Life in the box. Grass is greener?

Reaktor, MAX/MSP, VST/AU, etc. A place for all things soft....

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Post by Panason » Sun Mar 17, 2019 1:38 pm

I 'm focusing on a small strictly curated combo of hardware and plugins. It's great for de-cluttering mind and studio, and freeing up funds for other things. I reasoned like this: how many synths and drum machines do I actually need to make a track? How many tracks a year am I producing? Am I multi-tracking and sampling enough to make the most of my sound sources? Does this hardware sound so good and is so inspiring to use that it justifies costing 10 times the price of a plugin that sounds just as good?

The answer to these questions determined that in fact I had too many synths and drum machines.

Curing myself from GAS and gear fetishism has been a revelation and a relief.

I don' t actually need any more gear! :nana: I can at last focus on the music and learning how to mak eth emost of what I have- I no longer have to spend hours trying to figure out what hardware limitations the manufacturer is hiding before I buy something. I'm not waiting around for exotic boutique stuff that may be released "soon" (eg. Radikal and SOMA)

Most electronic music hardware is severely limited and overpriced and just not worth the space it occupies or the hassle of the cables, wall warts, etc.

Boxes that magically produce amazing sounds are addictive- once you get over the wow factor and see them as tied-up money rather than irreplaceable instruments, things get easier. Especially if your bank balance is going down.

The other factor is making the DAW easier to use by investing in control surfaces, a good trackball, a good IPS display and an ergonomic desk setup.

Maybe once i get used to Bitwig I won't even bother with the Cirklon!

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Post by carlfunkenn » Sat Nov 02, 2019 5:00 am

Same situation here. I'll switch to soft synth. (again)

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Post by mmp » Sat Nov 02, 2019 9:12 am

I have both plentiful hardware & software.

For me the main advantage of software is repeatability. For projects where over time things need to be changed, like film scores, being able to come back to a project later and have it be identical to how it was maybe a month before is crucial. A secondary advantage is there are many things that software can do that don’t have an equivalent in the hardware world.

The big downside to software is you don’t own it, you license it. The license can be lost, maybe by the company that you bought it from going down. Also, some software becomes obsolete by changes in OS or computer platform. You are also not in control over changes to the software that may be forced on you by the developer. Over the years I have lost tens of thousands of dollars of value through things becoming obsolete and unsupported.

Hardware also has upsides and downsides.

A big downside is maintenance costs, especially for older synths & studio gear. Hourly costs are high and technical expertise is difficult to find. Some early synths and audio boxes have no memory, so recreating sounds and signal paths is harder to reproduce later.

Advantages? You own hardware. As long as you can maintain it, you have those capabilities available to you. Hardware retains more value over time than old software. Hardware has innate limitations that can be an advantage by limiting the number of choices you are faced with during your creative time. Some hardware sounds better than the software versions of the same units. Being able to touch something physical can be a more satisfying experience than manipulating a similar thing virtually.

I do think hardware interfaces that are customized for software control are getting better and are helping bridge some of the gap, but I always have to remind myself that software is a thing of impermanence.

These choices all are so personal. I can’t think of any hardware sequencer that would ever work for me, or any hardware sampler that can come close to reproducing what software is capable of doing with scripting and multiple dynamic layers. But I know there are many hardware products of these types out there meeting the expectations and needs of other musicians.

Ultimately, for me, I tend to creatively bond with hardware and I start there in my creative process. But, my DAW is always in record and find myself in both worlds most of the time.

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Post by teezdalien » Sat Nov 02, 2019 5:21 pm

Interesting thread, and relevant to me at this stage also... Don't really want to reiterate the points made earlier, but I cut my teeth learning synthesis using software before deciding to buy into hardware, and I have a few thoughts on the matter.

To be honest VCVRack has had me contemplating whether to sell off my hardware and just get back to a purely itb workflow... I love that software and only wish it were around at the time I decided to get into eurorack.

I'm seeing a clear trend particularly around eurorack with digital modules, more modules becoming microprocessor dependant, feature creep in these to a point where it's a turn off for me personally and I'm left feeling there's little difference to working with a computer due to the ease of interfacing the two platforms these days. I'm pretty comfortable using a computer and find it hard to see a point in buying into more hardware that essentially does the same thing.

The hardware I'm holding on to is generally analogue stuff and I've yet to find any software that gets close to the sound and behaviour of my Serge modules without a hell amount of tedious work, so there's that and sometimes it is actually nice to get away from the screen. :hmm:

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Post by kinkujin » Tue Nov 05, 2019 11:25 am

This is fun to read. I was nearly ITB once, but not out of choice. Had no money! Only had a yamaha workstation and computer. Ended up getting more into early softsynths and was having fun but was also not very productive, spending all of my time with editing in cakewalk with the mouse.

Now I have a room full of hardware and i'm quite pleased. But at times I do walk into the studio and am overwhelmed by choices. So, now before I even crack open the door I plan in my head what I am going to try and accomplish and on what gear and I can walk in and get to work - instead of looking around and fantasizing what I'm going to work on (i'm honestly just so thrilled to have what I have that I get giddy at times just looking around my studio-space).

Every now and then I do think - this is nuts, I could get so much done just ITB but then I think back to my earlier experiences. I just don't want to peer into a screen during my spare time.

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Post by rowsbywoof » Tue Nov 05, 2019 3:09 pm

I've moved to just a handful of rack pieces outside of the box. My biggest problem was a good audio interface for the longest time. Switching to RME and TotalMix solved like 99% of my hybrid setup woes and now I don't even think about it. If I'm messing around I have external audio effects setup for all of my gear and I can just stick them in the sends and use them like any other plugin. The only issue, of course, is noting what I've done if I ever want to get back to that setting. Especially with some of the older gear where instant recall isn't a thing.

