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.
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.
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.
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 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
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.
Oh, look, a new MIDI controller keyboard ranks there with “wow, a new moderately-priced mid-sized sedan.” But… Arturia may have a hit on their hands with the MKII KeyLab. Here’s why.
While everyone else guns for the elusive entry level “everyone,” Arturia has won over specific bands of enthusiasts. The BeatStep Pro is a prime example: by connecting to both MIDI and control voltage, these compact pad-sequencer units have become utterly ubiquitous in modular rigs. They’re the devices that prevent modular performances from turning into aimless noodling. (Well, or at least they give your aimless noodling a set of predictable patterns and rhythm.)
Now, is the modular market big enough to sell the majority of BeatSteps Pro? Probably not. But the agnostic design approach here makes this a multitasker tool in every kitchen, and so word of mouth spreads.
So, keyboards. Native Instruments, love them or hate them, have had a pretty big hit with the Komplete Kontrol line, partly because they do less. They’re elegant looking, they’re not overcrowded, and their encoders let you access not only NI’s software, but lots of other plug-ins via the NKS format.
But the KeyLab MKII looks like it could fit a different niche, by connecting easily to hardware and DAWs.
Backlit pads. 4×4 pads (with velocity and continuous pressure – good), which can also be assigned to chords in case finger drumming isn’t what you had in mind.
DAW control. A lot of people record/edit while playing in parts on the keyboard. So here’s your DAW control layout with some handy shortcut buttons.
Faders/mixing. You get 9 faders with 9 rotaries – so that can be 8 channels plus a master fader. There are assignable buttons underneath those.
Pitch and mod wheels. Dear Arturia: thank you for not being innovative here, as wheels are what many people prefer.
And a big navigator. This bit lets you pull up existing presets.
Okay, none of that is all that exciting – we’ve literally seen exactly this set of features before. But Arturia have pulled it together in some nice ways, like adding a dedicated switch to move into chord mode, letting you change MIDI channel with a button on the front panel (hello, hardware owners), and even thoughtfully including not only those shortcut keys for DAWs, but a magnetic overlay to access them.
Still, keyboards from Nektar and M-Audio, to name just two, cover similar ground. So where Arturia set themselves apart is connectivity.
Class-compliant USB MIDI operation. No drivers mean you can pair this with anything, including iOS and Android and Linux (including Raspberry Pi).
Control Voltage. 4 CV/Gate outputs, controlling pitch, gate, and modulation. Yes, four. Also one CV input.
MIDI in and out.
Pedals. Expression, sustain, and 3 assignable auxiliary pedal inputs.
Software integration. This is obviously a winner if you’re into Arturia’s Analog Collection library, which has gone from varied and pretty okay to really, really great as it’s matured. And since there are so many instruments, having this hardware to navigate them is a godsend. There’s also the obligatory software bundle to sweeten the pot, but I suspect the real draw here is out-of-box compatibility with the DAW of your choice – including Pro Tools, Logic Pro X, FL Studio, Bitwig, Cubase, Ableton Live, Digital Performer, and Studio One.
Made of metal. Okay, not the keys. (That’d be awesome, if… wrong.) But the chassis is aluminum, and the wheels are event metal.
There’s a pretty nice piano and a bunch of analog presets built in here, making this a good deal.
I think if your workflow isn’t tied to Native Instruments software and plug-ins, the connectivity and standalone operation here could make the Arturia the one to beat. The thing to check, obviously, is hardware and build quality, though note that Arturia say the keybed at least is what’s found on the Brute line.
There are 49- and 61- key variations, and they come in either black or white, so you can, you know, coordinate with your studio and tastes.
Composer Alessio Santini is back with more tools for Ableton Live, both intended to help you get off the grid and generate elaborate, insane rhythms.
Developer K-Devices, Santini’s music software house, literally calls this series “Out Of Grid,” or OOG for short. They’re a set of Max for Live devices with interfaces that look like the flowcharts inside a nuclear power plant, but the idea is all about making patterns.
AutoTrig: multiple tracks of shifting structures and grooves, based on transformation and probability, primarily for beat makers. Includes Push 2, outboard modular/analog support.
TATAT: input time, note, and parameter structures, output melodic (or other) patterns. Control via MIDI keyboard, and export to clips (so you can dial up settings until you find some clips you like, then populate your session with those).
AutoTrig spits out multiple tracks of rhythms for beat mangling.
