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Is there any music composition software you'd recommend or avoid?
April 22, 2003 6:51 AM   Subscribe

In light of the new resident musician showcase, I'd like to ask the professionals: Is there any music composition software (or hardware) that you couldn't live without, adore, and would recommend, or, conversely, would rather warn others to avoid?
posted by hama7 to MetaFilter Music at 6:51 AM (29 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

A lot of it's probably been covered here, but anyway, I'll have a go.

At the moment, the majority of my tracks are produced using three pieces of software.

Fruityloops to generate, as the name suggests, loops. Someone made the comment that a lot of tracks produced by FruityLoops have a certain "feel", but the program offers so many options and tools that I don't see how this is possible. I rarely use it for composing a whole song - just to create loops, but you have to remember that it's not only good for drum loops. Try creating melody lines, or layering multiple channels of sounds and VST effects for background ambience. It comes with a great array of effects (I couldn't live without "FruityReverb"), and it supports VST and VSTi plugins. And the free version lets you export files!

I do most of my composition in AudioMulch - based around plugging various components together. I find it great for creating organic, ambient tracks - I avoid arranging loops and melodies in a sequence, and instead use AudioMulch to fade them in and out over time, to subtly transfer loops between effects and so forth. Great for live mixing as well.

Finally, Cool Edit for the final cleaning up of tracks. It's just an audio editor (although it now has multitracking capabilities). I use it to normalize tracks, adjust the EQ and dynamic range, fade in and out, just to make the output from AudioMulch "nice".

Now you all know my secrets...In terms of music composition hardware, I couldn't go without my Gretch Sparkle Jet. :)
posted by Jimbob at 7:33 AM on April 22, 2003


Cooledit is also phat for removing the hiss from a dodgy mic recording.
posted by walrus at 7:51 AM on April 22, 2003


Logic Platinum does everything I could ever really want. Sometime's I'll just use it as a digital multi-track recorder. Other times I'll use it as the incredible sampler/sequencer/synth that it can be. Too bad it was bought by orange though.

I also enjoy playing around with Miller Puckette's PD Audiomulch (mentioned above) is pretty great too.
posted by soplerfo at 9:26 AM on April 22, 2003


I use Cubase and would recommend it only halfheartedly. It's a big, powerful piece of pro gear, but it's buggy, hard to figure out, and ugly. It tries too hard to look like a virtual collection of actual hardware. You can create anything you want with it, but it's not necessarily going to be fun.
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:30 AM on April 22, 2003


The vast majority of recording studios (doing pop/rock/hip-hop) are using ProTools with Cakewalk/Sonar coming up for PC shops.

For voice over and other broadcast stuff Cool Edit and Sound Forge seem to be very popular (although the perception was that the latter slipped when it was late with 32/64bit support.)

I wouldn't say Fruity is a given in pro studios but it's an amazing amount of fun. Now called FLStudio because of a letter or two from Michigan about brand confusion the new release includes true multi-track multi-channel recording of audio (a first for a previously staunch midi-only platform) which is aimed squarely at these other guys. Plus as jimbob says great plug-in support for all standards and native support for beat slicing, soundfonts, virtual turntables... aw heck, it's true, I've got a crush...
posted by victors at 9:31 AM on April 22, 2003


Mars, are you using Cubase SX or VST? I couldn't figure out VST at all, but I've been fooling around with Cubase SX lately and finding it pretty enjoyable to use, at least for the simple guitar-based stuff with a dash of MIDI that I'm trying to learn how to do.
posted by fuzz at 9:39 AM on April 22, 2003


When I last looked at FruityLoops it couldn't do triplets. Have they fixed that?
posted by timeistight at 9:51 AM on April 22, 2003


I adore and would recommend Ableton Live. I have serious issues with Native Instruments' customer support, but am looking forward to Reaktor Session.
posted by Dean King at 9:53 AM on April 22, 2003


Jimbob I do think fruityloops has a certain 'feel'. Maybe it's less to do with the software and more with the people who use it, but it seems I can always tell when something was made with fl.
posted by cell divide at 10:09 AM on April 22, 2003


When I last looked at FruityLoops it couldn't do triplets. Have they fixed that?

