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Author Topic: cubase + computers (January 1995 article)  (Read 3511 times)

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Offline chrisNova777

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cubase + computers (January 1995 article)
« on: May 04, 2017, 08:36:58 PM »

Karl Steinberg now runs one of Europe's most successful software houses. But the company grew from a mere idea and a small business loan. PAUL WHITE talked to the man behind the mighty Cubase at his Hamburg R&D department.


These days,the names Steinberg and Cubase are synonymous with MIDI sequencing -- but every household name had to start somewhere. In Steinberg's case, it all began when Karl Steinberg, after cutting his programming teeth on a Sinclair ZX81, designed a program called the Multitrack Recorder for the Commodore 64. This was soon followed by Pro 16, a music sequencer many musicians will remember -- and the rest, as they say, is history.

Steinberg the company dates back to 1984, when Karl Steinberg and partner Manfred Rürup started to produce commercial MIDI sequencing and editing software from their living room. The first Steinberg product to gain wide acceptance in the UK was Pro 24, which ran on the then-new Atari ST computer, and actually endured until 1989, when Cubase was launched. Today, Steinberg employ around 40 people and produce a wide range of music-related software and hardware.

Steinberg were one of the first companies to take the concept of affordable hard-disk recording seriously; they started research in this area more than five years ago, and their efforts culminated in Cubase Audio for the Macintosh, PC and Atari computers. Audio spin-offs followed, including the Time Bandit timestretching software and the new Recycle sample-loop manipulation program (actually no, that was by propellerheads -- duh).

I began by asking Karl how he first became interested in music software design.

"I was always interested in electronics; in 1976 I built an analogue sequencer with sliders, but you could also speed it up and use it as a waveform generator. However, my soldering was never too good. Then I became a studio engineer, and that's when I met Manfred Rürup. We soon discovered that we thought on the same wavelength, and because Manfred was working a lot with keyboards, we always had access to the latest gear. Once we got hold of the MIDI specs, I started to write programs for the ZX81, and then, when Manfred got hold of a C64, I started working with that. It seemed to me that software was rather like building electronic circuits -- except that you didn't have to solder anything.

"When we finished the first product, the Multitrack Recorder for the C64, we went around all the music stores in Hamburg to show what it could do, and though most of them didn't understand it at the time, some of them saw the potential. We worked from home with the help of Manfred's wife; we built our own interfaces, printed our own manuals -- and sold about 20 or 30 to start with. After that came Pro 16, which sold rather more.

"The next big step was the Atari, and musicians seemed to be buying it just because it had a MIDI socket on it, even though there was no music software available at the time. The Atari is the same Motorola family as the C64, so there was no real problem in writing software for a different machine.

"That was when Werner Kracht came into the company and worked on Pro 24, so you could say that he was the father of Cubase. At the same time, I started working on MROS for the SMP24, when it became apparent that we needed a more general method of handling physical MIDI I/Os, and for looking after timing."

Cubase was a totally new concept in graphical interfaces. Was this designed from scratch or were you influenced by the interfaces used by graphics software packages?

"The interface was largely our own idea. We got a lot of user input from Pro 24, then we got together to discuss what the ideal sequencer interface should look like, taking into account the capabilities of the machine. Cubase makes the data contents available in a much more visual way than Pro 24."

It is obviously a very successful interface, because all your major competitors have adopted some variation on it for their own products. I would imagine that this makes you feel proud that it was your interface, yet a little unhappy that other people are profiting by your ideas?

"Sure -- it just shows that this is the right concept, but yes, I do have mixed feelings about it being copied."

It is well known that there are many pirate copies of Cubase on the market, which must have hurt you in financial terms. But at the same time, this did give the product a massive user base and must be responsible for building up a certain amount of inertia, which has helped maintain the perception of Cubase being 'the standard' MIDI sequencing program.

"It was a real problem actually. If your name is Microsoft and you sell millions of products, it doesn't really matter so much, but when you are a small company it is very dangerous."


When the sequencing market was dominated by the Atari STs, you only had one computer to write for. How different is it now that you have Atari STs, Falcons, PCs, Macs and now Power PCs to deal with?

"Luckily, we realised this early enough to start working with an environment that could easily be ported over to other platforms; that's much easier than writing a different version of the program specifically for the operating system of each computer. In 1991, Cubase was released for the Macintosh, followed by a version for PC Windows about one year later."


