling Rosen “a heavy dude.”

The OSC Audio Anarchist iconography became popular even beyond the company’s circle of customers. It is not unusual to see an old OSC “Tools Don’t Equal Talent” poster in college dorm rooms and alternative rock sound studios.

The OSC boys’ status as Valley heroes was etched in silicon in the December 1994 issue of Wired magazine. They’re geniuses, they’re rebels, they’re changing the world, and they’re fun to talk to was the gist of a four-page article. While OSC alumni don’t take issue with the thrust of the article’s assertions, one passage so exaggerates reality that it evokes weary, knowing smiles.

“OSC, so far, has managed to avoid the corporate pressures that so often close in on entrepreneurs once the company they’ve founded begins to grow,” the article said.

This, of course, was a ridiculous notion. The pressures—the bills, the software bugs, the upgrade deadlines, the capital shortages, the interest payments on mountains of credit-card debt the founders had used to keep the company going—all were mounting until they seemed to press against everybody who worked at the place.

Todd Souvignier recalls selling product by telephone at such length that the receiver felt like it had dented his skull—just so OSC could meet its payroll. This bimonthly payroll/selling panic was so great that Souvignier developed ulcers.

That Josh Rosen, who was nominally in charge of things, had little affinity for organization did not help matters. “Part of my job was hounding Josh when it would be the third bill that would come in. That was Josh’s method, waiting until the third bill would come before paying,” Kathy Tafel recalls.

Things weren’t all rosy on the engineering front, either. The myriad modifications that resulted from online user rap sessions, combined with Dalton’s tendency to write byzantine computer code, led to software that was unwieldy and buggy, Jeff Moore recalls. The software’s growing complexity, combined with the practical imperative that, unless OSC produced periodic upgrades, they had nothing new to sell, led to a programming nightmare. Deck’s 2.5 release, which was supposed to clean up bugs, add new features, and keep life-sustaining income flowing into the company, was delayed for months.

“Remember the old hippie axiom ‘You’re either on the bus or off the bus’?” Souvignier asks. “Well, in the software industry, you’re either fixing the bus, or you’re being run over by the bus.”

Ideally, OSC would have hired additional engineers, sales people, accountants, and secretaries to handle the company’s growing complexity. But the firm faced the classic conundrum of start-up businesses: OSC didn’t have the capital to grow at the rate necessary to survive.

The choices were simple. OSC could fold, it could begin knocking on the doors of Silicon Valley venture capital firms—the move that the Audio Anarchist swore OSC would never make—or it could find a buyer.

“We seriously had a lot of companies come through and sniff our butts, including a few wacky companies,” Souvignier recalls. “Our jobs began to fully fucking suck, and it seemed like the best thing we could do would be to sell out and see what we could get and quit killing ourselves over this crap.”

The more the OSC founders talked about it, the more selling out seemed to make sense. If they could find a company that would allow them to continue developing Deck and its peripheral products while taking care of the marketing, payroll, and other problems, they could achieve the best of all worlds, the owners reasoned.

ImageMacromedia, the 400-employee South of Market maker of computer graphics software, seemed just the choice.

Macromedia already sold tools for computer-based video production and desktop publishing. Now, all the com-pany needed was a sophisticated sound-editing tool such as Deck, and it would have all it needed to be known as the only complete source for computer media production tools.

After a couple of initial meetings, and two weeks of deliberation on Macromedia’s part, the two companies reached a stock trade agreement worth more than $2 million. OSC would become a Macromedia division, run by Rosen.

OSC would have its Cinderella ending after all, it seemed. Deck, the wonderful tool that had brought music publishing to Everyman, would continue to be developed. The company, that wonderful group of friends whose diverse personalities had managed to click into a magical synergy, would stay together. And the business details that seemed to sap the grooviness from the OSC boys’ idealistic exercise would suddenly go away.

Besides, $700,000 apiece didn’t look half bad to a trio of guys who had been surviving on peanuts.

Bud Colligan, current chairman of the board and former president of Macromedia, is something of an expert at mergers and acquisitions. His company has grown at a lightning pace for the past five years, thanks, in large part, to a buying spree of small technology companies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere. While patient and courteous, Colligan talks just as a man would if he were tired of explaining over and over again that the recent collapse of his company’s share price was a normal adjustment given changes in his industry, and that he is diminishing his role in the company not because of a lack of shareholder confidence in his management skills, but because he’d like to spend more time with his family.

He speaks more enthusiastically when discussing how firms can merge and take advantage of business synergies.

“You have to first of all have a common vision about where things are going. Second of all, it’s good to get some good short-term wins as a common entity, so that both parties, the acquirer and acquiree, are having joint success as an entity. It’s critical to have a long-term strategic fit,” says Colligan. “Did I mention chemistry? Part of that is sharing a common vision. If you have a shared vision, the likelihood of good chemistry is much, much better.”

