We recently covered the partnership between Goodhertz, the cult audio software company, and gourmet pedal makers Chase Bliss. We thought it was a good time to ask some questions to Devin Kerr, co-founder and now CEO of Goodhertz (the guy in the pastoral picture above), about their nine years of activity, their collaboration on the pedal, their upcoming and very juicy plugins, and more. I hope you enjoy our interview with Goodhertz as much as we do!
Milestones: Past And Present
- Goodhertz has been active in the plugin industry for nine years. Could you highlight some of the significant milestones and achievements that have shaped your journey and brought you pride?
Every Goodhertz plugin launch feels like a significant milestone to me. As a company, we’re generally only focused on one or two main goals at any given time, so each release is a stepping stone to the next thing. Top of mind right now is certainly the release of the Lossy pedal with Chase Bliss — our first hardware product at Goodhertz.
We’re one of only a handful of companies that have shipped a desktop-class effect in pedal form, and being able to do it without compromising the sound of Lossy or the control-set was no small task — the teams at both Goodhertz & Chase Bliss did some really incredible work to make it happen, and I couldn’t be happier with how the pedal turned out.
I’m also very proud of the fact that there is nothing that does what Lossy does in either plugin or pedal form. It’s one of one. A lot of the plugins and pedals released recently seem to be recreations or clones, which can be cool, but I find it more fun & rewarding to make a sound that no one has ever heard before.
Watching Knob’s demo for Lossy was amazing for me, because even having developed Lossy, I had never heard it make some of the sounds he got out of it. Unlike some other effects that do a very predictable thing, Lossy really changes and responds to whatever you give it to chew on.
- Your partnership with Chase Bliss on the Lossy pedal has attracted considerable attention. Could you elaborate on the inspiration behind the original plugin and your experience collaborating on this project?
The idea for the Lossy plugin started with a phone call with my friend & producer/composer, Tyler Duncan. He was looking for a way to process a drum fill to make it sound digitally degraded, like it had been ripped off Napster in the year 2002 and copied too many times — basically, a crappy, low-bitrate MP3 — and I was stumped about how to create that effect.
It made me think: bit crushers & sample rate reducer effects are incredibly common and are what most people think of when they think of digital degradation. But in daily life, at least in the last 20 years or so, it’s much more common to hear lossy compression: spectral artifacts, data compression, transient smearing, etc., which sounds nothing like a bit crusher. It’s something we hear so often that most people tune it out, but it’s there if you pay attention: a voicemail from your grandma, a baby monitor, a Skype call when you have bad cell service, the sound of a podcast at 1.5x speed… it all has spectral artifacts and distortion.
Being a mastering engineer at the time, I hated MP3 artifacts, and the idea of adding them on purpose took some time to absorb. But like lots of “unwanted” sounds in audio, once you’re in control of the effect, and you can push & pull it how you want in real time, it becomes cool and interesting, and musically useful. And that’s exactly what happened with Lossy. It may have started with the idea of MP3 compression artifacts, but it’s not an MP3 simulator, and it became so much more than that as we added controls and additional features.
It can be used to simulate real-world sounds (ex. the preset “Supermarket @ 3:00 AM”), but it’s just as easy to create otherworldly sounds with it too. The collaboration with Chase Bliss happened very organically. We were mutual fans of each other’s work and had a meeting around NAMM last year in LA. We had been working on a pedal at Goodhertz for several years, but we had to abandon the project when supply chains went awry during COVID.
We just couldn’t get parts in a timely fashion or prototype boards — it was a complete mess — and it wasn’t something we were equipped to handle as (primarily) a software company.
Chase Bliss is, obviously, really good at the “hardware” part of making hardware, and working with them took a massive weight off our shoulders. We could focus on what we do best (audio DSP), and they focused on the difficult work of the actual hardware design & manufacturing. We ended up collaborating more than I expected in each realm, though, with us influencing some of the hardware decisions and Chase Bliss having very instrumental feedback about the DSP direction.
I’m very thankful to Joel and Scott Harper (aka Knobs) and everyone we worked with at Chase Bliss for championing Lossy and for helping us create something that honors the plugin but also has several special pedal-only features. People who love the plugin will still get something new in the pedal and vice versa. I’ll never forget unboxing one of the early prototypes, hooking it up, and turning the knobs, and hearing the Lossy sound. There’s just something immediate about having it right there at your fingertips that even a control surface doesn’t fully capture.
- Your plugin catalog seems to have two distinct lines, which could be categorized as ‘Utility’ and ‘Creation’. Is this a deliberate strategic decision?
It is and it isn’t. It’s more just a reflection of us as musicians & audio engineers and what tools we find most useful and inspiring. Some people know Goodhertz as a “lofi” plugin company (ex. Vulf Compressor, Lossy, Megaverb), others know us for high-quality mastering tools (Good Dither, Midside, Loudness), and some others know us for our headphone listening plugin, CanOpener. We aim to make plugins that are useful both to professionals and to a bedroom producer just starting out.
