Ableton Live 10.1: more sound shaping, work faster, free update

There’s something about point releases – not the ones with any radical changes, but just the ones that give you a bunch of little stuff you want. That’s Live 10.1; here’s a tour.

Live 10.1 was announced today, but I sat down with the team at Ableton last month and have been working with pre-release software to try some stuff out. Words like “workflow” are always a bit funny to me. We’re talking, of course, mostly music making. The deal with Live 10.1 is, it gives you some new toys on the sound side, and makes mangling sounds more fun on the arrangement side.

Oh, and VST3 plug-ins work now, too. (MOTU’s DP10 also has that in an upcoming build, among others, so look forward to the Spring of VST3 Support.)

Let’s look at those two groups.

Sound tools and toys

User wavetables. Wavetable just got more fun – you can drag and drop samples onto Wavetable’s oscillator now, via the new User bank. You can get some very edgy, glitchy results this way, or if you’re careful with sample selection and sound design, more organic sounds.

This looks compelling.

Here’s how it works: Live splits up your audio snippet into 1024 sample chunks. It then smooths out the results – fading the edges of each table to avoid zero-crossing clicks and pops, and normalizing and minimizing phase differences. You can also tick a box called “Raw” that just slices up the wavetable, for samples that are exactly 1024 samples or a regular periodic multiple of that.

Give me some time and we can whip up some examples of this, but basically you can glitch out, mangle sounds you’ve recorded, carefully construct sounds, or just grab ready-to-use wavetables from other sources.

But it is a whole lot of fun and it suggests Wavetable is an instrument that will grow over time.

Here’s that feature in action:

Delay. Simple Delay and Ping Pong Delay have merged into a single lifeform called … Delay. That finally updates an effect that hasn’t seen love since the last decade. (The original ones will still work for backwards project compatibility, though you won’t see them in a device list when you create a new project – don’t panic.)

At first glance, you might think that’s all that’s here, but in typical Ableton fashion, there are some major updates hidden behind those vanilla, minimalist controls. So now you have Repitch, Fade, and Jump modes. And there’s a Modulation section with rate, filter, and time controls (as found on Echo). Oh, and look at that little infinity sign next to the Feedback control.

Yeah, all of those things are actually huge from a sound design perspective. So since Echo has turned out to be a bit too much for some tasks, I expect we’ll be using Delay a lot. (It’s a bit like that moment when you figure out you really want Simpler and Drum Racks way more than you do Sampler.)

The old delays. Ah, memories…

And the new Delay. Look closely – there are some major new additions in there.

Channel EQ. This is a new EQ with visual feedback and filter curves that adapt across the frequency range – that is, “Low,” “Mid,” and “High” each adjust their curves as you change their controls. Since it has just three controls, that means Channel EQ sits somewhere between the dumbed down EQ Three and the complexity of EQ Eight. But it also means this could be useful as a live performance EQ when you don’t necessarily want a big DJ-style sweep / cut.

Here it is in action:

Arranging

The stuff above is fun, but you obviously don’t need it. Where Live 10.1 might help you actually finish music is in a slew of new arrangement features.

Live 10 felt like a work in progress as far as the Arrange view. I think it immediately made sense to some of us that Ableton were adjusting arrangement tools, and ironing out the difference between, say, moving chunks of audio around and editing automation (drawing all those lovely lines to fade things in and out, for instance).

But it felt like the story there wasn’t totally complete. In fact, the change may have been too subtle – different enough to disturb some existing users, but without a big enough payoff.

So here’s the payoff: Ableton have refined all those subtle Arrange tweaks with user feedback, and added some very cool shape drawing features that let you get creative in this view in a way that isn’t possible with other users.

Fixing “$#(*& augh undo I didn’t want to do that!” Okay, this problem isn’t unique to Live. In every traditional DAW, your mouse cursor does conflicting things in a small amount of space. Maybe you’re trying to move a chunk of audio. Maybe you want to resize it. Maybe you want to fade in and out the edges of the clip. Maybe it’s not the clip you’re trying to edit, but the automation curves around it.

In studio terms, this sounds like one of the following:

[silent, happy clicking, music production getting … erm … produced]

OR ….
$#(*&*%#*% …. Noo errrrrrrrgggggg … GAACK! SDKJJufffff ahhh….

Live 10 added a toggle between automation editing and audio editing modes. For me, I was already doing less of the latter. But 10.1 is dramatically better, thanks to some nearly imperceptible adjustments to the way those clip handles work, because you can more quickly change modes, and because you can zoom more easily. (The zoom part may not immediately seem connected to this, but it’s actually the most important part – because navigating from your larger project length to the bit you’re actually trying to edit is usually where things break down.)

In technical terms, that means the following:

Quick zoom shortcuts. I’ll do a separate story on these, because they’re so vital, but you can now jump to the whole song, details, zoom various heights, and toggle between zoom states via keyboard shortcuts. There are even a couple of MIDI-mappable ones.

Clips in Arrangement have been adjusted. From the release notes: “The visualisation of Arrangement clips has been improved with adjusted clip borders and refinements to the way items are colored.” Honestly, you won’t notice, but ask the person next to you how much you’re grunting / swearing like someone is sticking something pointy into your ribs.

Pitch gestures! You can pitch-zoom Arrangement and MIDI editor with Option or Alt keys – that works well on Apple trackpads and newer PC trackpads. And yeah, this means you don’t have to use Apple Logic Pro just to pinch zoom. Ahem.

The Clip Detail View is clearer, too, with a toggle between automation and modulation clearly visible, and color-coded modulation for everything.

The Arrangement Overview was also adjusted with better color coding and new resizing.

In addition, Ableton have worked a lot with how automation editing functions. New in 10.1:

Enter numerical values. Finally.

