Avid Steinberg Twelve user Paul Needs tells us all about this user-friendly budget sequencer
New Atari 1040 owners will already know all about the virtues of Steinberg's budget sequencing package, but does it offer enough to interest existing ST users - Paul Needs analyses the situation
Steinberg's Pro 24 sequencing package for the ST is hailed as being an excellent program - indeed, it has been accepted by most recording studios as being the industry standard for sequencing MIDI controlled synthesisers.
The snag is that for the occasional or amateur (or skint) ST-owning muso, or a musician/writer/arranger making his first venture into MIDI music, Pro 24's hefty price tag of £285 can simply put it out of reach. Now, Steinberg have come to the rescue by producing Twelve, which is a cut-down 12-track version of Pro-24 version III that retails for just £129.
Twelve has caused a fuss in the industry recently, as Atari have chosen it to be bundled with a 1040ST as a musicians package. Other software producers may howl, but as 24 is the standard used in studios everywhere, that connection alone makes Atari's choice eminently sensible. The package is supplied on a 3½ disk in an A5 ring binder which also contains the manual.
The disk itself can be copied easily, (including to a hard disk) and there's no dongle, but the program insists that the original disk is inserted in drive A: as a key, before the program will run. I'd be the first to agree that software authors must be protected, but as a software user I'd much rather run an important program like this from a backup floppy or hard disk and have to use a dongle. The alternative of being forced to use my master disk too often doesn't rest easily on me, as mains spikes can have dreadful effects on disks, and not everyone is wise enough to purchase mains filters!
The manual is well written, and as this program is aimed squarely at newcomers to MIDI, assumes little prior knowledge on the part of the reader. It starts by telling you how to boot the program, and how to set up your synthesiser to the best mode for 12 to talk to it. At first, the manual simply tells you which keys to press and which box to click on, without explaining just why you are doing something. This could prove very frustrating to an experienced computer user, but as the whys and whats are covered later on in the manual, I think it is okay. It also treats the newcomer to hearing his program and synth do something - without first having to assimilate a huge amount of information and instructions.
It then slowly progresses to teaching the user to load and use previously stored patterns and songs, and teaching the use of the range markers - which define the limits (in bars) during which 12 will auto record. However, I did find the pace a little slow, as I'm familiar with MIDI and computers, but for a musician taking his first steps into a new and heavily jargonised world of computing it's nothing short of excellent.
Once set up, and you are beginning to get the idea of how the program works, it's a good idea to actually get used to using 12 as a tape recorder - as this is the basis of how it works. The manual takes you through this, although I found that another method worked much better for me. Anyway, the process simply involves choosing a track onto which you want to record, clicking on the tape recorder's RECORD button, and playing away at the keyboard (or MIDI guitar in my case). Steinberg MIDI programs all have a neat system of just reading the MIDI in information, and then assigning it straight back to the MIDI out port, on the channel that you've set up for the track.
In practical terms this means that you don't have to fiddle about setting the instrument MIDI channel to coincide with the software's MIDI channel on which you want to record. All the main features such as Play, Fast Forward, Fast Rewind, Record, etc; are graphically displayed on screen, and are operated with the mouse. Some other features, such as reset to zero and the aforementioned recording range can be set directly from the keyboard.
At the very top of the display, Steinberg have set up a whole host of GEM pull-down menus, which allow you to set features like MIDI-click, load and save files, and score edit the current track. Most things that you could want to do can be done from the main screen, whilst some of the less accessed bits are held in the pull-down menus.
The rest of the main display is taken up with indicators for tempo, and representations of track & playback status; with some simulated LED bar displays at the bottom of the screen. Detailed event editing is handled by means of 12's score editor. Some computer-types might prefer the grid editor on Pro 24, but as I'm a musician foremost, I find that I can achieve better results by editing in traditional musical notation - including all the subtlety of changes in attack and volume that this much under-used system can offer.
If you're a musician who has not really used computers, or programmed before, then the familiar sight of 'dots' would mean far more to you than an apparently meaningless grid full of little black lines. Full marks for the inclusion of score editing from me! Further, if you have some knowledge of multitrack recording, the program is extremely intuitive to use, with little need to refer continually to the manual once the basic principle have been grasped. Track bouncing is also possible by looping the MIDI out cable straight back into the MIDI in.
If you don't understand what I mean, don't worry too much, but I'm sure any 4 and 8 track tape users understand!
I found 12 to be superb. The price understates the value of the program, and the fact that files produced by 12 can be loaded into Pro 24 (and the first 12 tracks of a Pro 24 file into 12) makes it very useful when you get to a real recording studio. If you're a musician who has hesitated about getting into MIDI, or simply cannot afford or justify the cost of Pro 24, then Steinberg 12 is not only the next best thing, but an extremely useful program in its own right. It may lack some of the more professional features of its big brother, but if you really need to use them, you can upgrade later on when you find you need them. I personally believe that all the important parts are there, and that the power and control available is incredible. A high quality product offering exceptional value & facilities, and fairly easy to use.
Format: Atari ST (all versions)
Supplier: Evenlode Soundworks, (Contact Details)
Review by Paul Needs