Mixing music on the computer has been around for a very long time. When I first started using “Performer” in the 1980s, I was utilizing MIDI commands to do simple volume level changes. As Performer turned into Digital Performer, which added digital recording capabilities, it added much more complexity.
There are always tactile advantages to having physical faders, buttons and knobs that feel and react like analog mixing consoles. So about a dozen years ago, I began using a physical mix controller called Mackie Control (Mackie). This brilliant piece of hardware gave me the ability to control my mixes in a very natural, intuitive and responsive way.
But just as hardware samplers and synthesizers have given way to virtual instruments, I knew that the mix controller would probably be next to go virtual. In the past few years, I began to see touch-screen control surfaces appearing on high-end recording studio mixers. Just like on your smart phone, everything is controlled by touch. But the price and space needed to utilize these boards made this solution out of the question for me.
Even when I upgraded my home studio last year, I kept my Mackie because it has always been a great tool for music production.
I also have a Mackie Control in my studio at IGT. Last week, while composing, my Mackie began to fail. Faders would mysteriously move on their own, even when the sequencer wasn’t running. My focus on composing was completely derailed, which is clearly unacceptable. The Mackies from both work and home are about a dozen years old and have served me well. But it was time to research alternatives.
I found that new Mackies cost over $1,100. While other options were both more and less expensive, none really fulfilled my needs. While doing this research, however, a user review of a much more expensive controller referenced that “you would be better off with the Neyrinck V-Control Pro.” (Neyrinck is a software developer that specializes in high-end software for professional recording studios.) Further research revealed this to be an iPad app that is downloadable from the App Store for $49.99. While I was very skeptical at first, the program does exactly what I need it to do.
So I bought an iPad and the V-Control Pro app. The entire purchase, including the iPad, iPad case and the app, amounted to a little over $500. About half the cost of a new Mackie. It communicates with Digital Performer via Wi-Fi, so there are no cables— and you can control the workstation from anywhere within Wi-Fi range. It takes up a fraction of the space that the Mackie did. It eliminates all the controls that I never used, while making the things I use all the time very accessible. And since it’s virtual, there is no noise from the automated faders moving up and down. While having faders move by themselves has always impressed visitors to my studio, the noise they made was distracting while composing.
Today, I realized that the Mackie was the last piece of hardware that I used in my studio. Everything else is all virtual, running on the Mac Pro. All of the rest of my hardware now sits in silence as kind of a museum of music technology.
We live in a time when technology moves extremely fast. And it always astounds me that there are always new ideas that solve problems and improve work flows. Keep your eyes and ears open. While music will never compose itself, the tools we use just keeps getting better and better!