Free-hand curves more easily. With grid off, your free-hand, wonky mouse curves now get smoothed into something more logical and with fewer breakpoints – as if you can draw better with the mouse/trackpad than you actually can.

Simplify automation. There’s also a command that simplifies existing recorded automation. Again – finally.

So that fixes a bunch of stuff, and while this is pretty close to what other DAWs do, I actually find Ableton’s implementation to be (at last) quicker and friendlier than most other DAWs. But Ableton kept going and added some more creative ideas.

Insert shapes. Now you have some predefined shapes that you can draw over automation lanes. It’s a bit like having an LFO / modulation, but you can work with it visually – so it’s nice for those who prefer that editing phase as a way do to their composition. Sadly, you can only access these via the mouse menu – I’d love some keyboard shortcuts, please – but it’s still reasonably quick to work with.

Modify curves. Hold down Option/Ctrl and you can change the shape of curves.

Stretch and skew. Reshape envelopes to stretch, skew, stretch time / ripple edit.

Insert Shapes promises loads of fun in the Arrangement – words that have never been uttered before.

Check out those curve drawing and skewing/scaling features in action:

Freeze/Export

You can freeze tracks with sidechains, instead of a stupid dialog box popping up to tell you you can’t, because it would break the space-time continuum or crash the warp core injectors or … no, there’s no earthly reason why you shouldn’t be able to freeze sidechains on a computer.

You can export return and master effects on the actual tracks. I know, I know. You really loved bouncing out stems from Ableton or getting stems to remix and having little bits of effects from all the tracks on separate stems that were just echos, like some weird ghost of whatever it was you were trying to do. And I’m a lazy kid, who for some reason thinks that’s completely illogical since, again, this is a computer and all this material is digital. But yes, for people are soft like me, this will be a welcome feature.

So there you have it. Plus you now get VST3s, which is great, because VST3 … is so much … actually, you know, even I don’t care all that much about that, so let’s just say now you don’t have to check if all your plug-ins will run or not.

Go get it

One final note – Max for Live. 10.0.6 synchronized with Max 8.0.2. See those release notes from Cycling ’74:

https://cycling74.com/forums/max-8-0-2-released

Live 10.1 is keeping pace, with the beta you download now including Max 8.0.3.

Ableton haven’t really “integrated” Max for Live; they’re still separate products. And so that means you probably don’t want perfect lockstep between Max and Live, because that could mean instability on the Live side. It’d be more accurate to say that what Ableton have done is to improve the relationship between Max and Live, so that you don’t have to wait as long for Max improvements to appear in Max for Live.

Live 10.1 is in beta now with a final release coming soon.

Ableton Live 10.1 release notes

And if you own a Live 10.1 license, you can join the beta group:

Beta signup

Live 10.1: User wavetables, new devices and workflow upgrades

Thanks to Ableton for those short videos. More on these features soon.

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DP10 adds clip launching, improved audio editing to MOTU’s DAW

DP10 might just grant two big wishes to DAW power users. One: pull off Ableton Live-style clip launching. Two: give us serious, integrated waveform editing. Here’s why DP10 might get your attention.

A handful of music tools has stood the test of time because the developers have built relationships with users over years and decades. DP is definitely in that category, established in fields like TV and film scoring.

This also means, however, it’s rare for an update to seem like news. DP10 is a potential exception. I haven’t had hands-on time with it yet, but this makes me interested in investing that time.

Bride of Ableton Live?

The big surprise is, MOTU are tackling nonlinear loop triggering, with what they call the Clips window.

The connection to Ableton Live here is obvious; MOTU even drives home the point with a similar gray color scheme, round indicators showing play status, clips grouped into Scenes (as a separate column) horizontally, and into tracks vertically.

And hey, this works for users – all of those decisions are really intuitive.

Here’s where MOTU has an edge on Ableton, though. DP10 adds the obvious – but new – idea of queuing clips in advance. These drop like Tetris pieces into your tracks so you can chain together clips and let them play automatically. The queue is dynamic, meaning you can add and remove those bits at will.

That sounds like a potential revelation. It’s way easier to grok – and more visible – than Live’s Follow Actions. And it frees users from taking their focus of their instruments and other work just to manually trigger clips.

Also, as with Bitwig Studio, MOTU lets you trigger multiple clips both as scenes and as clip groups. (Live is more rigid; the only way to trigger multiple clips in one step is as a complete row.)

I have a lot of questions here that require some real test time. Could MOTU’s non-linear features here pair with their sophisticated marker tools, the functionality that have earned them loyalty with people doing scoring? How do these mesh with the existing DP editing tools, generally – does this feel like a tacked-on new mode, or does it integrate well with DP? And just how good is DP as a live performance tool, if you want to use this for that use case? (Live performance is a demanding thing.)

But MOTU do appear to have a shot to succeed where others haven’t. Cakewalk added clip triggering years ago to SONAR (and a long-defunct tool called Project 5), but it made barely a dent on Live’s meteoric rise and my experience of trying to use it was that it was relatively clunky. That is, I’d normally rather use Live for its workflow and bounce stems to another DAW if I want that. And I suspect that’s not just me – that’s really now the competition.

More audio manipulation

Every major DAW seems locked now in a sort of arms race in detecting beats and stretching audio, as the various developers gradually add new audio mangling algorithms and refine usability features.

So here we go with DP10 – detect beats, stetch audio, adjust tempo, yadda yadda.

Under the hood, most developers are now licensing the algorithms that manipulate audio – MOTU now works with ZTX Pro from zynaptic. But how you then integrate that mathemagical stuff with user interface design is really important, so this is down to implementation.

