Persona Digital

Music Studio Technology

Persona Studio


DAWs -- Music Software

Software creates a virtual studio within a computer For many years, Pro Tools (on the Mac), Cakewalk and Steinberg (Cubase) were the leading contenders and grew from MIDI sequencers into complete production studios, aka digital audio workstations (DAWs).

The key to successful music production is to establish a workflow that takes you reliably from the beginning thru to a finished composition ready for distribution. Each program that I have auditioned proposes different paths through the process. If you have established a workflow with one setup and decide to switch to another, be prepared for unwelcome changes to your workflow with attendant frustration. If you read reviews and forum discussions of different software DAWs you might become confused by different, sometimes contradictory opinions. Some of the confusion arises from the tendency of a experienced user to value his or her program over others. This preference is based on familiarity plus the substantial investment of time and energy required to learn the program. There are always dissatisfied critics, however, who will find fault with everything they use; quite often their criticisms are based on ignorance rather than valid complaints. No program is perfect so that wish lists and constructive criticism also appear in evaluations. An old competition between MAC based programs (Logic Pro and Pro tools) and PC-Microsoft windows programs persists despite advances in computer hardware and software that have erased older claims. MAC based Pro Tools developed an earlier advantage in studio use and some production houses still require submissions as Pro Tools sessions.

Avid now owns Pro Tools which runs on MACs and Windows. A profession audio-video production studio based on Mac computers might invest money in an Avid suite of programs and hardware interfaces to achieve an integrated workflow. Other DAW companies now offer complete studio packages for windows that include a docker, studio software with effects and software synths. In the best case, the company has solved all the problems of interfacing the different components. You should be able to install all the components, turn it on and start composing. I have yet to experience the best case scenario, but if your compare 2017 packages with those offered 10 years ago, they are relatively free of glitches and perform mostly as expected. If you assemble your own system or are upgrading an existing setup, you face some uncertainties. The first obstacle is installing compatible drivers that every piece of equipment that connects to a computer requires drivers that work with your version of the hardware and software.

There are many variables both in hardware and software that determine the final result when you mix sounds. Even if you are a well informed sound engineer, understand the circuitry and study the specifications of each unit, you will still have difficulty predicting which module will sound the best. Sometimes good specs are associated with disappointing results. I give the Proteus 2500 (hardware workstation) high marks with no hesitation. I regret that it is no longer in production. Like all complex equipment, impatient, inexperienced users have written negative reviews or rejected the Proteus units - their loss. Patient learning is always a prerequisite of success.

A DAW resides in a computer. Windows 10 x 64 bit is a good operating system for a DAW. An audio, MIDI docker is essential if you want to connect many audio inputs to a computer based mixer. In a professional studio environment a work flow develops that involves an eclectic combination of hardware and software tools.

When you have hardware modules and a mixing board connected by wires, you can touch, see and hear the results of the connections you make. Inside a computer you make connections that you cannot touch or see, but you can hear the results. The most important connections to understand are the sound links used by windows (WDM) and ASIO. ASIO connections are 16 stereo pairs that you can use to link different programs such as an audio mixer and a MIDI sequencer. Steinberg's Virtual Studio Technology (VST) is an interface for integrating software synthesizers and effect plugins within digital audio workstations (DAWs). VST plugins simulate recording studio hardware modules with software. VST plugins can be classified as instruments (VSTi) or as sound processing effects. Each plugin displays controls similar to the physical switches and knobs on audio hardware. VST instruments receive MIDI input and send output as audio. Host applications may allow the audio output from one VST to be routed to the input of another VST (chaining);the audio output of a VST synthesizer can be sent to a VST reverb effect, for example.

DX plugins are based on Microsoft Windows architecture for connecting audio synthesizers and effect plugins to DAW software. DirectX plug-ins use Microsoft's Component Object Model (COM) which allows plugins to be recognized and used by applications via common interfaces. Effect plugins are used to process audio. Instrument (DXi) plugins are send MIDI input to software synths, samplers and drum machines.

Audio Clips; Many programs have been created for assembling audio clips into compositions. Prerecorded audio clips can be pasted together even by beginners with little musical knowledge or performance skills to simulate a composition. Loops are audio clips that repeat. Sonic Foundry (1998) created the first loop-based, music-sequencing software, Acid, that was marketed by Sony. Acidized audio samples contain tempo and key information, so that the program could time stretch and pitch shift the audio recording. Many other programs were developed to use audio clips (loops) such as Ableton Live and Apple's Garage Band. Ableton Live is an excellent program that based on an innovative design.

