Virtual Studio Songwriting Software

TrackNotes Product Review - by Tom Boyles, ( The Paris Directory )

If you have ever attempted to document a recording session, you know how difficult it is to keep track of things using simple track sheets. If your control room looks like mine, then you have many yellow sticky notes hanging around and several versions of track sheets that made complete sense yesterday, but are nothing but gibberish today. Did you ever want to reproduce a signal path or a guitar sound that you recorded several months ago just to find that the exact technique is lost forever because you didn’t document it?

Ladies and gentlemen, TrackNotes has come to the rescue! TrackNotes is a Track Management System used to document recording sessions and other pertinent studio information. The software has extensive reporting capabilities, including several different versions of track sheets. With TrackNotes, you can document as much or as little as you want. The software molds itself to your studio and the result is complete and clearly documented track management. After using TrackNotes, it doesn't take long to realize that the software conforms itself to your needs and how you work - and not the other way around.

My first thought was that every studio is configured differently, therefore there's no way a single Track Management System could be generic enough to apply to all the studio platforms that exist on today's market. It’s a logical thought, but it’s incorrect. As I began looking around the software, I found I could indeed configure it to meet each and every one of my recording session needs. All of them… no kidding!

TrackNotes is divided into 4 views: Song; Track; Memo; and the Studio. I’ll take you through each of these views in turn:

Studio View:

We’ll start with this View first, because this is where you will customize the program to fit your studio. The Studio View stores information about everything in your studio, from instruments to rack devices to the musicians you work with. As we will see later on, information entered in the Studio View is global across all your songs and is used exclusively in the Track View portion of the program. The Studio View also allows you to assign monetary values to all your equipment, providing you with complete studio asset valuation tracking.

The Studio View is broken down into 4 grids: Studio Devices; Instruments; Musicians; and Studio Assets.

The "Studio Devices Grid" stores all your studio devices (including instruments) and a list of their setting labels. These devices and setting listings are accessible in the Track View when documenting your tracks and Signal Path. For example, you may want to enter microphones, pre-amps, your reverb unit, your graphic EQ, and a few guitar pedals as devices. You then can enter up to 50 setting labels for each device, such as volume, tone, presence, high, mid and low, etc. It should also be noted that your devices need be entered only once to set up your studio in TrackNotes. After that, the devices are available to all your songs and projects.

The Studio View's "Instrument Grid" stores all your instruments. Use this grid to enter guitars, basses, etc. Be specific. Entering "guitar" and "bass" doesn't help, as we'll see later… you want to put in "Ovation Acoustic," "White P-Bass," and "Blue P-Bass".

The "Musicians Grid" is a database of the names of the musicians you work with, naturally. This may seem like overkill at first, but it’s going to save you a lot of typing later.

The "Studio Assets Grid" helps you appraise your studio equipment. You enter each item, its original cost, value, and replacement cost, model, serial number, date of purchase and comments. The grid calculates and tracks the cost of your total studio gear and how much it would cost to replace it. This is a really nice bonus feature of TrackNotes.

Song View:

The Song View's "Song Control Panel" is where you create, delete, and select songs. The remainder of this View allows you to enter general Song information, such as writers, credits, copyright info, comments and even recording mode. There is an area dedicated to the song description of the song: how the song was written, what inspired it, etc.

Tracks View:

Tracks View is where session documentation happens. This View is made up of four grids plus a Scene section. The grids include the Multi-Tracks, Signal Path Devices, Signal Path Settings, and Location Points. The Scene area supports up to 16 Scene snapshots.

Before delving too deeply into the Tracks View section, I should mention that there is a preference option that allows you to configure the software for the number of tracks (and virtual tracks) you have in your studio. For me… this is a nice set up option because I have a 16-track system, but I also have CPU tracks I can use, plus a feature specific to PARIS called "Intelligent Submixing"… I can configure TrackNotes to give me a place to document all of those options. This way, I am able to use TrackNotes as though it was a custom application written for my studio.

The "Multi-Tracks Grid" is where individual track information is entered. The "Name" column describes the track: "Guitar," "Bass," "Drums," etc. The "Artist" column is the person performing the track. Remember the Studio View’s "Musician Grid" that allowed for musicians’ names to be added? Well, here is where this feature pays off. With a click of a pull-down menu, all those names are right there. Select the musician you want to enter - you don't have to type in all their names! The same thing holds true for the "Instrument" column, select the instrument used on this track from that database you set up earlier in the Studio View. The "Status" column is where you can select from a pre-programmed "Track Status": "Approved," "Delete," "Retake," etc. This feature enables an engineer to quickly glance at a track's status. The next column represents the date the track was recorded or updated, etc. Sounds easy - it is.

