Software vs hardware - two processes best kept entirely separate?

Hey Elektronauts, happy weekend. Hope you’re all well and safe.

I’ve been trying a lot of different things in the last 6-12 months in terms of different software (Bitwig, Ableton etc) and hardware (Maschine Mk3, Elektron gear, Dreadbox Typhon) and I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that using either software-only or hardware-only seems to work in terms of being fun and immediate and creative but when I try to stick the two things together it all falls apart quickly.

If I fire up Bitwig I can start messing around with beats and synths and even generative modular (thanks to the Grid which I think is great) and get something fun going quickly. Likewise, I can sit with my Dreadbox Typhon and just press play and start turning knobs and get beautiful sounds out of it, whether it be an aggressive acid bassline or a soothing ambient wash. I probably won’t make a whole track just with a Typhon (although I’m sure it’s possible) but it’s relaxing and enjoyable no matter where it takes me.

However…if I turn on my Maschine Mk3 and try to actually create a piece of music, it feels like a clunky process which is neither one thing nor the other. I’ve spent a couple of months learning the workflow but it still feels like a fight and it still feels like I’m trying to use software with an awkward layer of abstraction rather than using a “machine” that I can control to make sound. It also feels the same if I try to record audio from devices into the Maschine/Ableton/Bitwig becasue it becomes a stop/start process of trying to make a nice sounds, then record a loop or whatever, arrange it or chop it up etc. All of a sudden that lovely sense of just playing with noise has become a work-like process that is awkward and anti-creative.

I’ve been watching loads of YT videos about eurorack (and I thank you all for your input on my other threads) and the impression I get is that people don’t know where they’re going when they start but it’s the journey that matters. I get that feeling with using Bitwig with a keyboard and a mouse, and I get it with firing up my Typhon, but I absolutely DON’T get it if I try to merge the two worlds.

I don’t think I have any great point to make here but it’s just playing on my mind a lot lately and I wondered if I’m the only one who feels this way?! Is better to just keep the two worlds separate because they fufil different needs and because they just don’t make good bedfellows? I note with interest that the interweb is full of people who say that the Ableton Push, despite being a solid piece of equipment, still doesn’t get them away from the DAW because it just can’t do everything properly or in a convenient and useable way. So the layer of abstraction remains, and it’s still easier to do most of it with a mouse.

What do we think?

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…basicly, a daw can do it all…

but recording hardware always makes an essential difference…
and some things, only hardware can do…

and any production is winning big time in overall sound approach, once it includes some real recordings…

and in this case, it’s really, the more, the better…
but even just one little snippet can be THE gamechanger…

so, combining both worlds remains essential…

if u find urself struggeling…keep them separated…but start with with recording some hardware snippets and take those as the starting point in ur daw…

don’t try to make sense in first place…just some sounddesigns and fooling arounds with hardwarestuff…randomly recorded…

drop that in bitwig…and start fooling around again…it will find it’s way…

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Connect all your hardware to your audio interface, fire up Bitwig/Live in arranger mode, set up a track for each instrument, arm them all then hit record. Then turn off your screen, go to your kitchen make yourself a coffee, call a friend…whatever you need to do. Then come back and start messing with your hardware and enjoy the process.

When you’ve ridden the vibe, turn your screen back on and turn recording off. Save the session and close your DAW. Come back the next day and listen back - now you have original audio that you can mess with in Bitwig and you have a first arrangement you can polish / play with / build upon.

Good luck sir!

PS: no shame in working exclusively in either one or the other also, no doubt! I have the same issue, mixing the worlds works on the best of days only for me.

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Exactly what i do. Rec bouton, make sound with modular, save and close.
Another day i dont make music, just check the rec and make some cut to make tracks. After 15years, somes with daw and strutured sound, somes with elektron and hardware sound but strutured and now modular with amazing sound i dont give a fuck if my sound is not structured as 90% of music. My process is now quick, organic, human… i love that. (And i love much my tracks). Fun and result.

So stop trying to resolve all process problem and possibility. Just found the setup and process that match with you and not with the rules.
Sorry for my poor english :slight_smile:

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I totally hear you. Like many others, I struggled with this a lot.
I totally love ableton and can get creative and have a lot of fun with just a laptop. But, like many of us, starring at a screen all day at work, made it almost impossible to continue to make music on just a computer.
I also love my elektrons. I can jam on a few boxes, get in flow, create a track but then… oh no, I have to record all that stuff in my computer. Fun over… Overbrigde hassle (which is the least problem, but still happens on a regular basis), latency issues, having to cut and edit the recorded stuff… meh :slight_smile:
Sampling it all to loops on the OT… Not much better, rather worse.
Different solution: Record just a stereo track. I have no time to practice a whole performance right now to get it right, so I have to leave it on my elektrons… Consequence: I save patterns on three different machines, have to name stuff properly, to open it up correctly on three machines next time. I collect unfinished stuff on several different “grooveboxes”, dozens of patterns. I more and more come to the conclusion it doesn’t help to have too many boxes that allow saving of patterns.

