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Indaba Music, who first came on the scene in 2007 have grown into strong online music community and one of the first to offer a cloud based DAW – “Mantis” that could allowed users to record and collaborate on tracks. I decided to put this tool to the test to see how its features lived up to existing recording applications and what it offered to studio musicians and producers looking to work online and collaborate with other artists. In this first part of my feature I’m going to take a look at Mantis and cover the recording and editing of a basic track.
Getting started
Once I’d created a profile on the Indaba site that would allow me to introduce myself to potential collaborators I logged in and created a new session within the “My Studio” section of the dashboard. I was quite impressed that the site allowed the chance to upload WAV or AIFF files that I may want to use before the actual online DAW was launched – a handy featured for those looking to import parts from projects recorded elsewhere.

Having launched Mantis in my browser I was able to easy create new tracks by left-clicking on the tracks section and name them accordingly.

I’d decided that I would use one of the drum loops provided by Indaba rather than import a loop of my own since this would give me a chance to test their loop navigation tool. This consisted of a well laid out browsing window? that clearly details the styles and instruments on offer as well as displaying the tempo and key of loop within audition section.

Having selected a fairly interesting  loop I then needed to replicate it to create a drum track to record over. I have to say that at this point Mantis does not really offer a means of doing this that is altogether intuitive but instead actually rather confusing – I’d suggest they look to some established DAW’s for some ideas here. I decided instead to use the standard copy and paste option with the well laid out Snap to Grid function to replicate the tracks, which took longer than I would have liked.

With my drum loop in place I decided to record an electric guitar part using my Vox Tonelab guitar FX running straight into my PC. Having plugged in and clearly getting sound through to my monitors I noticed that the input signal on the track did not seem to be responding which preventing me from checking my input level. I instead used my soundcard mixer on the PC to check this and armed the track to record.
I started recording and was instantly impressed by how fast and responsive this process was, especially bearing in mind my studio PC has a wireless connection to the internet. I also noticed that the signal level on the track was now working – useful but somewhat late!

Having recorded my first guitar part I listened back and was surprised to find that it was slightly out of sync with the drum loop – despite having recorded in time and to the DAW’s metronome. However this was easily remedied by zooming into the waveform and shifting the recorded part so it was now in time. I have to admit that it is here in its editing features that Mantis is a real winner – it works smoothly and intuitively to the degree that you forget after a while that you are not using a standard DAW like Cubase or Pro Tools.
Other features available include non-destructive editing and the ability to drag recorded or imported parts onto the track from a list on the left hand side of the mixer – this latter feature is something I’d like to see in more traditional DAW’s too as it allows you to easily lay down a basic structure of a track. One thing that is missing however is the ability to loop sections of the track, an omission I was surprised by bearing in mind how much of a core feature it is in standard audio workstations.
Multi-tracking & FX

I proceeded from here to lay down some additional guitar parts and, despite the return of my previous syncing issues everything went fairly well. There are a few standard DAW features that I would like to see added here to make things easier, such as the option to jump to the start of the track (or even better – loop points) and an overall volume control rather than just for individual tracks but, like the looping function  I suspect Indaba will implement these in the future as Mantis continues to evolve.
With my initial tracks now recorded I decided to liven things up by adding some FX to the drums and selected some compression to add some punch and slap back delay. Whilst neither effect was up to the standard of some of the VST’s I use within Cakewalk Sonar, either in terms of visual interface or flexibility I was still impressed at how quickly they could be applied. Mantis contains the standard toolkit of compression,  reverb, modulation and EQ tools which would certainly suit the beginner and I’d imagine the capacity to include more advanced FX in the future for more advanced users.
File Management

With the bare-bones of a track to offer up to potential collaborators in place I decided to save the track using the available file menu. The saving process involved uploading all of my recorded parts, even the ones that I had chosen to not include in the track to my Indaba profile and took some time to complete. I worked out later on that these unwanted parts could be removed from the session page on the Indaba dashboard but not from within Mantis itself – a rather awkward way of doing things especially when it takes so much longer to save as a result.

Despite its glitches, odd omissions and sometimes strange choice of functionality the easy non destructive editing and slick recording interface  coupled by the fact I can record and edit anywhere I can get an internet connection makes Mantis  a very compelling option indeed. Add MIDI softsynths, better FX to this and you are looking a seriously promising prospect for amateur and professionals alike. I think that all artists and producers will be able to find something within Mantis that is useful to them, be it being able to record on the road or easily collaborate with others wherever they are in the world. Let’s hope Indaba keeps up the good work and develops its online DAW into the slick cloud based application it truly deserves to be.
Want to join in?

For the next part of this feature I will be looking at the collaborative tools within Indaba and am looking for people to work with me on the recorded track. Have a listen to it below and let me know via my Indaba profile or info (at) if you want to get involved.

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  1. […] covered their Mantis online DAW early in the month and will be looking at their community and collaboration features in […]

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