Plugin Subscriptions: Why the hate? Should you go perpetual?


plugin subscriptions lead 128x71 1Plugin Subscriptions: Why the hate? Should you go perpetual?

Plugin Subscriptions Lead

Plugin subscription models are polarizing in the music production community. Are there any benefits to endlessly paying and never owning?

Plugin Subscriptions

Love it or hate it, plugin subscriptions are here to stay. The trend of charging rent monthly or yearly to use but never own a piece of software has grown over time, with now many developers offering some kind of subscription service. It’s one of the most contentious aspects of modern music production, with many producers holding very strong opinions on the subject.

Current plugin pricing falls into three categories. First is perpetual licenses: buy it once and it’s yours forever. The next is rent-to-own, where you pay a small amount a month until the total purchase price is paid off. The last is the subscription model, where you drop cash periodically to use the product but lose access to it once you stop paying.

Plugin Subscriptions: Pretty Hate Machine

I wanted to find out how people felt about subscriptions compared to perpetual licenses and rent-to-own, so I made a couple of unofficial polls on Facebook, one on my personal page and one in the Simply Synthesizers group. I asked how people preferred to acquire plugins: perpetual license, rent-to-own or subscription. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority chose perpetual license. A few had used rent-to-own and didn’t have a problem with it. A handful used subscriptions. Many not only didn’t use subscriptions but actively hated them, with one well-known Nordic synthtuber likening them to the work of Satan himself.

Minimal Audio Current

Minimal Audio Current

This was about what I expected in terms of numbers, although the incredible dislike for subscriptions did surprise me a little. Why the hate for subscriptions?

Plugin Subscriptions: Minimal Audio and Waves

In early 2023, Waves announced its new subscription model, Waves Creative Access. Many of the company’s plugins could now be accessed at one of two price points, with the user getting either 110 plugins or all 230 of them. The problem was subscription was now the only option; perpetual license sales were done. The backlash was swift and powerful. Within days, Waves had backtracked on their decision and made perpetual licenses available again. (For better or for worse. The company’s update policy remains unpopular, with customers effectively required to repurchase the plug-in every few years to ensure compatibility with operating systems.)

Waves Creative Access

Waves Creative Access

After the hit that Waves took to its reputation, you would think that no other company would attempt a subscription-only approach. However, that’s just what happened when up-and-coming developer Minimal Audio released its much-anticipated first instrument, the wavetable synthesizer Current. Again, there was no option for a perpetual license, just a subscription that included the synth plus access to the company’s sample and preset service, Stream. Reaction from the producer community was predictably one of disbelief and even outrage. Minimal Audio wisely backpedalled on the payment structure, adding a perpetual license option (with a year’s free access to Stream) plus rent-to-own elements in the subscription tiers.

Waves Ultimate 1-Month Subscription Download
Waves Ultimate 1-Month Subscription Download

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Available for 24.90 € at thomann

Waves Ultimate Annual Subscription Download
Waves Ultimate Annual Subscription Download
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Available for 249.00 € at thomann

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Minimal Audio Effects Bundle

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Plugin Subscriptions: Keeping the wolves at bay

When Current dropped, it was as if Minimal Audio had come out in favour of cannibalism. The situation was so toxic, YouTubers who had prepared advance reviews and reaction videos immediately distanced themselves from the furore.

Roland Cloud

Roland Cloud

There are many plugin subscription services now but the difference between general dislike and outright outrage in their existence is having a perpetual license option. Roland Cloud, one of the first services of note and an early punching bag for anti-sub sentiment, offers perpetual licenses (what Roland calls Lifetime Keys) for all Cloud products. That seems to make all the difference. As long as there’s an option to purchase, the wolves are kept at bay. They may still howl but they’re much less likely to attack.

Another subscription option that placates producers is getting to keep rented plugins for free after a certain point. Plugin Alliance offers this with its Mega bundles, granting subscribers a selection of perpetual licenses for their choice of plugins after a year. For example, Mega L is $149.99 a year with three free plugins. You could easily exceed the value of $150 with three effects or soft synths.

Roland Cloud Zenology Pro Download
Roland Cloud Zenology Pro Download

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Available for 255.00 € at thomann

Plugin Subscriptions: The rent-to-own alternative

Rent-to-own offers you the affordability of a subscription with the added bonus of being able to keep the plugins when you’re done. Plugin Alliance has a bundle of all its products, the appropriately named PA All Bundle, in a rent-to-own payment scheme whereby you can use the plugins as long as you keep paying. Once the payments have been completed, they are yours to keep. Sample company Splice offers a similar plan for many popular plugins, including Xfer Records’ Serum. (Or try these Serum alternatives.)

Plugin Subscriptions: Benefits of subscriptions

Despite the antipathy for them, subscription services are popular enough for most developers to offer them in some capacity. Why are people using them? Of the many negative responses to my Facebook poll, one who came out on the side of subs was YouTuber Starsky Carr. He offered to expand on his reasons for using subscription services for this article.

Plugin Alliance Mega Bundles

Plugin Alliance Mega Bundles

First and foremost, Carr finds that subscription models can be cost-effective. “I have … spent a small fortune on various plugins over the years,” he says. “My initial reaction to the subscription model was the same as most others, in that I felt I’d rather own the software outright. But once I looked at my previous 12 months’ spend on plugin ‘sales’ and compared it to something like the Plugin Alliance or Roland Cloud subscriptions, I changed my mind.”

Access is also something that he likes. “With the subscription model you have access to everything,” he explains, “which in itself takes away hours of procrastination and research into what the benefits might be of purchasing the latest emulation. You just have it, end of.”

He also likes subscriptions because of the updates, the price of which is included in the subscription. “Software companies have to keep up with OS updates,” he says, “and we can’t expect them to do this in perpetuity for free. … The software houses have the predictable funds to continually upgrade and innovate and we have access to everything we need.”

Plugin Subscriptions: Conclusion

There are clearly benefits to the subscription model. On a personal level, I don’t subscribe to any music plugins although I do pay every month for access to Photoshop. I need it to make the lead images that appear in these kinds of stories. I certainly couldn’t afford Photoshop any other way. As for why I don’t subscribe to music software, that also comes down to finances. And, I must admit, I have reservations about paying for something that I don’t get to keep.

I have the suspicion that this last issue—not being able to keep the plugin—is more of a sticking point for older people. I’m from a generation that bought physical media. We like things that you can hold onto. Software may not have a physical component but at least we can say that we own it. Perpetually renting feels like being taken advantage of. I wonder if young people have these same kinds of hangups.

“My advice,” sums up Carr, “would be to bite the bullet, pick (a subscription bundle) and stick with it. … There’s nothing to stop you picking up other interesting or unique software along the way, but if you can’t make professional tracks using any of the major subscriptions it’s probably not the software’s fault.”

Where do you stand on the issue? Let me know in the comments. If you could also say your age or generation, that would be helpful so I can test my theory about age and a desire to own things.


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