Tech

Why Soda could finally make you take DJ apps seriously again

Soda for iOS is the first DJ app that is whatever you want it to be – with fully customizable interfaces, powerful specs, AU plug-ins, and Ableton Link.

The need for something new

Let’s be honest: we’re not exactly at the high water mark for DJ software. Even vinyl (not digital vinyl – like the stuff you hurt your back carrying) seems to be on a stronger upswing than DJ software. The Pioneer CDJ reigns supreme, to the extent that you can get laughed out of a club when you show up with a computer.

And software, instead of seeming innovative, is looking awfully rigid. You’re generally stuck with pre-fabbed interfaces and hardware mappings. Innovation seems to be slowing. And then there’s the laptop itself – requiring a separate audio interface, driver configuration, and physical space in the booth that often isn’t there.

Tablets running iOS and Windows could offer solace. But so far, iOS and Windows touch-based apps have focused on entry-level users, either to avoid cannibalizing high-end products (TRAKTOR, Rekordbox) or in an attempt to attract casual DJs.

Your way, right away?

A new DJ app called Soda goes a different direction – it’s built from the ground up to be a series, flexible app, but on a mobile/touch platform. It comes from the developers of the Modstep sequencer/production tool and Ableton Live controller app touchAble. And as a result, since those developers work… in my office – I’ve been watching it evolve from the very first sketch and have gotten some hands-on time with it. And much to my own surprise, it’s made me reconsider the value of touch DJ software at a time when I’d more or less written it off.

The basic idea of Soda: let the user tailor the DJ software to their needs, instead of the other way around.

First, how many decks do you want? You can choose from one to an absurd eight.
How do you want to mix? You choose: switch off sync and use pitch, or turn sync on and let everything be automatic. Time stretch to keep things locked to key, or use pitch to change speed. And when sync is on, you can even choose what quantization you want for tracks – just like launch quantization of clips in Ableton Live.

What should the screen look like? Vertical decks? Horizontal decks? Effects controls? Library? Instead of giving you a handful of pre-selected options, Soda ships with a complete interface editor, so you choose what you see and how, and every element on the screen can be moved and resized.

Do you want to focus on the screen and touch? There’s a color waveform display, which you can cue and zoom with your fingers.

Do you prefer MIDI controller hardware? Every single element on-screen can be MIDI mapped, opening up endless custom MIDI configurations.

Effects work more the way they do in traditional production tools. You get two send effects chains, with five internal effects (Delay, Reverb, Phaser, Flanger, EQ 3) and Audio Unit support (AUv3). And you can browse both the iTunes music library and new Files support on iOS 11.

Cue points and loop points are more powerful, too – you get 16 per deck and per track, you can name them, and cue points can be both cue points and work for loops.

From there, you have all the features you’d expect – recording, playlist management, key and BPM detection, compatibility with all iOS-compatible (Core Audio/Core MIDI) audio and MIDI devices, cueing, and split cable support (in case you don’t have an audio interface for separate cueing).

But let’s back up: this is generally more powerful than a lot of desktop DJ software available now. Certainly, it bests the deck and cue capabilities of leading tools Serato and TRAKTOR, and that’s before you get into the interface customization capabilities.

Here’s the key: endless customization of the UI, and modules for decks, effects, and more.

Promo video:

There’s also a video walkthrough from the beta:

Who’s this for?

I’m not suggesting iPads will unseat CDJs any time soon. But Soda doesn’t have to do that to be a radical new solution. I can see a number of use cases here:

On-the-go prep and mixing. For one, you’ve finally got an ideal mobile app for preparing music and practicing on the road. It’s also ideal for that situation where someone asks you for a DJ mix and… you’re not near decks. You get an interface that’s tremendously customizable, and the ability to differentiate that mix by adding effects and the like. Plus, while you can’t sync cue points this way, iTunes support means you can sync libraries with a desktop machine to bring into Rekordbox (for use with CDJs) or other DJ software (if you must).

Mobile computer replacement for DJing. Laptops are awkward in a booth, especially if the DJ software maker (cough) locks you into unwieldy, big controllers. But an iPad or Windows tablet is far easier. And you could pair Soda with some compact DJ controllers, like Faderfox.

