Steinberg MD Clyde Sendke on adapting to change and staying innovative: "We are in a competitive market"

Clyde Sendke, managing director of Steinberg talks about Steinberg's position in the market, thoughts on the way AI is muscling into the world of music production tech and if it’s a threat, how the company stays innovative and what sets the brand’s technology apart from the competition.

You have been working at Steinberg for over two decades across various departments; what are some of the most significant changes you have experienced within the company and the wider music production industry during that time?

There are two things that are significant for the company: Steinberg was acquired in 2003 by Pinnacle Systems, a US-based company for video editing software. Then Steinberg was acquired in 2005 by the Yamaha Corporation, and we have been working closely with our Japanese colleagues on several projects. 

Regarding the music production industry, I would say the increase of computation and performance over the years have given producers and engineers the freedom to work with audio and music in many new ways, such as audio processing, track count, and so on. 

Very significantly, the internet has provided many new means to collaborate with musicians and other producers, be it simply communicating, exchanging audio files, or even recording in real-time. In general, new technologies have delivered new ways to play and produce music, including spatial audio like Dolby Atmos.

What motivated you to first join Steinberg? Have you always had an interest in the world of music production and technology?

One reason I joined Steinberg is due to my love for music. My dad was regularly recording cassettes in the ‘70s for me, and my father bought himself the first version of Cubase for his Atari ST in 1989 or 1990, so my interest in music production and music tech played a big part [in me joining Steinberg]. I joined Steinberg as a freelancer in 1996 and at Musikmesse in 2000 they asked me to join Steinberg as a permanent member. It was a perfect match for me.

What is your leadership philosophy and how do you apply it in your role as managing director?

I believe that the different teams working at Steinberg know what's best in their areas of expertise. So each team member is passionate about what she or he is doing. Each one knows how to advise and to make decisions that are beneficial to the company. So it is then my responsibility to enable and empower the people, or in other words, to provide the necessary resources to overcome any obstacles and to strengthen their performance.

What are your main objectives since taking on the MD role and what is your vision for the future of Steinberg?

To strengthen and increase brand awareness, open up our product range to new customers, and we will have to adapt to changing requirements of content creators. There will be future objectives planned together with Yamaha. I would like to maintain transparency and openness. 

For instance, when I was appointed MD, in the first month I arranged Talk To Me sessions, and over 50 of our team members made use of that. We talked about everything they thought was important and although I have been with the company for 23 years, this has given me a new insight into the company. Talking to each other on a daily basis is really key.

We always have to carefully balance between what are the latest trends, and what are the actual needs of our customers.

How do you assess Steinberg's current market position, and what steps would you take to strengthen it?

Steinberg’s position in the market has been long established over many years. In fact, Steinberg will be celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2024. But since it's a very competitive market, we continue to work hard to deliver tools that the market is asking for.

Is the development of AI DAWs, post production tech, mastering and music composition and notation software a concern to the company?

Simply put, no. It's not a concern to Steinberg. We must understand and accept that such tools can help users to achieve their goals more efficiently and quicker and they're expecting from us as a company to deliver on that, and we will do that.

How do you foster a culture of innovation within Steinberg, and what role does technology play in the company's growth strategy?

We support a culture of innovation here at Steinberg and technology certainly plays an important role in our growth strategy. If you take VST for example, this technology made the integration of third party products into a DAW possible. However, there will also be a trade off between market demands and innovative features. So we always have to carefully balance between what are the latest trends, and what are the actual needs of our customers.

What effect did the pandemic have on the company, and did the company change the way it approaches anything due to this?

From my personal point of view, I think covid has changed a lot at Steinberg. We made a very quick transition to the way we work as a company, and we are very satisfied with it. Unlike other companies who are now trying to force the team members back into the offices, we are not doing that. Actually, we agreed that our team members can still freely choose between working in the office or mobile work, and we are really benefiting from this flexibility.

Besides Cubase, what other products and technologies has Steinberg introduced over the years, and which are still being used today?

