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Choosing a DAW for working alone with MIDI and no recording

darthdeus

Member
After yet another cycle of trying out different DAWs I feel more and more uncertain as I move on. Any advice is appreciated! Also sorry for another "help me pick a DAW" thread, but I feel like I have specific enough idea of what I want that maybe that justifies it? :) Also sorry for the long post.

My preferences:

- Composing mainly game soundtracks/trailers, for my own games. But I'm also interested in goofing around in various other styles, from souleless corporate music to fancy bombastic orchestral tracks to crazy EDM. I want to "try it all".
- MIDI is the God, I want to both program MIDI by hand and record MIDI from a keyboard. The thing I care most about is working with MIDI as efficiently and comfortably as possible.
- I don't think I care about a builtin score editor, at least having tried it in Cubase and Studio One it just feels way slower than MIDI.
- I don't care about audio and recording at all. The only instrument I play is the piano, and I'm happy doing that via MIDI.
- I'll never work with a band or a guitar or vocals or any other musicians. The only time I'd record something is to stick it in a synth like Omni and do sacrilegious processing on it. I don't care about having 8 microphones streaming into my DAW.
- I don't ever want to do anything live.
- I don't ever want to work with a studio, in a studio, or with other people. I just sit in my room alone and produce music for myself. I don't care about interacting with anyone or being compatible with anything.
- I don't care about money - within reason, 500eur for Cubase is fine, 2000 for Pro Tools is not.
- I don't care about builtin instruments, as I've already bought "everything" I need. Already got a bunch of Kontakt stuff, orchestral libraries, synths, Komplete, etc..
- I really hate how Reaper looks both on Windows and Mac. I know it should be the answer, and I thought it would be better than on Windows, but I just can't get over how ugly the UI is. No I don't care about themes, I've tried a bunch of them, it just looks ugly. I also tried the "full Windows theme" that made all Windows look ugly just to make Reaper look better, still couldn't use it. Sorry :(
- I'm not looking to make a career out of this. It's mainly a hobby for me (I'm a programmer), and if it turns out I can make some money out of this, it wouldn't be "work at a studio and use what I've learned". I'm playing around with the idea of just making some stuff for stock music libraries just to try it out, but again, this is not my "get rich quick" plan, it's more of a "this could be interesting".
- Ideally I'd want to work a little bit with video for composing stuff for trailers (my own, as said before, I don't work with other people), and I have no intention of scoring movies. But I'm happy to e.g. use a DAW with no video support if there are advantages for regular composing/producing.
- I don't care that much about "fast", my computer is beefy enough.
- Both Windows and Mac is fine, but I guess this is only a matter of Logic Pro X?

DAWs I have and tried (Note I tried to force myself to complete a few tracks in most DAWs just to try them out ... I definitely haven't done it super in depth in all of them, but here's my impressions so far):

- Cubase 10.5 Elements (tried Pro a few times at other people's computers too) - At the moment probably my favorite. I like a lot of the features, though a lot of times it feels like Bitwig/Studio One are just way less annoying to do things in. For example having Quantize split in at least 3 places seems just insane (e.g. Advanced Quantize only accessible via menu). I like how Cubase handles effects though, especially if I just want something quick/dirty. I also don't really like the e-Licenser since I use two computers daily. On the other hand, I'm extremely tempted by all the MIDI FX, learning to use chord tracks, expression maps, and a bunch of other things Cubase just "has" that others DAWs seem to only approach partly. Lastly, some of the UI quirks (especially on Windows) seem insane, not even the top bar imitating the Mac menu bar, but so many weird UI quirks.
- Bitwig 3 (16 track) - I really like how Bitwig lets me run VSTs in a separate process so when they crash/lag it doesn't affect me, and I like how modern the UI is, how a lot of things make sense and a lot of the UI choices. Though MIDI feels strictly worse than in Cubase, and then there's a ton of small things like Komplete Kontrol integration being somewhat bad (I know there's the 3rd party plugin, but just today it totally derped on me), and just in general I feel that I'll never use a lot of what Bitwig has builtin (all the modulation stuff, fancy builtin effects/synths/instruments and Grid and stuff).
- Studio One 5 Artist (tried Pro tool) - Somehow this seems like it's supposed to be the answer, but there's so many minor things I really dislike, e.g. not being able to middle-mouse drag to move around. Or the fact that somehow it crashes way more than any other DAW I've tried (not a huge deal, but seems consistent). There's also a few weird things which I find confusing, e.g. being able to delete a track while the instrument remains loaded in memory. I'm also not a fan of their piano roll, but I guess that's something we can pick on with any DAW.
- Logic Pro X (trial running) - Still trying to figure out what I think about Logic. As an Apple fan I'm almosted tempted to say that Logic is "too Apple"? In the sense of things being slightly less efficient for the sake of being nicer.