And for anyone who complains that rhythms are repetitive, dull, and dumb on computers, these tools do none of that. This is about climbing into the cockpit of an advanced alien spacecraft, mashing some buttons, and then getting warped all over hyperspace, your face melting into another dimension.
Here’s the difference: those patterns are generated by an audio engine, not a note or event engine per se. So the things you’d do to shape an audio signal – sync, phase distortion – then spit out complex and (if you like) unpredictable streams of notes or percussion, translating that fuzzy audio world into the MIDI events you use elsewhere.
TATAT is built more for melodic purposes, but the main thing here is, you can spawn patterns using time and note structures. And you can even save the results as clips.
And that’s only if you stay in the box. If you have some analog or modular gear, you can route audio to those directly, making Ableton Live a brain for spawning musical events outside via control voltage connection. (Their free MiMu6 Max for Live device handles this, making use of the new multichannel support in Max for Live added to Live 10).
Making sense of this madness are a set of features to produce some order, like snapshots and probability switches on AutoTrig, and sliders that adjust timing and probability on TATAT. TATAT also lets you use a keyboard to set pitch, so you can use this more easily live.
If you were just sent into the wilderness with these crazy machines, you might get a bit lost. But they’ve built a pack for each so you can try out sounds. AutoTrig works with a custom Push 2 template, and TATAT works well with any MIDI controller.
See, the problem with this job is, I find a bunch of stuff that would require me to quit this job to use but … I will find a way to play with Monday’s sequencing haul! I know we all feel the same pain there.
FL Studio aka Fruity Loops has hit a version the developers are dubbing FL Studio 20. At age 20, the software still includes lifetime free updates – and a bunch of new features, including freezing of audio, and Hell freezing over.
The “Hell freezing over” bit you’ll see a lot around this release. It’s a reference to a claim developers Image-Line made that they’d add native Mac support “when Hell freezes over.” The comment at the time wasn’t so outrageous: FL Studio had been built a Windows-native development toolchain that made porting unthinkable. And while about ten years ago the company flirted with using emulation layer WINE to provide rudimentary support, that approach wasn’t terribly satisfying.
Now, Mac users can be first class FL Studio citizens if they so choose. FL Studio 20 is entirely Mac native – not running any kind of emulation. Of course, it may be hard to Image-Line to shake the Windows association, and some Mac users are coming the opposite direction, opting for the power-for-price ratio on Windows PCs. But the Mac still represents a huge portion of musicians, and this means choosing FL doesn’t require choosing a particular OS.
(I will say, though – a new Razer Blade is out. And even the old Razer Blade remains cheaper and better equipped than the Mac. Now you do have to disable some Windows 10 annoyances, like a CPU-hogging malware check and automatic updates on by default. Ahem.)
How to watch the Image-Line launch video without offending your aesthetic sensibilities
Okay, so… I have a theory.
Maybe one reason people assume FL Studio is for people making particular kinds of music is that … the video projects a particular kind of … uh, let’s say musical taste. Oh, sure, Ableton can throw a big posh party in Berlin and toss moody high-contrast artist photos beneath a stylish typeface they hired a London design consultancy to choose for them. FL Studio’s video may turn off a lot of producers simply because they hate the music.
So I’ve found a solution. First, cue up this delightful live performance of “Söngur heiftar” by classic Icelandic black metal band Misþyrming. It’s a little longer than the FL Studio 20 launch video, so don’t panic … you’ve got up to 60 seconds to then hit play on the FL Studio launch video, and hit the mute button in YouTube.
It’s the “Dark Side of the Moon” / Wizard of Oz approach to making music tech marketing videos more palatable. And it kind of fits. You’re welcome.
Hell isn’t the only thing FL Studio can freeze. You can now bounce selected audio and pattern clips to audio, render clips to audio, consolidate clips or tracks or takes by bouncing, and more. That’s a huge difference in the FL workflow.
There are plenty of other new features in version 20, too:
Time Signature support (both in playlists and patterns, independently – so, yes, polymetric support if you like – and you thought FL Studio was just for 4/4 trance.)
Playlist Arrangements. Here’s something I find I’m often missing in linear DAWs – you can now set up multiple alternate arrangements, including audio, automation, and pattern clips, all in one project. That could be massive for tasks from trying out alternative song ideas to specific game or live performance sound designs. (I could see a theater show design using this … or fitting a score to different versions of a film trailer … and so on.)