It’s certainly doubly relevant that MOTU are adding new beat detection and pitch-independent audio stretching in DP10, because of course this is a natural combination for the new Clips View.

More research needed.

Maybe just as welcome, though, is that MOTU have updated the integrated waveform editor in DP. And let’s be honest – even after decades of development, most DAWs have really terrible editors when it comes down to precise work on individual bits of audio. (I cringe every time I open the one in Logic, for instance. Ableton doesn’t really even have waveform editing apart from the limited tools in the main Arrangement view. And even users of something like Pro Tools or Cubase will often jump out to use a dedicated program.)

MOTU say they’ve streamlined and improved their Waveform Editor. And there’s reason to stay in the DAW – in DP10, they’ve integrated all those beat editing and time stretching and pitch correction tools. They’re also promising dynamic editing tools and menus and shortcuts and … yeah, just have to try this one. But those integrated tools and views look great, and – spectral view!

Other improvements

There’s some other cool stuff in DP10:

A new integrated Browser (this will also be familiar to users of Ableton Live and other tools, but it seems nicely implemented)

“VCA Faders” – which let you control multiple tracks with relative volumes, grouping however you like and with full automation support. This looks ilke a really intuitive way to mix.

VST3 support – yep, the new format is slowly gaining adoption across the industry.

Shift-spacebar to run commands. This is terrific to me – skip the manual, skip memorizing shortcuts for everything, but quickly access commands. (I think a lot of us use Spotlight and other launchers in a similar way, so this is totally logical.)

Transport bar skips by bars and beats. (Wait… why doesn’t every program out there do this, actually?)

Streamlined tools for grid snapping, Region menu, tool swapping, zooming, and more.

Quantize now applies to controllers (CC data), not just notes. (Yes. Good.)

Scalable resolution.

Okay, actually, that last one – I was all set to try the previous version of DP, but discovered it was impossible for my weak eyes to see the UI on my PC. So now I’m in. If you hadn’t given DP a second look because you actually couldn’t see it – it seems that problem is finally solved.

And by the way, you also really see DP’s heritage as a MIDI editor, with event list editing, clear displays of MIDI notes, and more MIDI-specific improvements.

All in all, it looks great. DP has to compete now with a lot of younger DAWs, the popularity of software like Ableton Live, and then the recent development on Windows of Cakewalk (aka SONAR) being available for free. But this looks like a pretty solid argument against all of that – and worth a test.

And I’ll be totally honest here – while I’ve been cursing some of DP’s competition for being awkward to set up and navigate for these same tasks, I’m personally interested.

It means a lot to have one DAW with everything from a mature notation view editor to video scoring to MIDI editing and audio and mixing. It means something you don’t outgrow. But that makes it even more important to have it grow and evolve with you. We’ll see how DP10 is maturing.

64-bit macOS, and 32-bit/64-bit Windows 7/8/10, shipping this quarter.

Pricing:
Full version: $499USD (street price)
Competitive upgrade: $395USD
AudioDesk upgrade: $395USD
Upgrade from previous version: $195USD

http://motu.com/products/software/dp/

I have just one piece of constructive criticism, MOTU. You should change your name back to Mark of the Unicorn and win over millennials. And me, too; I like unicorns.

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Reason 10.3 will improve VST performance – here’s how

VST brings more choice to Reason, but more support demands, too. Here’s an update on how Propellerhead are optimizing Reason to bring plug-in performance in line with what users expect.

For years, Reason was a walled-off garden. Propellerhead resisted supporting third-party plug-ins, and when they did, introduced their own native Rack Extensions technology for supporting them. That enables more integrated workflows, better user experience, greater stability, and easier installation and updates than a format like VST or AU allows.

But hey, we have a lot of VSTs we want to run inside Reason, engineering arguments be damned. And so Propellerhead finally listened to users, delivering support for VST effects and instruments on Mac and Windows in Reason 9.5. (Currently only VST2 plug-ins are supported, not VST3.)

Propellerhead have been working on improving stability and performance continuously since then. Reason 10.3 is a much-anticipated update, because it addresses a significant performance issue with VST plug-ins – without disrupting one of the things that makes Reason’s native devices work well.

The bad news is, 10.3 is delayed.

The good news is, it works really well. It puts Reason on par with other DAWs as far as VST performance. That’s a big deal to Reason users, just because in many other ways Reason is unlike other DAWs.

I met with Propellerhead engineers yesterday in Stockholm, including Mattias Häggström Gerdt (product manager for Reason). We got to discuss the issue, their whole development effort, and get hands-on with their alpha version.

Why this took a while

Okay, first, some technical discussion. “Real time” is actually not a thing in digital hardware and software. The illusion of a system working in real time is created by buffering – using very small windows of time to pass audio information, so small that the results seem instantaneous to the user.

There’s a buffer size you set for your audio interface – this one you may already know about. But software also have internal buffers for processing, hidden to the user. In a modular environment, you really want this buffer to be as small as possible, so that patching and processing feels reponsive – just as it would if you were using analog hardware. Reason accordingly has an internal buffer of 64 frames to do just that. That means without any interruptions to your audio stream, you can patch and repatch and tweak and play to your heart’s content.

Here’s the catch: some plug-ins developers for design reasons prefer larger buffers (higher latency), in order to reduce CPU consumption even though their plug-in technically work in Reason’s small buffer environment. This is common in plug-ins where ultra-low latency internal processing isn’t as important. But running inside Reason, that approach adds strain to your CPU. Some users won’t notice anything, because they don’t use these plug-ins or use fewer instances of them. But some will see their machine run out of CPU resources faster in Reason than in other DAWs. The result: the same plug-in setup you used in another DAW will make Reason sputter, which is of course not what you want.