DAWs I don't really consider:

- FL Studio - I tried really hard to like FL, but the way it handles MIDI in VST plugins seems insane. Every other DAW can auto-bind modwheel/expression in Kontakt, FL somehow can't. MIDI learn is extremely weird too (I know you can use the "Link Parameter" thing, but it's just way more inconvenient than any other DAW).
- Pro Tools - Everyone says how great it is at recording and audio, I don't care about either.
- Ableton Live - I don't like the session view and I don't care about doing anything live.
- Cakewalk - Every time I tried it it felt like it's trying to just clone Cubase including all of it's UI and icons, and I don't really trust Bandlab giving it away for free.
- Reason - People joke all the time that "Reason is the DAW you use if you don't know what a DAW is". It seems a lot of its power comes from the builtin stuff, which I don't care about, as I already have enough of my own instruments. I also remember it didn't even have multitrack MIDI editing a few years ago.

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I guess my biggest question is about the more advanced stuff I haven't had much time to evalute yet, especially since I only have the shitty licenses of each of the DAWs. For example, how do MIDI effects compare between Cubase, Bitwig, Studio One and Logic?

I'm also not sure how useful these advanced MIDI things actually are. Do people end up using chord tracks with arpeggiators and midi delays and stuff, or is it just shiny stuff that ultimately ends up being useless? I know the real answer is "just try it and see what works for you", but I'd much prefer knowing the opinions of people using these things who either figured out it's the best thing ever, or that it's ultimately useless.

If I had a gun pointed to my head and had to choose I'd probably buy Cubase, but at the same time I feel that I'd need that gun pointed to my head to make that decision, especially considering the e-Licenser. But maybe it's worth it? Or is it?
 
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darthdeus

darthdeus

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The session view (also Bitwig, Logic and DP have one) is actually a great tool for arranging stuff (your MIDI) and a really, really great looper.

Oh I didn't realize it would actually be useful for that. I thought the main benefit was that you record short clips and launch them based on need as the track is running. How is it used for arranging? Do you just record clips in it and then see what sounds good together, or do you use it as a "database" of clips you then re-use as you arrange the track?
 

ReleaseCandidate

Senior Member
Oh I didn't realize it would actually be useful for that. I thought the main benefit was that you record short clips and launch them based on need as the track is running. How is it used for arranging? Do you just record clips in it and then see what sounds good together, or do you use it as a "database" of clips you then re-use as you arrange the track?

First of all I use it to quickly hear some ideas against what I already have so far - I only need to press play for another clip instead of juggling them around on the timeline. So, yes, to hear what sounds good (or better ;) together.
And to play around with the order of clips, because not all have to have the same length, it's also way faster than messing around two to four tracks and 20 clips on the arranger.

And it's a great looper to record into.
 

AlexRuger

rewgs
MIDI is the God, I want to both program MIDI by hand and record MIDI from a keyboard. The thing I care most about is working with MIDI as efficiently and comfortably as possible.

Then you have two choices: Cubase, or doing the leg work to make Reaper's MIDI editing on par with Cubase's. Nothing else is going to satisfy what you're looking for due to this one thing alone.
 

Trash Panda

Clueless nitwit
Then you have two choices: Cubase, or doing the leg work to make Reaper's MIDI editing on par with Cubase's. Nothing else is going to satisfy what you're looking for due to this one thing alone.
Sounds more like he just wants Cubase without the dongle.
 
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darthdeus

darthdeus

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Sounds more like he just wants Cubase without the dongle.

In some sense maybe, but I also really dislike some of the UI quirks in Cubase. I know there's downsides to every DAW, but especially on Windows it's sometimes behaving so glitchy that I'm not sure if my computer is going insane or if it's just the way it is.

e.g. this window has its content somehow outside of the window itself

1608255106565.png

or the fact that quantizing lengths is hidden behind layers of menus while there are two other quantize menus available in other places. I'm just worried that if I stick to Cubase I'll find more and more of these things and ultimately find that something else has the same features, but not these issues (like Studio One or Bitwig?)
 

nas

Senior Member
As far as getting the most bang for your buck Logic Pro is unparalleled. You got a ton of excellent instruments and very good plugins all in one package for 200 USD which is very inexpensive comparatively - it's a great all in one solution and the MIDI capabilities are very powerful. You can't go wrong with Cubase either but won't get as much included in the package.