There is also a "Fader" column that is used to document a track’s fader level. You can use this column to enter values from -40 dB up to 8 dB. The cool thing about this column is that it is bound to a sliding fader control that moves north and south. As you slide the fader control, TrackNotes reflects the appropriate dB level in the "Fader" column for the selected track. There is also a "Notes" button column that opens up a small edit window so you can type in notes specific to each track.

The "Signal Path Grid" is amazingly cool. Here you have the option to add studio devices to the selected track's signal path. Remember how I described entering all the devices (ex. reverb, EQ, and other devices) in the Studio View's device grid? Well, here is the payoff. A drop-down selection appears and any studio device can be selected from the list. Let's say we want to add the signal path for an acoustic guitar track. First we select the acoustic guitar’s track on the Multi-Track Grid. Next we append a record to the Signal Path Grid, drop down the list of devices, and select the "Ovation Acoustic" for that record. This becomes the first item in our signal path. We then add another device, drop-down the selector control, and select an effects box - a "Line 6 POD" for example. Drop that in. Then add whatever device is next in the chain, and so on. You can see how simple it is to document the signal path for each track. But that's not all. Remember how we entered setting labels for each device? When we highlight a Signal Path device, these same setting labels appear in the "Studio Device Settings" grid. There you can enter the actual session settings for each device in the signal path.

Does your multitrack allow for locator points? TrackNotes has an area for "Locations" too.

Side note: Because TrackNotes is a Multiple Document Interface (MDI) application, you can work on multiple songs concurrently - meaning that you can easily copy specific archived tracks, settings, and signal paths, from one song to another. For example, let's say you have a vocal track that was recorded several months ago and you want to copy its signal path settings to another song. Open both songs via the song control panel, go to the Track View for the original song, right-click the track you want to copy, and select either "Copy Track," "Copy Signal Path," or "Copy Track and Signal Path." Then switch over to the new song, select the target track I want to copy the data to, press paste, and "voila"! I now have transferred the old track with all its settings to the current song. You can also copy a complete scene from one song to another. It doesn't get easier than this!

An additional item in the Tracks View is a button with an icon that looks like a camera. If you don’t have a digital camera yet, here’s your excuse to get one. Let's say you have a miking set-up specific to… oh, a French Horn and the technique works great. Trying to describe this set-up in words can be difficult, but a picture is worth a thousand words! Take a few photos of the set up and save the image files in the directory for that song. Now, click on that little camera button… up pops a "Viewer" screen. Your photos are now available in the viewer… double-click one of the thumbnails and a full-sized view of that photo pops up. This is an awesome feature for TrackNotes. Because I work in PARIS and it's on a computer, I do screen dumps of my mixer window, graphic EQ screen, and editor windows, and then save those as graphics files in the data folder for that song. The viewer lets me look at these graphics at any time.

Lastly in the Tracks View are the Scene controls. These allow you to take snapshots of your session at various stages. You start out your session documentation in "Scene 0." Let's say you have a major change, like, the drums are mixed down to a stereo pair of tracks… copy "Scene 0" to "Scene 1" by clicking the "Scene 1" button, then you can document the mix-down. If you forget when, how, or why the drums were mixed down to a stereo pair… you can go back to "Scene 0" and compare it to "Scene 1," or just check your "Scene Notes" to read your summary of when, how, and why the drums were mixed down.

The navigation at the bottom of the screen is very well designed. This is how you move from one View to another. There is also a Memo button that lets you document any general notes about your session. There is another button that opens a delay calculator plug-in applet called Delay-It. Select or enter a tempo and Delay-It will provide you the quarter note, eighth note, sixteenth-note and triplet delay in milliseconds. The Lyricist button opens up TrackNotes’ sister application (Lyricist, sold separately, can run on its own too). Lyricist is a well-designed word-processing tool for lyric writers.

One of TrackNotes main features is its reporting functionality. Most everything can be printed out in report form. After a session, you can send clients home with the recording and printed track sheets that include all the notes.