Everything’s Been Done Already – Time to Look for Something New…

Image Credit Lovingly put into the CC Zero/Public Domain Space and retrofitted by Yours Truly. 🙂

Sorry for the Clickbaity Title, but we need to talk. First though, a bit of housekeeping:

I posted the Featured Image over at the APITE Tumblr Spot. I pretty much have given up on the Tweet Machine® since the Current Incarnate of P.T. Barnum got involved. I do miss some of the people and info there, but after a few months I’d rather seek out their diatribes on better places with longer reads. I think all my Twaddle does these days in announce any postings from here.

Tumblr also allows me to put up ‘Random Nonsense’ quicker than one of the Screeds here, and I’ve found the community to be on the whole a lot nicer than other Social Medias. You can find us on The Tumble Machine® here.

In ‘The New Shiny-Shiny’ Land, Edsel and Josephine are still the workhorses as normal, except I am finding a few slowdowns in my DAW’s (and one of the reasons for this rant coming up) which I am hoping will be fixed with the latest MacOS coming up in the fall… The next post is a TNSS on this subject which I’m sure will be out by the time the new OS is out (I’m done giving excuses for lateness here – I’m just posting here when I feel it’s needed. Head to Tumblr for more habitual postings.)

Okay, about that Title.

For my Daily Hellscape over at EduCorp® I have to be fluent in like five Digital Audio Workstations (DAW’s):

I’ve been using Logic Pro since the late 90’s and am a Certified Pro, so I know it like the back of my hand.

I’ve poked around with Ableton Live since Version 3 so I know my way around, but would not call myself an ‘Expert’ by any means.

Slo Tools (sorry, Pro Tools) is an evil that thankfully the Company pays for, The latest version is the most stable I’ve use in a while, but it is *still* not Apple Silicon Native and has a tendency to show it. I’m not a fan of the Subscription Model they use, and I know there is much better value for your money in the market. Unfortunately way too many Very Important Companies have decided this is the standard so we have to teach it. I avoid it like the Current Heath Crisis if I can.

I’ve dabbled with Cubase over the years and admit that it’s a powerful program, but I find its interface and methodology overly complicated and tends to fill the screen with lots and lots of windows. I know a lot of Postproduction Kids use Nuendo (also by Steinberg) and rave about its capabilities. I’ll trust them with that since I can’t afford to even think about purchasing it… Also on the Steinberg Front I have used WaveLab a few times and it almost became by Grading DAW. It’s a highly regarded Mastering DAW, but I found it suffers from the same quirks that Cubase does, and is way overpriced for what it actually does in comparison to what I decided on using.

(For clarity, I also have UA’s Luna DAW, but it’s MIDI editing is worse than Slo Tools. Which is something I never thought I would say in my lifetime. I gave up on Digital Performer almost two decades ago since Logic did more and better IMO. I’ve used Reason off and on since its inception, but it’s always playing ‘catchup’ with the other Players in the space and just doesn’t fit in with my workflow).

I use Reaper as my Grading DAW. I’ve raved about it before and will here again in a future post, but I honestly think that it’s the best thing out there for a Digital Audio Workstation in today’s market. Stay tuned for more info here.

So – I have all of these on Josephine and save for one (Spoiler Alert – Reaper) I’ve noticed a few things:

1) They all copy the same features. This may take a Version or two between them to parity, but they pretty much all do the same things.

2) They fill your Hard Drive with crap you will probably never need or use – Samples, Loops, MIDI Files, etc.

3) ‘Style Over Substance’ – slick interfaces with skeuomorphic designs that harken back to an era of recording that only geezers like me remember (and really don’t want to see again) and younguns think are ‘legit’.

4) Silly expensive on their own and (for the most part) require additional Plugins to do modern audio production. 

5) They haven’t really innovated in years.

All of the above is easy to understand for people in the Music Creation Space and most current users stick with what they have been using forever because they know how to make it work for them. It takes a lot of time and effort into understanding your tools and how they work, and switching to a different system can be an uphill climb of trial and error to get them to do what you need them to do.

I’m not here to criticize your choice of technology, but I want to concentrate on #5 though – and how it might be holding you back from Moving Forward.

Essentially, all DAW’s do the same thing: record and edit (MIDI and Audio). They can cut/copy/paste bits around. They host Virtual Instruments and Audio Gizmos. They can stretch and mangle audio. They have basic video-syncing capabilities. They allow you to build music or audio structures and then render those to a deliverable format. That’s about it if you really think about it.

But what was the last truly amazing inclusion that supercharged your workflow, or sparked your creative abilities?

For me, Logic’s revamping of the venerable EXS24 into the Sampler and Simple Sampler instruments – but’s that’s not really ‘game changing’ is it? Before that was FlexTime and FlexPitch, or the ability to change tempo and pitch of an audio file to match the current Session. I don’t use they feature a lot these days, since I have Plugins that do it better. Before that (way back in 2003 as I recall) was the elimination of having to use the Environment to set everything before you could record anything. I love working with Logic, but looking back at the timeline I see a lot of change, but not a lot that shows me they are moving the ball forward in recent years. Logic is a very powerful DAW with a lot of included doodads that cover just about any type of of musical style or genre and I still use it quite a bit – but again those 3rd Party additions are what make it usable for me. Pro Tools, Cubase, and perhaps even Live do not include nearly as much relying on you to fill the void with additional expenditures on top of their already steep price tags. (I will say that Live did shift the paradigm for music creation, but it seems to be falling in line with everyone else since then – see Bitwig’s ’splintering’ off as an example here). 

