UPDATE, 2018-02-23: Cakewalk SONAR has been rescued from Gibson, and will continue to live on! See the article here.
On November 17th, 2017, musical instrument conglomerate Gibson shocked the music-making community by announcing the total shutdown of one of their recently-acquired divisions: Cakewalk Software.

Cakewalk, makers of the SONAR recording program and many other extremely popular products, had been around for some 30 years and had a customer base of millions of loyal users.

Many of our clients and members of the Azalea Insiders Club are Cakewalk users, and justifiably, are extremely upset by Gibson’s complete shutdown of Cakewalk, with no warning.  They have legitimate concerns about the viability of all of the Cakewalk software products they currently own, and for some, the implications of being subscribers rather than outright owners of their copies of Cakewalk DAW software and virtual instrument libraries.

Although my primary music production software platform is Steinberg’s Cubase, I’ve always been a huge fan of Cakewalk – both the company and its products – and was a SONAR user for many years.  Their early adoption of truly 64-bit architecture, incorporation of V-Vocal tuning software directly into their products, and inclusion of high-quality, stock plug-ins like their VC Series vintage EQs and compressors, was groundbreaking – significantly far ahead of the pack at the time.

I’ve kept up with Cakewalk’s product enhancements through the years, since so many of my consulting and coaching clients are full-time Cakewalk users.  So I’m just as heartbroken as they are to see the demise of this wonderful company and its innovative products, especially since it was through no fault of their own.

I’d like to reassure Cakewalk users that the end of the world is not imminent (although it may feel that way right now), and there is a way forward

For all of my “Cakewalk Refugee” friends out there, here are a few recommendations for where to go from here…

First, Don’t panic!

Your Cakewalk software will not cease to function the next time you crank it up.  As long as its underlying Windows environment does not change significantly, it will continue to hum along just fine for the time being.

At the same time, don’t expect it to work forever.

The integrity of the Cakewalk software is not the real issue here; changes to Windows itself are the issue.

Since it’s virtually impossible to prevent Windows from changing itself out from under you (often quite significantly) without warning, your Cakewalk software will be subject to whatever future changes Microsoft decides to make to the Windows environment.  Certain Cakewalk features (or, heaven forbid, entire programs) will eventually no longer work the same way, or at all. It won’t likely be next week, but when it does happen a few months or even a year from now, there won’t be any Cakewalk software developers available to fix whatever Windows has broken out from under it.

So while you continue to use your Cakewalk software, don’t just operate on a wing and a prayer… Start planning for its eventual obsolescence NOW.

Make a transition plan to replacement software.

One of the greatest things about virtually ALL of the DAW and virtual instrument software today is that it’s ALL pretty amazing.

The audio software manufacturers are notorious for constantly copying one another as they try to stay competitive.  The great result for us is that most of the software has most of the same features; it’s just a question of how they’re implemented in the different offerings.  So whether its SONAR, Cubase, Pro Tools, Studio One or Digital Performer (just to name a few), they’re ALL pretty amazing, and will provide you with tons of excellent functionality.

Another great thing about the specific programs I listed above is that they all run on both Mac and Windows, so since you’ve been Windows-based with Cakewalk all these years, you won’t have to buy a new computer or become comfortable with a completely different operating system; you can continue to work on the platform that you’re already familiar with.

Here are a few things to think about when considering the eventual replacement for your Cakewalk software:
  1. What’s the company behind it? Needless to say, if the Cakewalk-Gibson experience taught us anything, it really helps to get software from a company that’s on a solid footing.  For example, Steinberg (makers of Cubase) have been owned by Yamaha for many years now, and have enjoyed an admirable combination of both integration with Yamaha’s other products, and relative autonomy to still be Steinberg and develop software for a market that they know best.  Neither Yamaha nor Steinberg are going anywhere anytime soon!  🙂
  2. What are the features and functions? Obviously, you’re going to have to do a little digging/research here, but there has never been a better time to reliably compare features and functions of competing software suites than right now.  Between YouTube, Google, the software makers’ Internet forums, and trusted friends and colleagues, you can get a really clear picture of how the features and functions of any piece of software line up with your Cakewalk equivalent.
  3. Is there a trial version? Again, trying to get a competitive edge, many of today’s DAW makers offer fully-functional, time-limited (e.g. 30-day) downloads of their software, so you can take it for a spin in your own environment, and compare it side-by-side with your Cakewalk software.  That’s one of the best ways to make a real-world, informed decision.
  4. What’s the price? Needless to say, you don’t want to have to spend an arm and a leg just to transition to a new piece of software (or a few, if you’re also talking about replacing underlying virtual instruments and effects plug-ins).  Fortunately, just like features, most of today’s DAW manufacturers offer different tiers of functionality.  So if you don’t own SONAR Producer (the full-blown, most expensive version), you don’t necessarily have to buy the full-blown version of your new software if it’s more than you need.  So check out the different tiers, and only get the one that will do the job you’re used to doing now.  You can always upgrade to a more feature-rich version later, as your needs dictate.
  5. Is there a “crossgrade” available? Many music software manufacturers offer a less-than-full-price option for switching from competitors’ products if you’re able to provide proof of purchase/ownership of those products.  Note that some crossgrades are not available in all countries, so double-check the details before you buy.

Don’t try to just flip a switch – especially in a pinch.

No matter how much software you’ve had experience with, it still takes time to get used to a new program.  So don’t wait until the last minute, when you’re forced to change to your new DAW because Cakewalk suddenly doesn’t work anymore, and expect to make the switch in one fell swoop.

Instead, use the available information resources, do the research, choose your new software, purchase it, and start learning it N.O.W.  That way, you can really take your time – not under pressure – to learn the ins and outs of your new DAW well. When the inevitable day does come when Cakewalk no longer works, you’ll already be up and running on your new software – no fuss, no muss.

And here’s one more thing about not switching all at once, or at the last minute: never, ever, EVER switch over to any new software in the middle of a deadline or a client project!

Learn your new DAW and make the switch on “off days” when nothing is at stake.  The last thing you want is to not be able to do something in the middle of a pressure situation.  Trust me – you’ll thank me for this one!  🙂

Get help from other users who have already switched.

There is nothing more comforting than learning from someone else who has already been through what you are about to go through.  And there are tons of people out there who have switched from one, trusted DAW to a completely new one – sometimes more than once.

Specifically, look for people who are experienced Cakewalk users who are now using a different primary DAW.  I’m one of those people, and have helped a lot of folks transition from Cakewalk to Cubase on a consulting basis.  I figure, if I’ve already made all the mistakes and experienced the gotchas! that sometimes come with a software transition, why not help others with that experience?

If you’re interested in getting that kind of help from me, feel free to contact me at fett@azaleamusic.com and we can talk offline.

While we’re all extremely sad to see the demise of such a software icon as Cakewalk, it’s not the end of the world, and there is a bright future without Cakewalk for you on the horizon.  If you plan ahead and get started on the transition sooner rather than later, you’ll be good to go.

Fett handwritten signature scans - single 4

P.S. If you’ve found good resources for Cakewalk users who are facing the challenges of transitioning for the future, please share them in the comments below.