Trackers and Sequencers rant

Ranting… I’m sorry. :)

I suppose I’ve been “writing” music with trackers for about 13 years (Scream, Impulse, Modplug, Buzz, Renoise). Alas, my results have been less than satisfactory. I want to take this moment to apologize to everyone I ever recommended trackers to.


Sometime last month I set out to find a better music app. I’d already entered the world of VST’s thanks to Renoise, having put down a big $600 for Colossus. I’ve spent a lot of time in Adobe Audition (Cool Edit) over the years too, so that’s where I started. I wanted something akin to it’s multi-track view, that I could sequence midi in. I decided to give all the big name non proprietary apps a go (i.e. Pro Tools). FL Studio, Acid Pro, Sonar, and Live.

FL Studio, I love the synth VST’s it comes with. But I honestly got lost in the interface, trying to figure out how I was supposed to track stuff.

Sony’s Acid Pro was the easiest to get up to speed in. A good app. It generally did everything I was looking for exactly how I wanted it, scroll wheel and all. It can create “ghost clips” too (i.e. update the original, and all clones get the changes). However, I was having troubles using multiple Colossus instances.

For one reason or another, I glazed over and generally ignored Sonar. It reminded me too much of Cubase. Nice job with an impartial assessment there Mike. :P

I ended up going with Ableton Live. It’s certainly a qwirky program, doing just about everything in it’s own way (click+up/down to zoom, click+left/right to pan). It actually took a lot of effort to really understand how to work in the app. But it does so many things right for how I want to work. Cross platform, since I have this mindset that I want the option to go Mac one day. And the key point as I saw it. You can bake tracks! OMG! If you’ve used a heavy hard drive streaming sound sample library like Colossus (Kompakt) or Giga Studio, you’ll note that one of your bottlenecks is the number of instruments you can play at one time, before your playback begins to stutter. I hit that at about 3 separate instruments (with numerous layers each). Not a problem with Live. Right click on a track you’re not working on this moment, hit “freeze track”, and within several seconds it’s rendered that track to disk. Then when you want to edit it again, right click and unfreeze it. Mmmmm.

That feature alone sold me.

But as I started digging through the interface and tutorials more, I really think I made the right decision. The interface has 2 views. A clip editing/mixer view, and a master song arrangement view. I wont delve in to all the details, but you can actually edit clips in both views. The clip/mixer view is actually designed for more of a “program the song and perform it live by queuing rows” type interface monster, but I found another use for it. Doodles. I don’t know how everybody else works, but sometimes as I’m toying on my midi keyboard to come up with a part or layer, I come up with something interesting, but it doesn’t work for this song. In the past, I had no way to record these random brainstorms. With Live, I solo the track, pound an empty clip’s record button, and record my music doodle. Then I can easily tweak my notes, if I hit something too early or too soft, and it doesn’t hurt my song at all. I can then export the mini composition to a .mid file, to use elsewhere.

So in conclusion, I’d like again apologize to anyone I ever recommended trackers to.