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A Dark Future

When computers first came on the scene, many musicians were scared away by the apparent complexity and retreated to their cassette Portastudios or hard-disk recorders that worked in pretty much the same way their tape recorder used to. Those of us who persevered with computers, however, came to appreciate that the large screen could give you a much better overview of what was going on and how easy it made it to locate and adjust parameters.

When software plug-ins came along, we were able to drastically reduce the amount of hardware needed to do a mix and, at the same time, we gained the benefit of being able to recall a project in all its detail, complete with mixer and effect settings. DAWs, then, appear to hold all the good cards, so why am I still not entirely comfortable with them?

One of my main bugbears is that some DAW and plug-in interfaces feel as though they have been created by industrial designers to look cool rather then being optimised for ease of use. When questioned, developers might respond to the effect that they are trying to harmonise the look and feel of their video and audio products — but wake up guys! The needs of the two can be very different. When working with video you need a minimum of visual distractions, and when working with audio you need to be able to oversee a lot of information at once and with as much clarity as possible.

So much audio software now seems to have adopted a very dark background, which in itself is not the end of the world, but when they start putting black text on a dark grey background I start to get upset. It's all well and good if you have perfect eyesight and work with a modern high-luminance display in a moodily lit studio, but the demographic is changing with people living longer and many older musicians setting up studios that they could have only dreamt about in their youth. What's more, the DAW manufacturers are always trying to find ways to make their products portable, but what's the point if the user interface displayed on your tablet, phone or laptop is virtually invisible under normal ambient lighting conditions?

I've visited various forums to gauge opinion and, taking my go-to DAW Logic Pro as an example, the posts seem to be fairly evenly split between those who like the new look of Logic Pro X and those who find it difficult to work with. Apple are not the only company who have followed this route of course; there's a lot of dark and gloomy software out there. While style may be subjective, the readability of text that doesn't contrast adequately with the background is not a matter of opinion and it is not a matter of taste — it is a matter of fact. If you're clever enough to create the software in the first place, you should be clever enough to give the user enough control over things like backgrounds and text colours to keep everyone happy. The very fact that some software companies do this already means that everyone can.

Paul White Editor In Chief