Hybrid sets. Here, Soda really excels. The flexibility with decks and audio effect support make Soda a powerful DJ add-on. And Ableton Link support means you can wirelessly sync to live sets on a laptop running Ableton Live … or a laptop running Reason, or an iPad running Modstep, or whatever. There’s no MIDI clock support for running Soda alongside, say, an Elektron Octatrack, but developers say that should appear in an update soon.

Live sets and sampling. Of course, who says this is really even a “DJ app” in the conventional sense? With all that loop and name-able cue support, eight decks, and effects, you could use Soda with stems or backing tracks for your live set, or think of the “decks” as samplers. It could be an ideal production tool on iOS.

The iPad should be a great platform for this app, particularly with the rich app and effect ecosystem there. But if you prefer Windows, Soda won’t necessarily be wedded to iOS forever. The core software is developed in C, and is largely platform agnostic, with Windows support planned (and already privately tested). As Microsoft improves Surface and other partners deliver tablets and hybrids, that could be a strong option. It’s doubly encouraging not to be locked to one vendor, given Apple’s recent shaky OS quality and frequent updates.

Stay tuned – I’ll do a full hands-on / review soon. I’m also very interested in custom controller support, so we’ll talk about that soon – and possibly enlist some of the CDM community, if you’re interested.

For now, the app is a measly US$9.99 – for an app that (at least in some categories) objective bests alternatives costing many times that.

Developer site:
http://www.soda.world/

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Try AI remixing in Regroover with these tips and exclusive sounds

Regroover opens up new ways of transforming sounds and remixing materials, as powered by machine learning. Here’s how you can try that out, for free.

CDM got the chance to partner with developer Accusonus to help introduce this way of working. And it is a somewhat new approach: you’re separating audio components from rhythmic material, starting with a stereo file. It’s new enough that you might not immediately know where to begin.

So, to get you started, we’ve collaborated on a tutorial and a sound pack.

You don’t need to buy anything here. There’s a 14-day unlimited trial version for download:
https://accusonus.com/products/regroover#downloads

Then, the trick is really understanding the different creative possibilities of Regroover’s toolset. I put together a video – the challenge to myself being really to take a generic sound and do something new with it. I usually ignore all those loops that come with music software, but here it wound up being useful. Sure, I could have programmed my own loop here from scratch, but by working with Regroover, I got to chop up the groove/rhythmic feel and sounds themselves, independent of one another.

Here’s a fast step-by-step walkthrough of the interface:

First, to load the sound pack we’re giving you, choose “load project.” Then navigate to your download, which is grouped by different kits and loops (yeah, there’s a lot of stuff in there).

Second, check tempo settings. Sometimes it’s necessary to halve or double the detected bpm, just as in other time stretching tools. Also, you need to manually sync to the host tempo any time it changes – that’s because it takes a moment for those machine learning-powered algorithms to analyze the file.

You may want to transform the default analysis. The “split” tool allows for some creative manipulation of the number of layers, and how dense different layers are.

Not all Regroover manipulations have to be radical. You can start out just by emphasizing or de-mphasizing portions of the loop – adjusting its relative amplitude and mid/side and left/right panning. I suspect some of you will be happy just making subtle modifications to loops and otherwise leaving them as-is; if you don’t change the tempo, those will sound fairly close to the original. But this is still really different than the usual EQ and compression tools available to you.

As I demonstrate in the video, you can create polyrhythms inside an existing loop by adjusting in and out point on each layer. Again, that’s normally impossible with a stereo audio mix.

You can pull out individual portions of a sound by double-clicking, then dragging a selection. From there, you can drag and drop either into Regroover’s own sampler facility, or back into a host/DAW like Ableton Live.

You may want to check out Regroover’s built-in sampler tools. You’ll find all the usual facilities for amplitude envelope and so on, and you can create a playable pad of sounds you’ve extracted from a loop.

Exclusive CDM sound pack

Just for you, we’ve got a sound pack entitled “Hyper Abstract Electronica.” It’s the work of London/Surrey artist Aneek Thapar, who has an extensive resume in mixing, mastering, and teaching, and has also worked with Novation and Ninja Tune’s iOS/Android remix app Ninja Jamm.

Aneek created something that’s really special, I think, in that it seems perfectly suited to creative abuse inside Regroover. Putting the two together makes this feel almost like a unique instrument.

