Could a new DAW file exchange format help you move projects around?

So far, it’s got just two DAWs behind it – Bitwig Studio and PreSonus Studio One – but DAWproject’s creators hope the format will become a new open standard that lets you move projects between software.

Bitwig are again promoting a format they say they hope will be open – after last year talking about the CLAP plug-in format (with u-he). This time, they’re teaming up with PreSonus, makers of Studio One.

As long as you use those two DAWs, you can use this right now today (via Bitwig Studio 5.0.9 and Studio One 6.5). As for the rest, the complete specification is on GitHub under a permissive open source MIT license.

So what do you get out of this versus past interchange formats? DAWformat covers more of what is actually in a complete project. Versus AAF, some selling points:

  • Both beats and seconds supported as time formats
  • More audio metadata (time warping and transposition information)
  • Notes and note expressions
  • Tempo, time signature, and MIDI messages (a la SMF)
  • Channels states: panning, muting, sends
  • Plug-in state, parameter, and automation values (plus the same for internal devices)
  • Profiles for generic EQ, compressor, gate, and limiter (as in the stuff your DAW is likely to have internally)
  • Clips and scenes

So basically you get the musical info in Standard MIDI Format files, the project and time info in AAF, plus plug-in and metadata that had previously been proprietary to each DAW. That’s great, and it’s hard not to at least hope other developers do look at this.
All of the above is in the spec; interestingly a number of those features don’t even work yet in Studio One and Bitwig Studio (see the FAQ), but hey, it’s launch day.

The format itself looks great – and I don’t doubt that if you were making a new DAW now (Godspeed!), you should look hard at this format while doing it. There’s one issue here, which you may notice just scanning the list. All these new features, while cool, likely mean a larger investment of resources to support the format. That will in turn require a business case.

One possible comparison, though, is the extensive MusicXML format used in music notation – which, like DAWformat, is XML-based (obviously). That format has been a huge success story. There’s way more complexity to representing music notation and then dealing with different visual renderings of that score than you would have in an equivalent DAW project, arguably. MusicXML also managed to work across an intense industry rivalry, between MakeMusic and Finale and (then-independent, pre-Avid) Sibelius, plus other partners.

But MusicXML also points to some of the uphill battle DAWproject may face, which is simply that users have to really want exchange files between DAWs in the first place. That need for exchange is easier to see in the notation market than in the music production market. Maybe the file format is important there, but if you don’t have the same plug-ins, you might be exporting stems anyway.

Post-production is the one case where this does become important, and even with something like AAF and other cue formats, Avid has managed to dominate with Pro Tools partly by being a so-called “industry standard.” And if the impetus for DAWproject is unseating Pro Tools, the issue there is it needs the cooperation of … Pro Tools.

Going out and making something like this still makes some sense, even just for future use. And I’m curious to hear from other users and developers; maybe I’m underestimating interest in this use case and in inmplementation. Let us know.

In the meantime, you can give this a go or have a look:

DAWproject File Format FAQs

Bitwig and PreSonus are making it easy to share projects between programs [Bitwig news]

No one is allowed to mention xkcd 927 this time. (Honestly, SMF and AAF don’t even really count as that many standards yet. And… SMF was around during the rise of the Assyrian Empire, or some NAMM, those two I get confused sometimes.)

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