If anyone is interested, I've also taken a whirl at solving the problem of overcomplicated DAW interfaces, albeit in a more limited capacity. My first project in this vein is Composer's Sketchpad, which aims to explore "freehand composition" by letting users draw notes in strokes directly with their fingers or stylus, bending the pitch and adjusting the length as they go along. The second is MusicMessages!, in which every note is a button in a giant scroll view, allowing the user to enter and adjust quick melodies with just a few taps.
While these apps will never be remotely as powerful as a fully featured DAW, they allow the user to explore certain kinds of musical ideas far more efficiently than with FL Studio or Logic. In my opinion, one of the biggest barriers in creative thinking is the amount of cruft and micro decision-making between the artist and their output, and musical composition is particularly bad at this — there's no "lightweight Markdown editor" equivalent for composition quite yet. Helio is very exciting because it has some of those same benefits while sitting far closer to a professional DAW. I'm very interested to see where it goes!
: http://musicmessages.io (currently working on a full iOS version as a separate app... will fold the Messages extension into that one)
All I can say is I wish you the best, I think you have some great designs there.
Some back story: when we released the first version of Medly, we actually had notes on top of each other, merging the tracks into one. This turns out to be bad for both visuals (as it overcomplicates things) and for interactions. We ditched it for a more traditional format, but added a feature that let you view notes from other tracks when editing. Never regretted that decision since.
How much can you simplify the interface and still make it do everything producers want to do? Garageband simplified the interface quite a bit compared to Logic, but even that can get complicated and ultimately isn't as flexible as other DAWs.
I've been a fairly loyal user of Sonar and FL Studio for over a decade, largely out of habit because that's what I used when I first started and don't care to learn anything different. Especially with FL Studio, early versions of that were extremely simple. At it's core, it's still fairly simple, but allows you a lot of flexibility to do crazy things through automation.
Especially in EDM, the DAW has essentially become another instrument for creativity, so limiting that will limit the audience to those with lesser needs. I do think there is a big hole for a cross-platform DAW that's at least halfway decent, so this is exciting to see!
In other words, your favorite Markdown editor doesn't replace Microsoft Word — but that's hardly the goal!
There's already an industry standard for that - Avid Sibelius. If you're composing in a traditional manner, a DAW probably isn't the right tool.
Classical notation was fantastic for use with pen & paper when music was much more conservative and on-the-beat. But we have computers now. We can come up with something better — whether it's software like StaffPad as a first step or something even farther removed from classical paradigms.
I've also written a bit about this in my blog. Frustration with classical notation was one of the reasons why I worked on my own "anti-DAW" music app. (Though it's a somewhat less ambitious project than Helio.)
Sibelius has fairly good support for swing, shuffle and irregular meter. It has natively supported quartertones since version 6; plugins provide good support for alternative tunings and microtonal composition. Classical notation can get clumsy if you're doing really weird things, but "really weird" is a higher bar than you'd expect.
If you're using timbre as a fundamental expressive element, then a DAW is probably the right tool. At present, we have no useful system for notating synthetic timbres.
Other new tools like Staffpad are amazing, but they serve a somewhat different market.
The idea is to identify large sets of tools that can be replaced with a handful of powerful combinable tools to perform the same tasks - this is not always easy but if done well can end up not only simplifying UI but providing more powerful, intuitive tools and reducing unnecessary learning.
I think Modo has done this fairly well in this regard for 3D modelling and animation (programs which tend to be notoriously full of thousands of discrete tools).
This is not limited to DAWs. 3D animation packages, photo editing and video editing packages all historically have this problem... They grow these discrete tools to a large number, it increases the UI complexity, inevitably resulting in tons of stuff hidden under context menus and usually heavily resorting to mode based interfaces.
I had hoped this concept would become popular so that things like Photoshop and Illustrator could be simplified.
Something like the Flash pen tool is much simpler, but still absolutely requires you to maintain some state: clicking versus click-dragging, remembering not to close a shape by simply clicking on a control point without also dragging out Bezier points. There are expectations before you can begin to flow with the thing.
I've been working hard on this concept using a Minecraft mod (Snowball Madness: http://www.airwindows.com/snowball-madness/ ) that suffered the same problem. I'd made countless 'effects' so it was nearly impossible to remember what did what.