Aneek clearly thinks of it that way. Watch what happens when he controls it with gestures and the Leap Motion (plus Ableton Push):

The pack is free; we’ll add you to our respective newsletters (which have opt-out options, of course).

Download Hyper Abstract Electronic – CDM Exclusive

I am actually really, really interested if people make any music with this, so please don’t be shy and do send us tracks if you come up with something. (If you aren’t ready to invest, of course, you’ve got a nice 14-day deadline to keep you productive!) I’ll share any really good ones with readers.

For more background on the research behind this:
Accusonus explain how they’re using AI to make tools for musicians

Diclosure: Accusonus sponsored the creation of this content with CDM.

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Maschine will finally get time stretching, melodic shifting for loops

You can already sample and slice with Native Instruments’ groove production instrument. But soon, you’ll change loops’ pitch and time in real-time, too.

Maschine has been guided by focusing on certain means of working, ignoring others. The hardware/software combination from the start began with an MPC-style sampling workflow and drum machine features, and it’s added from there – eventually getting features like more elaborate pattern generation and editing, drum synths, more sound tools, and deeper arrangement powers.

But hang on – that’s not really an excuse for not doing time stretching. Real-time time stretching has been a feature on many similar hardware and software tools.

Now, it’s sort of nice that Maschine isn’t Ableton Live. In fact, it’s so nice that the combination of the two is one of the most common use cases for Maschine. But it’s so expected that you’d be able to work with changing pitch and time independently with loops, that it’s almost distracting when it isn’t there.

So, Maschine 2.7 adds that functionality. In addition to the existing Sampler, which lets you trigger sounds and loops and slice audio into chunks, there’s now an Audio plug-in device you can add to your projects. Audio will play loops in time with the project, and has the ability to time stretch in real-time.

The features we’re getting:

Real-time time stretching keeps loops in time with a project, without changing pitch

Loop hot swapping lets you change loops as you play – apparently without missing a beat, so you can audition lots of different loops or trigger different loops on the fly

Gate Mode lets you play a loop just by hitting a pad

Melodic re-pitching lets you change pitch in Gate Mode of a whole loop or portion of a loop, just by playing pads

Gate Mode: trigger loops, change pitch, from pads.

More discussion on the NI blog.

The combination of pads and Gate Mode sounds really performer-friendly, and different from what you see elsewhere. That’s crucial, because since you can already do a lot of this in other tools, you need some reason to do it in Maschine.

I’m eager to get my hands on this and test it. It’s funny, I had some samples I wanted to play around with in the studio just before I saw this, and decided not to use Maschine because, well, this was missing. But because the pads on the Maschine MK3 hardware feel really, really great, and because sometimes you want to get hands-on with material using something other than the mouse, I’m intrigued by this. I find this sort of way of working can often generate different ideas. I’m sure a lot of you feel the same way. Actually, I know you do, because you’ve been yelling at NI to do this since the start. It looks like the wait might pay off with a unique, reflective implementation.

We’ll know soon enough – stay tuned.

The old way of doing things: the Sampling workflow:

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It’s Cyber Monday; here’s where to find deals on music gear and apps

Over the holiday season, developers of software and hardware for music making are offering steep discounts. Here’s where to find them.

First, it’s really a no-brainer to pick these big sales to load up your iPad, iPhone, or other mobile device with apps cheaply.

Mobile shopping: Our very own Ashley Elsdon, he of Palm Sounds, has an absolutely insane list of music apps, covering the gamut of tools from experimental soundscape generators to DJ software, instruments and effects, drums and synths, and powerful sequencers and production tools. It’s worth a skim just to see if there’s anything you’re missing that you wanted:
Black Friday means some seriously good discounts on excellent apps

Shopping for everything: Another great place to start is a thread on Reddit tracking different deals (including our MeeBlip, so thanks!):
Holiday Sales Thread! (self.synthesizers)

These tend more to software than hardware, of course, because of margins, but you’ll see even the likes of Moog, Waldorf, Audio Damage, and Critter & Guitari in there.

A few products we’ve written up recently are also discounted.

That includes Reason 10 at 25% off and Ableton’s ongoing 20% off Live sale (which includes a free upgrade to Live 10 early next year).

