Ardour and Money, early 2018 edition

As 2018 gets underway, it seems like the right time for an updated report on the financial state of the Ardour project. I still occasionally see people referencing articles from several years that give a misleading idea on how things work these days, and it would be good to put some current and accurate information out there.

The TL;DR Summary

Ardour's finances are good. The project produces a remarkable revenue stream for an open source project, though small by comparison with similar proprietary projects. More than 3000 subscribers mean that the month-to-month stable income is enough to keep Ardour's lead developer fully employed, and monthly surpluses from donations and single-paid-for copies also have enabled the project to distribute significant sums of money to other active developers.

A Brief Recap/History of Ardour & Money

When I started Ardour, I never had any intention from making money from it. However, changes in my own personal circumstances meant that by about 2007, I needed to earn an income again, and in 2008 that started thanks to the sponsorship of Solid State Logic. That ended less than a year later, and in 2009 I had a lot of valuable suggestions from Ardour users about how to get the program itself to generate a revenue stream. The original goal was to just ensure that I could continue to work full time on Ardour rather than seeking other employment. Inspired by Radiohead's release of "In Rainbows", I adopted a "pay tunnel" approach to Ardour, trying to convince as many people as possible to pay for the service of getting a ready-to-run, supported version of the program. I've also been the beneficiary of the ongoing collaboration with Harrison, whose Mixbus program supports, invigorates, improves and contributes to Ardour on a continuing basis.

It has been remarkably successful when viewed through the lens of open source software. We probably generate more actual revenue than almost all but a handful of open source projects. However, when compared with even a small proprietary project, our financial story is lot more modest. Cockos Inc., which makes Reaper and was founded by a multi-millionaire, has in the past had 3 full time employees and typically paid 2-3 contractors at any given time. We are still a long way from even that kind of success.

Subscriptions, Subscriptions and more Subscriptions

When the project first started experimenting with subscriptions, one of our early users suggested starting a campaign called "The 600". The idea was to try to get us to 600 subscribers each at US$10 per month, which would provide US$6000/month of stable income.

The campaign never got launched. Instead, via some sort of incredible magic, we've ended up with more than 3000 subscribers (most at lower monthly amounts) generating around US$8500 per month of stable income. The churn on these subscriptions is high - many start and stop well before a year is over. But the overall level remains about the same (and climbs slowly) because for every person who cancels, someone else starts.

Numbers

In 2017, Ardour itself generated US$130,565 (this does not include several thousand dollars of PayPal transaction fees). Of that, Paul collected his base salary of US$74,400 plus US$11,165 of the surplus income. Paul paid the operating costs of the Ardour web site (about US$1200 a year) from his income.

The remaining surplus of about US$45,000 was distributed to other active developers, principally Robin Gareus but also including Tim Mayberry, Nick Mainsbridge, Len Ovens and others.

Changes For 2018 and Beyond

The last time I set a salary goal for myself was 2009 (US$6200/month). Simple inflation in the USA since that time would require that to be US$7128 in 2018. In addition, for the 14 years prior to 2015, my wife and I survived without any health insurance; in 2015, following the arrival of the ACA ("Obamacare") in the USA, we started paying for health insurance. In 2018, our monthly premiums for that are US$971 (lest anyone think that this sounds good, that policy comes with a US$7300 deductible per person, meaning that the insurance doesn't really cover anything except terrible accidents and chronic or serious disease). I never factored this in my original salary thoughts.

To reflect these two realities, starting in 2018, I will bump my salary up to US$8100/month. This corresponds to an annual income of US$97200, but without any employer contributions to health insurance or retirement. This is reasonably modest by comparison with median US salaries for a "Senior Software Engineer" or "Lead Software Engineer", which are in the range of US$110,000 to US$130,000 (not counting those employer contributions, which add many $1000's more in value).

Based on recent monthly income levels for the project, this will still leave around US$3000 to be distributed to other active developers. Because of his extraordinary productivity, all-round brilliance and unstoppable energy, a substantial chunk of that is likely to continue to flow toward Robin Gareus for the foreseeable future. Robin also works as a contractor for Harrison Consoles, with his efforts serving as a key bridge between Ardour and Mixbus, ensuring that the two projects remain tightly integrated and both benefitting as much as possible from new ideas and improvements.