The story of OSC’s final months is the story of a corporate acquisition gone terribly awry, a merger that violated most of Colligan’s rules.

The transaction seemed straightforward enough. According to a Macromedia press release, the deal would enhance Macromedia’s role as the exclusive hardware store of San Francisco’s Multimedia Gulch, creating the sound, graphics, and motion-picture-producing tools for the city’s burgeoning computer-media business.

The company’s Deck software would allow Macromedia to “offer a complete solution for musicians, sound technicians, and video professionals who make up the growing audio side of the multimedia industry,” the release said.

Rosen, Dalton, and Myrberg received 225,000 shares of Macromedia stock in exchange for all rights to OSC, according to Macromedia documents. The deal was described in Macromedia investor materials as being worth $2.8 million.

But by the spring of 1996, at the trough of Macromedia’s stock plunge, the shares involved were worth less than $600,000—about what you’d pay in San Francisco for a low-rent-neighborhood delicatessen.

The collapse of Macromedia stock prices didn’t merely diminish the value of the holdings of its three newest shareholders, Rosen, Dalton, and Myrberg. That free fall led to a dramatic reconsideration by Macromedia’s board of directors of how the company would do business.

By 1996, the computer “multimedia” market wasn’t centered around production of infotainment compact discs, as in-dustry planners had believed it would be five years previously, but on the World Wide Web. The Web required small, quick programs that could be easily transported over telephone lines. Macromedia’s products largely con-sisted of disc-gobbling programs designed for people using computers to produce magazines, records, movies—old media. If it was to survive, the company’s fate had to be tied to the growth of the Internet, company directors decided. The old multimedia wheel would have to be reinvented.

From OSC’s perspective, this was a truly unfortunate chain of events. Though there was some talk of turning Deck into a Web product, the truth was that it was a large, sophisticated program designed for the sort of super-high-fidelity audio production that isn’t yet part of the Web universe. What’s more, OSC’s band of entrepreneurial punk-techno rockers wasn’t exactly a good fit with Macromedia’s new, all-out-panic corporate culture.

Image“They didn’t really know what to do with us,” Tommy King recalls.

There were efforts to integrate. Souvignier was given a “contract” to do some technical writing. King was given a desk and told to call all the Macro-media sales representatives and inform them they were carrying Deck, and call the OSC representatives to explain that they weren’t.

Mats Myrberg, the Swedish genius, was put to work on “temporary” Web-oriented projects, and never seemed to have enough time to work on the planned “Deck 3.0” upgrade. Josh Rosen struggled to maintain the groovy OSC workplace—the time off for music composition, the ideological fervor, all the other old-OSC accouterments—and failed. John Dalton went his own way. So did Jeff Moore.

The countercorporate Shangri-La that the OSC boys felt they were creating at the company’s old SOMA offices crumbled before their eyes at Macromedia.

From in-house sound studios, leather jackets at trade shows, midafternoon pot breaks, and officewide jam sessions, the boys now found themselves amid cubicles, suits, corporate titles, and petty office jealousies. Worse, Macromedia didn’t seem to be doing near enough to market their product.

After less than a year, Macromedia decided to abandon development of Deck 3.0. In engineer-per-dollar-of-income terms, Deck wasn’t as profitable as other Macromedia products, and keeping it alive didn’t seem to make sense, Macromedia executives say. The company reassigned as many OSC engineers as would stay, and it let go personnel who did not easily fit into the company’s new, Web-centric strategy.

Suddenly, the OSC saga was over.

As is often the case in Silicon Valley’s hyperactive economy, OSC alumni didn’t have a hard time finding jobs. Dalton and Rosen are partners in a SOMA movie sound studio, and Dalton is working on his own software, which, if successful, would allow Internet search engines to seek for images, rather than word cues. Myrberg is also working as a software engineer.

The OSC boys lost their battle to create a successful Silicon Valley start-up. But some of them find consolation in the idea that they won the war to bring studio-quality recording to the masses.

Todd Souvignier says this came to him in an epiphany, as he strolled down the aisles of a computer show last fall. Deck-style hard-disk recording has become so ubiquitous, and new entrants into the field have become so many, that Souvignier ran across a booth giving away a product very much like Deck for free, as part of a larger sound production package. The package is called Pro Tools III With Power Mix. It is made by Digidesign, the company that had tried to keep OSC’s efforts out of the hands of all but the most well-heeled customers.

“I’m saying we won. We got to a place in 1996 where hard-disk recording can be given away for free. We had to throw ourselves on our swords to win, but we won,” says Souvignier.

Even so, the former OSC boys will never work on improving Deck, or feel like they own it, again. They won’t take as many marijuana breaks, jam-session breaks, or whiskey breaks at work. And they probably won’t ever again be cutting-edge, anti-establishment digital revolutionaries, because they’ve already been eaten by regular old capitalism, the way start-ups ordinary and extraordinary so often are.