I'm fairly sure they've been able to do that since piano roll was added. Set "snap" to "none" and draw your notes any size. If you want even finer resolutions, you can set the timebase (PPQ) to a higher number.
posted by lasm at 10:10 AM on April 22, 2003


FruityLoops ... couldn't do triplets

not sure when you looked at FL last and what exactly you mean by "do" but the short answer is yes and all manner of odd meter as well.
posted by victors at 10:12 AM on April 22, 2003


the short answer is yes and all manner of odd meter as well.

I've been playing around with Fruity Loops for a couple days, and although you can set the song to whatever meter you want, I have yet to figure out how to change the meter within a song (for example, where the verse is 7/8 but the chorus is 4/4). The help file within the program is useless and the FAQ on their site has been down for days. Anyone know a solution? It'd be a shame (and kinda stupid) if you can't do that. It'd make the difference of whether or not I'd buy what is otherwise a nifty piece of software.
posted by GeekAnimator at 10:19 AM on April 22, 2003


It was probably a year and a half or two years ago. You could only divide a bar by multiples of two (4, 8, 16, 32, 64) not by three. There was no swing either.
posted by timeistight at 10:23 AM on April 22, 2003


where the verse is 7/8 but the chorus is 4/4

This is possible with the FLStudio only (in the "Producers" version I have there is a little window that allows you to change beat-per-bar on a pattern-by-pattern basis)

swing factor (0-100%) is project wide
posted by victors at 10:51 AM on April 22, 2003


I haven't paid for the Producer version (yet) and still have that little window, so it's available with an upgrade from 3.5x to FL4.0 Studio also.
posted by eyeballkid at 11:24 AM on April 22, 2003


i went digital for a few reasons (in no particular order): 1 - You have to pay for tape. 2 - With tape you can only have as many tracks as the gear/tapesize will allow you to have; And with standard audio cassette you can't really do more than 8 tracks. 3 - I can discern, at the fidelity level of anything i do anyway, no difference between something i recorded on my 4track and something i recorded on my computer. 4 - Digitally you get as many tracks as you want. This isn't strictly true, but shit, I could never use them all. 5 - The digital medium gives unique benefits. Punching is easy. Cleaning up ends of tracks is easy. Mixing is fundamentally different, and I don't know if I'll EVER get used to mixing without touching faders, but it's still "easy."

All that said, when recording music, the same things are always important. Get yerself a decent mic. I use this oktava condenser mic, it's great for vocals and/or capturing a nice room sound for that acoustic goodness.

It's worth it to get some outboard (meaing, the effect, whatever it is, happens before the signal [sound] goes to tape) compression. I picked up this and it works fine. It just helps with some of the response, a lot of the background noise, and you can do some cool stuff with it.

Sure57 or 58 mics are decent for almost fucking anything. mic'in an amp or for singing in a space with a band, or as a good second acoustic guitar mic. That's another trick, play with mic placement. try recording your guitar like this with the mic here, then try it again (playing along with yourself [whatever instrument]) with a different configuration.

For me the digital vs. analog thing is meaningless at the lofi level of most people who record at home. Sure if yer going to record this then do the fattest tape you can get for all that response. Fucking fantastic album, imo.

I guess that's enough of my rambling.

oh - i use an mbox with pro tools le. i'd link it but their site is all fucking frames.
posted by folktrash at 12:16 PM on April 22, 2003


Fruity loops (and a middle-of-the-road PC) has replaced about $3000 worth of outboard gear in my studio over the last 3-4 years. It's a remarkable piece of software that is capable of producing professional sounding results if you know a bit about EQ'ing/compression, etc.

Sound Forge as an all-around audio fixer/mangler/edior. CoolEditPro for multitracking. Reaktor for custom DSP and live improvisation. T-Racks for mastering. Granulab is a nifty real-time sound generator with lots of cusomization possibilities...
posted by erebora at 12:16 PM on April 22, 2003


mbox link here

I also notice we all steered clear of hama7's request to

warn others to avoid

The only thing I would say right now is that after four years of being a fervent ACID Pro user, the 4.0 release was too buggy and over-featured to use as my main mixing/composing surface. It broke my heart bad. They still have the best time-stretching/pitch-changing/beat-matching code in the biz -- but that's been there since day one.
posted by victors at 1:46 PM on April 22, 2003


Mixing is fundamentally different, and I don't know if I'll EVER get used to mixing without touching faders, but it's still "easy."