The only thing that gets me out of a hybrid mode is when something borks out. I've got a Space Station in repair right now, and $500 less in my pocket thanks to it, and yeah... Everything can be fixed, but everything will eventually break and my mind has been in limiting what I have so that I'm not constantly fixing stuff. Right now It's five pieces of external rack effects, and then a few 500 series modules for mics/etc. I've been really tempted to ditch some of my other stuff, but I'll let it sit away and out of sight for a while until I'm sure I won't miss it too much. Right now, I don't even think about it.

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Post by Arneb » Tue Nov 05, 2019 4:04 pm

The open source ecosystem is still kinda lacking when it comes to making music, and I don't trust closed source anymore without a physical device to bind that particular genie to. Though I've stuck around with Windows for a long time. Win10 was the last straw... So, hardware it is.

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Post by rowsbywoof » Tue Nov 05, 2019 6:52 pm

Arneb wrote:The open source ecosystem is still kinda lacking when it comes to making music, and I don't trust closed source anymore without a physical device to bind that particular genie to. Though I've stuck around with Windows for a long time. Win10 was the last straw... So, hardware it is.
That was always my biggest pull toward hardware. I felt like it was too easy for stuff to fall by the wayside, and software moves exponentially quicker than hardware, and likewise gets outdated so much quicker as well.

I have effects boxes from the early 80s/late 70s that, sure, need a little TLC from time to time, but they work and still work well. I can't even imagine keeping some of the software I have running a decade from now, let alone four. The latest killing off of 32bit apps, and a few plug-in makers I've seen basically saying, "If you want to use our stuff in the future, you'll need to keep a pre-Catalina machine around, because we're not planning to support moving forward..." 32Lives is a good example of that, for obvious reasons, and it's like... Yeah, OK, that's why it's nice to have a uWave in the rack.

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Post by tomorrowstops » Thu Nov 14, 2019 9:58 am

I spent over a decade playing with hardware and balking ‘the box.’ And by ‘playing,’ I really mean buying and selling equipment...barely making meaningful music at all, and generally always being stressed out financially.

I finally let smarter financial decisions win and as a result, all of my hardware disappeared.

I’ve been on just a laptop with virtual instruments/virtual modular/tiny keyboard controller for a few years now and honestly, I’ve never been more productive and content. My system sounds great, and lately I’ve even been getting paid for the music I make with it.

However, it does not come without its challenges. One of the big lessons I’ve learned is how to carefully manage computer resources (I.E. not blindly updating, thoughtfully adding new software, etc) as that piece of hardware that is the computer will always have limitations. If you don’t respect those limitations, you’ll be dragged into an endless cycle of upgrading, which adds greater financial stress and potential inability to work productively into the equation.

Another challenge of only working in the box is addressing the feeling of having ‘unlimited possibilities’ which at first (and still every now and then) is very overwhelming. For the most part, software is cheaper than hardware, so its easy to accumulate a lot of it. Too many starting points. But again, tying in proper resource management, you learn to limit yourself. For instance, I only mix with my DAW’s built-in plugins. They’re fine. Seriously. I only have ONE software eurorack-style modular system, not three. I also challenge myself to use my DAW in a modular fashion, (automation, etc). I only have one DAW (tried having two and was like ‘what am I DOING?).

So yeah, plenty of challenges. But I’ll reiterate the fact that overall, I’ve never been happier making music than I have been, limiting myself to the box.

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Post by naturligfunktion » Thu Nov 14, 2019 10:58 am

Interesting thread. I've started all in the box and was really happy with it. I even made an album just using the box and a used native instruments machine. Then I got a synt, then a drum machine, then the moduar and things went a bit out of hand, and I really, really liked this new approach of playing with things. The computer was essential however. I always edit in the box. Add things and what not. I made a second album using this hybrid (?) approach.

Now I am trying some new things but I cannot imagine working without a computer, especially when it comes to production. Considering the cost of a great plugin compressor in comparison to a "real", there is a no brainer for me. And in many ways, the computer is just a fantastic, really awesome recording device. I love when I have an idea for a song, spunned from a jam or what ever, record it and suddently realize how it can be changed. I love the computer, I really do (and I love ableton it is an amazing program), but I cant say that I make music with it. It's more a tool to organize the things I play on different things, if that make any sense.

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Post by ersatzplanet » Thu Nov 14, 2019 11:30 am

To me it a lot of it comes down to what kind of music you do with your rig. Tonal music will always be cheaper done on non-modulars, the cost of a voice on a modular will always be a burden when you stat trying to do simple polyphony.

Live playing has many demands on both fronts. For computers it is stability in harsher environments with dirty power that sometimes shares itself with lighting etc. For modular hardware it is preset management. Computer's playability is slowly becoming moot with the latest generations of expressive controllers out there. Hardware will always rule visibly though compared to laptops and mice.

I myself have started to merge the two together. My hardware rig is almost all wave players/granular modules and LOTS of filters and modifiers. I generate the tones, drones, textures, and sequences on the computer, burn them to media, and play them on the modular. I get the advantage of stable pitch and timing and basically unlimited module count for the creation of the stem sounds, and the ability to change those sounds and warp them as much as I want in realtime (but easily come back to the original) with the modular. It has changed the way I look at what I make too. My rig is still big (I tend to want to do as much as possible at once) but I can get away with taking smaller parts of it as needed to jam or play.

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