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Safeguarding Innovation: Fourier Audio Integrates iLok USB for transform.engine Security

Henry Harrod from Fourier Audio

Henry Harrod is a true audio journeyman. Before becoming the co-founder and CEO of Fourier Audio he was a sound engineer and producer working in theater in London’s prestigious West End. As a mechanical engineering graduate and post graduate student in acoustical engineering, Harrod has a fine-tuned ear and skill set that he wanted to expand into other areas of live sound. With the advent of the pandemic, live theater shut down completely; he and his partners at Fourier Audio saw a real opportunity to bring plugins and software tools to the live space and re-invent the industry.   

Tell us who/what is Fourier Audio:

The short answer is we make software and platform solutions for live sound.The interesting part is how we got there. Joseph Soria was a French mathematician that invented, discovered and founded various areas of mathematics. And a piece of mathematics has an integral transform, which is to go from this notion of an analog domain to a digital domain. That conversion is called a Fourier transform, and is obviously fundamental to the processing of real world audio. It seemed to fit with what we were doing perfectly – so we named ourselves Fourier Audio. It kind of sets the tone of the brand. We are engineers. We're not here to put a dress on a potato. We're here to actually make something fundamentally advanced.

What's the company's vision?

It’s really about democratizing and bringing the ability to run software in live production. That's what’s fundamental about Fourier. I think it's about leveraging and using software tools that are preexisting, or maybe don't exist yet, and enabling the use live, because in recorded environments it's commonplace. Every recording studio in the world uses plugins, whereas that's certainly not been true for live over time.  

You started your career as a West End sound man, tell us about that.

That was the start of my journey out of university. I thought I wanted to be a theater producer. I very quickly realized that's a fool's errand and a horrible job. That's what moved me into sound engineering. I had the most extraordinary time over a period of about 4 or 5 years, getting to work on many of the wonderful shows in London, around the UK and beyond. I was very lucky with the career I had there. 

Tell us how you moved into plug-in and platform development for live sound.

Covid came along and that's what led to such an about turn really. I was working with Gareth Evans, one of the other co-founders of Fourier on Back to the Future in trials up in Manchester. We all lost our jobs in one very quick go because of the pandemic. The silver lining was that it gave us some time to take a step back and say: “Well, what do we want to do with this time?” And so Gareth and Pete, the third co-founder, really set out to kind of unpack what was really needed in the live audio space. What we saw was that software in the live space is just something that isn't really used very much. You look at the kind of journey that the recording industry has taken – the kind of software revolution that you saw in the studio with Pro Tools, and the live space just simply hasn't had that moment. There's untapped energy there. So we saw a real opportunity to bring those plugins, those software tools, to the live space. 

Obviously that's been done in various different flavors over the years, but it's all fairly controlled by individual solutions. We wanted to make something that was an open platform. To make a platform where you could run plugins as if it was an open door. A standard piece of software that was turnkey so that you could turn up to a physical live event and plug it in.

Explain to us what that workflow looks like for people that don’t know.

In the past and now for that matter, you can run a select number of plugins or a processing piece of software in the console. That's all fine, but that's a very limited number of plugins. You then also have the other solutions out there where you can run it on servers and then control those servers from computers. And then finally you can have computers where you do everything in the computer and connect it somehow to your console. Where we sit is in the server domain. So all of the plugins are installed and licensed. It’s a piece on the server unit itself, which is a two rackmount touring box that then connects to a console, and can be interfaced with the console like a piece of outboard equipment. We then control those plugins using a computer separately. But if the computer goes away, falls over, gets beer thrown on it, it doesn't matter. It's just there for the control, the actual processing and the plugin installation and licensing is on this rugged server. 

So it's compatible with pretty much any plugin that you want to use?

We are a VST3 host. So we are similar to any manufacturer that would support any VST3 plugin. There are a couple of caveats: We don't let the internet in. So if a plugin requires the internet then at the moment that's not supported. But we're working on solutions for that.  

