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Get Off On The Right Foot With Tracktion

Mackie''s new digital audio recording and sequencing software gets your project up and running quickly and easily.

Advertorial by Jim Aikin

Producing music on your computer doesn''t have to be a brain-bending struggle. It doesn''t have to cost megabucks, either. With Mackie''s new Tracktion digital audio recording and sequencing software, you can create great-sounding tracks quickly and easily. Tracktion lets you record your own songs using both audio tracks (such as vocals and sampled drum loops) and MIDI synthesizers. Its features are amazingly deep for such an affordable program, yet everything is laid out on the screen in such a friendly way that even a newcomer can get up and running with very little effort.

Key Features

Tracktion has a solid suite of built-in effects, including reverb, chorus, and EQ. It can host VST plug-ins, including VST instruments, allowing you to expand its capabilities. Thanks to Tracktion''s support of ReWire technology, VST instruments are tightly integrated with the host program. The program also features automation, graphic MIDI editing, and much more.

As with any digital audio sequencer, MIDI and audio can be used side by side, and after recording, you can slide chunks of music around on the screen to make an arrangement. You can repeat a short music clip as often as you like, and you can mix and match drum parts, bass lines, guitar licks, melodies, and so on.

With Tracktion''s effects, you can transform every sound: The drums can sound as if they''re in a huge cave, while the vocal sounds like Darth Vader on steroids. And a quick click of the A button beside a track is all it takes to add curves that will change the track''s volume, stereo panning, or tone while the music plays.


Let''s take a quick look at a few of the other things you can do in Tracktion. The tips below don''t come close to exhausting the software''s features, but they should give you a better idea both how powerful Tracktion is and how easy it is to use.

FIG. 1: Tracktion markers are displayed as yellow triangles.

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Markers. Markers are essentially location points that allow you to jump directly to a particular point in a track or song, so get in the habit of assigning markers to the beginnings of the sections of your song. In Tracktion, markers are displayed as yellow triangles (see Fig. 1). To set a marker, hold the Ctrl key and tap a number key (in the top row of the computer keyboard, not on the number keypad); this will place a marker in the time ruler at the current location of the play cursor, which is the vertical purple line.

Once your have placed your markers, you can tap the number keys to locate to them. You can even do this while the song is playing, which is a quick way to listen to one section over and over, or jump ahead. There is no need to assign a marker to the start of the song, though, because the computer''s Home key will take you there.

Multiple undo/redo. One of Tracktion''s most important features is the multiple undo/redo buffer. If you''ve made a series of edits and things have gotten messed up somehow, just hit Ctrl-Z over and over to undo each step of your work. To redo edits that you''ve just undone, use Ctrl-Y.

Key commands. Tracktion''s well-designed graphic interface makes it easy to use the mouse for just about everything. Even the Undo and Redo buttons are right there onscreen. But sequencer power users know that it''s faster to use key commands, and Tracktion provides this feature. If you click on the Settings tab at the top of the screen, and then click on “key-mappings” in the left column, you''ll see the list of Tracktion''s key commands. After learning your way around the program, come back to this list and study it, as it''s a quick guide to some features you may not have noticed.

Editing clips. The basic editing moves for clips (sections of music) are well explained in the Quick Start Guide. No matter how much you dislike reading manuals, it''s well worth your while to skim this section.

FIG. 2: To route a MIDI track to a synth, drag the MIDI input device at the left side of the track window so that its arrow points to the track, and make sure the MIDI input device's channel parameter matches the channel setting of the external synth.

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Assigning MIDI tracks. To assign a Tracktion MIDI track to an external hardware synthesizer, click on the track name to select the track. The available output devices will be listed in the properties window at the bottom of the screen. Click the MIDI Out port you want to use. Still not hearing anything? Drag the MIDI input device at the left side of the track window so that its arrow points to the track (see Fig. 2), and make sure the MIDI input device''s channel parameter matches the channel setting of the external synth.

Seeing and auditioning tracks. Want a better view of what''s in a track? Click on the lower edge of the track and drag downward, and it will enlarge. Want to hear what''s in an audio clip? Double-click at any spot in the clip, and the clip will play (soloed) from the spot where you click up until the right edge of the visible track area. Or double-click and hold and then drag the mouse left or right to “scrub” the clip playback. Playing a clip this way bypasses the track''s plug-in filters, which can be useful if the filters are doing something drastic to the sound and you want to bypass the filters temporarily.

Setting Program Changes. The first time I tried using one of my VST soft synths on a Tracktion MIDI track, I was delighted to find that Tracktion displayed the correct program names when I clicked “insert program change — set the program for this entire clip.” If you forget to set the sound program after recording a clip, Tracktion won''t know what synthesizer preset you want to use, which means your synth will quite likely play the wrong sound. So get in the habit of setting the program change after recording.

Time stretching. Tracktion''s time-stretching can smoothly change the length of an audio clip without changing the pitch. This type of time-stretching isn''t ideal for sampled drum loops, though, because the sharp attacks of the drum sounds will get smoothed out. If you want to use a sampled drum loop but it isn''t quite the right tempo for your song, select “stretch — no time-stretching” in the lower left corner of the clip editing area. Then hold down the Alt key (also called the Option key on the Macintosh) and click on the hollow triangle at either end of the clip to stretch or shrink it so that it starts and ends on the beat. When you select “no time-stretching,” changing the length of an audio clip will also change its pitch, but a drum loop will usually sound good even if the pitch is a bit higher or lower than before. The crisp attacks of the drum sounds will still be there.

FIG. 3: Tracktion enables you to easily draw MIDI controller curves. Here, we've applied Modulation data to a bass track.

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Drawing MIDI controller data. Drawing MIDI controller data into MIDI clips is a power user technique for adding expression to synthesizer tracks. Here''s how to do it in Tracktion:

1. Select the MIDI clip.

2. Click “show/hide MIDI editor” in the lower left corner of the Clip Controls area at the bottom of the screen.

3. When the mouse is over the clip, a set of tools is displayed along the left side. Click on the one that looks like a knob, and choose the controller you want from the popup list.

4. Select the pencil tool.

5. Draw in the clip (see Fig. 3). New controller events will be added at the current snap resolution, which is based on how far in you''ve zoomed. To draw a thicker controller curve, hold down the Shift key while drawing.

6. To change existing controller events without adding new ones, use the arrow tool instead of the pencil.

The Last Word

Your music productions in Tracktion will only sound as good as the source material you''re using. By buying a sampled loop library, you can add professionally recorded beats to your productions. And by reading Electronic Musician and other music-technology magazines, you can learn much more about the wonderful world of synthesizers, plug-in effects, microphones, and recording techniques. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step—and Tracktion is a lot more than a great first step!

For more information on Tracktion, visit