Ten years ago, audio engineer Stephan Schmitt and software developer Volker Hinz created Generator, one of the virtual world's first modular synthesizers. The pair (both native Berliners) had oodles of creativity and computer know-how, but very little business acumen. They turned to Daniel Haver, an erstwhile manager of a graphic design firm who was passionate about music but, admittedly, not very musically inclined. In lieu of a salary, Haver accepted a two-year engagement in exchange for stock in the company, and Native Instruments was born.
"I was pretty sure we were going to end up being a very successful and bigger company," says Haver, now Native Instruments' CEO. "That was the reason I joined... I was completely convinced that Stephan had invented a product that would have a strong influence on the industry, and that the Japanese companies could not really compete with their quite expensive, inflexible hardware synthesizers. I was freaking out about the possibilities of this tool and how it would affect the music I listened to."
A fan of everything from techno to dub, Haver says that one of his goals was to have some of his favorite artists using NI's gear. "By now, I'd guess at least a third, if not half, of all these people have released records with Native Instruments products," he says cheerfully. Those names? Folks like Underworld and Carl Craig come to his mind.
Native Instruments' success is hardly shocking, though. Their software and synthesizers–including Generator, Traktor, Reaktor, Absynth, and the new Kore, a full hardware/software sound platform–have continuously pushed the envelope. But along with great tools and the founders' clear vision–one that stipulated creating open-source instruments for all types of producers and performers–Native Instruments has always had the advantage of having Berlin's burgeoning scene by their side.
"The music scene here is very strong," Haver reminds us, "and having these musicians basically living alongside us, and being in the middle of it all and getting their feedback immediately, was always very important for us."