Music Composers Unite!
Yes, I know I said I wasn't really interested in considering a DAW at this time. But given all the trouble I've had with Sibelius and NotePerformer, and given that the experts can't even be sure which software component is responsible, AND given that Avid doesn't offer tech support without an added cost contract, I figure I had better start thinking about a Plan B.
So... which DAWs are people using? What are the pros and cons of different DAWs? What is the workflow like when working in a DAW? Can you enter notes in something like the way you would in a notation software, or do you have to specify frequency in Hz and duration in seconds? Will I need additional hardware to be able to compose in a DAW? Are sample libraries compatible with any DAW or are they generally matched to a particular DAW?
I'm sure I'll have more questions as time goes on, but that will do it for starters I think... apologies if these questions are naive or poorly posed - I freely admit I know very little about the subject.
I certainly agree Dane, it is difficult to deal with all the complexity but I choose to look on the bright side. We were always taught that we should know the sound of a score by looking at it and we should already know the sound of anything that we wrote before trying it out.Those days are gone. We now have the luxury of instant feedback on complex scores from notation software and I'll never go back regardless of price or difficulty. I am shamelessly spoiled and pitch deaf and I don't care. Oh, and I left out the financial problem, ouch.
The Reaper manual is not so good, maybe this will help?
Dane Aubrun said:
I can understand Liz' point of view. I'm probably going for Dorico which has to be looked on as an investment. £500 and a heck of a learning process. If I put together 10 scores they'd each cost £50 but I get the parts thrown in least.
I hate these learning curves though. Reaper was dead easy to "get started" with but I'm still learning new tricks. Its manual on notation editing is as clear as a pea-soup fog. Then the VSL player. Now, scoring software. I'm honestly sick and tired of it!! There's a difference between music practice and learning curves. As for composing it can take me perhaps 10 hours over a period of let's say a month but then...getting it into the daw several days to be as right as I can get it.... then it'll be transcribing or editing in notation software. Crikey, it's like this brief creative phase then a huge bureaucracy to get it to look ok! . Grumble, grumble... that's lockdown for you! Lol. Quick, another shot of Macallans 18.
Thank you, Ingo!
Yes, that video did help. It was the adding and editing notes that I had trouble with, usually ending up with a mess and much clicking on the undo button. Now I see what they're getting at. I'll also look for a video on tuples which I can never make work!
I was ok with the dropdown for articulations, accidentals, make a slur, etc., but not moving notes around. The video made it look easy. As usual with Reaper I'll have to practice. I normally work in the piano roll.
I try to look on the bright side, 'onnist, guv! but the outlook is usually foggy. I know I have to do these things and perhaps they're less daunting than the hair shirt once one gets used to new software!
The only thing Reaper's useless at is giving control over the pdf production. This is where notation software would win.
The notation or staff view in a DAW is meant as composing aid, and not actual notation. Once you stop expecting them to act like true notation programs, producing true notation scores, you can begin to appreciate their utility.
For now, the best compromise for both good sound and good notation is to use separate programs for both. I do my music in Cakewalk first, to get the sound I want. The feedback you get from a DAW, vs. notation sound, is helpful in composing and orchestrating. Then I do a score in Notion. An excellent and affordable notation program. You can also do it the other way, first compose and make the score in notation, then export to a DAW to make the sound version.
You're dead right, Michael.
Until recently (for instance, joining this form) I've had a look at a finished work mocked up on the daw and if I thought there was a chance of a performance even by our town orchestra, I'd handwrite the score. It does allow me certain advantages like I can put whatever I like on paper. However, as long as I can slur over many staves, show the direction of arpeggios and a few other things, notation software holds promise. If I end up handwriting more than one score per year I'm unlucky!
Then there was a project this year where it was decided that a rendering would be advantageous over live performance so a score wasn't necessary and I deferred buying notation software.
I've held back because I don't want it for composing. Over the years some of us develop shorthand that makes software impossibly slow. I proved that (to myself) with Finale's "taster". It took about an hour for something that would take less than a minute at the piano. Worse, the impetus can be lost. So really it's about an editable publishing software that can receive a midi file.
I'll have a look at notion. I can't think it'll be more expensive than Dorico.
Thank you for the comment.