Silicon Valley magazines may chant that digital man is a new breed living by new economic rules. He’s not. The OSC story—its founders’ brash conceits and seat-of-the-pants survival skills, the miscalculations that led to its sale, the pandemonium that led to its demise—is the tale of entrepreneurial failure that has always been a part of American business, even and especially when business is booming. Here as everywhere in the world of capitalism, brilliant start-ups fail by the barrelful, gaggles of geniuses are made dunces every day, dreams get shattered, idealism is torn asunder, and a good time is had by all.

For a very short cool, hip, memorable while.

Article Originally Published Dec 24, 1997 in SF Weekly


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Less anti meter maid, more Haroon!!!!!!!!!

Want nekkid fotos!!!!!

Haroon lover

11:53 AM, May 11, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

...can someone please reply?

You out there?

Still loving Haroon...

4:44 PM, May 15, 2006  
Anonymous Pep said...

I'm old and not interested in techno-music or Silicon Valley start-ups, or garage-band culture. But I am interested in great writing and the brutality of capitalism. This is a wonderfully readable piece. Makes me want to learn more about a culture I know nothing about. Thanks

12:31 PM, January 24, 2008  
Blogger Utah Savage said...

Well, it's me again. You finally posted a comment at my site. Yeah! It's been ages. So do I have to write about my heinous past to get you to comment? And it was ambiguous. Could you clarify that "God fucking damn" for me. Is that a good "god fucking damn" or a bad "god fucking damn?" Subtlety is lost on me.

9:10 AM, May 15, 2008  
Anonymous Mark said...

In the process of packing all my old pictures, I ran across my copy of Audio Anarchist Issue #1- the "Tools ≠ Talent" issue. I'd framed it back when I sold Deck II and thought that OSC was quite positively the coolest thing to ever happen to the world of audio. Hell, I worshipped those guys. Funny thing is, I never knew the whole story; just that OSC had "gone away". As I packed up that picture today I wondered what happened to the revolution. And now I know. This is an amazing article- not just because the subject matter is so close to home, but because it really captures a part of what the energy of the mid 90's audio scene was like. Thanks so much. I will re-read this over and again, I'm sure.

8:57 PM, July 03, 2008  
Blogger sitenoise said...


I moved to SF and hoped to work with those guys. My dream came partially true. I got to work on the Digital Audio Team at Macromedia. Crash. Burn. The notion of creating a "Killer App" was lost on them.

I was sitting next to Mats when he discovered the Froehoffer(sp?) business that would become Shockwave. Yeah. Memories.

9:45 PM, July 03, 2008  
Anonymous liquidboy said...

i will forever be grateful to the OSC boys for deck. deck was a shining beacon of hope to us struggling musicians. me, my apple quadra 840av, metro and deck - we were complete. the software was unbelievably affordable for what it can do.

re digidesign, well it has not changed a bit, 'luring musicians to buy expensive stuff they don't need'. even their 'more affordable' versions of protools is too expensive not to have time code. well, you can have that option for a thousand dollars more. imagine that.

and can you just imagine what Deck 8.0 can do if it existed now? one thing that set it apart was the beautiful uncluttered interface. And that real time pitch slider on the transport window - you can do a lot of crazy shit with that.
but not as crazy as what capitalist shit can do to kill a brilliant idea.

anyway, thanks for the great read. i still have my copy of the audio anarchist btw. thank you OSC!

8:22 PM, August 09, 2008  
Anonymous David Schwab said...

Don't know what made me search for OSC... but this was a fun read. I was a big DECK II user for a long time. The only issues back then was no support for sound cards, other than that Korg card, and of course the lack of integrated MIDI. Running it with Metro worked fine, but editing was a chore.

I always said Macromedia was evil. I bought Deck right when they did, but I had been using it at work a while longer.

10:31 PM, August 19, 2008  
Blogger Utah Savage said...

Still no nekkid fotos??? Where's Haroon??

12:39 PM, September 10, 2008  
Anonymous John Dalton said...

It's great to see the love for OSC. Especially after all these years.

However, being one of the people this article is about (a founder of OSC), i can assure you that it is not really an example of good writing, but a hatchet job puff piece news article that really is pretty clueless about what OSC or the people who started it and worked there were really about. In my humble opinion.

We were really upset when it was originally published in SF Weekly, and it's kind of tragic to see it's still on the web after all these years. But maybe i view it differently than other people do, taking it way too personally.

5:24 PM, October 21, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a Deck II reseller on the east coast, still have my framed OSC manifesto:) It was a great time to be 21, the DAW big bang. I don't know how something can be both a hatchet job and a puff piece, but trust me John, we revered you guys and you inspired us to do it ourselves.

5:24 PM, November 18, 2016  

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