Another catch: if you have ever tried adjusting the audio buffer size on your interface to reduce CPU usage, in this case, that won’t help. So users encountering this issue are left frustrated.

This is a fixable problem. You give those plug-ins larger buffers when they demand them, while Reason and its devices continue to work as they always have. It’s just there’s a lot of work going back through all the rest of Reason’s code to adjust for the change. And like a lot of coding work, that takes time. Adding more people doesn’t necessarily even speed this up, either. (Ever tried adding more people to a kitchen to “speed up” cooking dinner? Like that.)

When it’s done, existing Reason users won’t notice anything. But users of the affected plug-ins will see big performance gains.

What to expect when it ships

I sat with the engineers looking at an alpha and we measured CPU usage. The results by plug-in are what you might expect.

We worked with three plug-ins by way of example – charts are here. With Izotope Ozone 7, there’s a massive gain in the new build. That makes sense – a mastering plug-in isn’t so concerned about low latency performance. With Xfer Records Serum, there’s almost none. Native Instruments’ Massive is somewhere in between. These are just typical examples – many other plug-ins will also fall along this range.

Native Instruments’ Massive gets a marginal but significant performance boost. Left: before. Right: after.

iZotope’s Ozone is a more dramatic example. Stack some instances of this mastering-focused plug-in, and you can max out the CPU quickly in Reason. (left) But in Reason 10.3 alpha, you can see the “big batch” approach yields resolves that performance issue. (right)

Those graphs are on the Mac but OS in this case won’t really matter.

The fix is coming to the public. The alpha is not something you want to run; it’s already in the hands of testers who don’t mind working with prerelease softare. A public beta won’t happen in the couple of weeks we have left in 2018, but it is coming soon – as soon as it’s done. And of course 10.3 will be a free upgrade for Reason 10 users.

When it ships, Reason 10.3 will give you performance on par with other DAWs. That is, your performance will depend on your CPU and which plug-ins you’re using, but Reason will be more or less the same as other hosts beyond that.

So this isn’t really exciting stuff, but it will make your life easier. We’ll let you know how it comes and try to test that final version.

Official announcement:

Update on Reason and VST performance

For more on Reason and VST support, see their support section:

Propellerhead Software Rack Extensions, ReFills and VSTs VSTs

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FL Studio 20.1 arrives, studio-er, loop-ier, better

The just-before-the-holiday-break software updates just keep coming. Next: the evergreen, lifetime-free-updates latest release of the DAW the developer calls FL Studio, and everyone else calls “Fruity Loops.”

FL Studio has given people reason to take it more seriously of late, too. There’s a real native Mac version, so FL is no longer a PC-vs-Mac thing. There’s integrated controller hardware from Akai (the new Fire), and that in turn exploits all those quick-access record and step sequence features that made people love FL in the first place.

AKAI Fire and the Mac version might make lapsed or new users interested anew – but hardcore users, this software release is really for you.

The snapshot view:

Does your DAW have a visualizer built on a game engine inside it? No? FL does. And you thought you were going to just have to make your next music video be a bunch of shaky iPhone footage you ran through some weird black and white filter. No!

Stepsequencer looping is back (previously seen in FL 11), but now has more per-channel controls so you can make polyrhythms – or not, lining everything up instead if you’d rather.

Plus if you’re using FIRE hardware, you get options to set channel loop length and the ability to burn to Patterns.

Audio recording is improved, making it easier to arm and record and get audio and pre/post effects where you want.

And there are 55 new minimal kick drum samples.

And now you can display the GUI FPS.

And you have a great way of making music videos by exporting from the included video game engine visualizer.

Actually, you know, I’m just going to stop -t here’s just a whole bunch of new stuff, and you get it for free. And they’ve made a YouTube video. And as you watch the tutorial, it’s evident that FL really has matured into a serious DAW to stand toe-to-toe with everything else, without losing its personality.

https://www.image-line.com/flstudio/

20.1 update

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Bitwig Studio 2.5 beta arrives with features inspired by the community

We’re coasting to the end of 2019, but Bitwig has managed to squeeze in Studio 2.5, with feature the company says were inspired by or directly requested by users.

The most interesting of these adds some interactive arrangement features to the linear side of the DAW. Traditional DAWs like Cubase have offered interactive features, but they generally take place on the timeline. Or you can loop individual regions in most DAWs, but that’s it.

Bitwig are adding interactive actions to the clips themselves, right in the arrangement. “Clip Blocks” apply Next Action features to individual clips.

Also in this release:

“Audio Slide” lets you slide audio inside clips without leaving the arranger. That’s possible in many other DAWs, but it’s definitely a welcome addition in Bitwig Studio – especially because an audio clip can contain multiple audio events, which isn’t necessarily possible elsewhere.

Note FX Selector lets you sweep through multiple layers of MIDI effects. We’ve seen something like this before, too, but this implementation is really nice.

There’s also a new set of 60 Sampler presets with hundreds of full-frequency waveforms – looks great for building up instruments. (This makes me ready to boot into Linux with Bitwig, too, where I don’t necessarily have my full plug-in library at my disposal.)

Other improvements:

  • Browser results by relevance
  • Faster plug-in scanning
  • 50 more functions accessible as user-definable key commands

To me, the thing that makes this newsworthy, and the one to test, is really this notion of an interactive arrangement view.

Ableton pioneered Follow Actions in their Session View years back in Ableton Live, but they’ve failed to apply that concept even inside Session View to scenes. (Some Max for Live hacks fill in the gap, but that only proves that people are looking for this feature.)

Making the arrangement itself interactive at the clip level – that’s really something new.

