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Quinsoft Trax

Recording Studio Manager

David Mellor looks at a low-cost suite of Atari-based software applications to make your studio run more smoothly and more profitably.


Figure 1. Main Tracksheet screen.


Someone told me the other day that Ladbrokes are running a book on how many studios will close in the next six months. Want to place a bet? I don't wish to be a harbinger of doom and gloom, but the fact is that running a commercial recording studio is one of the easiest ways to lose your shirt. But why should this be so, there is plenty of money floating about in the media industry (including all the potential recording-related applications)? Why do studios all over the country open up one day, do business the next, and close their doors shortly after, the only trace of their existence being in the record of county court bankruptcy proceedings?

The answer is that people usually want to open a studio because they love music. That's why I have my own home studio, and that's why many readers of Sound On Sound have their own home or commercial studios. But at the end of the day, if the enterprise isn't profitable, then the studio can't continue and eventually the owner will have to sell up and go back to square one. In fact, it's more often a case of going back to square minus one to pay off all the debts that have accumulated.

Now I'm the last person to say don't start up a recording studio because you won't make any money at it. What I prefer to tell people who ask my opinion on the subject — as they do from time to time — is that it's a tough, competitive business. Even if you start in it for love, then you will have to develop a sound business attitude very quickly. I would like to see more and more studios opening, making music and, most importantly, doing it successfully and staying in business.

BUSINESS TOOLS



To run any business, you are bound to need equipment of some sort. Obviously a recording studio needs a mixing console, tape recorders, synths, software, and all the other exciting things that we would all just love to spend our money on. But when contemplating a business purchase, it is vitally important to thing about three points:
Will I earn more money with this equipment?
Will I be more productive?
Will the equipment save me money?

If you can't answer yes to at least one of these questions without having your fingers crossed behind your back, then you shouldn't be spending the money, unless you have it spare and can justify it as an 'artistic' purchase. There's nothing wrong with that as long as you know what your reasons are.

The review item under consideration here, software rather than equipment, isn't likely to be an artistic purchase, but the chances are that it will make your studio more productive, and it will help you save money. My definition of 'productivity', by the way, is being able to do more with the same equipment in the same time, and therefore you earn more money. The Trax software considered here helps you to be more productive by easing some of the chores in the studio, and it helps you save money by helping you become more organised about collecting it from your clients. Remember that if you forget to send out an invoice for £100, then that is £100 that you have lost. And it's surprisingly easily done when you have a lot of customers.

While I'm on the subject, have you heard about this particular form of dodgy business practice — double invoicing? What happens is that a supplier sends you one invoice and you pay it. A month or two later, he sends another for exactly the same goods. If you're not on the ball, you pay that too! I'm not of course suggesting that you do this, but be sure to watch out for it.

Trax, from Quinsoft, definitely comes under the category of a business tool, or rather a set of business tools. You're not going to go weak at the knees about it, like you — or I — might about the latest synthesizer, but your business brain will tell you that a modest outlay in this direction may make your enterprise that much more profitable. Then you'll be able to afford the synth! Trax provides a variety of useful functions: tracksheet, address book, invoicing, disk archiver, cue sheet, label printer, and more. If you have a yen to be more organised in your studio, Trax should be able to help.

Figure 2. Tracksheet dialogue box.


TRACKSHEET



If the Tracksheet program, which Trax incorporates, was just an expensive alternative to a sheet of paper, then there wouldn't be much point, unless you thought it would improve your hi-tech image to punch the tracksheet into the computer rather than just scribble it down. At a basic level, that's what you do, but that's only the start.

Figure 1 shows the main Tracksheet screen, with a section for information about the song at the top, as well as a listing of instruments down below. Here we see the screen configured for 24-track operation, but it works with 8-track and 16-track also, giving you larger boxes to write in, although you can't actually put in any more information. Clicking on any box brings up a dialogue panel like that in Figure 2. This gives you the opportunity to add extra info about the MIDI channel of the instrument on that track, EQ and effects, etc. The track information section at the top of the screen also expands to enter such goodies as the address of the client, so that you know where to send the bill. Addresses can be filed in the Address Book, which I have covered separately.

So far, this is pretty simple stuff, which you could jot down on the back of an envelope if you had a sharp enough pencil. The next stage, which goes a bit further than old technology can manage, is the Cuesheet.

Figure 3. Cuesheet.


As you can see from Figure 3, this is a list of things that happen during the course of a song, or during the course — as in this example — of the soundtrack to a 29 second commercial. This isn't just a static list, it can actually cue you through the track, and even though it doesn't use SMPTE/EBU timecode synchronisation, it's a lot better than either doing without or anything you could do on paper. Let's see how it works...