I would suggest go online and check out tutorials for both to get a feel for the workflow and how things are done. Then just pick one DAW and stick with it - don't overthink this. They are very very deep programs and will be more than adequate for your needs.
 

pondinthestream

Active Member
I have lots of experience with Reaper and would not recommend it for midi. Audio for sure but midi no. I use Studio One or Bitwig for midi. Probably S1 is better if you are mainly playing in and editing performances
 
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darthdeus

darthdeus

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Can you share why DP? I've been running into it occasionally, but seems not that many people use DP and it's hard to get some meaningful information.

don't overthink this

If there's one thing I'm good at it's overthinking things.

I have lots of experience with Reaper and would not recommend it for midi. Audio for sure but midi no. I use Studio One or Bitwig for midi. Probably S1 is better if you are mainly playing in and editing performances

I'm glad you're mentioning Reaper and audio, this will help me sleep better at night, since everyone keeps recommending Reaper over and over again, tho a lot of people also work with audio, so it's sometimes hard to discern what advice is relevant.

How'd you ompare S1 and Bitwig in terms of programming midi by hand and not recording?
 

pondinthestream

Active Member
Can you share why DP? I've been running into it occasionally, but seems not that many people use DP and it's hard to get some meaningful information.



If there's one thing I'm good at it's overthinking things.



I'm glad you're mentioning Reaper and audio, this will help me sleep better at night, since everyone keeps recommending Reaper over and over again, tho a lot of people also work with audio, so it's sometimes hard to discern what advice is relevant.

How'd you ompare S1 and Bitwig in terms of programming midi by hand and not recording?
If I am drawing automation I use S1, if algorithmic modulation then Bitwig. I know which of those approaches I am going to.mainly need before I start a piece. But maybe this is just a quirk of how I started with these programs.
 

Tim_Wells

Tim Wells
If midi is king, then Cubase or Logic. If it were me, I'd save a few bucks and go the Windows/Cubase route.

No DAW is perfect. Every single one is going to things that you do... and don't like. Pick a good one and stick with it.
 

JyTy

Music Addict
I used Logic X since it got out... and I switched to Studio One exactly because of their MIDI editing and I love it! Maybe I was missing something all of those years (but I went through a lot of tutorials and articles in the first years to explore the options in Logic), but to me Studio One is just better in terms of writing MIDI ...

The only thing I'm missing is the ability to work with multiple MIDI channels per track, because I had some more advanced keyswitches in logic with Play/Vepro combo. But there are good enough workarounds for that as well in Studio One.
 

Trash Panda

Clueless nitwit
Can someone explain the specifics of what Studio One does better in terms of writing/drawing in MIDI and automation over Reaper? I have both and Reaper seems better at it since version 6 came out.
 

kitekrazy

Senior Member
DAWs I don't really consider:


- Cakewalk - Every time I tried it it felt like it's trying to just clone Cubase including all of it's UI and icons, and I don't really trust Bandlab giving it away for free.

Some of the want and don't want is interesting. There are times I consider going back to Cakewalk. It is free but it is also backed by a lot of financial resources and is updated quite a bit.

Maybe a scoring app might be an alternative.
 

dwg

New Member
Hi darthdeus,

Since you mentioned that you’re a programmer, I would like to chime and share some thought (my day job is in software development too).


I am Logic user. One of the reason I chose it (prior that, I used and old version of Cubase) was that Logic has a midi scripting plugin, where you can write javascript to manipulate the midi signal. You can do many useful things with it. A few examples:


- Tweak the note offset to deal with virtual instruments on different tracks having different transition delay (legato patch in particular) programatically

- Unify the workflow between between virtual nstruments that use key-switch and instruments that use multiple midi channel (e.g. keyswitch still works when doodling on keyboard while using non-keyswitch instrument)

- Distribute different notes of a chord to multiple mono synth tracks (typically put it in a track stack), emulating polyphonic behavior

- etc.



If you foresee yourself doing this type of stuff, Reaper may be an even better platform. I have use Reaper only briefly and haven’t done any scripting yet. But from documentation that I have read, it seems to be super flexible and way beyond what you can do with Logic , because you can script around both midi signal and audio signal.


(p.s. Another reason I chose Logic is the build-in score editor. It is actually pretty good. I know you said you don't care about editing the score, but having a score view is very useful when working on orchestral music. I cannot make sense of where I'm in the music if I just look at the track windows and piano roll)


Just my two cents.
 
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