Try a fader-based MIDI controller like the Kenton Control Freak or the Doepfer Pocket Fader, or something similar.
posted by Dean King at 2:24 PM on April 22, 2003


cakewalk/sonar is the best multi-track seq i've used on the PC side. on the mac side, Cubase VST, is, yes, a little poo, but more usable, IMHO, over Logic/Digital Performer (less steep learning curve).

Cubase SX and OS X absolutely rocks. really well made software, that -- experienced only a minor bug so far ("Always Send Start" sometimes seems to break down, unsyncing my midi-clocked drum machine.)

Haven't seen Logic 6 on OSX yet -- that's supposed to be good.

i think learning curve and compatibility with my midi/audio interfaces is what makes me prefer one piece of software over another -- i mostly work with hardware, so I expect things to work right away with minimal configuration and fiddling.
posted by fishfucker at 2:53 PM on April 22, 2003


I kinda like my guitar, a bunch of effects pedals, and a 4-track cassette recorder. But on computers, I'm still looking for something I get along with.
posted by Fabulon7 at 3:07 PM on April 22, 2003


Regarding PD, I have to admit I couldn't get a sount out of it when I tried it (although I was using the Linux version - maybe it had problems connecting to my sound server). On the whole, PD looked fiddly and ugly, but a lot of people swear by it.
posted by Jimbob at 3:20 PM on April 22, 2003


Right now I use a combination of Cubase SX, Reason and Sound Forge.

I can't honestly say I'm 100% happy with it. Rewire is kind of annoying to deal with and I would prefer an all-in-one synth/multitracker solution. Cubase has VSTis, but I haven't really found any I particularly like and VSTi latency is a whole other upsetting problem. Cubase crashes occasionally, but usually just when I'm pushing my system pretty hard.

And to agree with what the other folks have said, I also tried out the earlier Cubase VST and found it annoying and difficult to use. SX is a vast improvement. I still had to spend a lot of time with the manual, but I found it a lot easier to get into.
posted by frenetic at 3:49 PM on April 22, 2003


btw, there are cool semi-pro hw megasites for soundtack recording and guitar amping
posted by victors at 3:56 PM on April 22, 2003


I cannot tell you all how much I appreciate this (slightly redundant - sorry) information.

I have some old tapes and new things that I'd like to digitize, and this has been an invaluable source of information.

Thanks again, and I hope others can benefit from this thread too.
posted by hama7 at 5:16 AM on April 23, 2003


great thread!

I've used Cakewalk/SONAR to record some bands demos, I like fruity loops, i really liked buzz, but lately fruity loops has expanded its features to make me more happy. I am also keeping an eye on audacity, an open source multitracking program.

I really can't get into Reason, Rebirth, etc. that mimic all the rack mount stuff, it just seems so clunky an interface.

As for meatspace stuff, I like a few shure mics, a mackie mixer, an echo mia sound card, and a DBX compressor.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 6:41 AM on April 23, 2003


Incidentally, I've never really enjoyed Fruity Loops much. It IS a very cool tool and I'd recommend it to people looking for an affordable drum machine type thing. But whether it's sample choice or my inability to sequence properly, back when I was giving it a shot (maybe a year or two ago), I could never get anything that sounded remotely natural out of it. It all sounded like robot computer music to me.

But I haven't tried it in a while. This just came to mind while reading other people talking about it.
posted by frenetic at 10:02 AM on April 23, 2003


I couldn't get into Fruity Loops, but prefer Acid by sonic foundry. It is also a loop based composing tool, I just like working with it better. I also use a Korg D1600 16 track hard disc recorder that whole heartedly endorse if you need that sort of thing.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 9:59 AM on April 24, 2003


Haven't seen anyone mention Digital Performer - does everyone here use Windows for their music-making? I love DP (it's Mac-only), and have recently gotten into Melodyne, which is rather amazing (both Mac and WinXP). It allows you to pitch-correct audio, and much, much more - you can basically manipulate audio the same way you do MIDI. Both pieces of software work great for me. I just made this last weekend using only these two pieces of software (and a Rode NT1 mic).
posted by gsalad at 2:47 PM on April 28, 2003


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