Running a daily website is something of a controlled experiment in the passions of an enthusiastic community. 2009 was a year in which musicians pulled no punches in debating the merits not only of tools themselves, but of the ideas behind them. What follows is not the “best” of 2009, but the “biggest” – the stories that inflamed passions and got readers clicking and commenting. Some top lists include the items about which everyone agrees. This is the list of what got everyone arguing.

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Software of the year: Propellerhead Record

For all the major releases and upgrades and gear, as well as the dominance of a certain Berlin-based developer, if you had to pick one application of 2009, it’d be Record. Record tops the list not because everyone dropped everything to go use it, but quite the contrary. Record bucked industry trends, and provided a love-it-or-hate-it view of what audio software could be. In other words, it was quite reminiscent of Reason.

Centered on a mixer, emphasizing “recording” (perish the thought), and omitting expected features like MIDI out and plug-in support, Record resists modern-day conventional wisdom. That was divisive enough, even before the debates began over Record’s new hardware key. In the long run, it may be the simple fact that Record brings audio signal to Reason that gives it staying power. But in 2009, Record was the application about which everyone had an opinion.

See our original preview, May, plus details on the "Ignition Key" authorization system

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Custom case by / photo (CC) Momo the Monster aka Surya Buchwald. 

Developer of the year: Ableton

What a year it’s been for Ableton. The company kicked off the year with “Share,” “Extend,” and “Touch,” as well as the release of Live 8. It sounded simple. But Ableton’s tech dominated CDM headlines in ‘09 with the variety of user tips and tricks, rants and raves. How’d they do?

New gear: Hardware was in the spotlight – and ranked highest in CDM clicks – even above the software. Many users embraced Akai’s APC40, the first commercial hardware to really balance a variety of Live’s features, as well as Novation’s affordable, simple Launchpad grid controller. But even as Ableton emphasized the ability of this hardware to work out of the box, hackers set about customizing their own control. We saw the Launchpad used with Renoise (complete with a mocked-up Renoise logo decal), and the Korg nanoKONTROL hacked to integrate more seamlessly with Ableton – even when KORG and Ableton themselves hadn’t worked on support. Lesson learned? Make tools for musicians, and you may find some support and development gets crowd-sourced, whether you intended it or not.

See: Hands-on with the Launchpad, nanoKONTROL Myr for Ableton Live, APC40 Hacking Superguide

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Live, meet Max: Max for Live has already led to some incredible work, most notably stretta’s fantastic compositional toolkit for the monome. It earned praise (for setting a new bar for sheer power) and criticism (most notably for lacking a free runtime). Some jumped on M4L, some swore they’d stick to the traditional Max, and others swore they’d seek alternative or free solutions. In the end, Max for Live has wound up becoming bigger than, well, Max for Live. It’s begun a discussion of how live performance should work, and how software should integrate and be extended. And that’s a story that should be with us for a long time.

And a few wrinkles: The third prong of Ableton’s initiative was barely visible in ‘09; while a beta is underway, we don’t know much more about how Share will work in December than we did at NAMM in January. Live 8 has been beloved by some, even as others users expressed frustration with stability issues. CEO Gerhard Behles surprised everyone this month on the Ableton forum by conceding the company could do better and promising developers would re-focus on squashing bugs, even putting new features on hold.

As the saying goes, any press is good press. Ableton and their fired-up user base stayed front-and-center on CDM in 2009, even as twists and turns complicated the narrative. The story isn’t quite as clean and tidy as it is was at the beginning of the year, and you can read the full spectrum of comments calling this year everything from a triumph to a failure (and, hopefully, a few more reasonable thoughts in between). But without a doubt, Ableton is the developer of 2009.

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Story of the year: Switching from Mac to Ubuntu

After years of tired debates about the merits of operating systems, the potential of the philosophies of open source versus proprietary, and whether Linux is ready for the desktop, in 2009 we saw a new spin: what if you switched to Linux to make your life easier?

