Everything Engineers Get Wrong About iLok

Love them or hate them, chances are you’ve come across an iLok at some point. Whichever end of the spectrum you land on, there’s no avoiding iLoks. They’re the most secure and convenient way to manage your licenses and protect your investments in the recording studio.

Unfortunately, those who find themselves in the “hate” camp dislike iLok for all the wrong reasons. Maybe you haven’t heard that you don’t even need a dongle to use iLok protected software. Maybe it’s a preconceived notion about what a dongle should/should not do. Maybe you’ve inherited your distaste from a colleague or mentor. Maybe you haven’t seen the flexibility iLok developers have brought to the table over the past few years...

But when you break it down, an iLok is one of the most important tools we have in recording today. Not only does it give us accessibility and security that we all rely on, but it enables us to take that power with us wherever we go - in many different forms.

Let’s take a look at and dispel some of the biggest myths surrounding the iLok license management system:

Myth: iLoks are Inconvenient

The people that look at iLoks as a hindrance to the recording process have never used them, or don’t understand them. These simple dongles are made to hold thousands of licenses securely in one place. They’re designed to store each license locally on your dongle each time you register a new software, and they’re instantly recallable by logging into your iLok User Account as well. You’re also able to transfer these licenses from any of your devices, even to your friends or other engineers.

By centralizing the licensing from hundreds of plugin and software manufacturers, you end up with one source of truth – one account that collects and hosts exactly what you need to say, “Here’s what I have purchased, and these are the tools I have access to.”

That mentality is something that you can carry with you from studio to studio, without ever having to worry about limits to how many machines you can install your software on.

Myth: Just Another Piece of Hardware

iLoks are small, and have slowly been getting smaller. They’re one of the few tools in your studio that don’t need to be “adjusted” for each session. When they’re hooked up, they just work.

And when it’s time to hit the road?

It’s as simple as unplugging from one computer, throwing it in your pocket, and plugging it in at the next location. No cables & no cases.

Best of all, if you’re constantly bouncing around between computers, there’s no need to worry about license transfers or conflicts. As long as the software exists on the machine you’re trying to use, your iLok can handle the authentication for you. But what if there aren’t any USB ports left or what if you don’t have the money to buy an expensive dongle!?! There’s an answer for that too.

The Dongle-Free Solution

Recently, engineers and producers have been ditching the dongle altogether. If you’re not somebody bouncing around between studios, a physical iLok won’t do much for you other than eat up another USB port on your machine (and we all know how important those are when running external hard drive setups).

For the stationary producers (or the ones running everything on a single laptop), iLok License Manager now allows you to load your license directly to a Host Machine instead of a dongle. This means that as long as your computer can connect to the iLok server for authentication, the license can keep you up and running without any additional hardware connected to your computer. This solution is completely FREE. Create your account with iLok and download/install the License Manager by clicking here.

Then when you DO want to use that license on another machine? Simply deactivate that license, releasing it back to your iLok account, where you can then add it to an iLok to carry with you or activate it on another Host Machine using the iLok License Manager later on.

Note: Not all manufacturers support iLok’s Host Machine as a license deposit target. All JST plugins that require iLok do, but if you’re considering other plugins it’s worth checking the technical specs before purchase to confirm.

Myth: But I Already Spent My Money and They Cost So Much!

Your entry to the iLok-protected marketplace is a one-time fee for you, not an additional fee with each license you add to your collection. Developers are conscious of the cost (we actually pay to use the platform too!) and price plugins accordingly.

Think of how much more these developers would have to charge to build and maintain their own licensing and support that goes along with each plugin. There are a few companies taking their own approach to protecting their software, and I guarantee you every one of them have a higher cost of entry than anything iLok does. Plus - nobody wants to deal with 100 different protection systems!

If you’re not getting an iLok bundled with your first license purchase, the $50 for a dongle might seem like a significant added expense. For those that don’t already have one, start by using the Host Machine method and record a few projects. By putting a little away with each session, you’ll be able to afford a dedicated iLok in no time!

The true cost of your iLok becomes exponentially less costly as you add to your plugin collection. Think of how each plugin takes up a portion of that cost. When you purchase a second plugin, you’ve spent an extra $25 each for the iLok ($50/2 plugins). By the 5th plugin, you’re at $10 each, and so on…

At the end of the day, the cost of iLok licensing is saving you money and enabling companies like ours to continue to focus on building new plugins rather than hunting down illegal copies of our software.

Myth: They’re Not Reliable

Nothing is indestructible & accidents happen. In the event your iLok does get destroyed or corrupted, they’re easily replaceable.

For some engineers, the solution is keeping an extra one lying around. They retail at $50, and can be found cheaper occasionally, or even bundled with a software purchase. Why do software manufacturers bundle them? Simple – because it saves them the hassle of maintaining a licensing system, instead replacing it with a 1st-in-class solution.

