Music software has failed you and here is why

Music software has failed you and here is why

By Brett Pontecorvo

DAWs were created to make recording music faster, easier, and cheaper than the analog recording methods used in the past. It did this so well that what was once too expensive, required too much space, or felt too intimidating for someone who wasn’t a trained recording engineer was now available to anyone with a computer.

While DAWs became industry standard for recording pros, musicians took a particular interest in them because it allowed a more complete version of their musical ideas to be created without the added hassle of going to a recording studio, along with the additional bill that came with it.

Since recording became possible, and long before DAWs were used, engineers have been focused on capturing music with the best and highest possible quality. With the barrier to entry on recording gear significantly lowered, musicians with DAW in hand were approaching these same tools with a new focus; creating music. A small shift with significant effects.

To the recording engineer, the tool is the microphone. To the musician, the tool is the instrument. Musicians wanted a way to record all of the sounds they would get in the studio at home, and they wanted to play the parts themselves.

Putting recording tools in the hand of the musician immediately created a demand for instruments inside of the recording tools – enter the VST.

Instruments playable from within recording software created a pivot point from which we are still trying to recover and a problem that most musicians and certainly most software creators have missed.

Musicians are using tools created for recording music to perform music.

If a musician creates a full album in a DAW using software instruments, the next logical step is to take that same software to the stage to perform. Whether this person realizes it or not, their instrument has become the DAW.

Maybe the DAW is triggered by a MIDI keyboard, or by drum pads, but the sound-producing element is the DAW.

At first glance there is no issue with this, but the deeper you go down the rabbit hole of learning to perform with a DAW, the more issues arise. DAWs weren’t meant to be an instrument, so they don’t always do “instrument things” well.

Switching sounds in a DAW can be clunky, and not always instant. Tempo is set globally, making it difficult to switch songs. They are designed to work linearly, which means the timeline makes the rules, even if during a live performance you might want to go another direction. Some VSTs are too resource-heavy to play without adding some delay compensation, which works fine in a studio setting, but not at all in a live performance setting.

Software designers were able to see these problems existed, and they have attempted to create solutions. we see the availability of switching sounds easily, changing tempos, and even liberation from the timeline.

Problem solved, right?

Well, not quite.

If we take a closer look at live performance solutions, we see that the reset button was never hit. Instead, features were added to DAWs, making them more suitable, but still not the most suitable for live performance.

Mainstage looks feels and acts a lot like Logic Pro. While it allows you to easily switch instruments, it uses sends and returns, channel strips and inserts much as you would find in a DAW.

Ableton looks and feels like a DAW as well, and that is because it is. But it is a DAW designed to also perform live. In many circumstances, it works well (and it is an essential part of my live rig), but still, it is still locked into a methodology that is rooted and grounded in a recording format. It provides liberation from the timeline but is so globally rooted that working your way through a cover set requires jumping through some hoops.

There are others, and they all bump up on this fundamental issue; most live performance solutions are based on DAWs. These programs will never give you the freedom you desire when you perform because, at their very root, they are not meant to give you freedom and flexibility in performance. They are the wrong tool, and they are working against you.

The skills required to make them work aren’t part of the musician’s responsibilities nor training, and it results in a generation of musicians who are distracted learning skills unrelated to their craft.

Put another way, music software has created a knowledge tax. If you want to make music digitally, you must invest in understanding how DAWs work, THEN you can get on to making music. A new and unneeded step before the actual work of making music.

In this sense, music software has largely failed a community of music makers and forced us to become a hybrid of producers and performers. While the accessibility of DAW software has created whole new genres of music and empowered many creators, it has had negative impacts on the process of preparing to perform and actually performing live music. It has become more about the set up than about getting to the music-making.

A fork will never make a good spoon. If you want it to be a spoon, you must melt it down and start over. That is what must be done to make great live performance software; we must start over.

Starting over is the first in a series of decisions made by the designers of Gig Performer with performing musicians in mind.

It is built on a different foundation; one that makes a lot more sense for performing live. It is made to be an instrument, rather than a way to capture sound made by an instrument and a performance control center, bringing together every element of your live performance into one simple layout that makes sense to the musical mind.

Channel strips aren’t evil, and neither are sends and returns, but they are not part of the history of playing an instrument. This configuration has been accidentally adopted from the world of recording.