Sonar integrated studio software

The program began as Cakewalk, a MIDI sequencer/editor that has evolved into sophisticated software that handles most aspects of composing, arranging, mixing, recording and mastering. I have used Cakewalk since it began and have benefited from the gradual improvements in midi editing capability. Sonar offers many options for creating, displaying and editing note information. You can display and print standard scores, enter and edit notes from the keyboard or with a mouse. Piano role editing in Sonaris a useful tool to finish the performance of a piece. Notes become colored bars sitting on a vertical pitch grid. With a mouse, the pitch and duration of notes are easily changed. Groups of notes can be added, deleted or altered quickly. Controllers such as velocity and volume are displayed for easy editing. Tempo changes, note velocity and pitch bending are easily added or edited.

I "updated" to Sonar Professional in 2016 which has many features and retains the functions in Sonar 8.5. Cakewalk continues to update its software and many of my objections have been resolved. There are a number of soft synths and effects, but my main instrument source (EMU Proteus 2500) has easily programmed instruments, good mixing and more effects. I tend to master my recordings as they emerge from the Proteus and use the Sonar effects sparingly.

Sound Forge

has been a faithful companion used mostly to review, edit and master recordings created in Sonar. Sony now markets Sound Forge in a less expensive form (Music Studio) and a more expensive version for professional studios. The program has a friendly interface and is an excellent audio recorder and editor.

Avid Acid Pro

was the pioneering software for pasting audio clips together. Sony has also taken over this program and has developed the program with MIDI capabilities, sound recording as well as clip assembly. The acid contribution to audio clips was making them flexible to change. The pitch and duration can be changed, for example. This is a good program for people without prior workflows that will be interrupted. All the required functions are present but in format that I found sometimes frustrating. Also my library of finished compositions are in the Sonar project format cannot be imported into Sony Acid Pro .

Pro Tools

Avid Pro Tools had an early start in professional studio recording, based on the Apple operating system. Mac computers were used almost exclusively. Pro Tool files were often demanded by pro studios for mixing and mastering. Times have changed. Old competitor have developed the same set of features and newer DAWs have proliferated. I started with Microsoft DOS software and followed Cakewalk from its beginning though a succession of Sonar versions.

Ableton Live

Ableton Live has a unique approach to music creation combining, midi, soft synthesizers and samples into compositions. Their session view is a unique way of assembling musical elements. Their description:" No matter how you start your music, Live offers a workflow that will help you get going. Record audio or MIDI from any source. Mix and match loops and samples from any tempo. Work with a huge range of included sounds, instruments, and effects. Live helps you get from a collection of musical ideas to a finished song. With extensive editing workflows, great sounding EQs and compressors, great looking meters and waveforms, and fast, flexible exporting options, Live gives you everything you need to get music done."

REAPER

is a multitrack audio and MIDI recording, editing, processing, mixing, and mastering program that I would recommend to people who are setting up or upgrading a home studio. The program is a work in progress and attracts an interactive community of users. Reaper is very good at audio processing and needs more development to become a fully functional MIDI composing & editing program. Among its desirable features are: unlimited tracks; versatile routing for MIDI and audio with patch bays, fast installation and execution. Reaper is updated regularly by expert programmers who are responsive to bug reports and suggestions for improvements. Their user manual is excellent but requires careful study. Reaper can be downloaded for a free trial and is a bargain when purchased See Reaper Online

EMU X3 Emulator Sound Sampling & Synthesizer Software

Over 30 years of sampler development at EMU has been packaged into a program that turns a PC into an orchestra or any other sound source you can imagine. It does depend on having a fast computer with an EMU professional sound card and then you can produce good sound quality, using sampling, synthesis and filters to create presets, playable from a midi keyboard or a midi file in a DAW. We dedicate one computer for the X3 to run and use the EMU Audio/Midi interface 1820. We have accumulated a planet-wide sound-sample collection. The X3 enables a composer to select and program sounds to fit special and unique needs of a composition. We rate the X3 as a powerful software sampler and synth, once you have mastered its basic design and accepted its limitations. (X3 is the latest version of the Emulator).


  • Topics presented at Persona Digital Studio are from the book,
    The Sound of Music
    by Stephen Gislason.
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    Persona Digital Studio is located on the Sunshine Coast, Sechelt, British Columbia, Canada.

    Persona Music Recordings: Our Music Catalogue includes recorded performances under the names P2500 Band, Em4U, and the Persona Classical Consort. Some music online is offered to illustrate music history, advance music education and appreciation. The recordings presented online demonstrate Persona Studio's composing, arranging, recording and mastering techniques. All the recordings are completed in house by Stephen Gislason.

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