Looking Back, and Trending?

This is a technology column and therefore at the year’s end it should be a celebration of all came our way this last year, right?
And yet, it was clearly a year more of evolution and revolution in some areas and some will consider this progress and others will see regress. I will not be editorializing on that, just report what I see happening and let all of you form whatever conclusions you choose.

Let’s begin with Apple, because it is the second most successful company in the world, it is impossible to talk about music technology and not talk about Apple’s influence, even for Windows based PC users. As a long time user of Logic Pro and the author of books on Logic Pro, I am thankful that Apple has continued to develop it, although clearly at a de-accelerated pace compared to the days when Emagic was its developer. It is however, the same core group of Germans and I truly believe that their commitment to it is still as great as ever. They have also given us a terrific live performance tool with MainStage, and a terrific entry level app in GarageBand. Indeed there are innovations in the iPad version of GarageBand with features we Logic Pro users would love to see on our Macs and I am optimistic they will be coming. How fun would it be to strum that virtual guitar and record the part!

Apple used to be THE platform for creative types. Their motto was “Think Different” and their pro apps and desktop Macs lead the way. In recent years however that seems to have changed to “Think Big” and ”Think Egalitarian”. Apple’s mission statement now seems to be to say to everyone “You too can do any creative activity that professionals do, because we are going to give you inexpensive tools that require little or no knowledge or professional experience to use effectively”.

And in this, they have succeeded to the point where film producers/directors who either cannot or do not wish to spend any more money than they absolutely have to and think that “good enough is good enough” hire people who without these tools perhaps could not get the job done in any way that would be deemed satisfactory. One downside is that the middle class traditional film composer career is diminishing to the point where it may become essentially non-existent. There are now pretty much only the very successful guys and those who must do many other things to survive.

As for the Macs themselves, with the advent of Thunderbolt and more powerful Mac Minis, laptops, and iMacs, it is no longer mandatory to spend the kind of dough that a Mac Pro once cost to achieve similar performance, although there is less expandability than a Mac Pro provides. (And bang for buck wise, even a mid-priced PC outperforms them in many areas). The positive side is that talented people no longer have to live in a media center or spend outrageous amounts of money to have the requisite tools.

Apple is of course not alone in this. People are developing marvelous iPad and Android apps and a tremendous amount of development from third parties is now being channeled into this market. Some of it is quite exciting, most of it is very inexpensive, and my hope is that it will translate into software improvements on computers as well.

New versions of the Mac OS, Windows 8, IOS, and Android versions all make it a fluid technological world, with all the attendant benefits and potential problems that entails. Some embrace this by being on the cutting edge while the more cautious among us tread slowly following the adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Which brings me to sample libraries and virtual instruments. This year we saw a goodly number of orchestral sections and choirs, ethnic instruments, drum libraries, keyboard emulations, etc. all far more deeply sampled than ever before, hit the marketplace. Libraries from EastWest, CineSamples, 8dio, Audiobro, best Service, VSL, Native Instruments, and a myriad of small developers have made the amount of quality choices staggering and perhaps for some, a little overwhelming. They all have their advocates and detractors, but no one can say any longer that there are not a great number of viable choices.

Other developers are using versions of “physical modeling” to attack the challenges in a different way, like Sample Modeling, Pianoteq, etc. with very promising results that nonetheless, again have their boosters and detractors.

Next, let me remind those of you who read this column that I work part time for EastWest as their Online Coordinator. I also beta test for a number of companies, including some competitive products so I hope you will take me at my word that in no way am I intending to criticize developers for responding to the marketplace and creating what they are creating.

That said, much of the creative energy of development is going into “push button” libraries where sounds are combined and performed in a way that makes it possible for people to achieve really good sounding compositions that sound quite realistic with little of the traditional knowledge and skills that have been previously required. Project Sam, Spitfire, and Sonokinetic are among the leaders in this area. For the trained composer even, with tight deadlines they are a huge help in meeting those deadlines and also delivering a high quality sounding score. Also. Arguably the non-traditionally trained composer may have skills in manipulating these sounds with programming and engineering skills than the traditional composer lacks. We have guitar libraries that strum for us, libraries that have pre-recorded phrases and runs. This is not new and one only needs to remember the ubiquitousness in Hollywood of the Korg Wavestation to realize that this is simply following the path.

Whether this is overall a good thing or not is a hotly debated topic but for sure it is not going away and every composer has to make his or her choices as to which tools he/she wants to employ and which to forego.

Finally, FX plug-ins releases are exploding, especially those that are meant to add analog warmth with tape saturation, console emulations etc. and it seems more are arriving every week and are adding a lot to people’s satisfaction with their sound. See my October column for an overview. https://filmmusicinstitute.com/?p=10126

Almost all are now 64 bit on both the Mac and the PC, allowing DAWS like Logic Pro, Digital Performer, Cubase, and Sonar (with PT promised in the not too distant future) and secondary hosts like Vienna Ensemble Pro, J-Bridge, and Ploguc Bidule to take full advantage of all the relatively inexpensive RAM we can now put into our computers without flakey and annoying “bridges” for 32 bit plug-ins. As a longtime UAD user, I will be particularly thrilled to have their plug-ins in 64 bit in early January. I literally will no longer ever need to run Logic Pro or Vienna Ensemble Pro in 32 bit mode again, and I will not miss it.

I fully expect that the coming year will be a continuation of the trends we saw this year, evolution rather than revolution. But the funny thing about revolutions is that they do not always announce themselves in advance, so maybe next year at this time, my column will be quite different :)


  • but wait
    January 14, 2013 @ 5:30 am

    …you simply shouldn’t bypass the Sibelius drama. Maybe its not a daw, but it is still a piece of technology and probably the most awkward moment in the music industry happened last year….

  • January 22, 2013 @ 11:03 am

    That is a fair point.

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