Now, that said, let’s play with Clip Blocks in Bitwig 2.5 and see if this is helpful or just confusing or superfluous in arrangements. (Presumably you can toy with different arrangement possibilities and then bounce out whatever you’ve chosen? I have to test this myself.) And there’s also the question of whether this much interactivity actually just has you messing around instead of making decisions, but that’s another story.

Go check out the release, and if you’re a Bitwig user, you can immediately try out the beta. Let us know what you think and how those Clip Blocks impact your creative process. (Or share what you make!)

Just please – no EDM tabla. (I think that moment sent a chill of terror down my spine in the demo video.)

https://www.bitwig.com/en/18/bitwig-studio-2_5.html

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The guts of Tracktion are now open source for devs to make new stuff

Game developers have Unreal Engine and Unity Engine. Well, now it’s audio’s turn. Tracktion Engine is an open source engine based on the guts of a major DAW, but created as a building block developers can use for all sorts of new music and audio tools.

You can new music apps not only for Windows, Mac, and Linux (including embedded platforms like Raspberry Pi), but iOS and Android, too. And while developers might go create their own DAW, they might also build other creative tools for performance and production.

The tutorials section already includes examples for simple playback, independent manipulation of pitch and time (meaning you could conceivably turn this into your own DJ deck), and a step sequencer.

We’ve had an open source DAW for years – Ardour. But this is something different – it’s clear the developers have created this with the intention of producing a reusable engine for other things, rather than just dumping the whole codebase for an entire DAW.

Okay, my Unreal and Unity examples are a little optimistic – those are friendly to hobbyists and first-time game designers. Tracktion Engine definitely needs you to be a competent C++ programmer.

But the entire engine is delivered as a JUCE module, meaning you can drop it into an existing project. JUCE has rapidly become the go-to for reasonably painless C++ development of audio tools across plug-ins and operating systems and mobile devices. It’s huge that this is available in JUCE.

Even if you’re not a developer, you should still care about this news. It could be a sign that we’ll see more rapid development that allows music loving developers to try out new ideas, both in software and in hardware with JUCE-powered software under the hood. And I think with this idea out there, if it doesn’t deliver, it may spur someone else to try the same notion.

I’ll be really interested to hear if developers find this is practical in use, but here’s what they’re promising developers will be able to use from their engine:

A wide range of supported platforms (Windows, macOS, Linux, Raspberry Pi, iOS and Android)
Tempo, key and time-signature curves
Fast audio file playback via memory mapping
Audio editing including time-stretching and pitch shifting
MIDI with quantisation, groove, MPE and pattern generation
Built-in and external plugin support for all the major formats
Parameter adjustments with automation curves or algorithmic modifiers
Modular plugin patching Racks
Recording with punch, overdub and loop modes along with comp editing
External control surface support
Fully customizable rendering of arrangements

The licensing is also stunningly generous. The code is under a GPLv3 license – meaning if you’re making a GPLv3 project (including artists doing that), you can freely use the open source license.

But even commercial licensing is wide open. Educational projects get forum support and have no revenue limit whatsoever. (I hope that’s a cue to academic institutions to open up some of their licensing, too.)

Personal projects are free, too, with revenue up to US$50k. (Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but many small developers are below that threshold.)

For $35/mo, with a minimum 12 month commitment, “indie” developers can make up to $200k. Enterprise licensing requires getting in touch, and then offers premium support and the ability to remove branding. They promise paid licenses by next month.

Check out their code and the Tracktion Engine page:

https://www.tracktion.com/develop/tracktion-engine

https://github.com/Tracktion/tracktion_engine/

I think a lot of people will be excited about this, enough so that … well, it’s been a long time. Let’s Ballmer this.

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Free Cakewalk DAW for Windows gets big updates, more stretchy audio

Welcome to an alternate universe. You knew the world where acquisitions killed products. In this one, products get better, faster – and go from costing hundreds of dollars to being totally free. Let’s catch up with what’s new in Cakewalk for Windows.

First, DAWs – music production software bundling lots of different features – do as much as they do because producing music is pretty demanding. Multitrack recording, editing, arrangement, working with patterns and sequences, working with audio, mixing, mastering, effects, instruments … a lot of tools go into this process. They’re therefore a big investment of time. Having to start out by also investing a bunch of money can stop people from moving forward at all.

So Cakewalk gives you what had been one of the leading tools on Windows, and makes it free for everyone. It’s not the friendliest to beginners by any stretch, but a lot of musicians and producers swear by it.

It’s free now following an acquisition by online music service platform developer BandLab (and a return to the name “Cakewalk” from the name “SONAR,” which never caught on):

Cakewalk SONAR DAW for Windows is back – and it’s now free

But if you thought “free” meant you’d mostly just see small updates, you’d be wrong. Many of Cakewalk’s previous developers, and tech lead Noel Borthwick, jumped to the new company. They were boasting at the pro-focused AES (Audio Engineering Society) conference in New York that they’re making rapid progress under new ownership. They say that means bug fixes, greater stability, and a more usable program – plus new features.

What’s new:

They’ve integrated the standard élastique Pro time and pitch stretching engine, so you can work with sound more fluidly. That’s become something of an industry standard of late. They’ve also continued to improve their own AudioSnap engine.

There’s now more advanced editing and event filtering of MIDI, across multiple tracks and in the piano roll editor.

The UI has been updated with new themes, and there’s better pop-up help and notifications to keep you oriented.

VST compatibility is improved and optimized.

And they remain committed to pro users with, for instance, Dante driver improvements.

The BandLab Assistant that installs with Cakewalk – and which you may choose to just ignore – does have the update option in it. Look under apps.

