As you probably know by now, I am for the main part a big fan of software-based studios, not least because they are compact and have total recall of absolutely everything. If you miss knobs and faders, you can always buy a control surface, but they're by no means essential. However, while the studio itself may be compact, the way in which software products are sold tends to be far less so. Why is it that so many software packages come in boxes containing a thin manual, a couple of CDs or DVDs — and a huge amount of empty air?
I've just installed Native Instruments Komplete, and I have to tell you that whilst it is a fabulous bundle, the box is simply huge. OK, the Logic Pro 7 box is almost as big, but at least that's completely filled with paper manuals and needs to be the size that it is. Other packages are smaller but still far bigger than their contents, and the amount of shelf space you lose to these things can be enormous. It goes against the grain to chuck away the boxes and if you do, you may later find that some vital registration code has been thrown away with them — so please guys, give us slimline boxes. Whatever your marketing department might tell you about large boxes making things look like they are worth more, we all know how big CDs and DVDs really are!
If packaging is an inconvenience, the need to constantly update music software is an even greater one. Companies like Apple and Norton can offer automatic software update facilities, so why can't the music-software companies?
Essentially, these systems log on at regular intervals, check for updates and download them automatically if they are required. From my standpoint as an end user, this is far more friendly than having to visit all the music software web sites every few days to check whether or not updates are available and whether they are applicable to your particular operating platform. An automated approach could also help to slow the tide of pirated software, as the updaters would only be available to registered users, and the software company in question would be able to check the legitimacy of the installed software during the process that decides which updates are necessary. Better still, if the updater can read what music software is in our system, it could also warn of known compatibility issues. The more paranoid may see this as a bit too much 'Big Brother' (in the sense of Orwell's 1984, not the TV show!), but the legitimate user should reap only benefits. After all, the main downside of computer-based studios is that you can easily end up spending far more time maintaining them than you ever do creating music in them.
Finally, the spring-cleaning theme popularised by so many TV shows has now spread to my own studio computer, where I'm actively removing software I don't use in the hope that this will give me a simpler and more stable system to work with. Even though I'm fortunate enough to be allowed to leave a lot of review software installed, I still tend to remove it after a review, unless I'm planning to continue using it. This is in direct contrast to the people who fill their drives with as many pirated plug-ins as they possibly can, use hardly any of them, and then end up with a system that's unstable.
The same thought processes can also be applied to sample CDs. There's no denying that there are some truly excellent sound libraries out there these days, but there does come a point where you realise that life is too short to allow you to audition everything you have, in which case why bother keeping it? A simple, straightforward studio that does exactly what you need is generally far more usable than one that does everything — and in my own case, I've discovered that less really can be more.
Paul White Editor In Chief