So it sounds like Fourier just ups the game. 

It’s an evolution. We're certainly not claiming to be the first. I think the key difference with us is it's not about building a walled garden. It's about opening up the industry. It's about giving an opportunity for plugin companies to make money in a market they didn't currently see as a target market. 

How did you come across PACE Anti-Piracy Solutions?

I grew up in a world where plugins were starting to come in and replace hardware equipment and PACE was front and center. It is the licensing copyright protection system for the industry. The elegance of having a USB key that you can move around and carry around with you is obviously useful to someone using the transform.engine. So we reached out to the team. We were just starting and we had our first Pathfinder product that we wanted to protect. And so we used PACE protection on that and made sure that we were protecting our IP. They were brilliant and created a nurturing relationship. The relationship has really grown since that first phone call. 

Why did you decide to use PACE’s licensing solutions? 

Obviously it's a good licensing solution. I think that that kind of goes without saying. The key thing for us comes back to understanding the end user. That PACE is a trusted name and is something that we know and understand. We feel that we need to have a relationship with a team of people that's going to support us in the journey in our industry. It's really important to make sure we're working with people in our kind of circle. They're there to make copyrighted software for OUR industry. And that's a really key distinction, because there's so many quirks about what we do and they are very sympathetic when we have unreasonable demands (laughs). It provides us with the confidence that we know we're going to get support if and when we need it. But it also means that we can actually get the products out there and the transformation within our IP protection. The transform.engine is now protected by an iLok USB within the unit. So that's important to note - we are an active piece of customer licensing that has technology that uses an iLok inside the unit to protect our software. Because of this as well as other factors - PACE is the best solution out there.

So that internal knowledge was essential in your decision making. 

Absolutely. Ultimately making sure that we are being seen as a company to work with something that is so ubiquitous is important. And that's obviously a key validation not only for us, but the end user knowing that the software they are going to run is going to be protected by PACE.  It creates confidence for everybody. 

Has it been reassuring to watch PACE transform as the industry is transforming?  

Absolutely. You go back through everything that has changed. I look at that journey of the cloud and then the servers and what they're doing at the moment with Shopify, there are a lot of things going on. They do continue to innovate. And I think a lot of that does come down to their ability to talk to people like us and understand what we actually want, rather than just blindly making stuff, which is the sign of any good business really. 

It sounds like you have an ongoing relationship with PACE and its products. Tell us a little bit about that relationship

We have fostered this relationship with PACE because a significant proportion of the world's plugins are protected by them. And so it's crucial for us to have that close relationship with PACE so that we can honor our promise to our customers – that everything they do with Fourier Audio is protected by best in class software. 

Part of my job is to look a bit further ahead at what we can do in the industry and how we can make our product better for our customers. It means we can have a sit down with the team and say “What if we were to actually start doing this and that and think a little bit outside the box, would you be up for that?” And the answer is yes. And that's just such a delight really because it means you can have conversations and a pipedream in a way as a manufacturer. That’s not necessarily always a given. Quite often as an OEM, you go to the solutions partner and say “I want to do this!” The answer is usually no. The fact they can understand why we're trying to do what we're doing and how it’s mutually beneficial – that’s fantastic.

Do you think you could do what you're doing without PACE? 

Hands down - we couldn’t do HOW we are doing what we do without the relationship we have with PACE. Could we do WHAT we do without them? Sure. Would it be as good a product? No. PACE is considered such a gold standard in our industry. It would be wrong for us not to have a good working relationship with them. I think ultimately it comes down to us building a strong IP protection strategy but also having a good relationship so that we can serve the end customer in an ongoing fashion and that is where PACE gives us an advantage in the industry.

About Fourier Audio

Fourier Audio is a UK-based startup, with solutions incorporated on many theater productions on Broadway and the West End, along with international music tours. For more information, go to www.fourieraudio.com.

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