Thinking Ahead By Thinking Behind

I mentioned above, I didn't start Ardour with the idea of making money from it. I was a stay-at-home parent at the time, and wasn't giving a lot of thought to my long term future financial situation. 18 years later, my family situation is very different, and I'm notably older myself. I stopped regular paid work about 22 years ago, and as a result haven't been involved in a retirement plan since then. For many years, I wasn't earning any income at all, which meant I also wasn't a participant in Social Security (which provides an extremely minimal retirement income in the USA). Because of all this, and because of Ardour's relative success, I do now need to look at the project as the most likely source of any retirement stability that I may have (retirement is still a decade away for me, if I ever actually retire!).

In thinking about all this, I've come to the following rationalization of how I intend to personally interact with Ardour's finances over the coming years. Back in the early days, I spent about 8 years working on the program without any significant income from it. Taking a rather modest salary figure for that period of US$70,000 per year (again, without any employer contributions to health or retirement), that would total US$560,000 of income. If and when I ever collect that much from the surplus income, I'll stop taking any part of the surplus and will consider the project to truly and fully belong to ... well, I don't know, but not me any more, at least not in the sense I do now. It seems unlikely that this day will ever come, but this rationalization allows me to feel comfortable about my relationship to the project's financial situation.

To the extent that Ardour manages to continue to generate revenue in the future, it will continue to be distributed in accordance with the general principles I've described above.

Bigger and Better?

Ultimately it would be fantastic if the revenue that Ardour generates grows enough to allow us to hire another full-time (or maybe mostly-time) developer. However, there's little interest among the current developers for spending time on "marketing strategies" to try to explicitly work on this goal. We'd rather work on the software itself, and rely for now on the continued organic growth that has bought us this far. Of course, if we hear of any obviously great ideas to get us to this sort of goal, we will consider that.

Thanks Paul for the

Thanks Paul for the transparency and openness.

And a big-thank you to all the subscribers and supporters who make it possible to work full time on an this amazing project!

Thanks for sharing! I hope

Thanks for sharing! I hope the project continues to grow and that it pays off it's "past debt" before you retire.

Thanks for your hard work on

Thanks for your hard work on Ardour all these years! I just bumped my contribution.

Thank you for your openess. I

Thank you for your openess. I loved this project ever since I found out of its existance. I honestly would love to donate or contribute more, but unfortunately I'm student studying abroad and that really restrains me from doing so. Anyways, just wanted to say thank you and hope the project grows much more.

Thank you so much to you Paul

Thank you so much to you Paul and to all the ardour team for bringing us so far and give to us this amazing software!
Why dont you sell some merch? It could help right? I would buy it :D

Surely the appropriate way to

Surely the appropriate way to answer the merchandise question in a collaborative open source community like this is for one or more of the rest of us to invent, create, market and sell the goods (and send Paul the money). Paul has better things to do with his time!

I just bumped my contribution

I noticed some time ago that the monthly goal was being reached more often and sooner than it used to be, and wondering what happened to the extra money. I was considering reducing my $10 subscription, especially as I'm retired now and have less disposable income, but I think I'll at least hold back on that and see what the future brings. I haven't used Ardour much recently, following a house move, but eventually I hope my studio (when I've rebuilt it in the new home) will get even more use than before, and that will all be running Ardour, Linux and other free software.

I noticed some time ago that

I noticed some time ago that the monthly goal was being reached more often and sooner than it used to be, and wondering what happened to the extra money. I was considering reducing my $10 subscription...

I actually had that exact experience too. This post helps me keep the subscription, but may not for others. I'd definitely recommend the goal be raised to hire a 2nd full time dev (or perhaps some goals for how much Robin is contracted) so that people don't feel like Ardour's goal is being reached and perhaps the project doesn't need them. I think it probably makes sense to set it just so that its just a bit of a stretch, a challenge to reach, but reachable.

Thanks for your openness

Thanks for your openness about these potentially delicate issues. I support your decision 100%, and will gladly maintain my Ardour subscription in the years to come. It does add to a substantial amount of money over time, but rather than growing a pile of discarded CD-ROMs with obsolete installers of obsolete applications running only on obsolete operating systems, that investment has helped create a huge body of free software that is here to stay :) All the best for 2018, and although I know I will be cursing your collective asses for a few months after 6.0 is out, I know from past experiences that it will be worth it in the end.
And in the bright future, our wise legislators will understand the benefit of alternative economies and create ways of making voluntary payments tax-deductible. And Santa Claus. And fairies! Yay!