That was the question Kim Cascone asked with his switch to Linux. And he wasn’t alone. One of the most-asked questions this year was how to make Linux work for music, particularly as users sought out more-reliable, more-affordable solutions for audio. (Yes, I know – “Linux” isn’t necessarily more reliable out of the box, as “Linux” could mean any number of setups, which I suspect is part of why the question was asked so much.) The popularity of Kim’s story, along with the turnkey Indamixx laptop or the Linux Laptop Orchestra we saw last week, suggest a challenge to CDM as much as a story. It’s the story we’ll likely see more of in 2010.

Linux Music Workflow: Switching from Mac OS X to Ubuntu with Kim Cascone

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Biggest opportunity: Rock Band Network

Want a glimpse into the future of the music business? Here’s one way it could look. Rock Band Network provides an extraordinary level of control and customization, allowing your music to work as well with the hit game as music adapted by the developers themselves. As a revenue stream, as a promotional opportunity, and as a new way to play with your music, it looks fantastic. And don’t miss the fact that what made it possible was close collaboration with the DAW Reaper – a big coup for that package. Now, if we could just have the Amplitude Network, too, for electronic artists.

See our inside look at RBN with the folks at Harmonix

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Photo: Matthew Davidson.

Surprise vintage tech: The return of CV

MIDI? What’s that? The biggest surprise revelation in January was that MOTU was set to release a brilliant plug-in called Volta, which elegantly bridged the gap between computers and, through control voltage, analog synthesis. Matthew Davidson (who wowed us with OSC and digital tech in 2009, too, in his monome work) walked us through his creation:

Analog, Meet Digital: MOTU Volta Connects the Mac to CV Synths, Effects Graphically

We also saw other CV solutions, DIY and commercial, Control Voltage on Moog’s Theremin, and in perhaps the hardware product of the year, Moog Music’s exquisite double-band MuRF resonant filter. And yes, the Moog piece even has MIDI for pattern changes and sync, while still making use of CV.

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The elephant in the room: Nothing can be funny forever. Courtesy the artist.

Most annoying story of the year: Anything to do with T-Pain

Yes, the iPhone is well awesome mobile technology. Yes, 2009 was the year in which the music world went from talking exclusively about “albums” to talking about “apps,” too. Yes, it’s amazing how Smule has popularized music technology and alternative interfaces and all that good stuff. Unfortunately, it was tough to focus on some of the wonderful things going on when you had to deal with the sudden and inexplicable success of T-Pain, capitalizing on everyone’s least-favorite effect – AutoTune. Not getting enough overuse of pitch correction on FOX’s hit show, Glee, ruining talented voices of kids and Broadway stars? Now put it on your iPhone, and suck the joy out of the (otherwise fantastic) “I’m on a Boat” video. We all love you, Smule, but, I’m on a phone? I’m in a time machine, trying to escape to some year where AutoTune has finally died.

To cheer up, let’s just remind ourselves why Smule’s chief mind Ge Wang is still cool, while I try to work out how to get off T-Pain’s press mailing list:

Interview: Smule’s Ge Wang on iPhone Apps, Ocarinas, and Democratizing Music Tech

And the Rest

Most important OS release:

Windows 7, for finally making us feel good about leaving XP – and, with the help of tools like Cakewalk’s SONAR and its BitBridge 32-bit plug-in support, giving us a good reason to go 64-bit, too.

Most popular how-to’s:

Instructable: How to Build a Music Studio in an Apartment

Abusing and misusing groove extraction in Live 8

Best reason to attend NAMM 2010:

The hopes of catching Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 synth, in the flesh

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Live Rig: 8 Bit Weapon. Image by Rachel McCauley.

Most popular feature, and a reminder of what matters more than the gear:

Take it to the Stage: Reflections on Live Laptop Music from Artists

This analysis piece from a variety of top artists started a discussion about what playing laptops is all about. There was certainly no consensus, but it was – rightfully – the most popular feature story of the year, and something we should cover as often as possible. It’s the reason we’re all here. (Thanks to Primus Luta for putting this together.)