With that in mind, let’s talk about those 3rd Party Plugins since they suffer from a lot of the same stagnation as the DAW’s do… I cut my teeth making music in the 80’s, so I loves me some analog goodness, but honestly how many Minimoog VST’s do we need in the space? How many Wavetable synths, FM synths, Samplers, and ‘Retro’ Drum Machines? How many 1176 Compressor clones or LA2A emulations, or Ancient Console-based Channel Strips? It’s staggering to me how many Devs are just factories for making digital copies of gear 99.9% of modern musicians have never seen, much less used. I have used quite a few of these toys in my day, and the software counterparts do sound identical, if not better that their hardware cousins. They are cheaper, recallable, portable (just bits and bytes and not massive metal contraptions), and you can probably add hundreds of them to every single session.

But I’ll tell you a secret – no one is going to give a shit about what you used on a recording. And no one can tell the difference between an EQ or a compressor that’s built-in to your DAW and the one you paid hundreds of dollars for. No one cares if the bass line was created on a real Oberheim or a software recreation. 

All they care about is do they like the song and does it bring out some emotion in them. Period. All this smoke and mirrors about this is best for that and that is best for this is a distraction from those two points. A song made with great players will need very little in the way of processing (if at all!) – but no amount of hardware or software can fix a lackluster song or a mediocre performance. 

Oh, and don’t get me started on Loops and Sample Packs of all the crusty old genres that are a part of the upcycling of today’s music because no one wants to admit that everything has been done already and it’s time to move on to something new. Yes, there are companies making great experimental sounds and effects – but they are the exception, not the norm, and they are sadly ignored by the masses in a vain attempt to ‘follow the leaders’ in whatever sound is the flavor of the day, week, or month. We have got to get away from this insanity…

(Yes, I understand that Libraries are a boon to creators who have to do a lot of ‘turnaround’ work for video and other media, but when this has become an excuse for ‘cheat coding’ songs across genres you know we’re doing something wrong here.)

Music Technology drives Musical Innovation. Hitting log drums with bones millennia ago, blowing into reed tubes, or mimicking bird and animal calls evolved with technology into the instruments and styles we have today. Next time you get a chance, take a good long look at a piano or a saxophone or even a guitar. Wonder at the technology that went into perfecting that instrument and how many countless hours and incredible failures went into making it. Think about at what point did that technology become ‘The Standard’ and was widely used and just stopped innovating any more. Why did that happen? Did it reach ‘perfection’? Or was it just a usable tool for a particular style that languished into commonality?

The ‘Electronics Boom’ of the early 20th Century developed into the microphones, amplification, multi-track recorders, and electronic instruments we all take for granted today. The ‘Computer Revolution’ of the 1970’s onward accelerated this into what we have today. Digital Synthesizers, Samplers, Virtual Instrument, Effects, and DAW’s are the fruits of that revolution and drove the musical styles of the 80’s, 90’s, and early Aughts.

And that’s where we got stuck – endlessly reiterating the ‘Classics’ instead of pushing the proverbial envelopes. Anyone remember Roland’s tagline from the 80’s and 90’s? It was ‘We Design The Future’. That has now been coded into ’The Future-Redefined’ (which in my opinion is a lame, lazy, and just outright abomination of the original). For the past several Decades they have been churning out Behringer-esque copies of their Greatest Hits of the past with minimal effort put into new techniques and new processes. You can look at Korg, Yamaha, or pretty much any other Electronic Music Manufacturer and see the same trend. It’s really quite sad, and maddening to me since they could be making trends instead of chasing them.

Want to make your mark out there? Stop buying the retreads. Stop giving into the Marketing Machinery that’s taken over the Design Labs and Record Labels and Media. Seek out the new, the weird, the different, the ones trying to push things in another direction. These were the things that made music so interesting in my day (insert Old Man voice here, but I’ll bet you think the same thing when music and pop culture started becoming relevant in your life) was the fact that it felt, looked, and sounded different from the typical guitars and drums and voicing and style that were so prevalent in Popular Music at the time. It was new, exciting, and unexpected. It was that unique mythical creature that not everyone else was hip to… It demanded that I explore and create – not rehash and recycle.

The picture at the top of this post is true – that computer you have right this very moment is the best thing you own creatively. Someone out there has made some really interesting ways (Apps, Scripts, whatever) to make it do things you both want it to do and have never imagined, and if you really want to you can create (code) whatever you want – and there are a lot of people like you out there who can help. But you will not find this from the Major Players in the market – all they care about is Line Goes Up and they will cobble together anything lying around to make that happen. Ignore them.

And this is one of the beautiful things about Pop Culture – it’s always driven by the innovators until it becomes commonplace and a commodity and is then replaced by another iteration or mutation by a new batch of innovators. Be one of those innovators, because it’s the only way to Move Forward. 

Until next time!

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