Accusonus is discounting Regroover.

Cakewalk’s excellent z3ta+ waveshaping synth is just US$35 – which might be your last chance to snap it up now that Cakewalk are going the way of the dodo.

Native Instruments have a huge sale on – including a great time to buy Reaktor, which I’ve been talking about lately (and, genuinely, using sort of nonstop). See discussion.

Back here in CDM territory, we’ve got deals on the stuff we’re producing.

Our MeeBlip hardware is available now for US$119.95, with all the cables you’ll need – power plus MIDI plus audio.
MeeBlip triode

And our record label Establishment has its whole catalog available for 50% off. Use code “cybersale” when you check out, through tomorrow Tuesday evening:
https://establishmentrecords.bandcamp.com/

Have a great Monday, and do remember the reason for the season – we purchase gear and apps now because the superior race of Cybermen overlords demand it of us. They’re already using the Gravitron on Berlin, where I haven’t seen the sun in eons, and I suspect if we don’t do their bidding, we will soon face full conversion to cyberpeople and see our home planet destroyed entirely as we’re hauled back to the planet Mondas. Now, happy cyber-holidays! Go shopping, because resistance is futile … especially when it comes to the need to acquire synthesizers!

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Watch a completely mental set of MeeBlip synth stop motion animations

You’ve got your acid basslines. Then, you’ve got your acid trips involving a bass synth. Roikat takes us in the direction of the latter.

Creatures dance around urban streets. AI deep dream wildlife stares at you on title cards. Worms amiably amble from car doors and make their way onto the amplitude knobs.

And there are cats. Of course there are cats.

It’s all adorable stop motion with the raw sounds of our MeeBlip synth and no, I really didn’t have any idea this was going to happen until I spotted it on YouTube. Roikat is evidently both animator and MeeBlip composer. The combination is brilliant. I’d go for a whole show.

Your sound demos will never be the same. Behold:

Of course, perhaps the wildest of all is this … ultrasonic demo?! (Watch it drive your cats crazy.)

Plus there was a Halloween jam some time back

Whoever you are, Roikat, you’re crazy and a genius. Looking forward to more synth vids and those promised presets for Dave Smith – we’ll share them here!

The MeeBlip in question here is anode series, but our triode is closely related to the anodes – and it’s on a Black Friday sale now with a lower price and all the cables you need included:

https://meeblip.com/

MeeBlip triode [shop]

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Waves give you the old-school VU meter your DAW is missing, for free

Funny thing about those old analog mixing desks: the VU meters gave really good visual feedback. Now you can add that to your modern DAW, for free.

In the latest “here’s free stuff because we want your e-mail address” play, Waves are giving away a handsome VU meter with simulated needle. And it’s not just some twee retro touch: the way these meters respond to audio signal is actually often easier to see.

Mixing is all about listening. But there’s no shame in giving your ears a little extra reinforcement. I’m actually very suspicious that metering is part of what’s to blame as people have trouble mixing on computers. You’ll hear comments like people moving from one DAW to another to improve how a mix “sounds” – which is peculiar, given most DAWs literally mix by adding together numbers, and most DAWs even share the same mix accuracy in terms of how those numbers represent. If you and a friend add two and two, one of your fours isn’t more awesome than the other one, so you get the point. (Also suspect: these very often involve Ableton Live, whose meters I find a bit hard to see, even after Live 9 refurbished them a bit.)

Now, of course, it’s (very) possible people just don’t know how to mix. But then, if you’re learning mixing, this kind of visual feedback may be even more useful to newcomers – and old-timers will appreciate its familiarity.

While we’re on the topic, you might also consider mixing down in the superb (and almost weirdly inexpensive) Harrison Mixbus, which includes lots of sonic and usability features from traditional consoles – metering included. It even runs on Linux.

Harrison Mixbus

In the meantime, though, have fun with turning back the clock for free with this:

https://www.waves.com/plugins/vu-meter#

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What you can learn from Belief Defect’s modular-PC live rig

Belief Defect’s dark, grungy, distorted sounds come from hardware modulars in tandem with Reaktor and Maschine. Here’s how the Raster artists make it work.

