The tracker is back. Piano rolls and fake multitrack tape turn out not to be the only way to conceptualize how music is put together in digital form. And Renoise is a terrific way to learn a ground-up approach to production, because you get the quick workflow of the tracker without having to sacrifice so many of the “comforts of home” we’re used to in modern DAWs. So we’re pleased to have our Renoise + Indamixx contest going, not only for existing users, but newcomers, too.

Renoise users have one way of evangelizing why they love their tool, which is to show off, as seen in the excellent video above. But what if you’re new to Renoise, or new to trackers in general, and want to experiment? You don’t even need to make a cash investment: you can start to experiment with a relatively full-featured demo version on Mac, Windows, and Linux. The time investment is the likely barrier. So I asked Montreal-based Dac Chartrand of Renoise, who is also the man who keeps tabs on the community, to share his tips. Here’s what he suggests:

 

1) XRNS files are source code. Find one you like, load it up, press the spacebar and start clicking around. Renoise will happily chug along as you explore each and every facet of the sequencer. When you get bored of clicking, try remixing. Move some notes around, press the escape key and jam on the QWERTY keyboard. Anyone familiar with trackers will tell you that this is how it’s always been done, this is how it always should be, file sharing since the days of Amiga. PRO TIP: Tutorials and Demo Songs are in the Help menu.

2) YouTube is your friend. Go there, type Renoise, watch and learn. Enthusiastic users show off their tunes, some even make "Do It Yourself" tutorials for good measure.

3) Download the "Pattern Command Quick Reference Card" PDF file. This DIY reference was created by a user in the Renoise forums. It’s a cool print out that folds up and sits pretty  on your desk. Pattern Commands are special columns to the right of notes; lets you take sample manipulation to the next level.

PDF: http://paulmerchant.com/downloads/RenoiseReferenceCard2.pdf

4) If you don’t know trackers, then forget everything you learned about other DAW workflows. You must unlearn what you know in order to be a jedi master. For example, other sequencers  have a very strong relation between track and instrument. In Renoise, instruments go anywhere,  tracks are what you make of them. Other sequencers have a timeline, Renoise has patterns that you chain together to make a song. A newbie mistake is to try to make one gigantic pattern.  Instead, make several smaller patterns and sequence them.

5) Documentation. Yup, it’s thee copout tip. But seriously, there are tons of documentation on the Renoise website. Not reading them is kind of stupid.  When all else fails, browse the forums or see if anyone in IRC chat can help.

DOCS: http://tutorials.renoise.com/
FORUMS: http://www.renoise.com/board/
IRC: http://www.renoise.com/community/chat/

Thanks, Dac! Now, I’ll also be working on some stuff for CDM soon, as well, but this should get you going in the meantime.

Must-Have Renoise Utility

xrniripper

Bantai at Renoise also shares (via comments) an excellent tool for sharing your work in Renoise, compressing files, and – aprospos of Dac’s suggestion – inspecting existing XRNS files.

Another tip: you can get the filesize of your song down by up to a factor 10 if you use lossy compressed samples instead of the default 32-bit stereo FLAC file format. I reckon a small filesize wins you bonus points in a tweaker’s compo.

Since Renoise songs are basically ZIP files containing song data and samples, it’s almost trivial to run the extracted contents of the song through OggDrop or a similar application and zip it up again.

It can be easier: I have written a Java tool that takes the work out of your hands and compresses your Renoise XRNS song automatically:

XRNIRipper

(Java geeks, he also writes me: “I’m using vorbis-java lib from xiph.org and a modified version of jFLAC to support Renoise’s custom 32-bit FLACs. There are also several libs included to convert sample and bit rates. Curiously enough, I couldn’t find any other Java apps that encode files to Ogg Vorbis.”)

More Videos, Tips?

It’s a couple of years old and based on an earlier version, but I especially liked this tutorial for demonstrating what the workflow is about:

And if you Renoise-using readers have tips, or if you find a YouTube video you think is especially awesome, please do share. I’ll get back to working on my basic guide.

  • http://loozabeats.net Looza

    (Ah, Keith303 doing what he can best. Always a pleasure.)

    Renoise, I just love it. In the early 00s (2002 I think) when I was fed up with Trackers (FT2 and MT2 at that time) and was about to make the painful jump to Sequencers Renoise came along and has been my friend ever since.

