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.
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.