Alongside Cubase, Steinberg offers a wide range of software and hardware for audio and music production. As mentioned earlier, VST is certainly the technology that has brought the industry closer together, allowing software applications from different companies to work seamlessly with each other. WaveLab was introduced in the mid ‘90s and is used by many mastering studios to this day, and even a lot of amateur users are using it. 

Then there's HALion, the first soft sampler to be introduced in 2001. These days, all of our instruments are actually based on our latest HALion engine. Nuendo was introduced around the millennium and is the studio standard until today, and the list goes on and on. We have many brands that have been with us for a long time and we will continue to develop those.

We are in a competitive market. Cubase is very strong in Europe and Japan, and we keep on breaking ground in the US.

The Steinberg website boasts a wide range of products, from sound libraries to virtual instruments to music notation, recording and production software. What is the reason Steinberg offers such an extensive product portfolio?

Our wide range of products pretty much cover the requirements of all our customers. You can start out with the affordable Cubase Elements, choose to stock up on instruments and new sound libraries, and you can add an audio interface to your setup. That's really all you need to start to produce and record your music. If you want to go into mastering, we offer WaveLab. So you can do everything from scratch up to the final result with our product portfolio.

Can you provide a brief overview of the evolution of Cubase from its inception to the present day?

Steinberg’s first MIDI sequencer was Pro 16, introduced back in ‘84, which ran on the Commodore 64. This was then further developed, which became Pro 24 on the Atari ST computer with its integrated MIDI ports. Then in 1989, this all evolved to Cubase; first on Atari, soon after on Mac, and then Windows. Then it underwent quite an evolution in the ‘90s with audio VST. In the 2000s a new framework and workflow enhancement was added, and then innovative features like Note Expression, VariAudio were added to Cubase.

How has Cubase adapted to changes in technology and industry trends over the years?

Cubase always has to adapt to changes, and there are constantly changes happening. For instance, we are always up to date on the latest operating systems, be it Mac OS or Windows, and we maintain a close relationship with both operating system manufacturers. Very recently we've added MIDI 2.0 to Cubase 13.

What key innovations or features in Cubase have set it apart from other DAWs in the market?

The key is that our features are implemented in ways that make them easier to access and be used. There are always performance enhancements. If we look at performance comparisons, Cubase was at the top compared to other DAWs, and we always try to take advantage of the computer hardware.

We take user feedback very seriously; this makes us understand what our customers require.

How do you see Cubase's position in the current DAW market, and how has it evolved over time?

Now, we are really in a competitive market. At the end of the ‘90s there were a handful of DAWs, and nowadays, users can choose from a much greater variety of tools that fit their individual needs. However, we are an authority in MIDI and audio. With Cubase, we are very strong in Europe and Japan, and we keep on breaking ground in the US over the past few years. That's how I would describe our current position.

How has Cubase embraced technological advancements such as improvements in audio processing, virtual instruments and integration with external hardware?

Cubase needs to meet the requirements of its users from hobbyists to professionals, and each user harnesses the power of Cubase in a different way. For instance, providing a high resolution audio engine or offering different means to connect to external hardware such as our MIDI remote integration, was introduced with version 12. These are the ways we try to support our users.

How much does the company take on board user feedback when developing the new version of Cubase in terms of features?

We take user feedback very seriously; this makes us understand what our customers require when using our products. That's why we have been running our own forums for more than 20 years.

Can you share an example of a feature or enhancement that was directly influenced by user input?

Steinberg has constantly engaged in listening to the broad community of users, for instance, we noticed that many composers have a full screen key editor where the selected events are always visible. 

A good example is that we got some wonderful feedback from composer Alan Silvestri [Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Avengers, Avengers: Infinity War] and he improved the MIDI step up input to be faster and more productive to use.

Simply put, AI is not a concern to Steinberg.

How does Steinberg perceive current trends in the audio and post-production industry, and how is Nuendo positioned to address these trends?