I also went on modular journey. Great fun. Hours go by quickly. But record that stuff… horrible. I still have folders of modular patches that go for 20-30 minutes or so… Nice stuff. I really like listening back to it. But did I ever edit that stuff - no…
I can totally see when people just want to live in the moment and have fun, that’s great, but for making finished tracks, not so practical.

Anyway. I lately (I hope it lasts) made a different experience than you with Maschine mk3. For me it combines the two worlds rather nicely. It is made for both worlds. Where ableton push was just an afterthought for a huge playground named ableton, maschine is about the controller first and software second. Sure, the software lacks in different areas… But for me it’s the only midi controller solution that feels like an instrument and where I can neglect the laptop screen, and don’t have to touch mouse or keyboard at all. I can have fun jamming, I can arrange a track in arrange mode, I can apply eq and compression and then… it’s all already in my computer. No recording, no audio editing, no single stereo track. Everything laid out in single tracks when I return to computer screen. Export audio and the track is done.

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If you don’t make pop music and want to hit the charts then there are no rules and no best practices. You are the boss. No need to compare anything. If I decide my song is 43 seconds long, changes tempo a few times, is completely atonal and has a MI Breads as the end of chain effect and is recorded to a 4 track before going into a digital realm again and up to Bandcamp; Well I and you are free to do so.

If you always have a recorder rolling when you play around with gear, tou can use anything everywhere.

For me the worst is when I sit down and say to myself I am making a track now. Nothing will happen. Too much thinking and no freedom to create is the result.

ymmv

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how i do it:
jamming with hardware
arranging with a DAW (Bitwig, btw)
rehearsing & performing with hardware.

and yes, i keep them separate.
because there’s a lot of possibilities to spend time more productively than optimizing time sync of a hybrid rig.

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Thanks for all the input. I think I ultimately know, deep down, that I’m more interested in enjoying the process than I am in creating a finished product. So in that regard it seems that hardware that has immediacy is better for me.

I’m sure we all try to kid ourselves sometimes that what we have is working when it really isn’t. No point in pretending. I guess I’ll probably ditch the Maschine and think about some other options. Maybe I’ll finally get the A4 that I’ve been looking at for years or take an even deeper plunge into Eurorack, although it scares the crap out of me…the expense mainly!

Some good advice here though, plenty of food for thought.

I’m new to hardware. Only been “making music” in a DAW since March 2020. Before that I only played guitar. My hardware is a M:C and an a4mkii. I see them like I see my guitar, instruments. They’re very powerful instruments. I also see them as a sketchpad, I can be creative and get ideas and jam/noodle on the hardware. I quite like the change of phase from playing, to recording, to arranging, to finishing. But as a noob maybe I don’t have much to add, except I think I get what it is you’re saying in your initial post, but as a recent user of hardware I see there being more worlds to play in now.

Love the hit record and play on. That’s my real soon goal. Separate the creative process vs the producing process and all is kind.

The more I think about it the more I see that it’s also a discipled process. Not getting lost in all things DAW. Just hit record and be yourself.

With Renoise, I hardly recognize a difference between using hardware or using pure software.

Composing is generally the same process- just quickly configuring a midi track- use a #LineInput device and you’re off to the races.

My perspective is: if you want to do honest-to-goodness sound design- it has to be hardware. But if you want a proper composition, then it needs to be arranged with software. I’m sure there are people less annoyed/more capable of composing purely on hardware or designing sounds from scratch using a mouse, but I personally hate it and have found this approach to be perfect

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I actually love to use hardware with software. Shure its easier to work 100% in the box, but it sounds so much better with hardware. I use hardware together with Ableton and its amazing. But I prefer to stick with one DAW and not use Maschine for example. In that way you get to know your DAWs ins and outs.
It’s really important to work with templates so you don’t have to set everything up each time you load a new set. I have a template that I perfect and it’s an ongoing process.

Both , because they have their strengths and it can be really fun. Productive however? Maybe not. It takes a long time to get your workflow down

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To me they are one and the same.

