When the news broke of Rane being sold to inMusic, there was a palpable sense of loss in the DJ community. The general knee-jerk internet response was that Rane was effectively dead in the hands of the brand-building empire of Jack O’Donnell, and that it would sit idle in the stable of other brands, much like Denon DJ did for a good while. More on that later.
But instead of depending on an internet full of armchair experts predicting doom and gloom, and speaking for inMusic without actually speaking to inMusic, we decided that it would be a better idea for inMusic to speak for themselves about their plans for the beloved Rane brand. “Hey let’s hook you up with the Rane engineers” they said. “Cool”, quoth I, “but I’m keen to dig into the future for the brand as well as the product — expect some awkward questions”.
The resulting Skype gulp from inMusic was deafening. But we’re not about giving the industry an easy ride when it comes to difficult subjects, so off went questions for Rick Jeffs, long time product guru at Rane, and for Paul Buckley, the top Marketing fella at inMusic.
First up is Rick:
For the readers, who are you, what do you do, and what Rane products have you worked on?
My name is Rick Jeffs and I’ve been the Senior Design Engineer for Rane Corporation for 20 years. In all, I designed more than 40 products for Rane. The ones you’re likely more interested in are the DJ products: MM8z, MP44, TTM54, TTM52, TTM56, MP2016, XP2016, SL1, SL2, SL3, SL4, MP2, MP4, TTM57SL, Sixty-Eight, Sixty-Four, Sixty-Two, TTM57mkII, MP2015 Rotary and MP2014 Rotary. I have the same title since the inMusic acquisition and I’ll continue to work out of the Rane office in Mukilteo, Washington.
Working for Rane must have been pretty cool. What do you think were the key elements that set it apart from other DJ companies?
Rane was unique in that it was a small, privately-held company. As such, I was able to influence which products were developed then define, architect, design and help promote those products with close friends. All-in-all, a very rewarding experience.
The one thing I really appreciate about the inMusic acquisition is that they’re leaving the Rane design and engineering group intact, which is cool.
Having visited the Rane factory in January, I was struck by the desire to do as much as possible in-house, and the relative just in time nature of manufacture. Why was this approach adopted, and what are the pros and cons of this?
All Rane manufacturing was done in-house. It had more of the vibe of a specialty boutique house than that of a large-scale manufacturer. There were pros and cons. On the upside, you have the ability to innovate and accommodate the needs of relatively small groups of users with very specific needs. This is awesome if you are one of the chosen few. The downside is that it is difficult to cost-effectively serve the needs of a wider group of users at a price they can afford.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to survive as a small US manufacturer and many potential customers were left out because they simply couldn’t afford to purchase our products.
Describe how a new DJ product was conceptualized and created within the confines of the Rane environment. Tell us about how new product was decided on, and roughly how long something would take from concept to delivery.
Rane has the philosophy that their customers own the product. The customer (the DJ) would come to us with a need (not a specific product idea, just a need) and we would turn that need into a list of requirements, then engineer a solution. This usually involved rapid prototyping and ultimately a design would emerge that worked for the customer and Rane.
After requirements were dialed in, most products would take 9 to 12 months to produce. This is pretty typical and I expect the process now under inMusic will be similar, if not improved.
The DJ scene begged for a Rane controller. Were there any discussions? Sketches? Working prototypes? And if so, what stopped it from appearing?
There were discussions and sketches. The controller market was quickly dominated by capable and low-cost products. The mobile and hobby segment was a very large market better served by companies with a lot of capital and large-scale manufacturing capability.
The quality and features of controllers has been improving steadily and they are now on par with some of the best mixers out there and are being used by some serious artists. An example of a really good, ground-breaking controller is the Denon DJ MCX8000.
Before, Rane simply could not have produced a comparable product at an affordable price. But now we can have another look at doing a controller with a “Rane” personality.
When I visited in January, I got a definite sense of not being sure what to do next. Rane has always brought fresh ideas, but with the needs of DJs pretty much already serviced and by other Serato partners too, did old Rane have a clear path forward?
From my perspective, it wasn’t that Rane ran out of ideas or that DJs already had what they needed, it was more a matter of whether Rane could continue to produce high-value product. As designs became more complex (hardware and firmware) it became more and more difficult to amortize the cost of development over a relatively small volume of sales.