Plugin Delay Compensation, rebuilt. FL already had delay compensation, both automatic and plugin varieties, but it’s been rebuilt from the ground up, say the developers. And it sounds very useful: “Mixer send compensation, Wet/Dry mixer FX compensation, Audio input compensation, Metronome compensation, Plugin Wrapper custom values remembered per-plugin and improved PDC controls in the Mixer.”
Graph Editor is back! This should never really have left, but a “classic” FL feature has returned, letting you edit MIDI information from the Channel Rack – a very Fruity Loops workflow.
Better recording. There’s now a live display of recorded audio and automatic grouping of tracks as you record – both overdue but welcome.
There are loads of improvements to various plugins, of course, plus lots of other fixes and improvements. Details in the manual:
It’s also pretty remarkable that FL Studio has hit 20 years without ditching its lifetime free upgrade policy. FL users have a substantially different relationship with the software than do users of most typical DAWs, both because of its unique workflow and interface and that lifetime policy. But I’m personally intrigued to give it another go – bouncing and working delay compensation make a big dfference, and FL remains a peculiar, interesting toybox full of nice stuff. I think the fact that FL has perhaps not been taken as seriously as tools like Cubase or Ableton Live might itself be a badge of honor – if you can adapt to its often nonstandard ways of working, it offers some big rewards on a small budget.
Native Instruments quietly stuffed a bunch of little improvements into its Maschine groove production tool today – including the ability to control Apple Logic and at last, to record loops.
It’s only called 2.7.3, but it shows NI are continuing to smooth out workflow and integration in their software.
The big one: loop recording. So, Maschine already had a Sampler device, for recording workflows, and recently added the much-requested ability to play audio via the Audio plug-in. What you couldn’t do – which obviously you want to do – was record into that loop mode. Now, at last, there’s a LOOP recording mode in the Record tab.
It also works the way you need to for live use (or spontaneous use in the studio). Recording is quantized to the start of the pattern, and once you finish recording, the loop automatically starts playing back from the Audio device.
So you can record loops with this thing. It’s about time. The whole point of Maschine from the start was to incorporate the ease of working with hardware. And what do people do with hardware? They sample, and record loops.
Of course, since it’s also a plug-in host, you can grab those loops from plug-ins, Reaktor Blocks patches, whatever – in addition to mic and external inputs.
NI overcame another important limitation of the way they had first implemented their new Audio plug-in. You can now enable and disable playback of the Audio device per Pattern, and enable/disable via the STEP page on hardware. This also means you can put full tracks in your set (if you set the loop length long enough).
That’s a big deal, too: now you can take full tracks and stems and mix them in with a set, essential for hybrid use – without combining Maschine with other software.
I’d like to see more control over how the Audio plug-in works; it’s still sometimes mind-bogglingly primitive. But this is a start.
Maschine MK3 updates
As you might expect, NI are also bringing some additional enhancements to their new MK3 hardware. It now has an Ideas View (a lot like Ableton Live’s Session View, but rooted in the Maschine paradigm). And its 4-wheel encoder can now do some clever event editing – select, nudge, pitch-shift, and change length of notes. That’s another reason not to look at your computer – try hiding it under the stage.
You can also record events directly, and MK3 gets velocity curves, too.
Apple Logic Pro integration
You can access the Logic mixer via the MK3 hardware, too, with a new template, as well as adjust pan, mute, and solo. You can also trigger Logic’s Play / Stop / Record, Quantize, Undo / Redo, Automation Toggle, Tap Tempo, and Loop Toggle General.
This sort of functionality is already on NI’s keyboard line, and it’s hugely useful when you want to track ideas quickly. Plus, with Apple adding some great effects, sequencers, and the like, the one thing they’re lacking is a really good drum machine. So the Maschine – Logic combo I think could be terrific; I’ll be using it to start some new ideas. (Sorry, Ultrabeat and Drummer but … you’re just not really my thing.)
Sculpture techno? Yes.
Having used NI’s Maschine Jam template, I hope we also see enhanced Ableton Live support in the future.
NI keeps adding more scales to Komplete Kontrol; now those come to Maschine, too.
Other fixes and tweaks abound. This was a lot in just a small update, so I’m curious what’s next.
Note: as with a lot of vendors, NI will drop 32-bit plug-in and standalone support. So if you’re on an old machine, you may want to maintain the last version. 64-bit is the way to go, though: more use of memory, and fewer crashes when you run out of it. It’s time. (You can read what I wrote about Ableton’s move to 64-bit only for an explanation of why it makes sense. The same holds here.)