Should have invested in

Should have invested in bitcoin

@nettings You obviously don't

@nettings

You obviously don't know our legislators very well... oh wait you are on the other side of the pond aren't you. Well in that case at least you got a shot, in the US, not so much, to busy doing their best to screw each other over in an effort to make sure they have the easiest life possible, kind of like little kids in kindergarten with their toys.

Seablade

It does add to a substantial

It does add to a substantial amount of money over time

Not kidding - I think I've spent more on Ardour subscriptions than I have on Melodyne!

Please never spend more on

Please never spend more on Ardour than you think it is worth to you, in as broad a sense as seems rational to you.

In this case the meaning of

In this case the meaning of 'worth' is rather wide ranging - rather like supporting a political cause you believe in, it's not only about what you get out of it.

Hi Paul, As others have said

Hi Paul,

As others have said your transparency and respect for subscribers is admirable and appreciated.

I couldn't be happier that you are meeting (and exceeding) your goal, personally I love that the overage is going to other developers and tip my hat to your generosity... especially for Robin who has been generous and helpful with his time to the extreme for me on numerous occasions. To me how soon that bar fills has little to do with being a subscriber, I agree completely with anahata's statement about Ardour being a good cause to support, this is a great project and the fact my subscription is spilling over to some of the other very talented and generous people contributing is good enough reason to continue.

I would ask anyone who has the means to also consider the great people and great efforts behind Ardour before changing your subscription status, In this current day and age it is very gratifying to see the unity of many people doing a little and accomplishing something that is both beneficial and tangible.

I'm mainly using Mixbus32C

I'm mainly using Mixbus32C but will support Ardour for a long time as I can. The reasons are simple enough:

*Ardour made it financial possible for me to start with music again after a 20 years break - and now, I make my living of it, mainly as a sound engineer but thankfully more and more as an musician too.
*In my world, Ardour is one of the main reasons why Harrison Mixbus and Mixbus32C are so reasonable priced.
*And of course: As a lover of great products and ideas based upon Open Source, transparency and healthy ethical standards, this is spot on and I strongly believe that projects like this are making the world better. Ardour has certainly done that.
*I'm still using Ardour, so..

..it's simply a matter of paying back when possible!

Thank you very much!

I spend that money for the

I spend that money for the knowledge that if any kind of shit hits any kind of fan, I can hit #ardour at any time and, judging from past experience, have a patch in under 48h if it's a real problem and not PEBKAC, and a workaround in under 12. I know there are no guarantees and i expect none, but if I compare the support from the ardour community with any commercial vendor's phone helpline I've been troubled enough to have to bet on, an Ardour subscription is a sound investment indeed.

I am impressed. Your honesty

I am impressed. Your honesty and sentient straight forward ship demands deepest respect.
For long years now I advocate for free software and for the plain fact, that it does not grow on trees and thus needs dedicated fulltime developers, who need to pay their bills. The Ardour project is a shiny beacon in space for the hope of a sound model for professional work based on freedom and respect.

Kudos!

thanks for your work

thanks for your work

As an advocate for openness

As an advocate for openness and transparency I'm quite happy to be a supporter of Ardour, despite the fact that I've never actually used it. I'm also a big fan of crowdfunding, and the concept of "stretch goals" might be appropriate here. At least it might mitigate the temptation to lower one's support level when it looks like the goal is being exceeded. Anyway, I appreciate and admire you for taking the leap and committing to open source and making it work.

Hi Paul Reading what you

Hi Paul
Reading what you wrote is indeed humbling, and clear.
Your definitely one of the Good Guys.
Well done Paul, I sincerely hope you get the reward
you deserve.

Blessings to you and yours, john

Very happy to see Ardour so

Very happy to see Ardour so successful. I truly wish I were able to maintain my subscription, but being on SSDI only and now having to pay a ridiculous amount for Part B means I have to be super-frugal. Rest assured I will continue to buy individual Ardour updates, though, for as much as I can afford at the time. :)

Thank you very much! The

Thank you very much! The Ardour itself is a fantastic professional level tool. I'm very inspired for a long time by your experience making such a great open-source software and also the Ardour's finance itself. I really hope that the time will come when the people will be able to work like they WANT on the projects they LOVE with the great contribution that will be avaliable to the whole humanity. Ardour is one of the first projects making this possible and building the path. My regards and best wishes!