Going from a smaller company to a large-scale manufacturer is not an easy transition. All the design and product people are still here in WA, with all of our passion and personality, but now we have this sort of ‘silent partner’ standing behind us, opening up all kinds of intriguing possibilities.
Old Rane was pretty unique in being a major player in the DJ industry and being designed and built in the US. Given that manufacturing will move to the far east, how do you see the process of making Rane gear changing?
First of all, I would like to clear up the misconception that all products produced in the Far East are inferior to products produced in the US. Certainly some low-cost products come out Asia. Those products serve an important market segment for hobbyists and other consumers that don’t have a couple grand to drop on a mixer or controller.
Technically sophisticated and well-built products also come out of Asia —products as good or better than what is produced in the US. I expect the quality of Rane products produced in Asia will be as good or better than what we were producing locally. I think the biggest difference will be that the technical, marketing and distribution expertise of inMusic will allow the development of higher value products and make them available to a broader customer base.
As a product designer, an opportunity to develop high-value product for a greater number of DJs is an appealing prospect.
In terms of supporting existing product, will there still be spares available? Thinking back to the El Capitan issue, what about software support?
I’m not really the best person to speak to what will happen on the support side. it’s certainly in inMusic’s best interest to do the best they can to support existing Rane customers and I’m optimistic they will do so.
What do you think being part of inMusic will bring to new Rane? How do you feel new Rane will differ from old Rane? Do you think it can still retain what made Rane… Rane?
Working with inMusic will allow us to do things we were unable to do at Rane. They are able to provide technical expertise, tooling and manufacturing capabilities that Rane simply did not have and without a huge injection of capital would not have been able to acquire. We had product ideas drawn up, but were unable to produce them at a price our customers could or should have been able to pay.
The Rane engineering group expects to maintain a close relationship with our customers and we’ll approach product conception and development pretty much the same as we have in the past. Only now, with inMusic support, we’ll be in a position to do products we had imagined but didn’t have the resources to develop.
And over to Paul Buckley, Marketing Director of inMusic. I asked for a picture, but he preferred to make this all about Rane. So here’s a logo in his place:
When the news broke about inMusic buying Rane, the collective disappointment at the perceived loss of the Rane that we know and love was clear, and in particular the new owners being inMusic. How did this reaction make you feel?
The passion surrounding Rane is very real and something we can relate to since we experience similar passions today with our brands. We also recognize that there is a misconception that inMusic is a corporation within the minds of customers. It is not. It’s owned by a sole proprietor that started a company of brands with Numark.
When we acquire a brand, we take careful steps to bring a brand back-to-life, never to kill it off, as some big monolithic corporation might do. We understand that a prestigious brand such as Rane will bring out the emotions and passions of its customer base, and we’re sensitive to this. We fully intend to continue the legacy of the brand’s quality and integrity, because that’s what attracted us to Rane in the first place.
You can see how seriously we take that by the fact the Rane’s design team in WA will continue to “be Rane” without any interference.
The inMusic roster of DJ brands continues to grow. With Denon DJ planting its flag in the premium DJ sector, how will Rane operate alongside Denon DJ? Will there be clear lines of demarkation?
One of the strengths of Rane has continually been its dedication to the turntablist market. There were many exciting products that Rane couldn’t develop, given the restraints under previous ownership. Now those products will come to life, because now the Rane product and engineering team has the full support and resources needed to make those products a reality.
Community was a key value to the Rane brand and is witnessed at battles and trade shows. The heritage of Rane played a key part in this as did the people themselves. With familiar faces having left Rane, what’s the plan in terms of offering grass roots support to the established Rane user base?
We haven’t missed a beat with the Rane community, as displayed at the recent DMC Championships this past weekend in San Francisco, where Rane was represented by the Rane product team and engaging with the community as usual. We are also continuing to engage with the Rane DJ community on product development ideas – so nothing has changed. Passion is key, and we recognize that.
US based manufacture and stellar quality were key elements to the Rane brand. What does moving manufacture to the far east bring to the Rane brand?
inMusic is a global company, so not all of our brands’ products are produced in the Far East. We kept the Rane Engineering and Product Development teams intact to insure the quality and integrity of the Rane products being produced overseas, we feel that the quality and time-to-market will improve through our current manufacturing process.