One of Windows’ most powerful, most popular, most native-optimized audio tools is not only back from the dead, it’s available for free. A version of SONAR Platinum will be available free, and finally, it’s just called “Cakewalk.”
We learned back in February that Singapore-based BandLab acquired Cakewalk’s assets from Gibson. And in a sign this was a serious deal, they also got some of Cakewalk’s team, including top engineers Noel Borthwick and Ben Staton. That differs from a lot of ill-fated acquisitions; music technology assets are often fairly meaningless without the humans who worked on them.
Now, there’s more. This week, BandLab announced they’re re-releasing the DAW as “Cakewalk by BandLab.” And it is actually SONAR Platinum. You even get tools like the ProChannel modules for signal processing.
So, wait, what’s the catch? Well, you do need to install the BandLab client to download the DAW; this is bait for BandLab’s online services. And BandLab say that while this includes “the entire SONAR Platinum feature set” in a version with “full authentication and unlimited feature-access” for free, some of the bundled tools are evidently missing. Fortunately, at least, that appears limited to selected add-ons, not the core DAW:
Cakewalk by BandLab is a streamlined version of SONAR Platinum – and certain third party products and content bundles will no longer be included. Existing users who have already purchased bundles or individual third party products and plug-ins can still use those products with Cakewalk by BandLab.
This is still big news. Cakewalk was always a leader in support for 64-bit and Windows core technologies. SONAR supports touch, VST3, and other technologies missing from a lot of rival DAWs. And this could in fact reinvigorate the Windows platform for audio at a key moment. Heck, it might be a reason to consider a Surface Book with touch support, or to migrate to a fast laptop. SONAR requires some adjustment if you’re used to another DAW, but it’s got a long history in production.
On the Windows support site, this excerpt including a quote from Pete Brown is telling – Microsoft, lacking something like Apple’s Logic Pro, really need this:
Pete Brown, from Microsoft’s Windows and Devices Group, said “We’re thrilled that Cakewalk has found a new home with a company that understands the musician community, and that cares sincerely about digital audio production. Cakewalk has been a great partner, working to make their DAW better for their customers by quickly adopting new Windows features like pen, Bluetooth MIDI, multi-touch, Dial, and more. We look forward to working closely with BandLab to continue this innovation.” Cakewalk by BandLab will support pen, touch and Surface Dial throughout the user interface.
And that comes on the heels of a pretty significant reorganization at Microsoft. (It’s a boost of confidence to Windows pro users, too, right when these frequent reorganizations in Redmond are … not confidence boosting.)
Oh yeah, and let’s be honest: even the most die-hard SONAR user tended to refer to their DAW as “Cakewalk.” (That’s true of “Ableton,” too, but it fits this product even better. SONAR’s predecessors for Windows and DOS were all called simply “Cakewalk”; the original vendor name was the geeky “Twelve Tone Systems.”)
So now Cakewalk is Cakewalk. And Cakewalk is free. That counts as some good news. (Now if I can make this run on Linux under WINE, I’ll be even happier still.)
I’ll give this a spin and see if I can offer up a decent beginners’ guide in time for the release.
You can get “early access” now via the site. (Other info is a bit vague, but you can grab the download.)
Cakewalk may not be all dead. A developer of online and mobile music creation tools has snapped up the former PC DAW maker’s complete intellectual property.
As I wrote earlier this week, Gibson Brands, the guitar maker-turned-wannabe consumer electronics giant, is hard up for cash. So, while they discontinued operation of their Cakewalk division, apparently they had not found a buyer for one of pro audio’s biggest names.
That changes today. Signapore-based BandLab announced they’ve acquired the “complete” intellectual property and “certain assets” in a deal with Gibson. There’s no word on what those assets are, and BandLab say they’re not making any additional announcement about the specifics – so we don’t know how much cash Gibson got or what those assets were. If the Nashville Post numbers are correct, it seems this will make little difference to Gibson’s debts, but that’s another story.
So Cakewalk’s codebase, product line, trademarks, everything go to BandLab. BandLab also has confirmed to CDM that some former Cakewalk team members will join the new company. (That itself is big news.)
And there’s some relief here: all those thirty years of accumulated expertise in making music software may not go entirely to waste.
BandLab is a familiar idea. There’s a mobile app with multiple tracks, automatic pitch correction, guitar/bass/vocal effects, and cloud sync, plus a grid-style riff interface and more traditional track layout. And there’s a free online tool you can use to collaborate with other people on the Internet and DAW features.
BandLab’s browser-based DAW.
