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Letters from Our Readers
John Baccigaluppi's "Give Me a Hammer" in Tape Op #102 - a plea for simpler, stable recording software and the fact that the learning curves and installations have grown tedious - really resonated with me. In 2012 I essentially took my recording PC "off the grid" while I was working on digitized 1980's multitracks for the CD of my band, Informed Sources. At that time it dawned on me that the interfaces I had available, the recording applications installed, the plug-ins on hand, the loop generation software in place, the resolutions I could utilize, the number of tracks available to me, the stability of my operating system - it was all exactly what I needed and it was all working seamlessly. Perhaps most importantly, I knew the entire environment. I had to ask myself, "Can you envision needing more than what you have?" Granted, my recording is limited to my own work, in various genres, but the answer was, "No." Since then my recording PC system has remained static, with few minor exceptions. I know, at some point in the future, I may need to reconfigure or even start over on a new machine; but for now I focus on getting better with recording techniques - many learned thanks to Tape Op! - rather than digging through yet another manual, installing new releases, or worrying about missing out on some new digital development. Thanks for all the thought-provoking articles like this one.
The End Rant in issue #102 about wanting stable solid tools really struck a nerve. I'm an acoustic musician who tends to treat a DAW like a tape machine, and I use minimal effects during mixing as well. I also grew up in wood shops, and doing work as a blacksmith during my teenage years. I know very well what a good hammer can do and how that single tool decides the shape and outcome of every product I turn out. Which was why I chose one that had the weight and balance I needed for the type of work I did. Bringing my note back to studio work, I've had a hard time finding a digital audio home for years now. It felt like I would find something perfect, only to have development get dropped during a buyout phase by the suits. Right now I keep a fairly old iMac running Propellerhead Record 1.5, and though it doesn't support plug-ins, I haven't found a sound I cannot create with it. The problem is all the features got rolled into Reason, and now my DAW of choice is no longer made. Give me a hammer is right; I don't think I'll be doing MIDI-based quantized beats anytime soon. Until things really break I will be running the same rig for as long as possible. Then I'm thinking [of going] open source for the next go around in the land of upgrades. For some reason the last time I took on an "upgrade," the amount of tracks my machine could handle was cut in half. So, if you'll excuse me, I'll be "pounding out" another song.
Software is getting better. Designing software is maturing as an art. Asking what users want is getting easier. It's nothing nowadays to mock up a design and understand how usable it is. The process of prototyping DSP is becoming quicker. It's simpler to manage the quality of code and prevent adding defects when making improvements. It takes less time to respond to support issues and provide the best possible quality of service. Software developers are taking smaller bites. Instead of taking on improvements that are a year or more in scope and packing them into some monster version release, the trend is to take on tinier, more focused iterations. In making small, continual work, we act more as gardeners than shipbuilders. We maintain the quality of software so it stays reliable. We do this with strong cultures of dedication to craft. We develop good practices, and continually re-evaluate them. This idea of software as an ongoing relationship between developer and user is starting to make its way into the professional audio industry. Moving forward, the most successful pro audio software companies will be the ones that go out of their way to understand their users, make swift and skillful design decisions, and have a robust foundation of quality code. There is no room in the future for companies that can't do that. All software is moving this way. Because of this, professionals and hobbyists will benefit from having high-quality tools at their disposal, despite the continual turmoil of OS updates and CPU architecture changes. The not-very-distant-future is going to rock!
In agreement with the bulk of your readers, I LOVE TAPE OP. John Baccigaluppi absolutely, positively, definitively hit the hammer on the head in redressing the DAW upgrade situation [#102], just a part of the entire computer software upgrade nightmare. Not everyone can absorb all the changes, or afford to continue their recording education to the extent that the developers assume, making hardware and software upgrades anywhere from annoying to prohibitive. If only they thought two words - user friendly. The beauty of home studios is that it brought the ability to make great recordings back to creative people, not just engineers. I'm one of the ones with a rough background of no formal training who has recently made the switch from PC to Mac, including my first DAW upgrade in seven years. The old setup served my purposes well, but more recent software went beyond my hardware capabilities from the olden days. Lack of support for those of us who can't move at the speed of technology feels very condescending, even though our work is valid and creative. Just like the Apples and PCs of the world, we have no choice but to change or get out. It's a big FU to all of us little guys. I refuse to apologize for my limitations. If the developers had half a brain, they'd include us in consulting about their "improvements." We're very lucky that some of us have the most important possible tools for doing what we do... ears and hearts.
