Tracks, channels, begone! Ignite focuses instead on recording for musicians – and takes some cues from recent iPad apps, in the process. You’ll be able to get it later this year, but initially only if you buy a bundled keyboard. Image courtesy inMusic.

If you’re a musician just looking to record some ideas, desktop computer music software can seem sometimes like going after a nail with a bulldozer. The very term these tools go by, DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), suggests something that integrates a whole lot of functionality. But over the years, music software makers have had a tough time hitting on just the formula that will appeal to broader audiences. It seems to be easier to add to the DAW than to take away.

For beginners – and even for advanced users in situations like live gig recording – the question is, can less be more?

This summer brings previews of the two latest takes on that notion. One, M-Audio’s Ignite, is built from the ground up, and will initially, at least, just be a pack-in with keyboards (M-Audio, plus most likely Alesis and Akai). It’s aimed largely at new users. The other, from Steinberg, is a one-screen version of an existing tool, called Nuendo Live. That’s a pro tool, slicing out essential options for certain applications. (As the name suggests, live recording is a key.) But while they take radically different approaches to get there, the basic aim is the same: focus on recording.

Nuendo Live, by contrast, is Nuendo – just on one screen, with simplified features. But it’s evidence that developers think pros might like recording-centric workflows, too, not just beginners. Image courtesy Steinberg.

For its part, Ignite strips out the old studio metaphors of tracks, channels, and editing lanes. Instead, you click on pictures of kinds of instruments, and edit in a free-form environment. (That open-ended editing style is something we’ve seen in some video tools; it’s surprising, in a way, that it isn’t more common in audio work.) The intriguing twist here is the built-in integration with M-Audio keyboards, though it’s unclear how this application will work for non-keyboardists. (Guitarists, for instance?)

You can get a very basic view in the video Harmony Central shot at the summer NAMM trade show. The interface is fairly unique, though the instrument selection screen looks as though it was directly copied from GarageBand for iPad. (Okay, the cartoon-like, 3D icons are rotated a bit.)

Nuendo Live is a more traditional approach. It just takes the guts of the Nuendo workstation and simplifies it into just a single-window interface. Of course, this does beg the question of why all DAW users can’t see a view like this, since presumably they don’t need “unnecessary options,” and “clutter.”

By sharing that lineage with a tried-and-tested studio, though, you get some advanced features:

  • 60-second pre-record buffer, auto-save (so if something amazing happens and you’ve forgotten to hit record, you won’t lose it – something all users can appreciate)
  • Automatic filenaming, multiple folders, markers
  • Integrated “Record Panel” for a heads-up view of session info
  • Unlimited recording channels
  • 32-bit floating-point, 192 kHz Steinberg Audio Engine
  • Basic editing options (you can see what that means in the images)
  • Broadcast wave and multitrack output

Nuendo Live’s integrated recording panel.

On this “ready-to-record” theme, Nuendo Live also makes it easier to create tracks for recording, with an automatic track creation tool.

Part of the idea here – with the stripped-down editing tools being clearly part of this – is to build a tool that can quickly record live shows, then let you do quick edits and get projects out the door to broadcast.

So, Nuendo Live we’ll see now; M-Audio’s offering is due later this year. But the trend in the industry may be larger than that – and surely will feel some pressure to simplify with the rise of iPad apps and the like. The question is, can you slim down an app and make it more useful, not less? We’ll have to watch to see if ideas like Nuendo Live and Ignite, at opposite ends of the spectrum, gain traction – or get some company.

  • xonox

    This article of remind me the simplicity of the Reason audio tracks.  Sometimes i feel i could use more powerful editing but then it would cut the simplicity out of the process.

    Ignite is not something that appeals to me but i can see many people using tools like this.  I find it difficult to recommend music software to friends who have never tried making music and don’t want to spend 100$ on software that’s complicated.  On the mac there is GarageBand but i haven’t seen much competition for this.  I wish they’d show how it worked in the video.

    Nuendo Live seems expensive for non-pro users. 330$us ?  I guess they’re targeting a very specific market.  If you don’t need Yamaha console integration or timecode support, i can’t see paying this price.  In what case would someone use this and why would it better than other tools ?  These are genuine questions and i don’t want to start a software war.

  • PaulDavisTheFirst

    Of course, this does beg the question of why all DAW users can’t see a view like this, since presumably they don’t need “unnecessary options,” and “clutter.”

    mostly because roughly 1 month after they start seriously using the tool, they will be asking about those “unnecessary” options and asking why they are not more easily accessible. yes, really.

  • jonah

    I like the arrange view in Ignite. I’d like to see a slightly less cutesy version, a logic to it’s garage band, but if it works it, it works. 

    The much disparaged Final Cut X is actually pretty interesting for working with audio files. I’m hoping to see the audio (and metadata!) side of FCPX integrated into Logic X. 

  • Nude Photo Music

    It’s interesting that the “trackless” paradigm is resurfacing now. I remember seeing an app, maybe in 1996-97, that was similar and allowed mixing video and audio. I think Dan Timis from Opcode and Muse fame may have worked on it. The other interesting point no one seems to have caught is that the Axiom mini looks like a mashup of Akai & M-audio controllers – which is appropriate seeing as to M-Audio’s recent change of hands. :)

    Several companies have tried to launch a “garage band for windows”, but despite some interesting offerings, none of them have caught on. Mostly I think because the price – you get gb when you buy a mac. I’ll be very curious to see how this Nuendo app does. I have a feeling Ableton’s lite offerings might garner more of the market here in the long run.