For situations where you cannot be without your licenses for even a day, PACE (the company behind iLok) offer a service called ZeroDowntime, or ZDT for short. ZDT offers coverage in the event that your iLok is lost, stolen, or broken, and gives you access to 14-day temporary licenses while you’re in the process of replacing your iLok. At a cost that breaks down to $2.50/month, you’re looking at one of the cheapest insurances you can get. Learn more here.

While they do still recommend having a spare iLok handy for when disaster strikes, the level of accessibility is next level when something goes wrong.

Myth: You Can’t Resell Your Licenses 

This simply is not true in most cases. Manufacturers set the restrictions around support for license transfers on a case-by-case basis. As for the technical capability, moving iLok licenses between accounts is a piece of cake.

A license transfer fee of $25 is charged by iLok to transfer ownership of a license, which can either be paid by the buyer or seller. Either way, you’ve got just as much control over the resale of your license as you would with a physical copy of software. Think about what’s happening; you’re basically transferring over your legal license to another user without any paperwork or lawyer!

Best of all: you don’t have to make a trip to the post office to ship a single thing - just click a button.

Myth: There Are Too Many Updates

We’re currently on the 3rd generation of iLok (at time of writing). The current model is sleek and metallic - a big improvement over the 2nd generation plastic dongle and the bulky 1st generation model.

With three generations on the market, you’d think people would be complaining about needing 3 different iLoks for 3 different timeframes they purchased their plugins, right? Wrong.

The biggest benefit to come with each reimagining of the iLok isn’t just better design; it’s more powerful design.

The current generation iLoks hold up to 1,500 licenses, boast better performance, and are more durable than their predecessor – but none of that is necessary.

A license on a 2nd generation iLok is no different than on a 3rd generation one. The power of your software still depends on the computer itself, not the USB stick you plug into it. And while the bulky, blue 1st generation iLoks might be an eyesore, your licenses won’t suddenly require you to upgrade one day.

If you’re more concerned with software updates, why? Updates aren’t made to degrade the quality of a product; they’re made as incremental improvements.

Nobody’s out to screw you over with a bad update, and with so many manufacturers working with the iLok platform, manufacturers are putting as much (if not more) pressure on the PACE team to put out functioning, convenient updates. When it’s one company focusing solely on the licensing, you end up with a much more functional product than if we were all off trying to do our own thing. It’s actually BETTER for the community as a whole.

Myth: They Get Lost/Stolen/Forgotten Easily

They’re small, but so are your car keys. Are you going to lose those just because “they’re easy to lose”? Of course not.

And when you do, how much are you going to end up paying to get your car home & rekeyed? Probably a heck of a lot less than you’ll pay for a new iLok (the key to your recording studio).

The point we’re trying to make is that a lack of responsibility and carelessness isn’t an excuse for missing out on some of the most powerful plugins available. You remember your phone and wallet every time you leave the house, so when your sessions are riding on it, make sure you’re adding your iLok to that list.

Myth: The Pirates Have Already Gamed The System

Not so fast.

Pirates have cracked some iLok software, and those cracks suck more often than not.

Not only do you open yourself up to risk legally, but you’re doing it for an inferior, ripped off product. You don’t just “remove” licenses from a product – something always gets stripped out with it.

Then there’s the issue of support: where do you turn when something goes wrong?

I hear it so often that “iLok penalizes those trying to use software legally” when it’s really a badge of honor. You’re paying to access for a more stable, reliable platform. You’re paying for continued improvements and development.

A laptop with thousands of dollars in cracked plugins makes you look like a producer that can’t afford to pay their bills to be recording music professionally. That iLok hanging out of the side? That shows you’re somebody that takes your art seriously.

Think I’m wrong? Talk to any professional with a plaque on their wall!

Myth: They’re Hard To Set Up

  1. Create Account
  2. Download & Install
  3. Login & Activate

3 steps. That’s it. I’ve seen premade bake-at-home cookies that are more complicated than this. The skill level required is somewhere between being able to log into Facebook and being able to move a file to a different folder.

More of a visual learner? iLok has a ton of step-by-step guides on their site (and they collectively take less than 10 minutes to watch).

Setting Things Straight

If there’s a standard in the recording industry, the iLok just might be it. They’re DAW-agnostic, can be found in virtually every major studio, and you’re unlikely to find an engineer or producer on Earth that doesn’t know what it is.

Stop being intimidated by the pessimists trying to talk down the usefulness of the tool, because once you’ve got yours configured, it’s like having a master key that works in every studio you step foot in.

For JST, iLok allows us to bring you guys continued support for our existing plugins, and keeps our team focused on building the best tools we possibly can without charging unnecessarily high prices for them. Looking for a great example of what this kind of flexibility iLok protection gives us? Go check out Bassforge Hellraiser, the first plugin of our Bassforge collection.