There is no need for any kind

There is no need for any kind of justification for earning money with your work. Ardour is very great. It makes things possible for me, that otherwise would be much more expensive and probably less comfortable. Thank you so much. Please keep it on and don't ever think of retiring. ;-) If I should ever manage to make a living (mostly) by what I really love to do, Ardour will help making it possible. Also, being an Ardour user for about 12 years now, I can say that it has undergone an astounding development!

@paul In relation to if any

@paul

In relation to if any obviously great ideas part of the article. I think it may help Ardour and community to have a smaller more regular, (even monthley) report. Possibly not even authored by Paul, but someone involved in development.

I think there is strong evidence that letting users know what is happening, (even if its boring, or just 'more of the same') it really helps to keep interest alive, and lets us see how things are developing. I'm not talking about spamming the blog, but just once a month would not risk that, and I can only see benefits.

Even if its a change-log style report like: "what happened in Ardour development this month". And if nothing happened (which I doubt) then I'm sure there were other projects, or events that were happening within the Ardour team (conferences, personal research etc). It also allows subscribers and donors to see what is happening, and possibly choose to donate more.

Alex - thanks for

Alex - thanks for volunteering to write this. I'll look forward to see the first article. Let me know if you have any questions.

Question: is the new

Question: is the new architecture development on origin/master, or is that the stuff happening on nutempo or some other branch? Maybe all the various nu* branches have different features in progress?
If the new architecture work is on branches, what kind of changes are going into origin/master right now? Some looks like the typical automation fixup from Len Ovens, or new lua scripts, or changes to included plugins. Presumably stuff that won't depend on any of the re-architected features.

Is that kind of stuff worth rolling up as a news article, or is everyone just wondering how the new 6.0 work is going?

Most current development

Most current development (certainly the new stuff) is all on branches. The stuff going into master doesn't require the new architectural stuff, although master has already absorbed the splitting up of disk read+write.

I wrote up a recent summary of what is going on with 6.0 right here on community.ardour.org;.Writing down how I personally am getting on stumbling about in the nutempo branch fairly close to pointless. When nutempo lands in master, maybe there's something to write about there, though I am not sure who is going to do that except me, and if it is me, I wonder if that is really worth my time.

Hey @paul. I'm sorry that

Hey @paul. I'm sorry that you took my suggestion the wrong way. I didn't want to add to your workload. And my suggestion was for short (one paragraph) monthly updates - instead of larger reports.

i don't do a very good job of

i don't do a very good job of indicating humor (albeit very mildy sarcastic), so sorry about that. I think the idea is theoretically a good one ... but in reality there are sometimes period (we're in one now) where even on monthly basis, the report is "worked hard trying to make stuff that used to work work again". Not the greatest news ....

Having a look at other hugely

Having a look at other hugely successful Free/OSS projects, (Blender, Gnome etc) it looked like small and regular developer updates do translate to better community engagement. Obviously there are Git commits, however not every user reads the Git log, and some may not be able to understand it anyway.

Quite frankly I feel strongly that Free/OSS projects deserve the same level of support as proprietary software, if not more. I feel that one aspect of Free/OSS that is not obvious, is that when buying proprietary software, (which I also do to get jobs done) one does not 'own' anything that one is paying for, apart from limited access. While Free/OSS a user 'owns' the software, as they are able to (if they can, or pay another developer) to study, archive, modify, share, or sell.

I can't help think what Ardour could achieve even with a fraction of the funding of other large software companies. This should be possible with the communities support. Imagine what would happen if there were just 5 full time developers?

Ardour already is a professional quality DAW, having professional quality ITB tools especially would extend Ardour into music creation areas.

Yes ITB is currently possible in Ardour, but as the software stands now it's more designed towards multi-track recording.

Having an Ardour that one could easily create movie scores, advanced MIDI sequencing, live-performance etc. would cement its roll in production for years to come. As it stands now, Ardour is an amazing powerhouse of possibilities, which we (users) if we can, support and contribute to.

I know that some area's of production are not planned for Ardour, (such as live-performance) however such functionality could be added, so an interested user/developer would be able to contribute. It's up to all of us to take this opportunity to support individuals that are passionate about audio tools, collaborate development, and empower them to do what they are passionate about.

Short and long term it will only improve the software ecosystem.