The DAW Collaboration Framework (DCF)

Categories: Software Prototypes/Non-Commercial Products

Submitted by:Scott Stickland

24 May 2023

Elevator Pitch

The DAW Collaboration Framework (DCF)

Browser-based middleware that interfaces with shared Cubase projects via virtual MIDI ports, establishing online collaboration with real-time videoconferencing and synchronised audio and MIDI track mixing.

Product Description

The DAW Collaboration Framework (DCF)

The DCF is a novel application and infrastructure that interfaces with an existing professional digital audio workstation (DAW) platform (Steinberg’s Cubase Pro) that addresses several critical audio mixing and music production characteristics. Interviews with professional audio engineers revealed that the “ideal” remote collaboration setting needs to deliver an experience similar to an in-studio environment. Therefore, the DCF enhances user interoperability and presence through a focus on (a) real-time communication and interactions; (b) access to high-resolution audio material and monitoring; (c) equitable localised access to and control of a DAW project; and (d) the ability to scale to many remote participants. No current-to-market DAW software platform facilitates and integrates all of these criteria. By transferring and accessing locally-stored DAW project and audio files, the DCF provides synchronous “in the box” mixing operation of multiple DAW instantiations through the transmission and reception of MIDI control data, facilitating real-time high-resolution monitoring in each user environment. The DCF circumvents the latency and quality issues associated with network audio streaming, facilitates scalability to multiple users with no degradation of service, allows the control of project elements in real-time, and provides real-time communication and interaction through videoconferencing and text-based chat features. The DCF’s synchronised “in the box” audio and MIDI track mixing functions include real-time level fader, panning and insert plug-in parameter changes; track selection, muting and soloing; transport commands; and playback positions. The DCF’s web application utilises virtual MIDI ports and the Web MIDI API to interface with Cubase’s remote controller, MIDI Timecode (MTC) and MIDI Machine Code (MMC) functionality, receiving MIDI messages directly from the local DAW project and synchronously transmitting to all other collaborators.

How It's Innovative

Current recording industry-standard DAW platforms offer limited-to-no remote collaboration functionality outside of real-time remote high-resolution and lossy audio recording (for instance, Steinberg’s VST Connect and VST Connect Performer, Source Elements’ Source-Connect and Audiomovers’ ListenTo and ListenTo Receiver) and asynchronous DAW project and audio file cloud storage and sharing (for instance, Avid’s Cloud Collaboration for Pro Tools and Steinberg’s VST Transit). The DCF provides the crucial infrastructure and interfacing capability to connect several online participants and their local DAW applications. In-studio test results show that the DCF can accommodate up to 30 simultaneous connections with Internet bandwidths of 100 Mbps server-side and 50 Mbps client-side. The DCF links remote instantiations of a professional DAW project, in this instance, a distributed Cubase Pro project, in its pre-mixed state and provides synchronised audio mixing operation in tandem with video and text-based real-time communication facilities. How the DCF receives, parses and transmits MIDI CC, Note On/Off, MTC, and MMC messages gives it the flexibility to potentially expand to additional professional DAW platforms that utilise user-defined remote controller scripts, including Ableton, Logic Pro, FL Studio, Reason, REAPER and Bitwig Studio. Furthermore, the DCF can integrate the Universal MIDI Packet (UMP) MIDI 1.0 format once DAW manufacturers implement the UMP protocol by prepending an additional byte, comprising a 4-bit message type and a 4-bit group number, to the existing control data messages.

Most Inspiring Use Cases

Perhaps the most impactful and inspired use of the DCF could be in delivering online audio and music production education. Rather than relying exclusively on virtual learning environments with asynchronous video demonstrations, an online tutor can conduct real-time lessons using the DCF’s videoconferencing facility and practical demonstrations of DAW mixing techniques synchronised across the online class. For example, consider the following scenario, made possible with the use of the DCF: A college of music offers an online course in advanced audio mixing. The online tutor, who has a class of 25 remote students, has shared access to high-resolution audio files and a Cubase project via a cloud storage folder. The tutor and students, who have already downloaded the project and high-resolution audio files to their local computer, open a local instance of the Cubase project with remote control facilitated by the DCF. The class communicates via the videoconferencing feature, and the tutor and students connect Cubase to the DCF, linking all of the remote DAW instantiations. Initially, the tutor demonstrates using a compressor plug-in, which the students observe in their local Cubase project. Any adjustments to the compressor plug-in are executed on the tutor’s local version of Cubase and then mirrored on all other remote instances of Cubase within the collaboration session. Wishing to gauge the students’ level of understanding and proficiency, the tutor individually invites students to apply compression to another of the audio tracks in the project. Everyone observes the changes with live comments managed via videoconferencing or a text-based chat.

Expansion Plans

The next phase in the DCF’s development is the creation of wrappers to interface with an increasing number of DAW platforms. These wrappers could allow the DCF to implement translation tables that map similar DAW functions to cater to multiple DAW platforms in one collaboration session. Steinberg has introduced new MIDI remote integration via script (JavaScript/JSON) and mapping features in Cubase 12 that will eventually replace the long-standing Generic Remote feature. This upgrade brings Cubase in line with other DAWs that implement remote controller scripts, including Logic Pro (Lua scripting) and FL Studio (Python scripting). Work has already begun on replacing the existing Generic Remote XML scripts. Hopefully, future expansion will include examining the MIDI CI and Property Exchange capabilities catering to DAW platforms that adopt MIDI 2.0 functionality, particularly to assess if the DCF can implement automatic DAW platform identification and function mapping. Similarly, as the various DAW platforms adopt MIDI 2.0, work will be done to update the DCF to accept and process MIDI 2.0 UMP protocol messages.


I anticipate that the DCF will ultimately be subscription-based software-as-a-service (SaaS), attracting Cubase users as early adopters. As the DCF evolves and integrates other DAW platforms and attracts a broader user-base, it can facilitate educational subscription or licence offers to worldwide institutions that run online audio and music production courses. There also exists the possibility of licencing the DCF to plug-in developers to offer live online masterclasses on the use of specific plug-ins with those mixing engineers who assisted in the development process. For instance, Waves Audio Ltd. could promote interactive customer sessions with experts such as Chris Lord-Alge, Andrew Scheps, Greg Wells, Manny Marroquin and Tony Maserati on their signature range of plug-ins, demonstrating their application through a shared DAW project created especially for the session.