More Top 2009 Lists

Beatportal

Francis Preve takes on the top ten releases of the year for Beatportal, and I can’t help but agree. Having made my list of what caused the most controversy, these are the tools that – big splash or not – deserve some technological recognition.

MetaSynth remains a fascinating and unique tool for sound design, finally in a more modern release, and one I hope to work with more soon.

Logic 9 was a huge DAW release, though to that list I’d add SONAR 8.5 – two radically different tools, each markedly more mature this year.

FXpansion DCAM Synth Squad looks like the most brilliant soft synth of ‘09, and I’m long overdue in spending some quality time with it.

Dave Smith’s Tetr4 synth might make the top of my list if it didn’t have to compete with other fine synths from … Dave Smith.

Then there’s Melodyne, which resulted in some unique and creative results this year.

A must-read: 2009 Studio Technology Top 10

MusicRadar

MusicRadar, the online site that accompanies Computer Music and Future Music (among others), reviews the year month by month. But the list you want is:

In pictures: the best hi-tech gear of 2009

Yours’

Of course, in the end, what all these stories have been about is the full spectrum of ideas from our readers. So have at it. And Happy New Year.

  • The Brain

    YES Record is awesome.

  • Genjutsushi

    For me, ive got to concur with Peter's opinion of Record. It has finally made sense of using audio along with Reason programming in a way that Rewire technology never could do. Re-routing my audio back through the filters in the THOR is a simply inspired audio mangling process! Full marks to Propellerheads for this program. The dongle isnt too bad either as if you dont have it with you, an internet connection will suffice.

    Hardware release of the year – Korg Nano series. The software you need to use for the set up isnt great – but as controllers go they are nigh on perfect – rucksackable, cheap, sensitive and well laid out.

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

    Actually, this was not meant to be an evaluation of Record so much as its impact on the music tech world this year. I can certainly see someone passing on it – especially if they have a Tetr4 to sequence or a plug-in that they can't load in it. ;) But it was a tool that was really worth having a strong opinion about. The irony is, so many DAWs do so many things, and so many of the same things, and so well, that it becomes impossible at a certain point to have a really strong opinion about them. That's not a complaint — we're spoiled to have that luxury. (Look at the graphics world, with basically ONE, giant product from Adobe, and nearly all the competitors gone.) But it's refreshing to see Record come in and refuse to compete with some of those tools' features, while focusing on others.

    KORG Nano — indeed. It's the best hardware of 2009 that wasn't released in 2009. (It came out in 2008, but thanks to lots of hacks and user tips, you could be easily fooled!)

  • http://www.PatternMusic.com RichardL@PatternMusi

    Except that it's small I hate my NanoKey. I wonder what I'm not seeing here.

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

    nanoKONTROL. I can't stand the nanoKEY; at that point, there's little reason not to use your qwerty keyboard — it's got roughly the same action. But the nanoKONTROL is fantastic.

  • Peter Raffensperger

    If you are wanting a 25 key piano-ish keyboard then the nanoKEY is a fail.

    If you want a set of buttons that trigger notes in a tiny form factor then I reckon the nanoKEY is really useful.

    I'm a fan of my nanoKEY. The nanoKONTROL is really great also, although I've had some problems with my nanoPAD.

  • http://www.max4live.info Michael Chenetz

    I had a lot of problems with the Nonopad. A month later the two pads on the right did not work. I wonder if anyone has tried the Akai alternatives? Is the build quality any better?

    Mike

  • dubremix

    Excellent summary.