"I think that sound cards of one sort or another will play an important role in the future."


Which machine do you use to write your software on?

"It doesn't really matter too much. Until recently, I used to write mainly on the Atari because the programming tools were very good, but now the Mac and PC programming tools are good too, so I move from one machine to the other."

It seems that a lot of musicians are buying PC systems simply because they offer a lot of computing power for the money. However, many of these same users are running into problems because the PC isn't as straightforward as the Atari or Mac when it comes to installing software, driver compatibility and configuring the machine. What advice do you have, apart from "read the manual first?"

"We try our best to reduce things to an manageable amount of drivers, and try to have a scheme which allows you to be as compatible as possible. We recommend people use the MME driver, which is compatible with most sound cards too. Normally if you have a sound card you get a driver with it; so that's the idea behind the PC -- you have a driver for each hardware tool."

We do get calls from readers with PC systems who find that the various drivers refuse to co-operate. Is this something that happens a lot with PCs?

"Anything that has to do with installation happens regularly with PCs! I don't know when this problem will finally be overcome, but it can really only be sorted out by Microsoft themselves. When we started we had our own driver in there as well as the MME driver, and I think it's safest to use the MME driver."

How much longer do you think it is possible to support the 1040ST now that it is no longer in production?

"It's hard to say, but we'll continue to support it with updates for the foreseeable future. There's also a lot of interest in the Falcon, and how long it will take before everyone switches to a different computer, I can't say. Apparently somebody has acquired the rights to build rack-mount Falcons, so that could extend the life of that machine in the music marketplace."

Do you have any feel as to what will be the popular platform of the future; will we all move to PCs, Apple Power PCs, or will the operating systems converge so that we end up with something new in between?

"It may well end up being something between the two, but it's really impossible to say exactly what is going to happen, which makes it very hard for us. We simply can't decide on anything until the computer companies have crystallised what they're going to do. I think there will eventually be some common base on which everything works. Also, now that Apple have announced that they will licence their Macintosh operating system to other companies, we don't know what the effect of that will be. The dream is to have both Windows and Macintosh in one computer (not just emulations), but we don't know if this will happen. Like the end user, we have to wait and see."


Since the introduction of affordable tapeless digital audio, Digidesign have played a pivotal role in that they supply key hardware components as well as their DAE Digital Audio Engine software, not only for Steinberg systems, but also for every other major music software company. Do you find this a comfortable working relationship?

"Initially, the working relationship wasn't always easy, but now it is very good and we receive a high level of co-operation. Cubase Audio (other than on the Falcon) relies on Digidesign hardware, and future upgrades to Cubase will support TDM, Digidesigns's internal bussing and DSP system that makes it possible to integrate a large number of powerful processing and routing functions into the desktop audio environment. I don't want to give too much away yet, but I think that what we're doing is going to be pretty exciting!"

As computers get more powerful and less expensive, it should be possible to introduce further audio processes without having to rely on additional external hardware. For example, it would be nice to have a sequencer that offered both hard disk recording and sampling without having to resort to expensive sampler cards. Is this a realistic option?

"This is obviously possible, depending on the platform and the computer, but I think that sound cards of one sort or another will play an important role in the future. For the consumer, it's a real solution to getting into low-cost audio, and for the more serious user, I can foresee more expensive sound cards with higher specifications which are still cheap compared with their hardware equivalent. For example, there could be affordable cards offering multi-channel digital I/O, samplers, and so on, which provide professional quality. We have no intention at this time of going into sound card manufacture -- we are very small compared to the huge entertainment companies in that market -- but we will create software to make use of them. A lot depends on the chips available to sound card manufacturers, and at the moment, very few sound cards have additional DSP processing."


" becomes more complicated for us to make the programs easy for the user."


Obviously the main thrust of your software design effort goes into sequencing, but what other related areas interest you?

"We already have Recycle, and the idea for that came from the Swedish guys who wrote the software. It was a great idea, because so many people work with drum loops, yet there was no easy way to manipulate them. With Recyle, you not only have the opportunity to create perfect loops very quickly, but you can also isolate individual beats and remove them, or even combine selected beats from two completely different drum grooves. It also provides a straightforward way of mapping individual beats to MIDI notes, creating MIDI drum patterns from recorded loops, or for making drum loops that are part audio loop, part MIDI. Then we have Time Bandit, which provides very high-quality pitch and time manipulation over a wide range.