Suppose you have a video of a 29 second commercial, preferably with a countdown clock at the head of the tape so that you can anticipate the start point. When the picture commences, click with the mouse on the Start button. This will start Cuesheet's clock running, and even though it isn't locked to the video, it will only be out by milliseconds by the end. As the video runs, each time there is some event, like the car door opening or the scene change to the hotel lobby, click on the Learn button and the Cue Time will be entered into the list. After entering the cue points, and editing them via a dialogue box if necessary, you can type in a caption for each cue.

One point about the Cue Time column — you can preset this to correspond to the actual timecode on the video, so that you are dealing with the same numbers on the monitor screen and in the Cuesheet, but you are only allowed one 'hours' digit. There is a common convention where programmes start at timecode 10:00:00:00, which Cuesheet cannot accommodate. I suppose it's easy enough to supply the 10 hour offset mentally, since no actual synchronisation is involved, but I would have preferred the extra digit. (Timecode 10:00:00:00 is used because it saves any pre-roll from crossing 'midnight', ie. 00:00:00:00, which can potentially cause the equipment some confusion).

Figure 4. Mixdown.


The third page of Tracksheet — by now you would need the back of a very large envelope to keep pace, and a pencil sharpener — is for Mixdown (see Figure 4). This isn't the same as the main Tracksheet page. It can be, but it allows you to add extra channels for instruments played live into the mix via MIDI, up to 48 channels in total. To save typing in all the information on the Tracksheet, there is an Import button which copies the data across.

In the example shown, Channel 24 has been changed from 'SMPTE', which is on Track 24 of the tape and is listed as such on the Tracksheet. Here, Channels 24, 25, and 26 of the mixer are given over to sources other than the multitrack tape.

There's no denying that all of the things that Tracksheet does have to be done one way or another, whether you put it down on paper or hold the information in your head, and Tracksheet represents perhaps the computer age way of doing it. It's handier, you're less likely to get confused or lose the information, and it saves time, which means more time for making music. There is one disadvantage, however, which you have probably realised already. The Atari ST in your studio will already be busy running your sequencer and other music software. You'll need another ST to run Trax. Fortunately, Trax will run on a standard 520ST, which can be picked up for a pretty reasonable price these days. If you can get hold of a switch, so that you can run two computers on one monitor, then you might consider that the price is right.

A 'desk accessory' version of the Tracksheet is included with the Trax program, which you can pop up without having to leave your sequencing program (in most cases), but it is just a listing and lacks the versatility of the main program.

INVOX



Invox is a completely different program. It's still geared towards making your studio more efficient, but in a financial rather than a musical sense. Invox won't deal with all the money-orientated topics you will need, you'll have to look after the cashflow yourself, and you'll still need an accountant to deal with the tax man. Invox basically keeps tabs on the money that you spend, and helps you make sure that you actually get your hands on the money you earn!

There are two very good ways to miss out on money that should be flowing into your bank account which many new starters in business fail to consider adequately. One is forgetting to charge all expenses incurred in a particular job to the customer when appropriate, the other is not chasing up debts with sufficient alacrity. I know to my own cost that the longer a debt remains unpaid, the more chance there is of the company that owes you money going bust and leaving you well out of pocket. Chasing invoices can be time-consuming, and easy-to-use computer assistance would be invaluable.

Invox keeps a record of four types of transaction:
Credit: Where you receive money without issuing an invoice; royalties for example.
Debit: Payments for items like tape, salaries, etc.
Invoice: A bill you send to a customer requesting payment.
Receipt: For money received as payment of an invoice.

Figure 5. Invox transaction list.


Credits and debits record money coming into and going out from your business and are identified by the reason for the transaction taking place, which may be equipment hire, royalties, or whatever. Invoices and receipts are identified by the client to which they apply. All four types of transaction are entered into a transaction list, which is shown in Figure 5. This can keep, in a simplified form, all the financial comings and goings of your business, which you would amplify in a separate manual cash book for presentation to your accountant.

To generate an invoice, the Invox button is clicked. This brings up a form on screen for you to enter data — such as the client's name, what services or items the invoice is for, and the value of the invoice. In the Invox program, there is no such thing as an invoice which isn't printed out on good old-fashioned paper, the software won't let it exist; but after you have printed a copy, the invoice is added to the list of transactions with its own unique invoice number. That's stage one, bearing in mind that an essential factor in getting paid is actually putting the invoice in the post.