I don’t think Cakewalk is for everyone, but then I can’t think of any DAW I’d recommend to everyone. What you get is an excellent update to a favorite DAW for existing users and lapsed users. It’s a terrific choice if you want a pro-level tool but don’t have a pro budget. And it’s an option for complementing tools like FL Studio, Reason, Ableton Live, and other tools with more conventional DAW workflows and functionality. (Film score? Mixdown? Yeah, I often jump from something like Live into a different DAW.) It also helps establish Windows as a solid platform for music – even Apple’s GarageBand can’t match this for out-of-the-box functionality for free.

I still think more could be done to make the UI friendly and refined, but this is a terrific start.

www.bandlab.com/products/cakewalk

Full feature updates, including the release that dropped last week:

Version 2018.09

Features & Enhancements

Integrated zplane élastique Pro V3 audio stretching and pitch shifting
Default stretch methods can be specified in the Preferences dialog
Transpose, Length, and Fit to Time commands work on all clip types, including Groove clips, AudioSnap clips, Region FX clips, and slip stretched clips
Slip stretching can also be performed when the edit filter is set to show audio transients.
AudioSnap enabled clips display a clip icon in the top right corner
AudioSnap clips show Auto Stretch icon when Clip Follows Project Tempo is enabled
AudioSnap palette options now directly opens Preferences page for settings
Optimizations and enhancements to time/pitch stretching and AudioSnap workflow
Customize or remove Project Open notification affirmations
Toast notification informs you when a new Cakewalk update is available

Bug Fixes

Changing the Online Render mode for slip stretch can cause crash/glitches
Looping causes stretched clip to become partially silent
Slip Stretch cursor appears with Move tool
Crop tool appears when holding CTRL with the Move tool
Slip stretch is available without the key modifiers if cursor is placed in bottom corner of a clip
Waveform display in split clip appears to adjust crop when slip stretching
Cropping slip stretched clip shows 000% in header
AudioSnap average tempo can show negative value
AudioSnap properties do not appear when Enable Stretch is engaged in Clip Properties Inspector
Clip Follows Project Tempo menu item in AudioSnap context menu does not match actual state
Transient edits and merged markers from other tracks can be discarded when toggling AudioSnap Off/On
When slip editing, active AudioSnap changes appear in waveform even if AudioSnap is disabled
With slip edited clips, active AudioSnap changes are rendered even when AudioSnap is disabled
Clip Properties Time Format setting persists across multiple open projects
Transposing stereo audio file with Radius creates flat line
Process > Transpose can fail or render static when transposing clips at different bit depths
Potential crash on project load
Potential crash in Help Module with German/Japanese text
Potential crash when exiting if the app is not registered

Elastique Compatibility

Elastique Efficient and Elastique Pro are the new default online/offline stretch methods for audio clips.

Elastique is only available in Cakewalk release 2018.09 and higher. Because prior versions of Cakewalk (or SONAR) do not support this feature, projects utilizing Elastique as a stretch method will not render properly in prior versions. A warning message will be displayed when you open a new Cakewalk project in an older version of the software. If you need to share project files with a prior version of Cakewalk, select one of the older stretch methods before saving the project. Alternatively, you can reset the stretch method in the earlier version of Cakewalk.

Elastique stretching with AudioSnap or slip stretching enabled can require larger disk read ahead depending on marker stretches. To optimize playback and reduce the potential for dropouts or audio glitches, we recommend a Playback I/O Buffer Size value of about 512 (KB) if you are experiencing any performance problems. You can change the Playback I/O Buffer Size value in Edit > Preferences > Audio – Sync and Caching.

Version 2018.08

Features & Enhancements

Global options to enable/disable toast notifications and specify timeout duration
AudioSnap transient marker tooltip now shows sample position, updates dynamically, and shows the original and current position in both samples and Measure:Beat:Tick when dragging markers
Default/inherited AudioSnap render mode names are shown in Track/Clip Properties Inspector
Improved Aim Assist UI

Bug Fixes

Toggling AudioSnap Enable/Disable in the AudioSnap Palette does not update the Clip Properties Inspector
AudioSnap: Follow Project Tempo and Enable Stretch should be mutually exclusive
Rare crash after selecting an audio device in the Welcome onboarding dialog
Aim Assist snap line not visible while moving clip if clip boundary is offscreen
Rare crash when hovering mouse over Clips pane time ruler
Aim Assist delta is not shown for Bus pane automation nodes
Aim Assist delta is not shown when drag selecting in area below last track
Aim Assist not visible in Clips pane time ruler after creating a new project
Aim Assist text obscured when moving mouse to far left/right of Clips pane
Invalid Aim Assist text shown when drag selecting before measure 1
Project load notification shows successful load when project file is missing

https://blog.bandlab.com/cakewalk-by-bandlab-at-aes-with-new-features-and-bright-future/

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Logic Pro 10.4.2, MainStage 3.4: why you’ll want to update now

The new Logic adds multi-track Smart Tempo, and sorely needed external storage of sounds, among other improvements – and live performance-friendly MainStage syncs up with Logic’s latest instruments, effects, and features.

Note that Mojave actually isn’t specifically mentioned in these updates – but pro audio users will, as always, want to move nice and slow with major OS updates to let hardware and software developers catch up and find any issues.

But existing Logic users should grab this one. Here’s the big one: if you’re running Logic on a machine that’s low on hard disk space (raises hand), you can now move your Logic Sound Library to an external storage device. So while 10.4 did add improvements for choosing what to install and what not to install, this is … possibly even better, because you can just buy a big, cheap drive and not sweat it at all.

Smart Tempo was a fascinating idea in 10.4, but now it’s actually fleshed out – so multi-track recordings, MIDI data, and imported stems now can all work with flexible time, without a metronome. (That is, they can both be a source or a target.)

Another overdue but important improvement: automation points can align vertically.