Belief Defect is a duo from two known techno artists, minus their usual identities, with a full-length out on Raster (the label formerly known as Raster-Noton). It digresses from techno into aggressively crunchy left-field sonic tableau and gothic song constructions. There are some video excerpts from their stunning live debut at Berlin’s Atonal Festival, featuring visuals by OKTAform:

See also: STREAM BELIEF DEFECT’S DECADENT YET DEPRAVED ALBUM AND READ THE STORIES BEHIND THEIR CREEPY SAMPLES

They’ve got analog modulars in the studio and onstage, but a whole lot of the live set’s sounds emanate from computers – and the computer pulls the live show together. That’s no less expressive or performative – on the contrary, the combination with Maschine hardware means easy access to playing percussion live and controlling parameters.

Native Instruments asked me to do an in-depth interview for the new NI Blog, to get to talk about their music. The full interview:

Belief Defect on their Maschine and Reaktor modular rig [blog.native-instruments.com]

They’ve got a diverse setup: modular gear across two studios, Bitwig Studio running some stems (and useful in the studio for interfacing with modulars), a Nord Drum connected via MIDI, and then one laptop running Maschine and Reaktor that ties it all together.

Here are some tips picked up from that interview and reviewing the Reaktor patch at the heart of their album and live rig:

1. Embrace your Dr. Frankenstein.

Patching together something from existing stuff to get what you want can give you a tool that gets used and reused. In this case, Belief Defect used some familiar Reaktor ensemble bits to produce their versatile drum kit and effects combo.

2. Saturator love.

Don’t overlook the simple. A lot of the sound of Belief Defect is clever, economical use of the distinctive sound of delay, reverb, filter, and distortion. The distortion, for instance, is the sound of Reaktor’s built-in Saturator 2 module, which is routed after the filter. I suspect that’s not accidental – by not overcomplicating layers of effects, it frees up the artists to use their ears, focus on their source material, and dial in just the sound they want.

And remember if you’re playing with the excellent Reaktor Blocks, you can always modify a module using these tried-and-true bits and pieces from the Reaktor library.

For more saturation, check out the free download they recommend, which you can drop into your Blocks modular rig, too:

ThatOneKnob Compressor [Reaktor User Library]

3. Check out Molekular for vocals.

Also included with Reaktor 6, Molekular is its own modular multi-effects environment. Belief Defect used it on vocals via the harmonic quantizer. And it’s “free” once you have Reaktor – waiting to be used, or even picked apart.

“Using the harmonic quantizer, and then going crazy and have everything not drift into gibberish was just amazing.”

Maschine clips in the upper left trigger snapshots in Reaktor – simple, effective,

4. Maschine can act as a controller and snapshot recall for Reaktor.

One challenge I suspect for some Reaktor users is, whereas your patching and sound design process is initially all about the mouse and computer, when you play you want to get tangible. Here, Belief Defect have used Reaktor inside Maschine. Then the Maschine pads trigger drum sounds, and the encoders control parameters.

Group A on Maschine houses the Reaktor ensemble. Macro controls are mapped consistently, so that turning the third encoder always has the same result. Then Reaktor snapshots are triggered from clips, so that each track can have presets ready to go.

This is so significant, in fact, that I’ll be looking at this in some future tutorials. (Reaktor also pairs nicely with Ableton Push in the same way; I’ve done that live with Reaktor Blocks rigs. Since what you lose going virtual is hands-on control, this gets it back – and handles that preset recall that analog modulars, cough, don’t exactly do.)

5. Maschine can also act as a bridge to hardware.

On a separate group, Belief Defect control their Nord Drum – this time using MIDI CC messages mapped to encoders. That group is color-coded Nord red (cute).

Belief Defect, the duo, in disguise. (You… might recognize them in the video, if you know them.)

6. Build a committed relationship.

Well, with an instrument, that is. By practicing with that one Reaktor ensemble, they built a coherent sound, tied the album together, and then had room to play – live and in the studio – by really making it an instrument and an extension of themselves. The drum sounds they point out lasted ten years. On the hardware side, there’s a parallel – like talking about taking their Buchla Music Easel out to work on.

Check out the full interview:

Belief Defect on their Maschine and Reaktor modular rig [blog.native-instruments.com]

Whoa.