Product quality and performance are a function of commitment and company culture, far more than where it’s “screwed together,” so to speak. The Rane commitment and culture hasn’t changed one bit.
Another area where Rane excelled was in customer support. Stories of going over and above the call of duty were commonplace on forums, and is a key factor to the love that people have for them. How does inMusic plan to live up to this reputation?
inMusic has maintained dedicated tech support at Rane’s headquarters in Washington State as well as in Rhode Island, and throughout our global offices. Our plan is to simply continue the dedication to Rane customers – again, nothing has changed. inMusic’s support of our other brands borders on fanatical, so this is in our DNA.
Short term, will we see a shortage of Rane product while production moves abroad? Will every product survive, and are there already plans for new Rane product?
There are already products in development with the Rane Seattle team and it’s still too early to determine which – if any – products might not continue.
Summing up, given the heritage of the brand, the amazing quality, customer support, and strong community links, please give the DJWORX community a clear vision of Rane’s future journey under inMusic’s ownership.
Rane has a long legacy of creating purpose-built solid solutions for the professional DJ community, based upon direct interaction with users and a product team that has unmatched experience delivering those solutions. To that end, absolutely nothing has changed.
What will change are several things that the DJ Market will certainly appreciate and enjoy. There has been the introduction of new technology that is relevant to users today that was simply not available to the Rane engineering team. The inMusic relationship now will allow for many of requested features and products to be built that could not be executed before. In addition, inMusic has a far more global reach, so global support and distribution can be better served under this leadership.
Rane will continue its legacy of supporting the DJ community through DMC and Thre3tyle competitions. You can also expect a greater expanse of the product offerings Rane will now be capable of producing. All and all, we feel this transition of ownership will enhance the impact of a storied brand we have always admired and will help it grow into the brand we know the DJ community needs for the future.
It’s all too easy for the DJ community to rebel against a perceived corporate brand hoover sucking up a small homegrown business. History has shown us many times over that takeovers are a messy thing with a trail of asset stripping and lost jobs. And it would be disingenuous of me to gloss over that the Rane takeover hasn’t seen its fair share of casualties. But Rane was up for sale for a good reason, and it’s better than someone bought it and save some jobs and brand equity than for everything to be lost.
I am however beginning to get a growing vibe that the people of inMusic are becoming more brand oriented and seeing the potential and value in their respective sectors. There’s a reason why Jack dipped into his piggy banks to snap up Rane, and that reason would appear to be (at least in part) to have an aspirational brand in a sector that inMusic has been spread thin in. And yes, to make some money too.
Think of it this way — for a long time, there was just Numark as inMusic’s DJ brand, that covered all bases. When DJing was a narrow field, this was fine. But the diverse and rich melting pot of technology is a tough marketing proposition when targeting beginners with no money and seasoned pros with deep pockets — all under one umbrella brand. At least now, with Numark, Denon DJ, Marq Lighting, Akai Professional (at least a little), and finally Rane, inMusic has an established roster with definite market sectors and positions, and each can play to their respective strengths and values.
If you have any doubt about Rane, take a look at Denon DJ. Granted, it’s taken a while for the brand to stamp its feet again, but with the MCX8000 aiming for the top end of Serato’s feature set, and having Engine as an entirely standalone prospect, it’s clear that inMusic hardly put the brand into mothballs. And this is just the start. I’ve seen some of their future roadmap, and it was a rare moment of me being left without words to immediately articulate. Believe me when I say that Denon DJ is coming back with a bang.
Obviously, there will be challenges for Rane, and by definition inMusic too. Given that any Rane product in the retail chain (more or less all gone I’m told) is the last coming off the Seattle factory production line, it’s unclear if existing designs will be reworked for the far eastern factories, or if the new inMusic brush will sweep clean and deliver brand new Rane products.
But with the key design and engineering people still being based in Seattle but having a much larger production toy box to play with, and the inMusic sales, marketing, and distribution channels being at their disposal, it seems that much of the Rane spirit will still be intact, but perhaps even amplified with the inMusic machine behind it.
We can only hope that Rane will grow and prosper under inMusic’s stewardship, and that the products that they really wanted to make will finally come to fruition. Just be patient.