None of that will make you more creative, but Alchemy could. It’s an instrument that’s one of the best reasons to use Logic at the moment, even if we’re all sad it’s no longer a plug-in. And if you weren’t already importing audio into its powerful engine, now’s a good time to start, with a workflow that lets you choose how the engine will play that audio right as you drag it in.

The word from Apple:

• The Sound Library can be relocated to an external storage device
• Smart Tempo can analyze tempo data across multi-track recordings to define the Project Tempo
• Imported multi-track stems can follow or define Project Tempo
• Smart Tempo now analyzes the tempo of MIDI performances recorded without a metronome
• Alchemy provides drag and drop hot zones that let you select re-synthesis and sampling options while importing audio
• Alchemy allows numerical editing of parameter values
• Dragging one automation point over another now aligns them vertically
• New mixer mode allows channel strip fader and pan controls to be used to set send level and pan
• Automatic Slurs can be applied to selected notes in the Score Editor
• Add a photo to track or project notes to help remember key session details or studio hardware settings
• This update also contains numerous stability and performance improvements

Now we’re just waiting on a release that finally cleans up some of the older effects and instruments in Logic’s library – one by one, we’re getting there. (Sculpture and Space Designer gladly got a big refresh in 10.4!)

MainStage

MainStage now syncs up with the latest Logic, though it’s a shame these releases are not in (word of the week) “lockstep.”

So the following list is so long for MainStage because it’s partly catch-up with Logic 10.4’s various additions. That is a big deal for MainStage, because 10.4 included a bunch of effects and instruments.

This also means MainStage could be a go-to if you just want to jam with those toys and don’t care particularly about Logic – or, for that matter, even a DAW, period.

The “3.4” version number gives you a clue that this is the bigger of these updates:

General
• Channel Strip MIDI input inspector allows any MIDI CC data to be filtered, transformed or passed through
• Text notes can be added to the bottom of channel strips
• The Metronome is now fully configurable, with separate settings for Bar, Group, Beat, and Division
• This update also contains numerous stability and performance improvements

Sound Library
• The Sound Library can be relocated to an external storage device
• 2 vintage brush kits for Drum Kit Designer
• More than 800 new loops in a variety of instruments and genres
• New Visions library for Alchemy adds 150 cinematic presets

Plug-Ins
• ChromaVerb is a sophisticated new algorithmic reverb with a colorful, interactive interface for creating rich acoustic spaces
• Space Designer offers a new design and a scalable, Retina interface
• Step FX adds rhythmic multi-effect processing using 3 powerful step sequencers and an X/Y pad
• Phat FX makes your tracks bigger and bolder using 9 effects that add warmth and punch to your sounds
• The Vintage EQ Collection provides 3 accurate models of vintage analog EQs from the 1950s to the 1970s
• Studio Strings and Studio Horns are deeply sampled, realistic ensemble instruments with custom articulation controls
• Mellotron is now available as a standalone instrument plug-in
• Retro Synth now offers 18 different filter models
• The length of individual steps in the Arpeggiator plug-in are adjustable
• Loopback now applies a small crossfade at each loop cycle to reduce the likelihood of clicks or other audio artifacts

Alchemy
• Alchemy provides drag and drop hot zones that let you select re-synthesis and sampling options while importing audio
• Alchemy allows numerical editing of parameter values
• Alchemy adds 12 new synthesized formant filter shapes
• Alchemy now offers a side chain input that can be used as a source for envelope followers
• Alchemy includes an automatic time align feature for improved morphing
• New additive effects in Alchemy expand the options for filtering and modulating sound

Previously:

Logic Pro X 10.4: New effects, and play and mix audio without a click

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Tracktion 7: powerful, free audio production tool (Mac, Windows, Linux)

So you want to start recording, mixing, arranging, and your budget is … you don’t have one. Tracktion runs on every OS, and the latest update adds still more powerful features.

Free production tools are invaluable – not only are they a refuge for the cash-strapped, but they can be a useful common denominator when you want to exchange projects, or if you need to get up and running quickly on something other than your main machine. Tracktion isn’t the only option out there. Notably GarageBand is available to macOS and iOS users. The excellent Cakewalk (formerly called Cakewalk SONAR) is an optimal choice on Windows, now available free from BandLab. For cross-platform tools, there’s the completely free and open source Ardour, though it can be a bit hacky to install and use. And while it’s not free, Reaper has an unlimited demo, meaning you can use the full version for free and send the developer some money after you sell that first TV score.

Where Tracktion stands out: it’s a modern, friendly, single-window DAW that runs on any OS (Mac, Windows, Linux). And of all of these, it may be the friendliest option – with some power features not available from other options.

T7, released this week, sweetens the pot with some unique new additions – including a couple that might even sway you from the DAW you’ve already paid for.

The UI has been refreshed, with a new scheme called “Blue Steel.” (Okay, enough Zoolander references already. Or at least they missed the opportunity to say the new color scheme will help you “Relax.”)

Browsing is also easier, with a visual browser for plug-ins (the likes of which we’ve seen in Reason, but more rarely elsewhere), plus a multi-browser for auditioning and placing multiple audio files.

The real magic, though, is in the ability to get some power over automation and routing:

Modular racks let you create custom signal processing chains.

Clip Layer Effects let you stack on effects and plug-in processing on specific clips, not just on tracks. That makes for a different workflow – no more making a new track every time you want to change audio routing. Tracktion says they’re applying for a patent here.

Clip Layer Effects: no more duplicating tracks just because one section needs a different effects routing than another bit.

Automation patterns are modulation and envelopes that you can apply to any parameter repeatedly. And there’s optional tempo sync support for them. That sounds especially handy for keeping favorite gestures at the ready, and for remixes and dance music (or to go the opposite direction, hyperactive microediting). Speaking of which, you also get….