Follow Belief Defect on Twitter:
https://twitter.com/Belief_Defect

and Instagram:
https://www.instagram.com/belief_defect/

Reaktor 6

Reaktor User Library

Photo credits: Giovanni Dominice.

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$30 programmable, open Arduino ArduTouch synth is here

It’s $30. It can teach you how to code – or it can just be a fun, open synth. The ArduTouch by Mitch Altman is now shipping.

I wrote about ArduTouch earlier, with loads more on the instrument’s creator:
ArduTouch is an all-in-one Arduino synthesizer learning kit for $30

It’s a simple digital instrument based on the open source Arduino prototyping and coding platform, meaning it connects to an environment widely used by artists, hobbyists, and educators. Now Mitch shares that the product is available and shipping – and because this is an open source project, there’s a dump of new code, too.

And, I just uploaded the latest version of the ArduTouch Arduino sketches, including more way cool synthesizers, and a new Arduino library including more example synths (that also act as tutorials on how to create your own synthesizers).
https://github.com/maltman23/ArduTouch

Arduino-based synth projects have been here and there in some form back to the early days of Arduino. And of course Arduino as a platform is often a starting point into hardware development, even for students who have never written a line of code in their lives.

What’s cool about this is, you get a reliable platform on which to upload that code, and a touch interface and speaker so you can hear results. Plus, one of Mitch’s special superpowers has long been his ability to get others involved and to teach in an accessible way – so working through his code examples is a great experience.

This being Arduino, you can program over USB.

There are some really nice, musical ideas in there – like this is something that will make sense to musicians, not just to people who like mucking about with hardware. And since the code is out there, it could inspire other such projects, even on other platforms.

Proof that it makes noises – though, of course, you’re welcome to try and make noises you like!

I’m hoping to have one for my mini-winter-holiday break (uh, whichever winter holiday I manage to wrap that around… let’s hope not St. Patrick’s Day, but sooner!)

Have at it:

http://cornfieldelectronics.com/cfe/products/buy.php?productId=synth

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Gibson just killed Cakewalk, because Philips?!

Gibson, the company known for legendary guitars and killing your favorite DAW in the 90s … now gets the chance to remind the pro audio crowd of the latter.

Gibson is discontinuing all development of Cakewalk products, which would include the SONAR flagship DAW. The explanation: they want to focus on consumer audio electronics, namely Philips:

Gibson Brands announced today that it is ceasing active development and production of Cakewalk branded products. The decision was made to better align with the company’s acquisition strategy that is heavily focused on growth in the global consumer electronics audio business under the Philips brand.

Cakewalk has been an industry leader in music software for over 25 years by fusing cutting-edge technology with creative approaches to tools that create, edit, mix, and publish music for professional and amateur musicians. Gibson Brands acquired Cakewalk in 2013.

For perspective, this means Gibson is pointing to an acquisition that took place just one year after the acquisition of Cakewalk, namely WOOX Innovations. That sale, which cost US$135 million (plus an unspecified brand licensing fee), covered home audio and music accessories, with video products moving to Gibson this year.

And it means that just as Dutch giant Philips moves to “health and well being,” Gibson is moving from being a guitar company into being a consumer electronics megacorp.

Armin van Buuren selling his collaboration with Philips – a product included in the acquisition.

Cakewalk’s SONAR DAW, while it may not be relevant to each reader here personally, had retained a passionate following with many producers, particularly because of its focus on the Windows platform. It’s also one of a handful of tools that has survived multiple decades of technological change. (From the same generation: Logic, Cubase.)

It may be a mistake to focus on the high end here, though. Cakewalk’s entry-level products were a generally overlooked cash cow. As the entry-level market has refocused on mobile, it’s unclear whether a desktop tool aligned with higher-end products makes sense in the same way. To their credit, Apple has managed to position their GarageBand product across iOS and desktop – but, then, Apple gives away that product and they make iOS.

The announcement comes on the heels of Momentum, a tool for capturing ideas on mobile and then translating them to a DAW. But then, discontinuing the Cakewalk products means Momentum doesn’t have a DAW vendor to migrate to – only a plug-in. And it loses the Cakewalk name.

Momentum already was a questionable investment: for anything better than MP3-quality audio, you pay a hundred bucks a year, which is a steep price to pay given the fact that tools like GarageBand are free or a few bucks on iOS, and $100 a year easily buys you massive amounts of storage for hwatever you want.

