Originally Posted by robkramble
I've heard about trackers in passing and know that they were big in the 90s I guess (I'm assuming they were the software on those Atari computers?) but have no idea what makes them different from a standard DAW.
Tracker started , or properly they were created by demo groups. Few decades ago graphic technologies were driven by young hackers that excelled at creating impressing graphics using their deep knowledge of code. In order to expose those graphics to the general public they created demos, small animations that evolved around a theme. Those animations were proceduraly created meaning they did not use graphic files or video files just pure code.
Those coders quickly realized that their demos would look and feel much cooler with music to accompany them. Problem was that many of those coders were not musicians and certainly not keyboard players. So they did what seemed natural to them , created their own software to create music. That software called tracker implemented a very similar interface to programming by entering through keyboard music commands corresponding to midi notes with the addition of code for volume and some basic audio effects.
Tracker quickly took the world by storm because unlike music software of the time could be used for making complete tracks. Tracker were extremely efficient in handling resources , cpu and memory.
Ironically enough it was not the interface that made trackers so extremely famous , it was not even the songs, it was the sound libraries . A tracker has its own format which is self contained, that means that contains both the midi messages and the audio data. Tracker at the time were strictly sample based , because of limitation of the hardware , its was common to see 8khz 8bit mono samples with amazing sound textures. Those coders could squeeze even the last 1% out of your cpu and ram. And an entire tracker file could be no bigger than a few kbs. So people went into a craze of exchange of samples through tracker files , to such extend that many different sounding songs were created with exact same sound libraries, because tracker musicians took sampling manipulation to extreme even with tracker's limited features. This movement became so massive even though it start with low fi electronic music quickly moved to all genres of music, lation, heavy metal, even classical. It was a huge explosion, in a time that DAW was not even known as a term. And of course anyone could use a tracker, it was simple, fun, extremely low in resources demand , 100% free , even open source.
But times changed as always they do and the technology evolved so much that after 2000 when the big explosotion in CPU and RAM took place it made DAWs a reality many of those tracker musicians moved to DAWs since , as CPU and RAM were no longer a big issue.
These days , modern trackers exist that combine both DAW and tracker facilities. The one thing that makes tracker still popular is the fact that they are much simpler than daws to learn. You can learn making a song in few hours, learning the software inside out should not take you more than 2 weeks and of course mastering a tracker is still way easier than mastering a DAW. Another is that their sound libraries are still sounding very good and now with no real limitation of CPU and especially ram they sound 1000 time better than ever before.
It might be strange to average user that a 8khz 8bit mono sample could take the music community by storm, but for an older romplers of any sort that is the rule and not an exception and tracker musician utilised the same art of producing the best sound using the least powerful hardware.
Till this day, no DAW can squeeze as much as a tracker can out of your hardware and trackers like Renoise combine old trackers techniques with new ones and DAW features like VST and AU support, massive mixers and professional on board audio effects.
In the end choosing to work with a tracker has to do with the way your mind works, tracker follow a code wise approach, modern DAWs follow a linear way of approach. The good news however is that tracker remains the best way to learn music making by far.
because each song is self contained , it allows you to deeply reverse engineer it . Obviously a modern DAW like REASON utilise this approach, and most modern daws offer now self contained formats, still however you will never find the amount of examples you can study as the ones contained in the archives of modarchive. The Mod Archive v4.0a - A distinctive collection of modules
Till this day, trackers take "Less is More" Mantra to the extreme and they remain the mecca of minimalism. And they grow more popular in platforms like ipad , ipod and android devices because of their low demands.
In my ipad I have tons of fun with Sunvox. WarmPlace.Ru. SunVox synthesizer
and it still amaze me how much audio quality I can squeeze out of this Tasmanian Devil.