Automation patterns can now be stored an applied anywhere – including with tempo sync.

LFO Modifiers can be applied to any parameter in the channel strip or in any third-party plug-in. We’ve seen powerful modifiers in Bitwig Studio – and in Ableton Live, though limited to somewhat simple Max for Live add-ons – but here, combined with those Clip Layers and Automation Patterns, they make Tracktion into a powerful DAW for editing.

LFO Modifiers now work with plug-ins.

Okay, so since this is free, how do the developers make any money? They hope you’ll upgrade to Waveform, their next-generation DAW. It’s got all these features, but adds more extensive instrument support, a multi-sampler, Melodyne pitch correction, a fully modular mix environment, more detailed MIDI editing and pattern generation, and other additions.

Also significant: master mix DSP, chord track, track loops, track presets, quick render, Rack ‘stack’ editor,’ plug-in faceplates, plug-in macros, and free online support. And only Waveform has ready-to-play Raspberry Pi support.

That still means Tracktion is a good way to give this approach a try.

https://www.tracktion.com/products/t7-daw

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Bitwig Studio 2.4: crazy powerful sampler, easier control

The folks at Bitwig have been picking up speed. And version 2.4, beta testing now, brings some promising sampler and controller features.

The big deal here is that Bitwig is going with a full-functioning sampler. And as Ableton Live and Native Instruments’ Maschine pursue somewhat complex and fragmented approaches, maybe Bitwig will step in and deliver a sampler that just does all the stuff you expect in one place. (I’m ready to put these different devices head to head. I like to switch workflows to keep fresh, anyway, so no complaints. Bitwig just wins by default on Linux since Ableton and NI don’t show up for the competition. Ahem.)

Meet the new Sampler: manipulate pitch, time, and the two in combination, either together in a traditional fashion or independently as a digital wavetable or granular instrument. Those modes on their own aren’t new, but this is a nice way of combining everything into a single interface.

Sampler

The re-built Sampler introduces a powerful wavetable/granular instrument. At its heart are multiple modes that combine effectively different instruments and ways of working with sound into a single interface:

“Repitch” / Speed + pitch together: The traditional sampler mode, with negative speeds, too (allowing it to behave the way a record player / record-scratch / tape transport does).

“Cycles” / Speed only: Speed changes, pitches stay the same. There’s also a Formant control, and the ability to switch on and off keyboard tracking. (In other words, you can scale from realistic-sounding speed changes to extreme metallic variations.)

“Textures” / Granular resampling / independent pitch and speed: Granular resynthesis divides up the sound into tiny bits allowing independent pitch and time manipulation (in combination), and textural effects. Independent speed, grain size, and grain motion (randomization) are all available as parameters.

Freeze: Each mode lets you directly manipulate the sample playhead live, using a controller or the Bitwig modulators. That emulates the position of a needle on a record or playhead on a tape, or the position in a granular playback device, depending on mode – and this is in every single mode.

Oh. Okay. Yeah, so those last two are to me the way Ableton Live should have worked from the beginning – and the way a lot of Max, Reaktor, Pd, and SuperCollider patches/code might work – but it’s fantastic to see them in a DAW. This opens up a lot of live performance and production options. If they’ve nailed it, it could be a reason to switch to Bitwig.

But there’s more:

Updated Multisampler Editor: Bitwig’s Sampler already had multisampler capabilities – letting you combine different samples into a single patch, as you might do for a complex instrument, for instance. Now, you can make groups, choose more easily what you see when editing (revealing samples as you play, for instance), and set modulation per zone. There’s also ping-pong looping and automatic zero-crossing edits (so you can slice up sounds without getting pops and clicks).

Multi-sample mode lets you work with zones in new ways, for more complex sampling patches.

Sequence modulation

There’s a new device that lets you step sequence modulation. Here’s how they describe that:

ParSeq-8 is a step sequencer for modulation.

ParSeq-8 is a unique parameter modulation sequencer, where each step is its own modulation source. It can use the project’s clock, advance on note input, or just run freely in either direction. As it advances, each step’s targets are modulated and then reset. It’s a great way to make projects more dynamic, whether in the studio or on the stage. (Along the way, our Steps modulator got some improvements such as ping-pong looping so check it out too.)

Also in the modulation category, there’s a Note Counter — count up each incoming note and create cycles of modulation as a result.

Note Counter.

Note FX Layer.

More powerful with controllers

Bitwig has been moving forward in making it easy to map hardware controls to software, even as rival tools (cough, Ableton) haven’t advanced since early versions. That’s useful if you have a particular custom hardware controller you want to use to manipulate the instruments, effects, and mixing onscreen.

Now there’s a new visualization to give you clear onscreen feedback of what you’re doing, making that hardware/software connection much easier to see.

Visualize controllers as you use them – so the knob you turn on your hardware makes something visible onscreen.

There’s also MIDI channel support. MIDI has had channels since the protocol was unveiled in the 80s – a way of dividing up multiple streams of information. Now you can put them to use: incoming MIDI can be mapped and filtered by channel. That’s … not exciting, okay, but there are dedicated devices for making those channels useful in chains and so on. And that is fairly exciting.

MIDI channel support – essential for working with MIDI, but implemented here in a way that’s powerful for manipulating streams of control and information.

And more stuff

Also in this release:

Bit-8 audio degrader gets new quantization and parameters for glitching or lightly distorting sound
Note FX layer creates parallel note effects
There’s more feedback in the footer of the screen when you hover over parameters/values
Resize track widths, scene widths
Color-code scenes

Looks like a great upgrade. Beta testing starts soon, to be followed by a release as a free upgrade for Upgrade Plan users this summer.

http://bitwig.com

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