Instruments and musicians have been processing sounds in a linear fashion as long as there has been music. For example, a trumpet sound runs through a mute. The air from an organ is sent to different pipes. A guitar runs through effects pedals.

This is one of the reasons Gig Performer is built using a graphic layout of devices connected with wires. Yes, it is easy to see, but it also feels simple because it is worked into the way we have been thinking and acting in our musical training since before music software was on our radar.

Switching sounds must be instant, and must account for some amount of audio rollover in order to make instant switching sound natural. This shouldn’t require any workarounds, because it is essential to performing music well. Gig Performer has built-in ability to do this easily whether you are using a VST or an acoustic instrument.

Sometimes when you are performing live you need multiple instruments to all switch together, something that is not needed studio setting. In addition to being able to host VSTs, Gig Performer allows you to send messages to outside hardware so that you can switch virtual instrument patches and hardware instrument patches simultaneously.

Gig Performer isn’t just your instrument, it is your Performance Command Center. It allows all of your hardware, software, other programs, and audio sources to be controlled from one central location in a way that is intuitive and aligns with the thinking musicians have been using and developing as part of their regular training since they began.

Of course, we shouldn’t ignore that sound engineers are essential in helping a musician’s sound to be received in the way it was intended. That doesn’t mean a musician’s set up should mimic the sound engineers set up, it means that a musician’s set up should easily interface with theirs, giving them exactly what they need, and making adjusting what you send to the house or to the recording both easy and fast.

Gig Performer allows you to load your gig files with a temporarily reduced volume so you don’t send too much signal during soundcheck. It also allows you to adjust the volume of outputs by channel or globally so you can quickly send the person running sound or recording you exactly what they need.

And of course, Gig Performer values the musician’s time by eliminating steep learning curves and being exceptionally stable. From the roots of its design, it is intended to simplify your work, rather than complicate it. When you get to the performance or recording, you should be able to focus exclusively on playing music, not on using a computer.

Taking the performance command center approach over a DAW approach brings everything together in one place to make things simpler as opposed to more complex.
There are other premiere features included that help you to maximize Gig Performers functionality. The included Ableton Link helps you keep in sync with any playback tracks you might be using. System Action plug-in blocks allow you to map hardware to global features. And for those situations unique to individual performers, there is a full scripting language to create any features that haven’t been included.

Gig Performer has been built to align with the needs thought processes of musicians making music, rather than on the needs and thought processes of recording engineers recording music. The change in foundation makes all the difference, and from the first use you will immediately notice a more organic workflow experience unique to Gig Performer. If you don’t believe it, you can try it for yourself free for two weeks here.

Most importantly, I want to invite you to take an inventory of your musical process. The tools we use affect the way we think, and our thinking affects everything we do.

Are your tools stealing your time? Is the process of preparing to perform more important to you than the actual performance itself. Have you become a master of your software, rather than a master of your musical craft?

If you answered yes, and this wasn’t your original goal, you have an opportunity to course-correct and refocus. Moving to Gig Performer is a great way to refocus on creating music, but it is not the only way. A shift in perspective and awareness that you have indeed been distracted is sufficient. How will you correct course? What changes can you make to your workflow to focus on what really matters to you? Are your tools pushing you in a direction you don’t want to go? Where are you trying to go? How can you reduce friction in getting to the actual music playing?

If you answered yes and you can see that you are actually in the right place, what can you do to capitalize on this developed expertise? Have you intentionally or unintentionally become a performance technician, if so, are you finding ways to make this a regular part of what you do? Do you need to take a step away from making music and towards empowering other performers to do so? If so, what changes can you make to start doing this?

We want to hear from you, so let us know how you answered these questions in the comments below.

If you are ready to simplify your process, to Own The Stage®, and to access tools designed to empower you as a musician and creator, we invite you to try a free two-week trial of Gig Performer. We believe you will immediately feel at home and ready to work in Gig Performer. It may be what has been missing from your live set up all along.

If you already use Gig Performer we value our community and would love to hear how you are using it. You can reach us through our community forum or through social media, or even by direct email.

Click here to try Gig Performer free for 14 days.

