[UJAM is a prolific developer of virtual instruments located in Bremen, Germany. Jannik Hainke and Christoph Lange were kind enough to talk to us a little bit about life behind the scenes at UJAM, and what it is about Studio One that makes it such an excellent host DAW for their world-class instruments.]
PreSonus: Introduce yourselves! Who are you and where is your team located? How long has UJAM been around?
J&C: Hi there! We’re a music software company based in the beautiful city of Bremen in the north of Germany! Our company was founded in 2010 by musicians and technology nerds, and we’re proud to say that two of our co-founders include Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer. For many years we were a consulting company developing cool technologies for ourselves and others, but in 2016, we decided to branch out and start making our own virtual instruments and plug-ins. It’s been great—we’ve discovered that we love making instruments and plug-ins for musicians.
P: What makes UJAM products different from the WIDE array of virtual instruments available from other developers? What sets UJAM apart?
J&C: Our products sound amazing, and we pride ourselves on our quality German engineering 🙂 but I think what really sets us apart is our fanatical obsession with ease-of-use. I think from day one, our goal has always been to build instruments that are simple enough for total beginners in a bedroom studio but great-sounding enough that serious professionals will use them on their big-budget productions.
We don’t want our products to feel super tech-y or require years of production experience to use properly. That’s why we design the interfaces for maximum clarity and set up our “frustration-free” controls so you always get musically interesting results no matter how you set the knobs and other controls. Basically, you can be up and running in a few seconds with very little knowledge but there is enough depth there that you can keep using our instruments years later when you’ve become a professional! That’s what we strive for, anyway.
P: How do you choose what niche to fill in a product family? For example, Virtual Bassist or Virtual Guitarist each have up to five stylistic varieties. How do you choose what styles to pursue and develop an instrument for?
J&C: There’s no simple answer for this one. In general, we look at what our customers are saying, what is happening in the marketplace, and what kind of genres we are excited to cover ourselves. I can say that we definitely avoid chasing trends since trends come and go quickly and end up sounding dated. Instead, we do our best to find styles and genres that musicians will continue to find useful and interesting for many years.
Once we decide on a certain genre or style, we hire session musicians to record the sounds and patterns we need for a virtual instrument. If we’re developing a plug-in effect, we research and create the effects and effect chains in-house. Thanks to our glorious Gorilla Engine software development kit, we’re able to create products very quickly!
P: The new Finisher series seems to be a different and exciting direction for UJAM. What (or who) inspired it?
J&C: Finisher is actually a spin-off feature from our highly successful Virtual Guitarist CARBON. For CARBON, we realized we needed something special to get those beautifully distorted sounds happening quickly so we invented Finisher. As soon as CARBON was released, customers started asking us to give them just the Finisher part as its own separate plug-in! We released Finisher MICRO as a small, free product in December 2019 and it was a huge success, so we followed in 2020 with Finisher NEO (an expanded version of MICRO) and VOODOO.
For those that aren’t familiar, our Finisher products are really cool—this plug-in is like having the mother of all pedalboards to process your sounds. Each Finisher product (currently Micro, NEO and VOODOO) has its own sonic signature and has up to 50 separate effects inside itself. Those effects are connected and routed to each other in dozens of different ways that you can load instantly. The cool thing is that our sound design team puts in countless hours to find those cool combinations, and countless more hours to figure out how to control all the available parameters with a super-simple interface. This lets you get totally awesome effects on your guitars, synths, drums and other sounds without spending an eternity setting up and dialing in 50 separate effects one by one. We do this crazy, difficult stuff so musicians can have fun. As someone here once said “It’s supposed to feel like flow, not work!”
P: Is there anything in particular about Studio One that you feel makes it a strong host for UJAM instruments?
J&C: Well let me start by saying that we have quite a few fans of Studio One here, so that certainly doesn’t hurt!
The recent addition of Chord Track and Key Switch Editing in Studio One 5 has made it a fantastic choice for our Virtual Bassist plug-ins! We’re delighted to be the first company to support these features right from the start. With the Key Switch integration, our Virtual Bassists (ROYAL 2, ROWDY 2, MELLOW 2 and the new DANDY) report their key switches display articulations with their names automatically. Chord Track detects and displays the chords that have been played, so newly recorded passages will follow the established chord progression. Our bassists automatically change the MIDI notes for you when Chord Track enabled, so things stay not only in time but also in tune. It’s really nicely integrated!
P: In software development, it’s common to see customers using products in fascinating ways that were not intended during development. What are some of the uses you’ve seen of UJAM products that have surprised you?
J&C: You’re right—sometimes we’re surprised and delighted when we see our products being used in new or unexpected ways. Getting this feedback is incredibly valuable for us. It helps us learn what works well for customers and what doesn’t, and helps us figure out what to do with our product updates.
Once in a while we get feedback that really gets us right in the heart. Here’s a message from a customer in New Zealand. The whole ujam team loved this so much, we put it on our office wall:
“I’m a lifelong guitar player until the last few years as rheumatism has worked its devilish ways into my hands. My productivity with recording the songs I write fell off the proverbial cliff. Then, along comes Virtual Guitarist, I can “play” in ways I never could have in my best years as a player. Styles & genre’s I’d never attempted. Needless to say because of your products – I have all three: IRON, AMBER, and SPARKLE—my creativity scaled that cliff & put up a guardrail around the edge. Thank YOU for doing these VI’s. Please, keep them coming!”