Computer + Software


When computers found their way into homes they were used for every possible and imaginable task. Audio recording was not an exception. First music software applications were promising but from today’s perspective they were very modest. This was due to limitations of computers at that time. Now we have two main streams of personal computing: PC and MAC. Both are used in professional recording studios with plethora of complex software applications.

The 1980s was a very important decade for music production and recording. MIDI started to emerge, Yamaha introduced the DX7 synthesizer, some samplers like Akai S1000 were very poplar, and first music software applications were written for microcomputers popular at that time. Various software sequencers were written for Commodore C64, Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Apple II. A real breakthrough was Macintosh with graphical user interface. It had widows with icons and a mouse pointer. Mark of the Unicorn developed Performer, the first sequencer for Macintosh.

For the history of MIDI sequencers Atari ST was also important. Designed as a gaming computer with graphical user interface it featured also MIDI I/O and it was cheaper than Mac. Steinberg Cubase and Emagic Notator were first developed for Atari ST.

First PC software applications were Cakewalk MIDI sequencer and the SCORE music notation package. However, at that time PCs with first Windows were not so stable as these days and many musicians preferred Mac for which CODA’s Finale software appeared at the end of 1980s. Cubase and Notator were also ported to Mac and PC platform.

In 1989 Digidesign introduced one of the first hard disk audio recording systems Sound Tools. It was a two-track recorder/editor used with Q-Sheet software. In 1990 the first MIDI and Audio sequencer was introduced. It was Opcode’s Studio Vision and used Digidesign’s Sound Tools hardware for audio. 4-channel Pro Tools appeared in 1992. There was also one not so popular microcomputer, the Acorn Archimedes with an interesting software called Sibelius. It was a score writing package which was also ported to Mac and PC. Later in the 90s Cubase VST (Steinberg ) and Logic Audio (Emagic) both implemented the notation features.

Computers became faster with more RAM and disk capacity so the next trend was multi-track recording. Steinberg worked on MIDI + Audio sequencers like Cubase VST (Virtual Studio Technology). Third-party developers welcomed the plug-in feature and a new market emerged. Emagic and Mark of the Unicorn also accepted the plug-in approach. In 1990s Pro Tools introduced 64-track system MIX with 16/24 bit audio at 44.1 or 48 kHz. At that time Cubase VST, Logic Audio and Pro Tools were all available on the PC platform.

In 1999 Steinberg introduced Nuendo. It offered 96 kHz recording and 5.1 surround audio. Pro Tools offered surround audio in 2002. At that time Pro Tools became a standard for professional recording studio software. Pro Tools 5.1 proved it’s capability of recording MIDI sequences and audio tracks. It’s user interface was simple and powerful for either recording, editing or mixing audio. At the same time Logic Audio was the most popular sequencer on the Mac platform. Digidesign introduced Pro Tools HD (sampling at 96/192 kHz) in 2002 when new operating system for Mac, OSX become available. Cubase SX and Logic Audio were also released for OSX. Pro Tools 6.0 for OSX become available in 2003.

Some ownership changes also occurred: Digidesign was acquired by Avid, Sony acquired Sonic Foundry, Emagic was acquired by Apple, Adobe acquired Syntrillium’s Cool Edit Pro software and changed its name to Adobe Audition, and Steinberg was acquired by Pinnacle. Now every leading recording studio software runs on both popular platforms, PC and Mac. And stability is not an issue anymore.

One of the big players in professional audio recording is still Digidesign’s Pro Tools. There are actually three flavors of Pro Tools, all of which share the same user interface and file format. The primary distinction is the hardware they complement. Pro Tools|HD runs on elite DSP-powered Pro Tools|HD hardware and is mainly used in professional environments, Pro Tools LE used in home studios works with a variety of Digidesign hardware including the Mbox 2 family and Pro Tools M-Powered delivers even more options via compatibility with dozens of M-Audio interfaces. Some audio engineers, producers and remixers use Pro Tools hardware with third-party software instead with the original Pro Tools software.

Computers and software in music recording and production are inevitable. We can hardly imagine working with analog tapes and mixers. Digital signal processing has raised audio technology to a new level. Personal computers have evolved to a level where everybody can afford a home recording studio. Cheap hard disks allow us to record unlimited number of tracks at arbitrary sample rate. Music recording has never been easier. There are also some disadvantages with this new technology. You can easily compress music and make it louder destroying the original dynamic and life it originally had. CD clipping is also very popular. However, the advantages of using computers in recording studios are huge. You only need the right software and some skills.