I keep ableton running and have my jams going into my soundcard on 4 different inputs. If I do something I like I record it. Do that for a few hours then come back to ableton a few days later when it sounds fresh again and arrange.

Its too easy to just do jam after jam with hardware and never really come up with something tangible or sustain progress.

Then on the flipside you can waste a lot of time staring at a blank DAW getting frustrated. Let the hardware fill your DAW. Let the DAW organise your hardware. Make a track, flip it back to hardware. Mix your stuff up as you go. Only way forward I say.

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I’ve never really liked youtube-ing demos of workflows since in the end, no one will want to watch a video of someone spending 15 minutes trying to figure out what happened to that one extra patch cable they own that reaches from the top to the bottom of their case or the prep involved individually tuning each oscillator and filter and setting their multifunction modules just right. Too much polish and not enough of a real workflow experience most of the time.

I feel that with any set up. once you hyper-optimize how your system works you can reach that hollowed state of “flow” on anything from just a piano to live coding a sequencer on an Arduino for your literal wall of eurorack all while playing one of those Victorian single person band machines. Setting up stuff right and to ones liking is anything but glamorous, and there really cannot be a useful tutorial to check all the boxes one may need. I got over this hurdle by really paying attention the mundane parts of the steps I take when turning everything on, getting stuff clocked right, why/how/when I get pulled out of the music, etc. and figured out a way that let me blend all the stuff I do in the hardware and software domain together without just throwing money at the problem and creating another problem in the process.

I also feel like musicians have too much of a blanket hatred of turning to their computer keyboard or mouse to do a function, seeing it as absolute removal from their state of flow for a few seconds. Usually its just as simple as their vst folders are all out of whack/need a good pruning or their sample folders are not organized in a way that makes sense to them. It also could help to turn your mouse and keyboard into another instrument, just to fool yourself into thinking its just the eventual Octatrack Mk MMXXI by mapping the keyboard keys like the sequencer buttons and using the mouse like the crossfader or something (not sure the capabilities for this in Bitwig though.)

At the end of the day, everyone’s brains work differently, and as long as you are happy and feeling satisfied with the sounds you are making, then it doesn’t matter what your setup looks like or acts like in comparison to some flashy influencer who makes more prefab jams to hit that 10 minute mark in order to monetize their video rather than anything they are proud of/something that fits their ethos and mindset of how music should be made.

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I totally agre about influencers and I don’t care about that stuff. I’m not trying to “sound like artist X” or anything I’m more interested in the guys doing really in-depth stuff about how it works and how to work towards a better understanding of the principles i.e. mylarmelodies has a lot of interesting in-depth videos about eurorack and how to achive a good performance system for techno, or have a modest but flexible “drone” setup. I don’t want to randomly buy a load of very expensive gear I have no idea how to use, so it’s about working towards understanding something better.

I’m not sure I 100% agree about being “happy with the sounds you’re making”. I can make very professional sounds with VST synths but if I don’t enjoy the process then why bother? I’m supposed to be enjoying it. If you know exactly what you’re trying to achive upfront and it’s about the fastest/cheapest/easiest way to get there (perhaps if you make your living from music) then that makes sense, but I’m a hobbyst and I just want to enjoy the time spent with music/sound.

Thanks for your thoughts.

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you just gotta put in some effort. my favourite workflow is max/msp hooked up to hardware

Oops I meant to also include the phrase “happy with the process” in that line too. Wrote this while drinking my morning coffee so I’m still a little foggy! Honestly the most fun I’ve had making music was when I had access to a workshop + a endless supply of recycled building materials and would build crazy contraptions full of contact mics, mechanical weirdness, and max coding. Didn’t sound like anything anyone would want to listen to but it was fun throwing things together to see what would happen!!

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That sounds like fun! Let’s be honest for a moment - a lot of the modular synthesis output you can find by amateurs online sounds pretty unpleasant but, frankly, it’s as much about the “mad professor” experimentation as it is about the output. I always get the feeling with “electronic” musicians that they’re much more obsessed about producing finished music whereas the world is full of guitarists who are happy to pick up and play without giving any thought to recording their output. They do it for the pleasure.

I’m just repeating the same point in a different way - it’s at least 50% about the enjoyment of the process, for me anyway.

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I’ve more software than a professional would use but I just dabble without direction. The cliche is true, I’m far too distracted by everything else on the net.

So yesterday I’ve started a separate dedicated dawless desk with only hardware on it and my back to my pc.
I’m hoping this becomes a productive step and I’ll just use my pc for mastering, remixing and editing.

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