We listen carefully to the demands of professional users in the industry. So it's not so much about trends, but what professionals regard as tools of the trade, and these are implemented into Nuendo. Lately with Nuendo 13, we've added MPEG-H Audio. We will continue to develop unique and time-saving features and add to the comprehensive feature set in all areas of Nuendo.

HALion has been around for some time. What’s the story behind it?

HALion was maybe the first soft sampler, being introduced in 2001. The name itself is taken from the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey – one of the characters is a super computer, Hal 9000. So that's why we came up with that name. We realised at that time that a soft sampler is something we were missing in our product portfolio.

Only recently did Steinberg begin to offer third-party instruments that run on the HALion engine. What was the reason?

There was a point in time where we had rewritten the whole HALion engine. In HALion 6, we introduced Macro Page Designer for creating user interfaces for instruments and commercial libraries, together with a script for instrument programming, custom MIDI modules, and the Library Creator for compiling custom instruments. 

Then HALion opened up to third party content. Meanwhile, we have many third party instruments and libraries also sold through our online store, and this approach allowed HALion users to access more content than they could have done before. For us, it is very important that the content we are offering meets the high standards of our customers.

In what ways has Dorico been embraced by the music notation community?

Dorico is used in a wide variety of contexts, from the biggest Hollywood blockbusters, to new publications from the great publishing houses, from leading universities, to individual musicians in their homes. Its users tend to be very passionate advocates of our software, and it has undoubtedly the liveliest user community of any of those applications in the field. 

Dorico entered a well established market segment with two major commercial applications and a popular free low cost solution. We think that our unique approach enabled us to win a lot of fans. Many people know that we started this from scratch with a well known and established team using the knowledge that today's musicians really need for their composition in music notation software, which is a much broader set of tools than traditionally offered by scoring applications. There isn't really another application like Dorico in this category.

Everybody in the production process is expected to do more with less, and Cubase’s smart optimisations are designed to save time.

Can you provide examples of Dorico’s impact on professional composers, arrangers and educators?

Alan Silvestri uses Dorico together with Cubase in the production of his music for films, including Avengers: Endgame and all of his frequent collaborations with Robert Zemeckis. He works back and forth between Cubase and Dorico. 

He creates markups in Cubase and then scores in Dorico to instruct his orchestrator for the parts for the sessions. Or, for instance, on big Netflix productions like The Prom and Green Eggs and Ham have also had their music prepared in Dorico, so composers find the flexibility of Dorico invaluable. Other music notation software is more constraining, but Dorico allows every composition or decision to be made and remade with no penalties. 

As for the educational market, the Berklee School of Music uses Dorico in its film composition classes, as does the film scoring Academy of Europe in Sofia. Dorico has the ability to easily use high end sample libraries, while an integrated audio engine, powerful expression maps and media editing features increasingly make it a choice for musicians.

How does Dorico contribute to the modernisation of music notation practices in the industry?

With music being prepared for publication for recording sessions or for the stage, deadlines and budgets are getting tighter all the time. Everybody in the production process is expected to do more with less, and Cubase’s smart optimisations are designed to save time. Increasingly, professionals are turning to Dorico for this reason. Dorico has gone from desktop computers to the iPad, and the mobile version provides almost the same features as the desktop version, as well as being 100% project-compatible, which makes it possible to use it in a wide range of circumstances. 

The team behind Dorico are the world's experts, and they are responsible for broader changes in the industry. So for instance, Steinberg originated the standard music font layout, and this is an open standard that makes it easier for everyone to use the different fonts in music publishing, and which also has greatly expanded the range of music symbols that can be used in music education applications. Our team members also play a significant role in the development of vital technologies, including music, XML and its successor format, MNX.

What would Steinberg like to say to its customers that have supported the company so far?

Hamburg has been one of the incubators of this whole industry and we have had support from customers for decades. What I would really like to do in the name of all of our team members is to thank all those customers over the years that constantly keep supporting us and helping us to make our products better.