When you receive payment, you can generate a receipt pretty well automatically from the information on the invoice, or simply mark the invoice as paid. Either way, Invox now knows that you have the money and adds it to your running balance. Invox can also deal with part-payment of invoices, by keeping accounts on those customers who indulge in this anti-social practice. All you have to do is generate a receipt for the payment actually made and send it to the program's Statement Of Account for that particular customer. A quick look at this will always tell you where you stand, and help you remember to get those ever more strongly worded 'pay up or else' reminders sent out.

Figure 6. Statistical calculations.

However, what we all want to know from all this form generating and record keeping is the bottom line — how much is the studio actually earning? That is done under Statistical Calculations (Figure 6), which will let you keep tabs on what's going on financially, to a certain extent. It lets you include or exclude items which you may or may not consider relevant, particularly the Unpaid Invoices sections — it's not real money until it's in your bank account!

What all this doesn't show you — no fault of Invox, since it doesn't claim to be a financial adviser, merely an assistant — is whether your studio is going from strength to strength, or whether it is going down the tubes. For this, you need a cashflow projection. Without one it is impossible to know whether things are looking up, or looking grim. Anyway, that's a topic for another day.

ON THE RIGHT TRAX?



If you want to get organised, yes. The two major components of Trax, the Tracksheet and Invox, together with their shared Address Book utility, should make life in the studio smoother than before. Invox particularly will make it easier to do work that, unfortunately, just has to be done if you're in business. It doesn't do the work for you, notice, but it offers a worthwhile alternative to paperwork, the only possible disadvantage being that you have to fit in with its working methods rather than devising a scheme of your own choosing, or using one suggested by your accountant. Together with the smaller utilities, Trax is a useful business tool. And if it smooths the way towards making more money, well that can't be bad, can it?

FURTHER INFORMATION

£68 inc VAT.

Quinsoft Ltd, (Contact Details).

COPY PROTECTION

Although Trax is very much a common-sense usefulness orientated program, there is one distinct shortcoming — the disks it is supplied on are copy protected. You can make backups, but you will always be asked to insert the 'master' disk when you open one of the applications.

Floppy disks tend to be pretty reliable, unless you spill coffee on them, but program disks are generally used a lot more often than data disks, and that means that they are more likely to become unusable in one way or other, sooner or later. Although Quinsoft will replace a damaged master disk for a reasonable fee, what is the studio supposed to do while waiting for it to arrive? Suppose the master disk becomes damaged on the day an important client comes in to finish his project, and you have to work in a completely different way to the day before? Embarrassing? Definitely.

If there was no such thing as software piracy, then copy protection wouldn't be necessary, but other software companies seem able to make a profit without having to use it. Companies like Quinsoft should be moving towards a system of software registration, which would discourage piracy and help trace offenders (for whom there are now adequate legal penalties) rather than making the honest user suffer.


EXTRA TRAX UTILITIES

Your address book, with its list of client contacts, is probably the most valuable resource in your studio. Your income comes from your clients so it's very important to keep close track of them, especially smaller clients whose names and telephone numbers may not be so easy to come by if you lose them. It's also important to be able to get at your addresses quickly, and handy to be able to use them without typing them in every time they are needed — and they will be needed in the Tracksheet and Invox sections of Trax.

Trax's Address Book (I'll use capital letters when I'm talking about the program) is rather more versatile than the wood pulp alternative. It has an alphabetical list of names, which you can use in a very simple way if you like. Pick a client name and you'll get the address, contact name and telephone number (no space for a fax number, unfortunately), which you can edit, print, or simply look at. If you want to be a bit more sophisticated, you can use the Find function to find an address from just a part of the name. For example, if the client's name is Mac-something, then just type in 'Mac' and the software will find MacIntyre, MacTavish, and the Music Machine Mobile Disco in turn. You can find items, too, if you know just part of the address but not the client's name.

The most important feature of the Address Book is that the address files it generates can be used directly in Tracksheet and in Invox. It saves an awful lot of typing and avoids making mistakes. It's all very simple, but it works, and anyone who buys Trax will use it a lot. A useful inclusion.

Other useful items included in Trax are a Cassette Label Printer, which I am sure would be very handy if I could get blank labels for my laser printer. I'm sure it works fine with a dot matrix, though. There is also a Disk Archiver, which makes it easy to roam through the directory structure of any disk, no matter how deeply nested it may be, to find those elusive files.


Also featuring gear in this article



Previous Article in this issue

Digital Mixing Magic

Next article in this issue

King Korg and the Wave Monster!


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Aug 1990

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Gear in this article:

Software: Studio Utilties > Quinsoft > Trax


Gear Tags:

Atari ST Platform

Review by David Mellor

Previous article in this issue:

> Digital Mixing Magic

Next article in this issue:

> King Korg and the Wave Monst...


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