"Our most recent product is AudioSpector, a level meter, correlator, analyser and test-tone generator software package for the Atari Falcon. Anything that has to do with not only MIDI, but audio is of interest to us."

Have you been tempted to do any plug-ins for Digidesign's software in the way that Waves and other companies have?

"I can't say anything specific, for commercial reasons, but that is an area we are interested in."

How do you tackle the problem of software complexity? Established users demand more and more features, but this must make it ever more difficult for the entry-level user coming across a program for the first time.

"What happens is that it becomes more complicated for us to make the programs easy for the user, and Cubase is probably one of the most approachable high-end sequencing programs around. You have to be aware of all the tools available for accessing and changing the various parameters, while doing everything you can to enhance the usability and stability of the program."

There are word processors which allow you to create your own menus or macros of the parameters you use most. Is this a possible solution?

"Once you start to offer that, people come up with incredible configurations which can actually make things more confusing, so we try to avoid this in general. There are, however, things we could consider, such as presets in Logical Edit, but apart from that, I think that if you read the manual, it's not too difficult to use Cubase. The program has over two million lines of code, and though it offers an enormous range of facilities, you can still use it in a very basic way if you want to."

What can you tell us about the next upgrade to Cubase without giving away too many commercial secrets?

"The Macintosh version will have OMS support, so that it can make use of programs like Opcode's Galaxy, there will be more tracks, and the interface is being restyled to include the use of colour. Not only will colour be used to make the interface more visually attractive, it will also be possible to assign colours to different types of MIDI event to make editing more intuitive. There are quite a few visual changes, but not so many as to confuse the existing user. We did a lot of thinking about not only how to make things look better, but also on how to improve the ergonomics of the program.

"It's probably worth mentioning that the latest Mac Score version is the most advanced integrated scoring package on the market so far; there are over 200 new features in the scoring section alone. We also have integrated StyleTrax, so now automated accompaniment is built in, and CueTrax is also part of the program.

"CueTrax allows you to be the timing master and the computer to be the slave. You don't have to play to a click because you, in effect, are the click. It goes a lot further than simple 're-barring' with a fit-time calculator and a very graphic approach. You can bring movies and sound together, stretch or reduce tempo and cut and paste tempo information."


It surprises me how many Score packages you sell when most pop musicians are assumed not to read music. Who buys Cubase Score?

"For those who are interested in notation, the scoring side of the package is very strong. There may also be those people who don't read music too well but want to be able to produce a score for their record company or for their publisher."

How important are electronic mail systems such as Compuserve for providing user feedback and for the creation of help groups and clubs?

"We spend quite a lot of time with Compuserve. This is a very valid service and, for example, allows us to communicate with our beta testers in the States or in the UK. You also find a lot of people in the computer forums who are very aware of computer technology. There are lots of discussions which let you know what is happening and provide a lot of useful information on what people actually want from their software. To have this direct connection to the end user is very good."

Where do you go in the future? Do you stick with music or do you move into the education/games market?

"There are lots of areas we could move into, not all of which I want to discuss at this point, though the PC market is particularly interesting. But we don't want to move away from music. We have an agreement with Music Sales to produce software which makes use of existing music scores and we're looking at interactive CD-ROM as a way of producing more educational music packages. Also we are marketing Heavenly Music's MIDI song files (not in the UK) because we think they are very good and it makes it easier for new customers if they have some completed files to play with. In the UK, Heavenly Music will sell their own material, but we'll help sell it in the rest of the world.

"Our Music Station PC package combines a simplified Cubase approach with sound cards, auto-accompaniment, score printing and digital audio playback, which makes it useful for educational use as well as entertainment. More PC systems are being sold with sound cards, and once a user finds out that he or she can produce music with little or no additional hardware, they usually want to experiment with it. Hopefully, this will help to win back people who bought their computers mainly for playing games.

As well as 'edutainment', we're also looking seriously at music education and investing a lot of money in that area. We get a lot of feedback from professional teachers too; we have to educate tomorrow's customers, and if we don't teach them how to get out and make music on a computer, then tomorrow we won't have a job!"
« Last Edit: February 11, 2019, 01:19:15 PM by chrisNova777 »