Of the two, it’s the online DAW that looks most interesting, at least in that it’s more ambitious about incorporating desktop tools than some rivals. There’s built-in time stretching, automation, a guitar amp, and virtual instruments, for instance. I’m impressed on paper at least – I hadn’t heard of BandLab before today, to be honest, though it’s easy to lose track of various competing online solutions out there, since they tend to be somewhat similar.
And that raises the question – what’s the Cakewalk angle for BandLab?
I presumed on first blush this would be limited to assets relevant to their existing mobile products, but it seems it’s more than that. From the official press statement, it sounds as though you’ll see Cakewalk’s line of software – possibly including the flagship DAW SONAR, virtual instruments, and other tools – continue under the BandLab name. That’s been the case with other acquisitions of media creation software, if with mixed results in terms of development pace. From the press statement:
The teams at both Gibson and BandLab felt that Cakewalk’s products deserved a new home where development could continue. We are pleased to be supporting Cakewalk’s passionate community of creators to ensure they have access to the best possible features and music products under the BandLab Technologies banner.
Then there’s the product that was just seeing the light of day right when Gibson shuttered Cakewalk operations, the one with the unintentionally ironic name:
Momentum even looks quite a bit like BandLab’s mobile app. The mobile app and cloud sync solution runs on iOS and Android, with four-track recording, editing, looping and effects. And it cleverly captures ideas as recordings (via something with the dreadful name “Ideaspace”), then makes them available everywhere.
Momentum also has something that BandLab lacks – a VST/AU/AAX plug-in for Mac and Windows. Here’s the thing: it’s all fine and well to start talking about making music making easier, and reaching people with phone and browser apps. But even though big desktop DAWs don’t look terribly friendly, they’re still reasonably popular. Ableton Live alone has a user base the size of most major cities. Adding that plug-in could bridge Cakewalk’s product line and other desktop products with BandLab’s own mobile solutions.
And it’s not just the plug-in – Momentum also had an integrated cloud sync service and server-side infrastructure. (Plus don’t forget the ScratchPad iOS app. Well… maybe.)
BandLab’s mobile apps might be complemented either by Cakewalk’s mobile/cloud offerings or desktop products – or both.
So, we’ll see what BandLab are planning. Of course, the nostalgic part of me wants to see some of the soul of Cakewalk in what they do.
It seems from the way BandLab are handling the announcement that they share some of the same emotional attachment to Cakewalk that a lot of us do. For evidence, see what they’ve done to Cakewalk’s website, where there’s a headline reading:
“The news you’ve all been hoping for…”
Follow through to their own http://cakewalk.bandlab.com landing page for the acquisition, and there’s a charming ASCII art reading Cakewalk and a line reading “Cakewalk is dead. Long live Cakewalk!”
I’ve asked if any of the former Cakewalk team are joining the new effort. That would inspire more confidence than just selling these DAWs with minimal updates as-is. BandLab for their part promise a product roadmap and other details soon.
After weeks of watching Ableton’s trainers and testers have the fun, Live 10 is now the current version. Here’s what that means for you.
Live 10 is now the official release version of Ableton Live. If you didn’t jump on the discounted upgrade or preorder pricing, that’s done. Live reverts to its original pricing and retains the same editions Live 9 had (Suite, Standard, Intro).
What you get with Live 10: lots of new Devices including the Wavetable synth and Echo multi-engine delay, automatic Capture of your ideas before you hit record, improved editing of MIDI and audio especially in the Arrange view, lots of additional sounds, more Push integration, and a faster, more integrated Max for Live. It’s also much easier on the eyes, certainly on Retina displays, but across the board.
Now, in those intervening weeks, a lot of people have gotten their hands on the software. I’ve been using Live 10 betas since early fall. Here’s what I’ve found, comparing my own personal experience with other Live users, both advanced and novice.
Live 10’s highlights
Arrangement view finally feels fleshed out. Editing multiple MIDI clips in Arrange, being able to directly manipulate audio, and navigating Arrange more quickly is really essential. I really hope Ableton continue to develop this area – and that some day we even see the sort of hardware integration with Arrange that we do with Push and Session view.
You’re going to use Drum Buss a whole lot. Drum Buss sounds like a specific drum compressor. That’s even how Ableton markets it. In practice, its combination of dynamics processing and “crunch” turn out to be pretty useful all over the place, especially since its simplified controls can be used in a variety of ways to dial in very different results.