Related topics:
Gig Performer is NOT a DAW!
Why we created Gig Performer
Gig Performer is the best companion for all your musical efforts and more

Scaling Curves

Scaling curves allow you to control the shape of the output of a widget or convert an incoming note velocity to a new velocity. Various predefined curves are available and they can be tweaked as necessary. You can also just draw your own curve as well to achieve the effect you require.


MIDI File Player Plugin

You can load up to 128 MIDI song files in a single plugin instance. Switch from one song to another, mute tracks and/or change their channel numbers. Tempo can be controlled by individual songs or you can use the global tempo and tap tempo to control the BPM interactively.


Favorites and Presets

Create a sound by placing and interconnecting your desired plugins, such as a synth, some effects and perhaps a mixer. Select them all and then save the selection as a named favorite. The favorite will subsequently show up in all plugin insert menus, making it easy for you to recreate that configuration whenever you need it again. This feature is also very powerful for creating your needed sounds on your studio computer and then transferring them to your touring laptop.


Probabilistic Sound Designer

Parameters you select in an open plugin are captured into the Probabilistic Sound Designer dialog window. When you click Randomize, you're only adjusting those selected parameters. Each entry in the PSD dialog has a curve but unlike widgets where the curve controls scaling, in the PSD the curves are used to define the probability of particular values being selected. Make sure the filter cutoff never gets too slow so as to block all sound. Perhaps adjust the max range of the VCA attack parameter so that the sound doesn't have too much delay. Constrain the octave ranges of the oscillators, perhaps ensuring that 1/3rd of the time we select 8' and 2/3rds of the time we select 4'. The possibilities are endless.


More Widgets

Numerous new widgets are included in Gig Performer - a new sustain pedal, plastic knobs, drum pads and more colored sliders. Shapes can be colored with different borders and fill colors and morphed from rectangular to circular. Your creativity is now the limit to creating fabulous front panels in Gig Performer.


MIDI Message Helper

Select MIDI devices by name. Choose the MIDI message type and adjust the appropriate parameters for the specific type



Layout management

Gig Performer supports arbitrary resizing. Layout your widgets the way you want - resize the main window and the widgets will grow or shrink as necessary to maintain the same interrelationships. No matter what size screen you have, your front panels will still be neat and usable.


Undo Support

If you move your widgets around and/or resize them, or even delete them by mistake, the Undo facility will correct your mistake. Minor moves to a widget by mistake will no longer spoil your design


Plugin Channel Count

Some plugins support a large number of outputs and they depend on the traditional channel strip to control how many ports should be available.   When you only need a stereo pair, it is convenient not to have a large horizontal block. In Gig Performer, the number of available ports  is controlled by the channel count override, which can be applied to individual plugins and will be remembered when the gigfile is reloaded or if the plugin is saved as a favorite.


Input muting and output fading

Rather than a single audio length tail, Gig Performer 4 gives you the ability to control input muting and output fading separately. Input muting controls how much time it takes for audio input to be silenced when you leave the rackspace. Output fading controls how much time will be taken for audio to fade out when you leave the rackspace.


Faster Plugin Finder

Instead of searching through menus of perhaps hundreds of plugins (you know who you are!), the Quick Plugin Finder makes it easy to find the plugin you need by simply typing partial strings. For example, as shown here, to find the Modartt Pianoteq 7 plugins, it's enough to type pia mod 7 (in any order, by the way)  to restrict the list of available plugins to those matching your query. The Quick Plugin Finder also knows about manufacturers, presets and favorites.



Touch Friendly Input

Any entry field can be changed by either dragging your mouse (or finger) up or down, or by using the large popup touchpad where you can just tap on the squares to enter a value. The large popup keypad also does validation so you can't enter an invalid value. You can also just tap the BPM field to pop up a larger view where you can quickly change tempo, tranpose, trigger Tap Tempo and enable Ableton Link, the last allowing you to synchronize Gig Performer with any other application that also supports Ableton Link.


New Tuner Display

The tuner view makes it easy for guitarists to quickly check and adjust their tuning. You can toggle into the tuner view from any other view and toggle right back as soon as you're done. All output will be silenced automatically while you're in tuning mode. You can adjust the concert reference pitch from its default of 440 Hz to suit your own needs. The tuner view fills the entire screen so you can easily see it from a distance.