What I learned at the 2010 IMMMS (part 3: Software)

One of the big reasons I attended the 2010 IMMMS was to find out how people were making music with computers nowadays.  When I first got into computer music, there was MIDI and basic audio editing.  Software Synthesizers did not yet exist and most people were still using some kind of hardware recorder-based process to produce music.  Having worked on Music Software over the last 15 years, I was generally aware of what was going on, but I felt I needed to talk to some real people to get their perspective.

The first thing I noticed is that computer music production today has gone more mainstream – people just starting out are able to get ahold of a lot of great and inexpensive tools to produce music.  Many of the people I met used some version of Logic, which includes a vast array of synthesis plug-ins.  Unfortunately, the advent of this abundant computer music power has not facilitated an increase in quality.  Several panelists at the Summit described how they get demos with very low quality.  I believe this is the result of the software not yet catching on to the needs of the more mainstream market that is buying the tools.

Computers have always been good at taking on boring and repetitive tasks, and allowing users to spend more of their time being inspired.  One of the largest opportunities I see in computer music software today is meeting the needs of the more mainstream users out there.  Since a lot of mainstream users are looking to produce music in a particular genre, the first improvement I see coming is an array of products for producing specific types of music.  Traditional DAW software is loaded with tools that mainstream musicians will never use, and therefore do not need.  All those extra menus and buttons distract users from focusing on their music.  What mainstream users need is a stripped down set of tools that focus on just the kind of music they want to produce.

The tools that remain should be simplified to provide quick results without having to spend a lot of time tweaking settings – unless the user specifically wants to tweak.  Fox example,  when a user starts a project, they should be able to specify what type of project they are working on.  The project type chosen would then limit tool and media choices to those most relevant to the project they want to produce.  This in turn would allow a producer to quickly evaluate their options without having to filter out the least relevant options themselves.

If a user wanted to add a vocal track to their project, they would have a menu that specifically added a vocal track, complete with all the effects settings typically used for a vocal track like a noise gate, EQ, compression, and pitch correction.  There might even be sub-categories of vocal tracks available that were customized for different types of voices or singing styles. All of these choices would be filtered based on the project type selected earlier.    At any time, the type of track could be changed, which would allow the user to try a few different settings with their vocals to see what works best.  If at some point a producer wanted to fine-tune the settings for a vocal track, they could drill down into the actual effect settings.

When it is time to work on the mix, there should be some automatic mixing options available which are relevant to the project type selected earlier.  And when it is time to render the project to an audio file, the user should be presented with a few options relevant to the project type they have selected:  “MP3 Demo” (with auto tagging or not – and the option to auto-upload to a website),   “Mastering Ready” (a file to send to a mastering service, perhaps automatically),  and “CD Ready” ( a file ready to burn to a CD).  And to top it all off, an ideal tool would be able to export the project so it can be opened for editing in ProTools, Logic, Nuendo, etc.

Streamlining the process of producing music with software has the potential to open up the world of music making to a whole new generation of producers, and to benefit us all with great new music.  I am looking forward to seeing how the future of computer music software unfolds…

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