Now, Momentum’s future is called into question, which I think makes investing in the subscription downright insane.

At the risk of being blunt and making some enemies, though, I think musicians might well be suspicious of corporate acquisitions and whether they really further innovation. There’s reason for users to be hurt and angry. And telling users of a professional music creation product line with a 30-year history that some branded speakers are the new direction adds to the sting.

There’s some business risk for Gibson, too. Consumer sound electronics are commodity markets – and big players can set themselves up for big failures.

For pro music creation, of course, terrific alternatives abound on Windows, including software developed by independent companies, from Reaper to Renoise, FL Studio to Ableton Live. And it seems independence and longevity go hand in hand.

But I have to be personally nostalgic. Cakewalk for DOS was the first sequencer I ever used, the first music software I ever owned. (My parents actually bought me the box.) Greg, the developer, had his name right on the screen.

To this day, I still like knowing the engineers behind the tools we use by their first names. I wish everyone at Cakewalk the best – and I’m certainly happy to keep getting to know individuals who work on stuff, and not just faceless brands.

And thanks, Greg – because without your work, I probably wouldn’t be writing this now.

PS – hey, by the way, Gibson, my second DAW wound up being Opcode Vision, so this is what I’ve got to say to you:

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Novation now let you Launchpad with just a browser

Novation’s new Web interface means you can play with their Launchpad grid with just a browser, or just browser plus hardware.

We talk a lot about making music more accessible through technology, but the truth is the reason we’re having this conversation is that technology has made things a lot less accessible. There are countless musical instruments you can pick up and play. Even some really sophisticated instruments – the marimba, the piano, the autoharp (for a folk example), your own voice – all give you some sound without requiring any initial training. (Mastery can come later.)

Or to put it more bluntly – no acoustic instrument requires you to check your operating system version and install software and configure audio drivers. (Cough.) You get my drift. Your serious desktop software isn’t going anywhere, but there’s clearly a need for a starting point.

Enter the Web browser.

Novation have already embraced Web technology as a way of configuring hardware and adding sounds, as with Circuit Components. Now, that Web tab can turn into a toy for making music.

Don’t have a Launchpad? Now anyone can try the grid in the browser, to see what a grid interface feels like.

Just brought home a Launchpad from the shop? Plug it in, fire up a browser, and start playing. Once that’s working, you can always tackle installing and using Ableton Live Lite (or another tool) later.

If you’re already up and running on a Launchpad controller (or another grid, like Push or monome or Maschine), this isn’t terribly meaningful. But another clue that more is coming is in the name: Launchpad Arcade suggests other applications could appear, like the light shows people are fond of running from the grid. (It’d be great fun to plug in your Launchpad and share some animations in the browser – or even do a little sound-reactive toy. Heck, you could realize the original dream of the Tenori-On and turn it into an animated clock or play a game. Grids everywhere…)

Have at it! You get some fun features – loops, one-shots (sounds you trigger directly that play just once), and channels for different parts.

http://intro.novationmusic.com/

Getting started on Launchpad

The Launchpad isn’t the fanciest grid out there these days, by far – but maybe its simplicity is itself an advantage. You really just focus on the grid and sample functionality, and the Launchpad range are lightweight enough to move informally around the studio. They’re also streamlined enough that they’re dead-simple to program as MIDI controllers.

Alongisde this launch, Novation have a nice portrait of how one artist is working with the tool, as Harry Coade shows sampling and musical process:

More finished Web tools, please

It’s a shame that audio and MIDI aren’t more widely standardized in the industry. Google are leading in browsers as some other browser developers drag their feet. (Apple and Microsoft are especially guilty there; Mozilla actually led the way but now is playing catchup – their new browser is great, so I’m hopeful they revisit this on that platform.) And then Google are lagging when it comes to support in their own Chromebook line – which defies any logic, since this sort of tech would make even more sense in Chrome OS. That’s especially disappointing as educational buyers increasingly embrace Chromebooks in schools.

Then again, that’s why even simple proof-of-concept stuff is so important.

You can play with this.

And hopefully one of us can shove it in the face of some developers to get better support for this tech.

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