  • http://www.myspace.com/k1ru six.fingered.chyld

    i like the bartender….;)

  • Birds Use Stars

    I like my Nanokey. It's cheap enough to beat on, and works as remote input rather than just notes. Eventually I plan to mount it on my guitar…

  • http://dust.unrecnow.com mapmap

    can’t stand the nanoKEY?

    build a nanopedal!

    mine is still going strong.
    http://createdigitalmusic.com/2009/10/23/compact-

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

    @mapmap — good point, I should have mentioned that. So, turn the nanoKEY into a foot pedal, use the Akai for a keyboard, and use the nanoKONTROL as your controller. ;)

  • Korhan

    Live Share is bust – at least as it was initially announced. Gerhard Behles announced it on the Live forum in December:

    http://forum.ableton.com/viewtopic.php?f=32&t

    They have come up with another concept and will redesign the whole thing.

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

    @Korhan, that forum topic is not visible for me.

    In fairness, as announced, the details of Share were pretty sketchy. And through the beta process, they were clear that they weren't entirely sure where it was going to go. I recall Image-Line's Collab for FL Studio, which was itself discontinued. So we have a ways to go before we see this kind of functionality in software.

    I wish in general software developers would look at what's being done elsewhere on the Web, with musical tools like Indaba and SoundCloud. It would also be great to see these things evolve with open APIs and interoperability (which the Web talks a lot about, but you don't always see used in practice).

  • aje

    Korhan's link worked for me, and yes, it would seem from that forum topic that Share – in the form announced at the start of 2009 – is dead. But they state something better will replace it in a few months…

    The two big questions are (I think):

    1) Will "a few months" now be a lot longer due to the other hiatus with bug squishing Live 8, and

    2) Will the replacement Share be a feature available for Live 8, as it was originally advertised at NAMM 2009…?

    Perhaps this is one where we will all need to wait patiently to see what happens.

  • Captain Howdy

    Shawtayee…

  • http://www.e-lectronica.com/luthierlab/ Mudo

    What about Ms. Pinky sending Midi & OSC? She is a little DVS but is going first in midi… first in live integration (after so many software integrations…)

    Who cares about girls?

  • http://www.keyofgrey.com Sean

    It was an exciting year for music technology, and it looks like 2010 is going to be even better. Happy New Year Peter!

  • http://www.suecae.com Suecae

    CDM has been excellent 2009. I'm sure it will be that in this year too. :)

  • bobbybizzle

    dont diss t-pain. hes the shit. youre all just a bunch of german techno loving sisses who dont listen to urban music.

  • Le k

    Worst audio effect of the decade : autotune!!!!!!

  • basic

    i'm surprised that native instrument's maschine didn't get mentioned here. it's a great blend of hardware and software integration for great workflow if any. the answer to the legendary mpc.

    i'm also glad that a certain site didn't get mentioned for its 'arcade-controller innovative' hype. basically just the term 'controllerism'. because there's definitely more to electronic music than just gear :)

    apart from that can i mention that CDM has and always been continuously informative and insightful to its readers worldwide.

    cheers to that!

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

    @bobbybizzle: I am indeed a sissy, but man, there are so many rap / hip-hop / R&B artists out there whose music I can enjoy more. Nothing against T-Pain; the guy has built a great career. I just can't personally stand listening to him. And I don't understand how the AutoTune thing got to be his thing — most of us had hoped it was an embarrassing phase that would pass *years ago*, and now it's back worse than ever. Yikes. I would, absolutely, take a vocoder over excessive pitch correction.

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

    @basic: I love Maschine, but like I said, this actually wound up being based on the amount of activity and interest.I actually think now that Maschine has matured a little bit, we'll see a lot more of it in 2010.

  • s ford

    My favourite piece of technology to come out this year is Max For Live.

    No idea how to really use it to it's maximum potentials but it is f*cking awesome! WIth the online library growing by the day and with Ableton to iron out the bugs it is something which will only get better and better.

    A few pieces of kit which I think really are worth a mention is the Cakewalk VS100 and the Zoom R16. Nothing ground breaking really but really great well thought products.