Hi Dane, and everyone,
I could not imagine going back to handwriting a score. Sibelius's engraving isn't perfect but it beats anything I could do by hand, by far, without a heck of a lot of erasing and mess. In the end it looks reasonably professional. And I do not have a piano or any instrument that allows me to hear vertical combinations of notes, so playback in Sibelius serves that function for me. And as long as I can ignore its flaws, NotePerformer's renderings sound almost like a human performance (sometimes TOO human ;)).
Of course, with some work I'm sure I could achieve much the same result on a DAW without the hiccups and poor audio quality that I get with NP. But it would be a lot of work and not something I'd want to mess with while actually composing. It's when I have the work completed and want to create a rendering to share it that I can see a DAW coming in really handy. But for that to work I would need to have a way to import the finished score into the DAW. Is this something one can do easily with most DAWs or is it pretty much a unique feature of Prosonus with Notion?
And maybe even the poor audio quality wouldn't bother most people. A couple of people here and elsewhere have said they cannot hear the distortion that I do in NP's string section sound. Another said he hears it but doesn't think it is true distortion but some kind of "artifact" from NP's sample library. It is true that I hear it mostly in the left headphone, and when I switch the headphones around, the distortion does NOT follow the channel. It is something I hear mainly with my left ear, apparently, which is much sharper with high frequencies than my right ear. When I finish my Fugal Variations I will post the NP rendering here and see what everyone thinks. My guess is that only one or two people (at most) will be bothered by it.
Yes, I can see a problem if you haven't a means to 'hear' the vertical, then notation software or a daw are the only way - and I won't hide that these days I try sustained tones on the daw, particularly if they're built up over a few beats. Laziness, maybe because I should be able to transfer the sound to my imagination...but...I just check so I have a full orchestra empty template for just that.
Now you mention it, Liz, I have trouble with L and R ears having different responses. My left ear produces distortion on high and loud string parts, right one doesn't. Worse on phones than speakers. Questionable that it doesn't happen with high wind / keyboard parts. With some of my stuff - the one up there at the moment - I lay out the orchestra with Violins 2 on the right, facing the stage. Very traditional and irrelevant really because the samples therefore don't produce the right acoustic. Just me, I suppose.
I've been looking at Presonus Notion. They've made it difficult to find out just what it can do. There's no functional specification and the manual that I found doesn't seem to cover everything. It would have to produce orchestral parts but I can find no "yes it does/no it doesn't" answer. Can cues be notated? I'll plug away at it as time permits. At least it accepts a straight midi file which is reassuring (presumably in its component parts)!
"But it would be a lot of work and not something I'd want to mess with while actually composing. It's when I have the work completed and want to create a rendering to share it that I can see a DAW coming in really handy. But for that to work I would need to have a way to import the finished score into the DAW. Is this something one can do easily with most DAWs or is it pretty much a unique feature of Prosonus with Notion?"
Most DAWs like midi over anything else when it comes to importing the music. In my opinion the notation programs designed to communicate with a certain DAW are the best bet. Not that you can't get a midi from Musescore or any notation program and insert it into any DAW. The main advantage is the integration. I can only speak for the relationship between Presonus Studio One 4 and Notion 6 since that's what I use. It has two ways to do it, Rewire, which is a little more complex or commands built right into the program expressly for the purpose or sending to the other program. The communication goes both ways so I can send notation from Notion or send midi data from Studio One and have it show up as notation in Notion. Even so, this isn't always a perfect transition if things aren't set correctly in either program, for instance if I have a track labeled guitar in the DAW but it ends up being a flute part and forget to change the label, it will show up as a guitar part in Notion. I often still need to do some minor editing to the exported notation, for example clefs might be wrong for an instrument because I didn't identify the instrument correctly and it seen a treble clef when it should have seen a bass clef.
If it sees piano it splits the parts accordingly. So long as it sees the correct instruments all is well. This is mostly error on MY part and not the program. If you tend to work the same way between scores you can make a template of the setup which will open the same in the next project and save many headaches. It should be mentioned that Notion is also self contained in that it has it's own independent mixer and can drive sound from the notated music all by itself. That setup isn't at DAW level concerning capability but it isn't too shabby either.
