A completely biased guide to DAWs

Your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is a matter of taste. As you have appalling taste, you are lucky that I have found time to instruct you in the matter.

Ableton Live.

Notably not called Ableton Compose, because trying to write actual music with this tool is like keyhole surgery, one little box at a time. Live was first developed for deejays to string together bits of other people’s music to a click track. Since that time, it has been encrusted with a tower of technical jiggery pokery that makes Live the premiere tool of ‘barbeque boys’ the world over. If you want to synchronise two machines, or write code that burps every third bar, or run a bassoon through a duct simulation you are well served. But the vast forehead of this thing remains built on the reptile brain underneath, and it fails at facilitating any attempt at flowing empathic music.

If you have live performances where you need six of this followed by seven of that and the whole thing must be panned just so – you will use Live. If you want to surprise yourself with a tantalising melody you will not.

Bitwig.

See Ableton Live.

Pro Tools.

If you have an uncle with a large recording studio; custom furnishings, several thousand dollars on each microphone, grand piano in room C – you may be a candidate for Pro Tools. It will slot nicely into this high-end milieu, easing your work up to the top shelf. But buying Pro Tools, in itself, does not manifest this uncle, any more than red Ferrari brings forth a trophy wife. There are many tools that will do exactly same thing for much less.

True, Pro Tools is well made. Most of their stupid bullshit such as real-time mix downs and forced hardware is gone, but there are still AAX plugins –  an industry standard unused by anyone else in the industry. They cost an insulting amount, which can be paid off every month. Or you know, you could just go elsewhere.

Reason.

The curious thing is that Reason’s illustrations of hardware racks appeared just when real hardware racks were going in the garbage. Such that many Reason users are convinced that actual hardware is a clever manifestation of the GUI (and if you don’t believe that you’ve never met a child amazed that ‘wow you have a collectable of the save icon!’).

I grew up with racks and damn, I like them in Reason. They are cheerful. I like scrolling up and down and hitting the tab key to plug wobbling cables in the back, and hitting the tab and scrolling up and down and actually… that cable thing gets tedious. You need a really big screen to see what you’re doing, and then a magnifying glass to read the controls on all those boxes you’re trying to navigate. Reason completely fails at scale, being too small and too large simultaneously.

Now I must admit I’ve never bothered to use Reason as a DAW. It’s my modular synthesiser which I plug into real DAWs and in that respect, it’s a damn fine thing, better than any eurorack.

Logic.

Platform limited is bullshit. Same goes for Sonar.

Cubase.

Like if your grandad got a hold of monkey glands or something and kept living way beyond a natural span of existence. I had CARD32 on a Commodore 64 way back in dinosaur times. Then it was on the Atari and it still gets out of the coffin every night. I guess I am Grandma, and got used to Cubase and throw my hands in the air and go “Whelp! That’s Grandad For Ya!”. (Actually, at one time I tried using Logic back when it was on PC. That was foul, like ‘locked in some taxation consultancy for weeks on end’ foul. The Environment – what the fuck.)

You are not ever going to get super excited about Cubase, but like Microsoft Excel it is going to do the job well enough, and in software that’s probably all you can hope for.

LdoXJ

Traction.

They changed the name to Waveform and added a mixer and MIDI editor. In version 8. Yeah.

Renoise.

No, typing hexadecimal into a grid is not cool, it’s the antithesis of music.

Reaper.

There’s a lot to like about Reaper as a sound editor. In an age where ambisonics is taking on increasing importance, restricting waveforms to 5.1 or stereo is shooting yourself in the foot, and the only competition are the overpriced Nuendo and Pro Tools HD. It makes serious attempts at reducing bloat, embracing formats, and providing a range of useful tools in the box. And it’s CHEAP.

But you’re not out of the woods. Once past the basics it’s got a lot of idiosyncrasies, not cute ones, but mind numbingly painful ones, the sort that drives you to scream WTF and to curse the manual which is (a) a fan written wiki and (b) always out of date with the five new versions a week. Reaper is not open source, but it sure smells like open source.

And MIDI handling is not handled well at all. It’s an audio editor with some MIDI tacked on, and you’ll need to buy a real MIDI tool alongside Reaper.

FL Studio.

I used FL Studio for ages. Then I stopped for a while, to try change my working methods. When I tried to go back to it, I found myself outside a mental wall. All the things that seemed normal before seemed weird and twisted. I could still get old projects up and running, but the thought of doing anything new with it was perverse.

Then I realised I’d been in a cult. I’d since become deprogrammed.

FL is like if you put a drum machine on steroids, lots of steroids, INSANE levels. It’s a drum machine levelled up a billionity-billion times. I mean, I scored a motion picture on FL once upon a time. It can do it, hell – it can probably do anything, but it will do it in a way that makes no sense anywhere outside the cult headquarters, because it’s built on layer upon layer of feature additions. Things rarely get designed in a holistic manner in FL, they get layered on top. Like if you want to freeze the audio on a track, there was some convoluted procedure with placing an Edison plug in on a mixer track… these days I just freeze the track.

I can’t hate on it, and hell, you might even be enthralled by it. See you when you get out.