Writing about sequencing software inevitably generates two emotion-laden responses. First, nearly every time it degenerates into a “mine’s the best” tit for tat about whose sequencer is superior. Second, the promise of features in an upcoming release muddles the discussion – how soon will the release roll out (including the question of how soon any bugs get ironed out) and how good will the new features be?
To the “my sequencer’s best” crowd I would gently remind all of us that we’ve heard very good music produced on just about every sequencing software set – and rubbish as well. Similarly, it’s worth noting that what some piece of software didn’t do three or four years ago may well have been addressed, so old saws about what “doesn’t work” in a competitor sequencer may now be inaccurate and out of date.
For Digital Performer, on the cusp of a major release (the upcoming DP 8), it is unavoidable to talk something about the promise of new features, though I’ll keep that to a minimum.
Key Features That Distinguish DP
From my perspective as a film composer, there are a number of areas that I think are outstanding about DP. These are areas that are either unique or “best in class” / second to none:
Clippings – you can easily grab any combination of “stuff” – midi tracks, audio tracks, conductor info – and place it on a clipboard, ready to drag into another cue.
Tempo, meter, and conductor track manipulation is fabulous and generally regarded as the best available. This includes an excellent tempo calculator and the ability to readily move barlines to fit a performance you’ve played in with free tempo, rubato, etc.
Direct export to QT format of a cue with audio (including dialogue and SFX if you like).
Chunks – think of it as being able to put multiple cues in one file, saving the time of reloading samples, using the same track list for similar cues and otherwise duplicating effort already expended. So if you want 4M5 to sound a lot like 2M2, you can save the 2M2 chunk and write 4M5 right away with virtually no interruption in workflow.
Pitch correction is easy to use and works very well. Will do pitch to midi (pitch correction is a “very good” feature – no longer unique but so easy to work with that I put it on my Outstanding list).
Consolidated Window – you can place as much as you want on a single window called the Consolidated Window. This may sound trivial but is a big deal when working fast. You can include or exclude – drag on/off or set in the preferences what parts of your sequence you want to see in this master window.
Streamers and punches – you can program streamers and punches into your sequence to assist with conducting (and soloists).
“Film Score” notation, that includes timings for film music, including markers on the score for dialogue or key moments (“ka-boom” for example).
Cool Stuff about DP
In the next rank are features that are not unique to DP but cool nevertheless:
Very good note transcription – allows transposition for non-concert-pitched instruments like French Horn, Clarinet, or Trumpet. It corrects well for parts that are not played strictly, almost magically figuring out whether what you played in to the sequencer was intended as an eighth note (quaver) or a sixteenth note (semiquaver) followed by a sixteenth (semiquaver) rest. Tuplets are handled very well too.
Complex click tracks – I have yet to dream up a click track that you can’t program into DP.
Extensive list of plugins / FX / guitar chains and other sound manipulation gadgets. These include a very good leveller, EQ, delays, and guitar stomp box emulations.
Lots of audio capabilities (pitch correction, editing, slicing, stretching, etc.).
Customizable interface – it is almost indescribable how many different ways you can set up your windows and tools in DP. Different colours (“skins”), different tool sets and working groups. It’s superb.
Mix “takes” that allow you to keep various versions of mixes.
Things Looking Forward to in DP 8
- 64 bit (hooray!)
- Windows 7 Compatible
- 15 new plug-ins
- Support for VST plug-ins
- Full 1920 x 1080 HD video hardware support
Things I secretly wish for in DP!
- Articulations menu in notation
- Percussion note-heads and the ability to use “let ring” ties