"I've been looking at Presonus Notion. They've made it difficult to find out just what it can do. There's no functional specification and the manual that I found doesn't seem to cover everything. It would have to produce orchestral parts but I can find no "yes it does/no it doesn't" answer. Can cues be notated? I'll plug away at it as time permits. At least it accepts a straight midi file which is reassuring (presumably in its component parts)!"
The last I knew, if you signed up for a Presonus account they have free demos downloads of both Studio One and Notion 6.
It does produce orchestral parts with standard built in sound sets. Other programs optional. Hope this helps.
I feel your pain re: the Notion manual. The Sibelius user guide isn't very good either: much of what it tells you is stuff any computer and music literate person could figure out. NotePerformer doesn't even have a real user manual, just a setup guide that gives detailed settings needed to work correctly with each of the notation platforms it supports. I wish it gave more detailed descriptions of the midi messages it can send to the Sib playback engine. It wasn't until someone told me that I understood what a2, a3, ... meant, without the space. (It's the number of instruments, something like "a 3", "a 6" in Baroque and earlier music.)
Re: distortion... Dane, are you sure it is distortion and that your ear that is *producing* it? Do you hear it with actual string sound or only with sound from the sample libraries? So far I hear it only with NP - I don't hear it with Sibelius's built in sounds (which I think are soundfonts) nor with MuseScore's soundfonts. It occurs, as in your case, chiefly in high forte passages. I almost never hear it in bare monophonic passages: it is mainly when there are close vertical intervals sounding. I wonder if it might be an artifact of the way sample libraries are produced, and not unique to NP... in which case I might be wasting my time playing with DAWs. Maybe it comes about from some limitation of sampling technology, interacting with the response curve of the human ear? But I don't hear it all the time; last night I made a rendering of my Fugal Variations (current state) that is nearly free of it. So I'm finding this very puzzling.
Anyway, thanks for your input, Dane.
Thanks for the detailed information about the Studio One + Notion combination. The mixups you mention where instruments are incorrectly identified when importing is common in notation software too of course - happened to me once or twice when importing XML from Musescore into Sibelius. Anyway Studio One sounds like another possibility I should look into, since it sounds like the import process is the least painful since the notation program is designed to work with the DAW.
But as I said, my investigations into DAWs are on hold for the moment until I finish this piece. I have very little time now before I have to pour most of my energies into prepping for the fall semester, and I'm fairly near the end of the piece - but also at the hardest part, a fully developed 4-voice slow fugue. Really don't have time left over to explore the DAW world for now... but that will come eventually.
I'm still curious whether the "distortion" or whatever it is I'm hearing in NP's string samples is common to all sample libraries or if it's some kind of weird glitch with NP.
I totally understand the need to get ready for the next semester. I haven't heard the distortion you mentioned in NP's string samples so I can't comment on that. I can confirm this is not something that is common in sample libraries.
It seems no matter what programs a person buys there will inevitably be some kind of an issue associated with it. Even though Sibleus is such a wonderful program people fight with it at times. No doubt Studio One + Notion isn't going to be a perfect solution for everyone.
To be clear I am a hobbyist composer and very likely my needs in a notation program are not as demanding as a professional composer. It does what I need it to do, but it may come up short for someone else who has different requirements. This is why I recommend to try the free demos.
Have a good day!
Whether you can hear the distortion in NP's string samples (massed strings only, not solo) seems to be an individual thing. I only occasionally hear a "swooshing" sound at the end of each note in my right ear, but I nearly always hear it in my left year, and I only hear what sounds like actual distortion in my left ear. But I don't hear either of those effects in actual recorded string sound, even at fairly high volume levels. So I'm very hesitant to plop down several hundred $$ for a good sample library until I understand just what is going on with NP. I wish I had a waveform analyzer I could play with to try to solve the mystery.
And I'm just a hobbyist composer myself, not a professional. I'm a physics professor in my day job. ;) But it's becoming increasingly clear that getting actual musicians to play my music is going to be hard, and I may only be able to share what I write via mock-ups. So I want them to be decent quality. For most people it seems NP sound is just fine - but at least one other person I've talked to hears what I hear, so it isn't just me. And then there are the timing issues with solo strings: even Arne Wallander acknowledges that there is a problem.
Thanks for the input!