Destructive / Non-destructive editing

The first thing to realize about most digital audio programs is that they are designed to change as little of your source files as possible. Changes such as combining, seperating or modifying sounds are meant to be completely reversable.

In "destructive" editing the changes to your source files are irreversible. "Non-destructive" editing the program keeps track of the steps taken so that they can be reversed.

It would be unwise, for example, to raise the volume of a sound file permanently only to further degrade the sound by trying to lower it permanently again. It's better to save that change as a setting within the project file to be remembered by the program. This, along with clear indication of what change is assigned to which source, is their primary strength.

Digital Audio Workstations

A Digital Audio Workstation is a generic term for a computerized interface using software specific to the development of music. A desktop computer may function as a DAW but the term in professional circles is used to describe workstations with hardware designed specifically for audio processing (known as an “integrated” DAW). Typically this specialized hardware takes the form of a large mixing table or a high-bandwidth, multi-channel sound card. The term has nonetheless come to be applied to almost any comprehensive audio engineering program.

A DAW is a combination of software and hardware that encompasses recording, editing and mastering of digital audio.

While every software package has a different approach to how sounds are processed the physical properties of sound itself has, thankfully, forced many conventions about how that processing is done. This means that even though one program will organize sounds first and then add effects to each, and another might have two seperate lists for sounds and effects, the actual effects applied will still shape the same properties of the sound such as amplitude or frequency.

Here we look at the common approaches shared by most all major DAW packages.

Instruments / Channels

A DAW doesn't hold all sound at once in one constant stream as audio is when played back. It holds it in seperate "Tracks" which are often divided by instrument or sound. For instance a basic garage band might have a vocalist, a drummer, a bassist, and someone on the lead guitar (depending on the vocalists ego). This means that, minimum, there will be at least four tracks used during the mixing process which hold each of these instruments / sounds.

In reality there will probably be many more tracks than that. The vocalist will do multiple takes and the producer may wish to sort them by track and possibly even overlap them so that the vocalist can then become his or her own backup singer.

Chances are, especially with songs and instrumental pieces, you won't be recording every track live. Some will be synthesized by the computer. They can be as complex and guitar solos and piano concertos or as simple as a constant snare drum holding a beat.

Mixers, Playlists & Piano rolls

Mixers

Most DAWS make use of multiple tracks as mentioned before. To manage the way these tracks interact with each other we use tools / panels like mixers.

The mixer typically is where you'll handle the sending of input signals and possibly where effects and other plug-ins will be applied to the sound before finally being sent to the master output stream.

Piano rolls

A piano roll is where actual note information is kept as opposed to sampled audio files.

You can not create note information from audio files such as MP3 or WAV. It has to be sent in through either a MIDI interface or added manually by hand.

Playlists

Unlike your phone or desktop program a "playlist" typically does not refer to a set of songs or even audio files within the context of a DAW. Here the phrase describes a list of tracks that may or may not have various clips from sequencers or audio files within each track.

Input VS Send

To be moved

Common Troubleshooting

As usual, Google will be your best troubleshooting option, but here are some common quirks that I've run into with various programs.

Avid ProTools

I just started the program and I can't hear anything!

ProTools may not be sending audio to all possible outputs. If you are not getting audio, try going to Setup > Hardware and launch the ASIO4All setup. Deselect the currently chosen option and enable another. For instance deselect the on-board output (such as SBC blaster, etc) and enable a mini pre-amp or other USB device that you might have connected. You'll need to restart ProTools.

LMMS

I just started the program and I can't hear anything!

If you are not getting any sound upon first starting LMMS, try going to the settings file menu at the top of the screen, and choose the "Audio settings" icon (the speaker). The audio interface option will probably be SDL by default, which will work on most systems, but you may also experiment with setting it to "PortAudio" and then changing the backend to ASIO. If it still does not provide sound, you may try another configuration.

I moved a window inside LMMS outside the work area and now I can't select it!

You should be able to use the scroll bars on the right and bottom to move towards it. Then proceed to feel silly.

The program installs, but crashes on startup!

Crap!

figure column.