    And, although Renoise is a complete DAW (I make my own music almost completely in Renoise) it is also possible to use Renoise as a tool in your arsenal. Because of the Pattern-based structure it is very easy to make loops which you an use in any other DAW. I have a project with a friend which is based on Renoise and Live, we basically do our things (me in Renoise, my partner in Live) and then just throw the Loops in Live and arrange it there. Though it is also possible to export midi-clips from renoise or even record automation by hooking them both together via rewire or some virtual midi connection.

    So, atleast everyone who ever laid hands on a tracker in the past (no matter how long ago) should try renoise, you might be surprised.

    And even if you never touched a tracker, try it anyway, all you have to invest is some time, and the amount of ready-to-fiddle-with-files available will help you alot.

  • Bynar

    I've tried trackers a few times now (including Renoise) and each time I've struggled with making sense of the workflow. I'm always in awe when I see people lay down grooves super fast like in the video above. To each their own I guess :) Cool software!

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Bynar: Yeah, I don't always *think* very fast musically, so I'll focus on workflow even for people who don't have the tracker mentality! :)

  • http://www.suecae.com Suecae

    The tracker requires a different mindset, but it can be equally capable as renoise shows. I definetly like Looza's take at working between renoise and ableton.

  • Wilbo

    My favorite thing about trackers is being able to do so much of the work on the keyboard, which makes them really excellent for laptops and netbooks. I don't know how I lived before Renoise, it makes programming beats and sequencing VSTi's so much easier for me. And now that I can Rewire it directly into Reaper its just perfect. Easily the best money I've ever spent on a piece of software.

  • http://www.qbical.net Qbical

    I love trackers. Started out with MadTracker ages ago, unfortunately it doesn't seem to be under development anymore. And since I moved to mac it was hard to use it :)

    But I have Renoise and it works like a charm. I love the multiple note columns per track and the kind of modular way of working with the effects. And now that it supports rewire I can hook it up with Logic, although I don't use that often.

    In the end I use Logic for the most part in the studio. But Renoise is great for sketching idea's on the road more so than Ableton's Live IMO…

  • rhowaldt

    i've started my music-making with a small tracker called AXS – which is still available for download (http://www.resolutionaudio.nl/) – and switched on to Reason later for the extended capabilities (AXS has 2 oscs, 1 fx unit and an amp envelope and a sample-unit – pretty basic – if i remember it well), but i always think back at that time, how i used to exhaust the capabilities of the program by loading up individual piano-key-samples to overcome the synth-y sounds of the oscilators.

    with this wave of nostalgia, it may be a wise thing to get started with Renoise and relive those days..

    (oh, and Venetian Snares uses Renoise so it must be an amazing piece of software if it is capable of producing that kind of music)

  • NickT

    Typical. I only stopped using OctaMED on an Amiga six months ago and moved to Live to be like the cool kids. Now it turns out trackers are back in fashion.

    Like Wilbo says you don't even need to touch the mouse which makes them super quick for trying out ideas. Also, thanks to the years of using old-school trackers I can do hex arithmetic in my head. Which always impresses the girls.

    May be time to check out Renoise then…

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Nick: Ha!

    Well, actually, the point I mean to make is quite the opposite — that rather than what is "newest" being best, or what is en vogue, this is really about a range of different ideas, all of which can work, chosen based on a variety of personal interests. Trackers endure because what began as a way of constraining the software design to the limited systems of the time turns out to make people productive even in a modern context with more advanced hardware and recent software developments.

  • Pingback: Wedstrijd, electronische muziek maken met Renoise (en Linux) - homerecording.be forum

  • Eric

    Was an Impulse Tracker user and fan for years, then stopt making music for a while. When I got back in to the game Live was the hot now toy, and I've stuck with it since then. But seeing Renoise, with those lovely patterns flashing by, reawakens some of that old school spirit in me.

    Definitly gonna give it a try.

  • Wilbo

    I had never even heard of trackers when I stumbled across Renoise, after years of using Live, Fruity Loops, etc etc. Taking such an old school method of making digital music and infusing modern technology into it is just brilliant done in this app. I don't ever want to see a freakin' piano roll again!

  • Damon

    Renoise has an amazing character all it's own. What I don't understand about it results in many an inspired accident.

  • trez

    No mention of screamtracker, impulse tracker or even fasttracker2 on this page ? what a shame ;)

  • http://www.myspace.com/gliiitches Leon Tricker

    Another Renoise fan pitching in here.

    I travel a lot for work, and being able to make some (Re)noise on the train or in a hotel with just my laptop is a godsend. The tracker workflow, designed for the QWERTY keyboard obviously, just works so well

    I tend to export the individual tracks and patterns as audio for use in Live.

