The circle of DAWs

When I look back to the music I have created over the years, well everything is not that good, but I am impressed with the creativity I had during some of my “musical periods”. At some times, I was able to create dozens of new songs in several minutes, with very complex structures. At other times, it was difficult for me to finish even one of them. What has changed from one time to another ? I think one of the reasons is that I have become a more skillfull composer and musician, and that my judgement has become shaper too. I censure more what I do now than I used to back in these days. But for me the main reason of that is contained in only three characters : D-A-W.

I remember in 2001-2002 the first tools I have used to create music. I started with a prehistoric tool called “Willow Pond Presto Arranger”, allowing me to create MIDI only songs using the “awesome” wave tables included with each soundcard… I can’t say that I really liked this tool, but it was my first music creation mate…

Then, I used for a long time a little gem called MODPlug Tracker. I created so much songs with it that I think that there are no audio software today being able to help musicians to write a song as faster as you can with a tracker. Trackers are special kinds of music sequencers, where you enter notes and events in a very Excel-like grid, across several monophonic channels, with songs consisting of a list of repeated and concatenated patterns. It is not possible to record and manage audio tracks with them, but you can manage a collection of samples, and read them with a sampler engine. So the trackers are very limited, and it is not easy to learn how to use them efficiently, but limits can be a source of creativity, and I liked a lot the workflow of the one I have used. Today, several attempts of developing “modern” trackers have been done since their golden age, like Renoise, including VST plug-in support. Moreover, MODPlug Tracker is still developed now, since he became Open Source, and thanks to an active user community.

MODPlug Tracker

Then, I used several DAWs, the first one being Cubase 5/SX, followed with Tracktion from Raw Material Software, Cockos Reaper, and Ableton Live. I have to say I had the most fun with Tracktion and Ableton Live, which are really unique in their own way. The first one is based on the attempt to have all the functionalities of the software available in only one window. I liked a lot the workflow I had with it, I liked less what happened when Tracktion had been bought by Mackie, and had began so buggy and so slow. However, a few days ago, the original developer of Tracktion has taken back his project, and released a very promising version 4. I think it will become useable in a few months however, but it’s very exciting.

TSC Tracktion 4

I won’t present Ableton Live 8, but I liked a lot too this software, the concept, the orientation of the workflow on the use of loops in general, and the fact that Bitwig Studio and Ableton Live 9 are coming very soon ! I have done a few of “electro songs” with the 8th version, and it was fun I have to say. Anyway, I use a lot Reaper for mixing stuff, and when I am developing plug-ins. I think I begin to know it well but, it’s really a pain to create music with it. I think also is a great DAW, with so much functions, a very solid engine, very fast to execute, CPU-friendly etc. But it’s still wrong for composing for me…

Ableton Live 8

And then, there is a little gem that I have used a lot in the past. It is called Chainer, from Xlutop, this is a little “host application”, allowing you to cascade VST plug-ins, and play with any audio/MIDI input. Then, using the keys F1-F5, you can record something, play it again, and export it. I used also a VST plug-in which “plays WAV files” to add several layers of successive recording sounds. With it, in a few minutes, I was able to create songs with electric guitar (not well played at all), drums (played badly with my fingers) and synths. I liked a lot that workflow, and I created a lot of songs with Chainer too.

Ableton Live 8

And you, what are your prefered DAWs to create music ? I think I should try Studio One (Two) for that one day…

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