personalized expeditions in music from a musician who doesn't matter

Archive for March, 2013

Final pre-review preamble: Why learn a tracker at all?

Posted by r on March 23, 2013

It’s 2013. There are enough free and cheap DAWs / sequencers, to say nothing of VSTis, to achieve just about any sonic aim / complete just about any job you could imagine on the (extremely) cheap. The horizontal-sequencing genre represents a mature (now over 20 years old itself), quite flexible and well-established paradigm that quite easily understood by most musicians right out of the box. So why is a tracker or tracker-esque application– with its typically standalone nature and somewhat heavier learning curve– still of potential interest to a modern musician?

That’s something I hope to successfully address in this post, because I’m explicitly aiming this series at potential tracker newbies (like myself!), and I base all this effort on the belief that there are uses for both types of tools in the contemporary musical toolbox for lots of folks, well beyond the traditional audience for tracker apps.

There definitely aren’t many tracker evangelists out there being heard (or even making any effort to be heard) by the DAW-addicted masses; the tracking faithful are working in their own niches and are not particularly interested in the horizontally-oriented world outside. But I hope to make the case that trackers are in fact potentially useful tools regardless of the style of music you’re making, and with this post, I hope to make said case successfully in the eyes of other said newbies before I start taking on individual app reviews.

Ultimately, a tracker is perhaps best viewed as “just another tool,” and one that I find does some things better than the more widely-accepted tools in most contemporary DAWs. I definitely don’t think it’s necessary for a musician to limit themselves to working only inside a tracker, but having some basic skills in one tracker or another opens some very cool new possibilities that are harder to get to with the DAW alone. For me, those possibilities are worth the initial learning curve, and I suspect that other musicians might find the same if they’d give these apps a chance.

So, more specifically: what does a tracker potentially offer that a GUI-based DAW does not?
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Tracker review series: The master list of reviews to expect

Posted by r on March 20, 2013

Before I can get started on the tracker review series, I need to set things up properly in a few add’l preamble posts. Let’s start with which trackers I’ll be examining.

As of right now, these are the 15 (count ’em, fifteen!) tracker apps I plan to examine / review in detail as part of the tracker review series (listed alphabetically, definitely NOT in the order I’ll be reviewing them – that order will be decided as I go along):

Buzz (aka Jeskola Buzz)
LGPT (LittleGPTracker)
LSDJ (Little Sound DJ)
Schism Tracker

The primary criterion for inclusion is that the app in question must run on at least one modern desktop platform (WinXP and later, OSX, and/or Linux). (Note: LSDJ doesn’t technically meet this criterion as a desktop-native application, and is really primarily meant for the Nintendo Gameboy family– but it does run suitably under certain GB emulators for multiple platforms, and the developer makes the emulator-ready ROM file available for direct download.)

Beyond that, these fifteen trackers made the grade on the basis of meeting at least one of the two following sub-criteria:
1) The app is at least sufficiently mature for some form of self-contained music-making at this time and is still being actively developed,
2) the app is still “popular” / in visible regular use amongst a given userbase. (“Popular” could mean as few as 10-20 active / apparent users trafficking in related forums / mailing lists, as assessed by an outside lurker i.e. me. With this particular genre of software, 10-20 fans avid enough to participate in continuing online discussion of the software suggests that the software must have some review-worthy level of merit.)

There are a couple (to-be-left-unnamed) tracker apps here that barely meet one criterion or another from where I sit, and I reserve the right to change up this list accordingly if I end up feeling that SketchyHackyTracker 0.004a isn’t keeping up with the JonesTrackers in terms of ongoing development or ongoing popularity when I finally get around to dealing with it.

I mean, seriously, to evaluate each tracker fairly and thoroughly is a lot of work– I’m currently guessing 1.5-3 weeks of fairly serious usage and learning per app. So if the devs and the users for a given app aren’t continuing to bother, I won’t either. This review series is meant to be about the future of trackers, and attracting curious new users to the genre (to say nothing of helping them sort wheat from chaff before they embark on their own journey), so picking apart executable deadwood / flogging dead binary horses is a waste of everyone’s time.

If you’re an active / avid tracker user and you would like to suggest a tracker you think I missed which meets the above criteria, please mention it in the comments. I am definitely open to amendment! (By the way, special thanks to plusminus of the Soundevotion compo/community and elsewhere for looking over my initial proposed list and throwing a few other suggestions into the mix.)

More on my actual review process in the next post.

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Posted by r on March 18, 2013

In coming weeks / months, I am going to be reviewing a category of music-making software in-depth. This genre of software: the obsolete, clunky, horribly documented, and ever-astonishing tracker app. Why?

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