Why Use a Tracker?

Hi Guys,

First of all I have never used a tracker. I think I used one when I was younger. I’m an Abelton user. But, I’ve recently been led on a journey of some awesome chiptunes over the past few months, and have also learn’t a good number of artists I enjoy use Renoise - which now makes perfect sense because their music is very chiptune influenced.

This is the sort of music I really enjoy: http://instagram.com/p/egEhTqgzpW/ (although that’s only a clip)

Now, my question is why are trackers well suited to this over DAWs such as Abelton? Why would someone go with a tracker for this sort of music? I have a feeling the answer boils down to chiptunes. But I’m new to the genre and to trackers.

Is it down to personal preference or does Renoise contain features that make it ideal for chiptunes or chiptunes influenced music?


Chiptune is often made with trackers partially due to historical reasons, chiptune was born from trackers. But in practical terms there are many reasons why you might want to use a tracker:

  1. You want to perfectly emulate a particular chip. Lets say you want to make 100% accurate NES music, to the degree that you want to be able to generate a file that could be ripped to an NES cartridge. Specialized chip trackers can do that. One of the best ones for NES is Famitracker, and it’s pretty awesome. Even if all you care about is the sound of NES, using Famitracker has some advantages over something like the Chipsounds VST, namely the instrument editor is much easier to use. It also imposes authentic limitations you might not think about if using a sequencer, such as the inability to adjust the volume of the triangle wave channel (it is either on or off).

There are many dedicated chip trackers for various chips, and then there’s Deflemask that emulates multiple chips.

  1. Trackers (like Renoise) are designed with classic chiptune features, for example pattern effects. The arpeggio effect is something that just screams chiptune, in the same way distorted guitar screams heavy metal. You don’t have to use an arpeggiator VST with a tracker, you just put in the 0a0307 and you’re good. That may seem weird and foreign but it’s actually simple: 0a selects the effect, in this case arpeggio, 03 and 07 are the relative notes, so this would get you a minor arpeggio. Other pattern effects are heavily used in chiptune to create interesting sounding movement. Most chiptune doesn’t have filters or extensive automation or complex timbres. You have basic waveforms to work with, you have to make that count, so you use pitch slides, glides, etc. to do as much as you can with very little to work with.

Other than that, many people are just used to trackers from making chiptune in the past before sequencers came along, so may as well keep using the tracker interface.

Another reason to use a tracker, regardless of what music you are into, is that it forces you to think of music and cmposition in a slightly different way. Each software has its strengths and weaknesses, but I think the true value is how the software creates a workflow which makes you compose in a new fashion. In a tracker you don’t see the length of a sample or phrase in the timeline/arranger view, you don’t see a piano roll. It is like a drum machine turned into a full DAW. Creativity often lies in the limitations not in the possibilities. Renoise certainly has amazing possibilities and modern DAW features, but I think the reason to use it (besides that it is native Linux) is in the way it makes you approach music. I say this having never used any other tracker than Renoise and I am not really into chiptunes.

#1 reason: you can do everything with keyboard shortcuts, no mouse wrist strain.

Because you have deep hatred towards chords love towards point automation via the pattern effects commands.

Cheers guys. I’m going to give the demo a try when I get home. I have lots of questions, but I think it’s better if I just give it a go.

You might need more than one go though ;)/>. Trackers have a fundamentaly different aproach to composing music compared to other DAWs, so there’s a pretty steep learning curve if you’re not used to it.

For me the main reason to use a tracker is pure familiarity. I started out with trackers at a young age and have never been able to get a good workflow in any other type of software (not even Ableton :)/>).

Good luck!

For making music inside a computer it’s as close as you can get to an instrument IMO. You actually get better and better at playing it as you keep going. Perhaps this is more true for a sample heavy workflow but the interesting thing is you become more sample heavy as you get used to working with them. I mean I was like all synths and stuff when I started using Renoise and now I just sample everything (even though they are often still synths).

Renoise’s my first tracker and I’ve tried all the other DAWS for years but somehow I can just never go back after being biten by the tracker workflow bug.

You can do some serious crafting with instruments indeed, but that also requires a lot of patience, the better you want to reproduce an instrument.

I concur on this! But - trackers can seem overwhelming at first - I strongly suggest you take a look at some video tutorials. There are a lot of really good renoise tutorials out there.

Of course, you can always load up a demo song and see what how it’s assembled. =]

(I suggest trying to find a simple demo song, myself).

Well finally got my copy today. Well the demo, although at this rate I very well may purchase.

My brain keeps saying “HEY YOU GET BACK TO ABELTON” because I just shelled out a fortune on the Live Suite 9. But I’m teaching my brain that they can coexist together and I’m actually really liking using samples in the tracker.

My MPC 2500 has something that’s very much similar to a tracker.

I just really like this different way of working. As I come from a computer programming background I’m surprised I’ve never tried something like this. It feels so natural.

Cheers guys :D

I actually rewire renoise as a slave into live. I prefer lives tracking and layout but hate the drum rack / piano roll for beats. I use Renoise exclusively as a drum machine/ sample box

I’m really loving drum programming in Renoise at the moment. It seems so free, and able to create more complex rhythms. Only thing I miss is the swing quantisation I’m not sure if Renoise has anything like this, but I’m able to create natural swing with programming anyway in Renoise so it’s no big deal.

Last time I used Rewire was some years back, but I’m interested to see how it hooks up to Live and use them side by side. Will try this out myself tonight.

Both programs have strengths and weaknesses, so they indeed work well together. Renoise has much better latency compensation, has keyboard shortcuts for literally everything to reduce mouse strain, and is great for really precise editing. Ableton Live is usually better for live usage, has much better midi routing, and the instrument/effect racks are capable of complex routing that would require sends in Renoise.

definitely give the demo a good month - but doing what I did, and just buy it (back at 1.8), will MAKE you learn it, especially if you don’t have very much money. Much like buying a piece of hardware, you’ll force yourself to learn it enough to at least validate it’s purchase :)

nothing quite like that “ohfuckijustspentmoneyonthisi’vegottafigureitoutNOW” feeling!

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I’m really loving drum programming in Renoise at the moment. It seems so free, and able to create more complex rhythms. Only thing I miss is the swing quantisation

If you open the note-delay column (SHIFT+CTRL+D), you can enter values to control each note’s time very accurately (0 = no delay, 255 = almost next line).

But, it could be a little bit tedious if you always had to enter those commands. Luckily, the delay command can be specified as an FX command (Qxx) in a group track as well, and will affect all tracks within that group - albeit precision for the FX command is limited to a tick level.
So you can program some groove and then copy-paste the group track containing the delay commands to whatever part of the song you want to see shuffled, and combine with with additional delay commands as you see fit.

Here’s a quick example (.xrns)

i use renoise because my self esteem is so low rohypnol doesnt work on me anymore. i need renoise to masterbass.

I like Renoise because it reminds me of Vim.

You’re a sick, sick man, lol.