    If possible would it be possible to request a full review of Metasynth 5? It's a piece of software which intrigues me due to it's infamous usage by Aphex Twin.

    For 2010 it'd be great if Linn Drum 2 gets released!

  • erf

    The Linn Drum 2 is shaping up to be the Duke Nukem Forever of music hardware.

    Oh yes, I went there.

  • basic

    ah yes Max4Live too :) set to have Live users on to Maxed4Life (pun intended). great collabo & big ups to cycling74; though there are bugs lying around in the software still. Live 8.1.1 anyone? :)

  • http://www.max4live.info Michael Chenetz

    Running a site devoted to Max For Live… I would have to agree that Max For Live is a huge deal this year. ;-)

    Beside Max For Live… I am a big fan of the following this year:

    - Maschine – I use it a lot for my rhythm

    - New Grid Controllers in general, Launchpad, APC40, Livid Block

    - Renoise beta release I really Like – Greatly awaiting LUA integration

    - Every visual APP that has OSC support – Cell DNA, Resolume, etc..

    - Processing – not new, but new to me. Introduced to by a nice guy named Peter. :-)

    Everything else that I forgot that is new an innovative in technology.

    Mike

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  • greg

    For me 2009 was about exploring new stuff – everything but music. Processing came with Arduino, started learning programming, then Quartz Composer and M4L at the end of the year. It's been a very exciting year!

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  • tekcor

    "dont diss t-pain. hes the shit. youre all just a bunch of german techno loving sisses who dont listen to urban music."

    by the way, are there any germans around here? :)

    i relative new to music production and just discovered CDM in 2009. And i was excited about every new post all the year long and explored a lot of new interestings things and learned realy much.

    but the dark side is… sundays were very depressing, because it seems that peter does something else then posting interesting things on his free day.

    anyway i want to say one big thanks to you peter, this side is awesome!

    happy new 2010!

  • flab noodle

    best app of the year – renoise (but dont forget buzz)

    jerk of the year – music industry

    worst app of the year – record

    …natürlich. :)

    and happy new year!

  • Captain Howdy

    Shawtayee…

  • http://www.keatshandwriting.com Keats' Handwrit

    I'd file biggest opportunity (Rock Band) also under biggest tease of the year. I've been checking the Rock Band Creators website sporadically and the open beta is still being pushed back. But whenever it does come about, I'll be excited about it.

    Happy new year to you and the rest of the CDM crew Peter… thanks for a great year!

    p.s. @bobbybizzle- I hope that's someone playing a prank on us, lol. I dont think too many of those types come around these parts. But who knows? BTW, re" T-Pain- at least he has a sense of humor about it- he did contribute to "I'm on a Boat" which was a blatant parody of his and similar work. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7yfISlGLNU)

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

    @Keats' Handwriting:

    Oh, don't get me wrong. I *loved* "I'm on a Boat."

    And, hell, I Am T-Pain is clearly a bit hit.

    I think the trick is, at some point you have to move on to a new joke. This is, admittedly, partly me dealing with a weekly email with the latest from T-Pain from his publicity people, generally consisting of the YouTube Viral Of The Week.

    And I still want to know where Cher is. Huge missed opportunity.

    And AutoTune really is being used to ruin talented people's voices… see Glee, seriously. (Nothing against Antares. Don't blame the toolmaker…)

  • http://lilibits.blogspot.com/ lilith

    I have all the Korg nano controllers and the Akai LPD8 pads. The build quality of the LPD8 seems better, the pads are better too and more responsive (suprising, they are not like MPC pads). I havent tried the padKontrol but like the LPD8 better than any other pads except for Maschine.

    the Akai keyboard controller is nice too, they are casio/microkorg keys which is still a step up from the nanoKEY. That said, I'm still using my nanoKEY, its great for just inputting notes.