Echo and Wavetable are really beautiful. Do you need another delay and another synth? Well, maybe not. Do these add character to the release? Absolutely. Look, lots of DAWs use pack-in instruments and effects to try to earn your loyalty and upgrades. Ableton is arguably a little different in that some of these designs are so specific to the software maker as to make little sense elsewhere – think Operator or Simpler. For me, though – and your experience may be different – the new devices were an easy test. I had Live 9 on my MacBook and Live 10 on my Razer for quite a while. I was comfortable enough switching back to 9 to work on lots of projects. But it was the devices that often made me migrate over to 10 again.
Push is more useful for editing. The addition of the melodic step sequencing layout (which combines real-time entry and sequencing), the ability to work on MIDI patterns on Push, and new device support continue to make Push feel essential.
Groups inside Groups. There are a lot of usability improvements, but I think you could say this is the most important one. I can’t tell you why exactly subgroups make the whole use of groups more useful, but they do. I find myself using groups a lot more – and I know of all the usability improvements people asked for that appeared in Live 10, this was the most significant.
There are a lot of other improvement here that may require adapting a bit. Capture is something found in DAWs like Cubase, but oddly it’s easy to forget that you don’t have to hit record to grab ideas. The Arrange view’s new features require some investment of time learning shortcuts and the like – and that pays off. And you should invest some time in organizing your Library to exploit that nice new browser, for sure.
We’ve been talking to Ableton now for years about their ideas for better integrating the ideas of Cycling ’74, who make Max/MSP, and Ableton themselves, even before Ableton bought Cycling.
The big thing you’ll notice right away is that Max for Live is integrated with Live – that is, you won’t see a separate load screen. It’s “built in.”
But there’s more to it than just that, which CDM has confirmed with Ableton:
Max is better, faster, stronger, etc. Max itself has been optimized, improving device load time and CPU load, plus a lot of bug fixes.
Versions are in lockstep. Since Live and Max are integrated, you can’t accidentally run the “wrong” version of Max. This also means that a sound pack that supports a particular version of Live won’t run into a compatibility problem with an out-of-sync version of Max.
The future is surround. One easy-to-miss improvement is really an important one: Max for Live support for multichannel audio mixing opens up new possibilities for multichannel setups.
Max 8 is coming! When Max 8 ships, it’ll include the internal improvements found now in Max for Live, plus new Max 8 features for people making their own patches.
So, that’s the good news. Now, the bad news: while we’ve been promised more integration of Max and Live, they remain separate products. Standalone Max licenses may have features that don’t become available in Max for Live. And while eventually Max 8 features will come to Live 10, it sounds like there will be a lag while Ableton tests those features.
Ableton describe this as “lockstep” versions of Max and Live, but – if the versions come out at different times with different features and there’s a lag as they test integration, that’s obviously not lockstep in regards to Max. At least you have one installer and one version as far as Live and Max for Live.
We’ll keep talking to Ableton and Cycling as the Max 8 release gets closer to fully grasp how this is working, and how the closer partnership of the two companies would shape this over time. The reality here still seems to lag what we’ve been promised in terms of Max and Live being integrated and the two developers acting as one.
What might hold you back?
Live 10 doesn’t make any advances in allowing you to integrate custom hardware. As other software has added support for OSC and other protocols, or integrated native scripting, Ableton mostly keeps that kind of integration accessible to hardware vendors. (Hopefully with official support for polyphonic MIDI expression announced, Ableton will follow soon. That may be an edge case, but it’s an edge case that tends to use Live!)
That said, some quiet improvements to Max for Live regarding System Exclusive data support and custom control surface creation now became a lot more useful. MIDI-CI, a new technique for automatically configuring hardware, could combine with Max for Live in interesting ways. (My only concern there: native support would be better.)
Live is also at the pricier end of DAWs available today, for both new and existing users. Users are of course also weighing the price of this as they budget, and I know that’s been a disincentive for some of you for whom money is tight. I can’t personally say what software should cost, as unlike hardware, you can’t calculate what it costs to make. But if you don’t have the money for this, I feel your pain – been there.
By the way, if you preordered Live, you aren’t automatically charged. So you can still back out if you’re not in the financial state you thought you might be – check refund/return pricing and contact support if you need.
But I do think that Live 10 is among a handful of Live upgrades over the years that seem to make everyone happy once they take the plunge. If Live is what you use most of the time, if you’re productive in the Live workflow more than other DAWs, should you get the Live 10 upgrade? Yes. That’s an easy answer.
We’ll look a bit more at some of the devices in future and can discuss that – plus the state of other software. Stay tuned.