Neat little paragraph at the top of Tape Op #102 about home recording (Les Paul, Emitt Rhodes), but don't forget about one of the greatest - Rudy Van Gelder! He engineered some of the most amazing and important jazz recordings in history, right from his parents' living room. It's ultimately more about the ear than the gear. Thanks for the great magazine!
Although I enjoy every issue of Tape Op when I receive them, I have to say that issue #103 has been my favorite yet. The articles/interviews on Bill Szymczyk, Richard Kaplan/Indigo Ranch and Giles Martin were great - the great music I grew up with!
Keep up the good work!
How ballsy to send an email to the guy in charge of a magazine you really love. Here he sits, under a mountain of unread emails, begging for someone to send just one more; the last digital straw to break an editor's back. Wait no more, Larry. Here I am. The last page of your magazine [#103] included a "recording game" Monopoly board. The first roll lands us on "email us", and here we go. Loved the, "Is the band breaking up?" square. Thank you for your time; thank you for your magazine. It is filled with hope for the up and comers and an encouragement for any jaded guys to try something new.
I love how you are working to keep Tape Op accessible to your subscribers. I just downloaded the digital copy of #103, and I'll be putting in several hours reading it on my computer. I look forward to every issue because it keeps me inspired to work on music and recording. Thank you Larry, John, and all of you on staff there!
My wife and I drove 18 hours back from our vacation in Florida to our home in Ohio. We got in at 3 a.m. Our son had put the mail on the floor, and before we went to bed I saw the newest issue of Tape Op. My wife said, "Come on, we have been up for 20 hours." I said, "I will be in there in a little bit." I couldn't put the latest issue down! I read it from beginning to end, and finally crawled into bed at 5 a.m. Honestly, that was my favorite issue yet, and I am going to do some recording tomorrow. Thanks for the inspiration!
On the one hand, I completely agree with Mr. Baccigaluppi's recent back page. I am constantly ranting that I want Cubase and Pro Tools finished, goddamnit! I want them to be like real musical instruments: perfected. Sure, one violin or piano sounds different from the next, and there's always room for improvement; but they all work the same way. Same goes for everything, from Stratocasters to drill presses. At some point, the consensus was, "This thing is fully baked." On the other hand? I can't stand where DAW is today. None of them are what I imagined when I started 15 years ago... which is a desktop music publisher. None of them are as flexible as video or desktop publishing programs, in terms of simply manipulating objects the way Word, InDesign, or Finale let one cut/copy/paste. None have particularly great undo. None have version control. None have an import/export worth a shit. And none offer any reasonable guarantee that you'll be able to open an older project cleanly. I think we are still stuck in this mental paradigm (which your magazine promulgates) of "mixer," "engineer," and "musician." Sound is acquired in one discrete step, mixed in another, and then mastered in a third. No author in any other medium thinks in such a formal way anymore. We're all constantly creating and editing, all at the same time. But DAWs continue to be modeled after tape recorders and mixing desks. In short, I look forward to the day when there is a simple DAW that allows me the same flexibility with audio, MIDI, and notation that I have with words in Microsoft Word; something that isn't held back by the look and feel of a mixing desk.
While I too dream of a DAW that needs no upgrades and stays stable for decades, I disagree on the criticism of the "mental paradigm" that you believe we "promulgate" with Tape Op. I think that many times the division of labor on a recording project can be a good thing. Sure, a blurring of the lines constantly occurs (I regularly engineer, produce, mix, and perform on my studio sessions); but when it comes to the tasks involved in record making, often hiring an expert can vastly improve the project. Bringing in a better guitarist than myself is an obvious win. Hiring a mixing or mastering engineer with more experience than oneself can improve tracks immensely. Sometimes records are made in isolation by a single person, and this can lead to some fantastic, unique results or it can result in an unbridled mess. Some records are made by selecting the proper group of talented individuals. But even inferring that there is only one way to record music is to miss the point of all the opportunities that are out there.