After a drastic functionality-culling process, I began rebuilding things in line with a concept: generalizing. If you can place a block above a snowball and it places the block where the snowball hits, that's what it does, no exceptions. TNT used to spawn explosions just for silly fun, but it became 'place TNT block' altering the type of silliness. Pickaxes used to dig large holes in rock (in some cases, leaving ores hanging) so all the other tools got similar treatments: axes vanishing wood logs, shovels vanishing dirt, hoes turning grass/dirt into tilled farmland. Always trying to incorporate 'cheaty' ways of doing things but predictably so.
It's like the old Apple UI guidelines. The default expectation is that you can grope blindly towards a result and things do what you think they would do, allowing you to not think about the process.
I suppose musicians are more comfortable with a visual metaphor. Still the over-the-top skeuomorphism doesn't seem that efficient to me compared to just coding it.
In a DAW, as you're playing the track, you crank the reverb knob until you hit the sweet spot.
In a music programming language you fiddle with values and re-compile repeatedly until you find the sweet spot, but even then it's hard to find because you can't remember if it's better this time you compiled or last time.
For musical coding to work, I think it needs a Bret Victor / Swift Playgrounds / Lighttable style IDE, and then... it starts to look a lot like a DAW, just with algorithms instead of a note grid or timeline.
That said, a lot of plugins and virtual instruments never left that world of design after most others moved on.
Depending on the market segment you're after that might be OK though.
Could you explain with an example?
I think what you're saying may be technically true, but not necessarily what most users want.
I'm most familiar with photo editing and retouching, and while the software can appear daunting, it all makes sense looking at it as a photographer and using it for a little while. I use both Capture One and DxO Optics for RAW processing and retouching, and I often read the forums forums for both, and I don't recall ever seeing complaints that there are too many options and tools.
(shameless plug) I've tried taking the approach of making a plugin for existing tools (Sketch, Sketchup, Photoshop, etc.) to make accessing the large set of tools easier via touch gestures at https://thimblemac.com . It also tracks most-recently-used tools.
Pure Data's domain is digital signal processing, with an emphasis on sound. It's good for prototyping because one edits the signal graph, GUI, and event-triggered scripts in the same visual window using the same event loop.
So in a way it's good for building idiosyncratic little "musical hex editors":
I say idiosyncratic because when you can connect anything to anything else, weird things start to happen. (For example, adding two more boxes to the diagram to control the crossfader with the pitch of someone's voice.)
well there's Renoise ( http://renoise.com ), which is IMHO, amazing.
it's just that, it's based on the old-school trackers paradigm (like Fast Tracker, Impulse Tracker, etc), which not everybody likes (but is actually a great fit for cutting up breakbeats and stuff that fit step-sequencer like workflows). Enhanced with support for VSTs, LADSPA etc (and built-in effects of course) and a sampler interface to design instruments that kinda blows the socks off just about anything.
so there's that. and I love it :)
but I do agree there's a big hole for a DAW with a good piano-roll and "stretchy" timelines like the arrangement view in Ableton. especially the way you can navigate the timeline by dragging on it left and right, but dragging up and down to zoom, such an intuitive way to navigate in sonic material where you often want to be able to zoom from hawks-eye overview to dive straight down and adjust some detail in the 10s of milliseconds, and back. I don't get why nobody has copied this way of navigation, it's IMHO right up there with ableton's timestretch/markers features that make it great. Yes Bitwig copied it, but that's partially Ableton's team.
Bitwig is crossplatform, btw. But I never could get it do what I wanted. But I had a sort of temporary/educational license which expired and wowww was that program ever completely useless in demo-version.
Speaking of that, it's the main reason why I started using Renoise. It was the only program that was even remotely useful in demo-version (just disabled export-to-wav and render-to-sample, inconvenient, but doesn't make the program useless, you can always record your sound in another way). Of course I got it licensed by now, having had way too much fun with it. It's only like 85 euros (including tax), compare to what you pay for Ableton nowadays, which doesn't even run on Linux.
Oh and we all know there's no "best" DAW, right? No shame in using multiple tools, each for which is best at what it does, and just bounce the audio through your OS audio framework (there's equivalents for JACK on Windows and Mac, right?)
I mean, basically all DAWs have a grid view where you can see notes on a grid and zoom in and out on that grid. If you zoom out to 1/16 notes, that's basically a step sequencer view... but then you can zoom in when you want to add 1/32 or 1/64 note complexity.