Juicy New Plugins
- You’ve recently launched the first beta of the Tupe Wow plugin, a powerful combination of two of your popular plugins. You are also developing an intriguing delay plugin called DC19. While your blog provides ample information about both (the Goodhertz blog is a fantastic resource, add it to your reading list!), could you share what aspects of these new plugins excite you the most?
Tupe Wow is exciting to me because it’s the first “mashup” plugin we’ve done like this, and it’s completely because people kept requesting it and we finally gave in. Combining parts of both Tupe and Wow Control plugins has a lot of cool advantages over using them independently: we can sync certain parameters & randomization, and it uses lower system resources overall. Once we finally tried out a prototype, we instantly knew the customers were right.
DC19 is the first plugin in the “little weirdo” series we’re doing, which we plan to make into a line of smaller, more affordable plugins that might not be as universally applicable as some of our other ones. It’s a great place to experiment, and doing a preorder allows those users to provide feedback during the beta process and directly influence the final release.
- The music tech market is quite crowded. How does Goodhertz distinguish itself and continue to innovate in such a competitive and often stagnant environment?
Standing out has never been a big issue for us! If anything, we get comments about being too different for folks who are used to more “Photoshop”-style user interfaces in plugins. Over time it’s gotten better, though, and there are quite a few other companies making great, non-skeuomorphic plugins now.
We’ve also stuck to some core design principles, one of them we call “The Goodhertz Promise,” which is that any control (unless explicitly labeled otherwise) can be automated and moved in real time without causing clicks, pops, or other unintended artifacts. It makes the plugins great for creative manipulation and modulation.
Like with Lossy, ideas often come out of conversations with friends, or our customers, or the greater music community in Los Angeles. We generally have more ideas than we have time to make into real plugins, so the biggest problem for us has usually been fitting in everything we want to work on.
- If you could have developed any plugin (excluding Auto-Tune, as that would be too easy), which one would it be?
This is an old plugin, and it was probably way ahead of its time, but the Native Instruments Spektral Delay was super cool and probably inspired some of the sounds that Lossy makes.
- Many of your plugins, such as the Vulf Compressor, draw inspiration from vintage audio equipment and effects. Could you share your ‘holy grail’ machines and discuss the process of translating these analog sounds into the digital realm?
We have a rule at Goodhertz that we never make carbon copies of existing gear. Perhaps we’ll break that rule someday, but for now, there are plenty of other companies that specialize in doing analog replica plugins. We also can’t help having new ideas for how to expand, modify, or translate hardware differently once it exists in plugin form.
Tupe is a good example of this: the tubes and tapes are obviously analog modeled, but we often tweak or push them in ways that would be impossible in analog hardware. That’s part of what’s great about plugins: they don’t have to obey the same laws of the real world. The higher settings on the Drive control in Tupe couldn’t be modeled because we couldn’t physically push some of the tubes that hard without them breaking or overheating!
As much as I try to move on, I often come back to the sounds of the 1960s: the way the analog tape and tubes responded to the dynamics and emotion of the performance is somehow so satisfying.
AI Gimmick, Future Plans And Desert Island Albums
- Are there any ways in which Goodhertz is utilizing AI or machine learning in the development or conceptual stages of your plugins? What are your thoughts on the potential impact of AI on music technology?
Not currently. So far, AI seems best at copying things (with some variation) or at easily definable utility tasks like source separation. I know there’s a big push in the industry moving in that direction, but I don’t find it very exciting or very inspiring, particularly when it’s easy to imagine AI replacing more & more human jobs in music and audio (and frankly, there aren’t that many good jobs left in the first place).
I also think the “AI” label can be a silly marketing gimmick in audio plugins. The difference between an algorithm and AI can be quite gray. Is a compression algorithm that listens to your music and rides the gain AI? What if it was trained or tuned with a dataset of music?
The emergence of AI mastering tools hits close to home to me as a former mastering engineer. I think what is lost on people who aren’t mastering engineers is that mastering is an emotional job as much as it is a technical one.
There’s not a “correct” amount of low-end or 12 kHz sparkle in a master, it’s up to you as the artist and how you want the listener to feel. I’m all for having advanced mastering tools available for mastering engineers to fix issues more easily, but I’m skeptical that AI mastering, replacing humans completely, will make music any better. If I got to pick, I’d take Bob Ludwig over a sentient data center to master my album every time.
- Looking forward, what can we anticipate from Goodhertz, apart from the two plugins mentioned earlier? Are there any forthcoming projects or hardware-based collaborations that you can disclose?
Right now, we’re focused on getting DC19 and Tupe Wow out the door, but we always have new plugins in development. I’m also hoping Lossy won’t be the last Goodhertz product that makes its way into a hardware device!
- Lastly, let’s discuss music: what would be your top 3 desert island albums?
Tough one! I have a playlist of my 100 favorite albums, and even that was hard to narrow down. If I was headed to the island today, I’d probably take: Nick Drake – Pink Moon, Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s.
This is where our interview with Goodhertz ends. Thank you Devin for your time and the inspiring words. Please visit the Goodhertz website to learn more about (and purchase) their cool plugins.