April is the time of year when we traditionally wind you up with fake stories, impossible products and non-existent bands. However, whenever we come up with an 'impossible' idea to use as a spoof, somebody usually goes out and builds it. So, rather than regale you with tales of anti-gravity PA cabs, Apps that use iPads as kick-drum pads, or plug-ins that can make Adele sound like Bob Dylan (even more impressive the other way around!), I'd like to look at the more down-to-earth subject of moving between DAWs.
The feature sets of the various leading DAWs may converge with every iteration, but operating an unfamiliar DAW can still be a very frustrating experience. I'm sure it could be made a lot less painful if all the various DAW manufacturers decided to produce an additional separate mini-manual aimed not at the new DAW user, but rather at defectors from other platforms. I know that some try to ease the transition by offering alternative key-command sets that emulate those used in other DAWs, but I'm thinking more of outlining the basics that we all know must be there somewhere, but that we may not be able to find right away, without a lot of menu cruising and head scratching. After all, any existing DAW user knows what a DAW is supposed to be able to do, but finding how to make it do it isn't always intuitive. This became evident when I decided to revisit Cubase after years of using Logic as my main sequencer — I opened up the mixer and my first thought was 'Why can't I see the insert points and aux sends in the mixer channel strips in the same way as I can in Logic?'
In a perfect world, each DAW would be able to offer a customised version of its GUI to emulate, as closely as is possible, the control and menu layout of its main rivals. You'd just enter your usual DAW name in the user preferences and everything would reconfigure to look more familiar. Sadly, this isn't a perfect world, but surely a little extra helpful documentation wouldn't be too much to ask? If we could be given concise explanations of things like project settings, how to route audio into the DAW, how to set up inserts and buses, how to access the basic editing and mixing tools and how to use the automation, life would be so much easier and the learning curve could be tackled without the use of crampons! We don't usually need to be told why the key functions of a DAW exist, only where to find them, and I'm sure that could be done very simply in most cases.
So why am I mentioning this in a leader column that started off by looking at the self-fulfilling nature of spoof products? Well, if manufacturers can take impossible ideas from our April issues and make them a reality, they shouldn't have much of a problem producing documentation to help ease the transition from one DAW to another. And with some serious new DAWs being developed for the iPad and other consumer devices, the number of different DAWs we have to contend with will inevitably increase. Come on guys: just include a 'Defector's Guide' with your manual documentation and I'm sure you'll see an increase in sales, not to mention winning a lot of new friends.
Paul White Editor In Chief