Let's talk about DAWs

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.



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    • Dear Jon.

      So why do so many people buy and use vibrators?

      Yours randily



  • I've never used a serious DAW before, so take this with a grain of salt: composing with a DAW is a completely different process from composing on a score the traditional way. You can import notation into a DAW if you're really inclined to, but the best samples of DAW-produced music I've listened to are done differently: they are composed in the DAW itself, catering to the peculiarities of a DAW. A notated score is an afterthought.  This is because imported notation generally will give you a very mechanical-sounding, dry performance (software like NP tries to remedy this, but with varying success, as you yourself know); the best results are obtained when you record individual tracks with a MIDI keyboard, using the various knobs and dials that your particular chosen virtual instrument came with as you play, in order to impart a maximum degree of "hand-played" quality to it.

    Now if you're used to composing by score, what you could do that may potentially yield the best results is to work exclusively on the score first, (or, if you prefer, use NP as a temporary crutch to get your score worked out) then once you're reasonably satisfied with it, record the individual parts in the DAW as if you were performing it from scratch. I.e., don't import it from notation, treat it as a "fresh" project.  That way you will have both score and a good DAW-specific production with satisfactory quality.  However, this approach is also the most time-consuming, so given what you said about limited free time, I'm not sure if this is the best approach for you.

    Or maybe a hybrid approach might work best: import background accompaniment figures from notation, but (re)record the leading melodic parts / key moments in the accompaniment separately in the DAW.  This way you don't have to do everything twice, but can get most of the way there just by importing notation, and add the last bits of flair on the most important parts manually for maximum quality.

    • I think one important point about modern sample libraries is that they are virtually all designed to be played live in real time and recorded in this way, one part at a time. This way the transition programming, which is becoming increasingly sophisticated and especially for legato which is often the heart of phrasing, can be fully realised. However cleverly this is done -- and the leading modern orchestral libraries from such vendors as Spitfire, Orchestral Tools , VSL and Cinematic Studio-are not sterile sounding in my view, it is nevertheless still MIDI programming and can generally be emulated after the event in notation software by ensuring appropriate note durations and dynamic modelling which the better ones like Dorico can do quite effectively.

      I suspect one reason why most composers of commercial music prefer to compose in a DAW is the practical reason that music often needs to fit specific cues and quite often needs to moved around or changed in length -- these sort of things are indeed easier to do in a DAW. But for concert music, increasingly a DAW is becoming less necessary in my view and I don't myself use one in my composing process in general.

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      • Let me say that both David Carovillano and David Owen are producing beautiful work that is neither dry nor mechanical.

        DAWS for years have had 'humanize' algorithms to introduce subtle varitations to the rhythm and velocity settings of midi files. VSL now has a feature for their plugin player they describe here:

        "The Humanize Area creates something wonderful: Human Imperfection. From subtle changes in intonation to simulating stress-induced tuning corrections and slightly un-tight rhythmic passages: Random patterns produce authenticity, be it in the string, woodwind or brass section. Additionally to these fixed variations, you can influence the intensity of the tuning curves and delay settings to create an even more random effect with real-time controllers"


        • thanks for the kind compliment, Ingo -- I am still in intermediate stages of trying to improve my mock-ups from the state they were in say a couple of years back and have some way to go. As you say, both DAW's and notation programmes tend to have humanising built-in though frankly I distrust it in the main and prefer to restrict myself to what the sample libraries themselves have programmed. As you say, VSL have for some time had built-in randomisation -- others for instance use a sort of round-robin effect for repeated notes in particular among other things.

      • Just a thought - not certain what version of Windows you're on - why don't you Rewire - or similar - Finale and Cubase together?  Then instead of having to do all the importing/exporting stuff, you could use them both together to create a finished piece.  I used to do that with my notation prog., Quick Score Elite Level 2, and Cubase.  Cubase was better for using VSTs in but QSE had by far the better notation.  So I used QSE as the front end of Cubase via Rewire, all the VSTs were in Cubase but I was writing using QSE!!

        Just a thought,

        Yours respectfully



  • Though most postings on this topic have been about specific DAWs, I believe that because the topic title is phrased more generally as “Let’s talk about DAWS,” it may not be inappropriate for me to follow up on my general comment about computer music, especially since it has gotten some replies.

    My doubts about the value of software-generated music audio files is not unthinking musical Luddite-ism, but is based on the metaphysics and aesthetics of what I consider a musical composition to be.  In my view, what a musical composition really “is” is not the printed score, or a recording of it, it is the performance of it by human beings.  That’s the metaphysical vector; the aesthetic one is that I consider any performance of one of my compositions to be a collaboration between the composer, the performer, and the audience.  That is what a performance really “is.”

    From this viewpoint, it doesn’t really matter how natural and human software generated music can be made to sound.  If it isn’t a collaboration among a human composer, a human performer, and a human audience, then it’s not what the composition really is, and if we are satisfied with it, then we are depriving ourselves of musical reality.

    (I should add that everything I say should be considered a sort of essay test question statement ending in, "Discuss.")

    • In many ways I agree -- although I know people who say the score is actually the composition. For me, it's actually only the starting point for making music.


    • Dear Jon et al.

      I'd agree with you if I could afford to pay a bunch of real people to play the stuff I write - can only talk for myself here!  Then you'd get all the random elements - though why us humans practice and practice to play as perfectly as possible and then pride ourselves on our imperfections has always puzzled me.  We invent wonderful machines - computers - to do everything perfectly then, I feel, get a little intimidated by them, so want to make them as imperfect as we ourselves are! Anyway.


      David Carovillano, or anyone else who can answer this, got a question for you based completely on lack of knowledge.  I've never had any training in any of this stuff, and I'm learning-disabled which doesn't help (but I DO love writing music using my 32-bit Quick Score Elite Level 2 - I'd buy Dorico if it wasn't £500!!) I've got Garritan and in my hands the sounds suck but on the website, the demo tracks sound - to me - pretty good.  I DO understand things like EQ and Reverb and Compression - what are they doing to the Garritan sounds on the demo. tracks to make them sound so good?  I want to know because I want to know what to learn.  I've been doing everything with soundfonts and Edirol Orchestral because I can't make Garritan sound good and currently can't afford East West (there's still a 32-bit version of that floating around!)  


      Yours respectfully



      I think those of us who can't afford to pay real performers are lucky to have these machines to play our music for us.  As far as 'generating' imperfections goes - I thought most instruments these days had - bet I get the term wrong - 'round robins' built into them, so every time they played a note they played a slightly different version of it, thus guaranteeing imperfection? 

  • Hi Liz,

    I am chiming in because I use Apple's Logic Pro X on a an iMac running Mac OS 10.13.6 High Sierra with 32 GB of RAM, which (I believe) is even more ancient than what you are running. I have only a few libraries--mostly Spitfire products and I have no compatibility or performance problems. I agrree with others who tout it's user-friendliness, but it is also very powerful and rich in features.

    I don't know how other DAWs are priced, but I think Logic is a good value and it is a one-time purchase price, not something you have to pay for every month--which seems to be the direction a lot of software is moving these days.

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