    TIP: use and abuse the 'render selection to sample' function :-)

  • Jonah

    I really wanted to love Renoise, but I just like it. The pattern effects commands are a real turn off – they take me out of the music making mood. I wish there was an option to turn on a "dummy" mode with knobs and sliders or at least clear language. I don't feel like I am able to experiment very well by punching in random letter and numbers. I guess I just like tweaking knobs, haha. Despite my whining, Renoise is an interesting and fast program for chopping up and layering sounds into rhythms and loops.

    Damon I would like to know what you are doing because inspired accidents are what I am missing in Renoise. I feel like I have to plan the music within an inch of its life. I have to pull out Live to get the happy accidents!

  • http://www.myspace.com/gliiitches Leon Tricker

    @Jonah

    The funny thing is that the pattern effects are one of my favourite features :-) Where I would be without '09' and '0E' I don't know!

    I have happy accidents too, by experimenting with the pattern effects in random combinations.

    I've got Live and Kore for when I want to go knob twiddling. Sometimes it is nice to 'program' things a bit more precisely.

  • Damon

    Jonah – Oddly enough, I am constantly confusing the tracks and then swapping wrongly in an effort to fix them. But now I know that rhythm track sounds really cool with the base sample.

    Does this sample labeled 2 apply to track 1, 2, or 3? Whoops! Spring forward fall back.

    Ok,now that I've confused these tracks lets work the pad sample and see how it will sound as a mock base sample.

    Etc.

    I come with my own built in Dummy Mode.

    Ps.

    Incompetence – there is no substitute.

  • http://live.nwrecords.com gbsr

    tbh i prefer buzz over renoise, since you can patch up stuff however you want and because of its pattern sequencer. howeer, automation curves in renoise is very awesome.

    @Leon Tricker: otherwise you could try your hand at ReViSiT which is a tracker vsti – the best of both worlds. or simply rewire renoise into live so you can build racks and complex routing schemes with live and still have the precise editing that a tracker gives you.

    the only thing i dislike about trackers is that it is essentially forcing you to quantisize. granted you have an offset delay, but its still quantisized to your LPB and BPM, whereas working with a traditional sequencer (or arrangement view for me then) you can simply choose to not edit in time and get a better groove. in my own opinion ofcourse. i guess it depends how fast (BPM-wise) you program and what LPB you are working with vs how small you do your edits and how small your offtiming is.

  • http://geradorzero.com Fabio FZero

    I actually made a full album using only Impulse Tracker. Now I use Live for almost everything, but I still have Schism Tracker installed on my macbook to read some old ideas and convert them to my new workflow.

    I'll give Renoise a try, but from what I understand it uses a FT-like command-set, right? I would love to have the IT-like commands too (those things really get branded with hot iron on your brain after some time!).

  • jasonmd2020

    I stumbled across Renoise when I was looking for ways to make music when I was on a Linux machine. I've since gone back to Window's for other reasons, but made sure to bring Renoise with me. I used to lust after an Akai MPC, but now I tell people, just get your laptop, buy a Renoise license & get a pad controller instead. More powerful, more flexible, less money!

  • http://www.recessionmusic.com Cornelius

    After playing around with almost a dozen trackers I found Renoise to work the best for me. Sick of staring at pencils and sideways pianos I thankfully found a great alternative. While I still use Reason and Live it seems my more creative stuff is Renoise work. Maybe it just turns on faster.

  • http://protman.com protman

    yesterday I made a lil' 1280×800 wallpaper cheat sheet of the effects/shortcuts I intend to use the most, as well as a plain text of the entire list of defaults:

    http://protman.com/content/fwiw-plain-text-cheat-

  • http://djnick.rs djnick

    Here is a psy trance music video created with Renoise :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SHacx8LPko

    n.

  • http://johnkuan.com John Kuan

    @protman – thank you for your excellent cheat sheet! I was going NUTS trying to remember all the fx codes.

  • http://musicandrecordingtoolbox.blogspot.com/ Tim

    Hi ~

    I've been searching the web for a while on this and surprisingly cannot find any CLEAR information about it.

    QUESTION: Was Renoise ever free, completely free? Non-restricted, less-restricted, whatever, just different from the way it is now? It seems like I remember that it used to be and then they announced that a certain version would be paid, but I can't find any info relating to that now. It just looks like it's always been payware. Maybe it has and there was a prev version with less restrictions? I don't know, but it would really be nice if somebody could help clear this up for me.

    Thanks, everyone!

    Tim

    The Music & Recording Toolbox
    http://musicandrecordingtoolbox.blogspot.com
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