I played around with your app for a while. I found the UI frustrating overall. I couldn't find any instructions. There are no tooltips. It needs tooltips at least. Copy/paste flummoxed me over and over again. I seemed to hit the "end" of the track after 10 measures?? I could make notes longer, but not shorter. After the first 4 toolbar commands, I couldn't figure out what any of the rest do.
I'd really love to have a nice desktop composition sketch app, with a piano roll just like this. Nobody can persuade me that anybody has done this right yet, so as far as I'm concerned you have no competition. I hope you'll keep working on this. I suggest working on the UI.
One of the features is "Incomplete -
Helio is a one-man hobby project, that is a work in progress. The author builds it for himself and shares with the world."
I give +1 for honesty.
Honestly it has the same "piano roll" grid layout many other programs I've dabbled with have (garage band, ableton). It has linux support which is great.
The first big player (Ableton etc) to integrate versioning will have a huge advantage.
Version control is the one of the most important ideas with the least uptake among regular people.
Moving through the version tree could be as fast and efficient as undo/redo operations, which are usually instantaneous. In fact, DAWs already implement version control! It's just ridiculously limited, since all you can do is undo/redo. Depending on how they manage it internally, adding better version control features might not be that difficult. History and snapshots (a la Photoshop) would already be a vast improvement over what's generally available in DAWs.
Reaper has solved the issue of "One Simple DAW to rule them all" for me (used to be Cool Edit Pro 2.0) because it genuinely covers so much usable turf (Max is not in the same conversation as 'simple DAW'). It is the best mousetrap for the money on the market.
Also, I noticed you build it with JUCE. I'd be highly interested in a series or even very short writeup about how you made the ui and it's various components with JUCE. I haven't built anything nontrivial with it yet but audio (and as an extension, UI programming) is very interesting to me.
You don't have to be an expert player to use your ears to write harmonically interesting things as a result. I can't wait to get home and try this!
Something like this could be a Guitar Pro killer if it had support for writing a score/tablature. Imagine being able to commit changes to a score and have your bandmates pull it down and review, add to it, etc... it could really change the way we write music, especially in a world where you don't have to be in the same room to record an album together.
That said, I think the font is clutery.
The intro user flow is atypical and disruptive. I think it should start on this https://puu.sh/vy4pd/776dde20a8.png screen instead of inside a project. Then once inside maybe a little walkthrough or some guides?
Lastly I think the weird labels (Arps, counterpoint, melodic) on the left hand side are unintuitive for a novice. Also the addition of alt+drag to duplicate would be really nice ;)
But all in all, would use!
As an alternative, OSS type family, I would recommend Lato (https://fonts.google.com/specimen/Lato). It's the family Slack uses, and I think it would look great in the UI for Helio.
1. Make it possible to (inertial) pan and pinch zoom when using a Mac trackpad. This would be significantly faster than using the lower navigator for Mac users. Also, I don't think it's a good idea to make the scroll wheel change the x-scale.
2. Add a shortcut for deleting notes when in "feather" mode — maybe middle-click? (I see right-click is reserved for changing layers.) This would make it possible to work on a piece of music without having to use the keyboard or move the mouse away from the canvas.
3. Is there a way to change the division of beats? IMO there should be a way to do this very quickly, so that I can switch between divisions of 4 and 3 for example.
Great work! Out of curiosity, how long have you been working on this project?
My phone has a modern qualcomm flagship cpu and latest android.
For the moment I am rather happy with Presonus' Studio One (even though the current version is a bit bug ridden) Compared to Cubase it already has a drastically simplified (and enhanced) workflow.
Do you use opengl for rendering? or a 2d graphics library?
the ui itself can be an awesome project by itself!
https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7905910 | http://wavepot.com/
I would also recommend finding some of those people, talking to them directly, and watch as they learn to use this application.
For this to survive in a crowded marketplace it is going to have to find and serve a niche very well.
Btw is that really a Wintersun song loaded in the screenshot? It does look like it could be a Wintersun song. I'm actually kinda inspired by Jari's workflow so I'm guessing I'm not the only one lol.
I don't want to be too negative as I really like the idea. But at first sight this is by far no match at all with the great DAW's out there. You can say they are bloated, but no one says you need to use all the features that are available. With most DAW's you can make a similar demo with ease.