Rob Papen – Celebrating 20 years of creating virtual synths

Rob Papen – Celebrating 20 years of creating virtual synths

Rob Papen is a long time friend and partner of T+S, having worked with us to release several award-winning virtual synths including Predator 2, Blue II and SubBoomBass as well as a range of popular effects plug-ins including the RP-Verb and the feature-packed RP-EQ.

We caught up with him recently in celebration of his 20th Anniversary producing critically acclaimed software synthesisers and creative FX to get his thoughts on how things have changed since he started out.

Rob PapenHi Rob, congratulations on your 20th anniversary! T+S have loved being a partner with you for most of these years and sharing your journey, what has been the most memorable moment of the last two decades in relation to your products?

Oh boy…that is a good one, there are so many! Well, the people that use my products give me so many memorable moments. Their feedback at trade shows for instance, or getting in touch by email. To see them happy makes me twice as happy.

What makes life as a plug-in developer easier AND more challenging these days compared to 15-20 years ago?

Peru live on stage Computers are far more powerful, so sound wise and feature wise there are hardly any limitations. So on that side, things are more comfortable.

I think it is far more challenging for the consumers. The sheer amount of music programs, plug-ins… it can be dazzling, especially if you are new to making this type of music. This way of making music, it has a huge threshold. You need to play keyboard, need to know what MIDI is, need to know your computer well, your music program, your plug-ins. How to mix and so on…

So on my side, it is not only making products but also to educate about them. That is the new challenge. Since I am not a native English speaker, making tutorials is not easy for me.  Lucky enough it goes a bit better now as my skills grow.

Unlike some plug-in developers who’s staff numbers have grown significantly in numbers over the years, you’ve managed to keep developing a successful product line without having to expand your very small team – how have you managed to achieve that?

Well, I prefer to be small. Things did, and do, grow regularly and I have to adjust to this – it is part of the game of course. But the focus here is to make great products – not being the biggest brand.
Our team is small, but very powerful. We love what we do and work a lot. For sure without Jon Ayres, the brand Rob Papen would not be as versatile as it is now.

 Looking back to the first ever Rob Papen synth – Albino (in partnership with LinPlug), what prompted the development of it at the start of this journey, and do you feel like some part of Albino still exists in synths like Predator 2, despite how long it’s been between then and now?

Rob Papen Predator 2Since I was a sound designer/synth geek and not a programmer I had to find a partner to build a custom synthesizer. So I had to find somebody who was interested. At time Linplug was interested and Albino was born.

It became a huge success. But after a while it became clear to me that I had to have a good partner for future developments and not be held back by a 3rd parties. Well in Jon Ayres I found the perfect partner and our first product was BLUE about 11 years ago. With him I formed RPCX, which is behind all the current Rob Papen products!

Sure the name Albino pops-up regularly and at that time it was ‘fresh’ and ‘new’ to the growing market of virtual synthesizers. Predator 2 is already on a much higher level. Sound wise and feature wise. But of course many made tracks with Albino and do have a positive connection to it, and like the sound as it is.

Do you find the creative process behind developing synths and effects changes as the technology available moves forward?

On some part it doesn’t. We have to create VST, AU and AAX version of our software. They all do the same and look the same in the music programs. This is very frustrating and time consuming for us. If everybody had to stick to the original VST format, we would have more time develop other products.
So developing moved forward for us in the ‘experience’ side of things. Doing it for so many years, we look differently at things now than in the past. So we moved forward, the technology only moved forward in more CPU power. 

Throughout the development of all of your plugins have you ever hit a moment where the technology just didn’t exist for you to be able to achieve what you wanted?

No, I do have the impression that all I want is possible today, mainly thanks to Jon Ayres.

Only we have limited time… so time is our only limitation.

With the programming talents of Jon Ayres, and the attention to detail that’s present in the synths and effects have you thought about analogue modelling, or are you more interested in the future of sounds than recreating the past? Should we expect the Rob Papen 1176, or the RPJUNO anytime soon?!

We use already analogue modelled parts in our synthesizers, or we simulate behaviours that analogue has, which make the sound great.

I don’t throw marketing quotes about ‘analog sounding’ because I believe that a ‘good sound’ is a good sound. No matter where it comes from.

Full analogue gear will always sound different because it has no limitation in the upper spectrum… for instance, an original MiniMoog generates harmonics above our hearing range and has no digital limitation (sample rate). There are endless discussions on forums about digital versus analogue. But I am tired of these discussions… really!

Focus on making music and having fun. If you like to do this with hardware or software…doesn’t matter. The music is what counts, not the way you do it.

Eurhythmics did ‘Sweet Dreams’ on an eight-track recorder if I am not wrong…

Coming back to your question if I would re-create things from the past I have to say this: The past does inspire me, but I started making software synthesizers because of the new ideas I have!

Rob Papen Blue 2If we asked you to make an album using only 1 Rob Papen virtual synth and 1 hardware synth of your choice, what would you choose to pair up? 

Hmmmm…that is a hard one. I would pick BLUE-II because it also has FM synthesis and some cool samples on board…and then I would pick my Roland JP-8 because this synth was my first dream synth that I could purchase.

 Your own plug-ins aside, what music software and/or hardware releases have been most significant to you (or had the most impact on your own music production) in the last twenty years and why?

JP-8, MiniMoog, Microwave and Prophet-600. E-mu and Ensoniq gear.
Software I use is Cubase because that is the only one that I can control a bit. I have no time to study or learn other music programs. I started with Atari and Pro-24 and later on Notator. Now I still use Cubase.

 Learning synthesis from age 15 on a Korg MS-20 and SQ-10 must have given you some great insight from the very start (they can look a little intimidating to say the least!), what’s your golden advice for any novice keen to learn everything they can about synthesis?

It was at that time the first affordable range of synthesizers. Synthesizers became from that time on, more mainstream with also the Polysix and Juno-60. Next revolution was, of course, MIDI and computers like the Atari and Mac with their music software. Sampling became mainstream with the AKAI S-1000 and this sampler also did set the dance scene in the Netherlands in motion.

Computers became more powerful and software synthesizers started to pop-up with companies like NI.
So I was lucky to see this all happening for my own eyes! (oops… I sound like an old guy…)

My gold advice if you like to know more about ‘synthesis’. Buy a synthesizer without any ‘preset’ on board and if you don’t get a decent sound…buy my Book/DVD and study.

After this, you have a good foundation to work with synthesizers and samplers.

Looking forward to the future, can you imagine how plug-ins and the industry might change in the next twenty years?

Everything will be more comfortable. Bigger screens, powerful computers. Tablets might grow also but still has some disadvantages. Lucky enough, the man behind the gear makes the difference. This was 20 years ago, is now and will be in the future… 

And for Rob Papen plug-ins, will you still be creating them in twenty years?!

Most likely I will be making music then and enjoy them in a different way! 😀