Rack-It Science

As a retired guy with no family obligations and a pronounced disinclination to do yard work, I have time on my hands. I need a big project to work on. Writing novels is painfully complex, and also very under-appreciated. Instead, I thought I might write a book about VCV Rack.

At the very least, the market is about 10,000 times less less crowded with VCV Rack books than with self-published novels. Also, there’s an identifiable community of VCV users, so finding a few readers would be easier to manage.

A couple of years ago I pitched a book proposal to Oxford University Press on software modular synthesizers. They liked the idea, and they sent me a contract. But their offer included only a $1,500 advance against royalties. I fired back an email saying, “Is there a zero missing in that number? Didn’t you really mean $15,000?” Well, no, they didn’t mean $15,000. My experience with commercial publishers has been that you really have to assume the advance is the only money you’ll ever see. Even for a big advance, it would have been an exhausting project. Such a book would have to include and do justice to VCV Rack, Cherry Audio, Softube, Native Instruments Reaktor, Csound, Pd and Max, and also semi-modulars like u-he Bazille. I should probably have known better than to think the project was manageable. So anyway, that book didn’t happen.

Even limiting myself to one software modular is almost too big a topic to be manageable. My VCV installation contains, at the moment, more than 2,100 modules. Granted, there’s a lot of redundancy, but even so, a book that aimed to be comprehensive would need to discuss literally hundreds of modules, each of which can be used in quite a variety of different ways.

Nor is that the only issue I’d have to wrestle with. These days, most people are learning about music software on YouTube. The major publishers of music tech how-to books have pretty much stopped releasing new books, because print is — well, print isn’t dead, exactly, but it’s pinin’ for the fjords. At the very least, a publishing project about VCV Rack would need to include video, audio examples, and downloadable patches.

I can do all that. My video editing is not professional quality, but I manage. Even so, the size of the work load has just doubled or tripled.

And then we get to the issue of obsolescence. Many of the modules in VCV can be expected to remain stable for the next year or possibly two years, but some of them will be updated. If a new version of VCV is released, some of the existing modules may disappear. (This happened when VCV went from version 1.1 to 2.0.) An actual paperback book would go out of date rather quickly. This happened with my Csound book, by the way. It’s dead.

I’m not convinced that a VCV Rack book would be the right project for me to tackle, but it’s tempting. The software is fun, it’s powerful, it’s well designed, it’s cross-platform, it’s mostly free (!), and there’s an active community of developers and users. One approach would be to do it in the form of blog posts, one or two every week. These would include video, audio, and downloadable patches. The posts could be updated as needed, based on new or updated modules or on comments from readers. And at a certain point I might bundle the blog posts together as a book, either print-on-demand or just a free PDF.

I don’t think an entry-level “this is an ADSR” book is needed. Anyway, I already wrote that book. It’s called Power Tools for Synthesizer Programming, and you can find the 2nd edition on Amazon. Maybe it’s time for something a little more advanced. I could just use this blog, or I could start a new one. I already have a YouTube channel. I have access to a server where I could upload supplementary materials.

Omri Cohen already has a wonderful series of videos on doing patching and sound design in VCV Rack. There’s no need for me to travel down that same path. The question is, what’s missing? What content would users find helpful or inspiring? And what would be fun for me to do, without being a crushing burden? I’ll have to think about that.

This entry was posted in modular, music, synthesizers, vcv rack and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Rack-It Science

  1. George Oliver says:

    There’s definitely a big VCV community, maybe just poll them and ask what they want? Crowd-sourcing some of the work (audio samples, maybe video, etc.) might be another way to make light work.

    I thought this theory book was an interesting/useful presentation, https://musictheory.pugetsound.edu/mt21c/MusicTheory.html

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