  • Steve Elbows

    Max for Live, Novation launchpad and NI Maschine made the year very interesting for me. I was hoping that Quartz Composers OpenCL & Mesh stuff in Snow Leopard, and the Eigenharp Pico would also make my personal joy list, but both have been somewhat overshadowed by bad bugs/design so far, hoping they sort this out early in 2010.

  • Wallace Winfrey

    Big ones for me were: Renoise 2.5 and the promise of 2.6; after years of extolling it's virtues I find it so very pleasant that Taktik & Co. continue to blow my mind by releasing features I didn't even know I wanted while keeping the price oh so reasonable; Maschine — after owning an MPC for 10 years, I can definitely say that Maschine was everything I always wanted the MPC to be (and since I didn't buy one until the update came out, my experience with it has been uniformly positive); U-He ACE & FXpansion's DCAM Synth Squad suite wound up being the best-sounding soft synths of the year, hands-down (honorable mention reward goes to Loomer, whose Aspect soft synth should definitely establish Loomer as newcomer-of-the-year and one-to-watch-out-for); Ruin & Wesen's MiniCommand expanded my MD/MM in ways I didn't know were possible and also gave us the easy-to-use Miduino environment; and finally, I have to give a shout-out to Numerology's "native" CV support for Volta & Silent Way, and the preview builds of MonoNote AU — I think 2010 might be shaping up to be a big year for Five12.

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

    Ah, yes, well, that's because I didn't do my list for 2010, which has Teenage Engineering's OP-1, the public release of MiniCommand, Renoise 2.5, Numerology… ;)

  • Wallace Winfrey

    I'm finding it difficult to get excited about the OP-1 for some reason…However, I am looking forward to the release of the Ruin & Wesen MonoJoystick, Audio Damage's Tattoo, and maybe, just maybe, we'll see Reaktor 6. If Elektron were to come out with a new box, well, I wouldn't mind that either.

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

    Really?

    Maybe I'm just all about Sweden.

  • http://illuminatedsounds.com Ken Lapworth

    Love the nano series, except for the nanoKEY. I had one, and yeah, Peter is right – its a qwerty. lame. mine broke quickly. There is the Akai 'answer' – a 25 key nano board with NICE keys.

    Ableton definitely deserves developer of the year, havent tried Record, LOVE'd Volta – need to get it.

    digital music news source of the year? CDM.!

  • http://motifcity.com Mark at motifcity.co

    "Unfortunately, it was tough to focus on some of the wonderful things going on when you had to deal with the sudden and inexplicable success of T-Pain, capitalizing on everyone’s least-favorite effect – AutoTune.

    Yes! Yes! Yes! THANK YOU for stating this. I could not agree more. Auto Croon SUCKS.

  • PooPoo the Korruptah

    DCam synth squad is the ugliest thing ever, except for Polyanna.

    Stay away!

  • PooPoo the Korruptah

    oh yeah, Rock Band!?? is that the game for 11yr olds you're talking about? WOW!

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  • http://www.em411.com/eyesnine James Nicholl

    For me the software of the year was definitely Reaper 3, and I'm disappointed not to see Reaper mentioned in this story.

    Record definitely has potential, and did generate a lot of discussion, but Reaper achieved a level of refinement, and a feature set, that attracted a major migration of former Cubase/Sonar/ProTools users. New converts to Reaper seem to contribute to every online discussion about DAW preference, and for good reason.

    Other than that omission, it was a fine read. Thanks for the year in review.

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  • esol esek

    Does La Roux use autotune on Bulletproof? I know she has a good voice, but it sounds very sweetly treated, more than compression. Is it chorus? Any ideas? It sure sounds on the note every time.

    Record is intriguing, but you gotta have lots of monitor real estate, plus I still hate Reason's sequencer to death, too much over-mousing required. They might as well toss the Maelstom, it all sounds horrible.

    I had an oddly warm reacquaintance with Rebirth this year. So much more instantly fun than Reason, and making it sound ok is no more a challenge than Reason.

    The APC sucked and got sold and Live continued to be a trooper.