77-Cakewalk music software

Updated 2022-04-09

It’s quite amazing what can happen in a year. As outlined below, Sonar and other great Cakewalk software finally died a death. Like a phoenix from the ashes, a mysterious company called “BandLab” acquired the software, but reflecting on the painful death of Opcode years ago I didn’t have much hope for it.

Apparently, however, the billionaire behind BandLab has poured a huge amount of money and resources into the software and made Sonar available for free! Not only that, it’s a fully updated and stable software release. It’s almost too good to be true and I hope the guy/company doesn’t lose interest and let it go again.

I strong recommend you check it out, at least if you have old Cakewalk/Sonar project files you despaired of ever being able to work on again.

Revisiting this in Apr 2022, I am pleased to report that BandLab appears to still be thriving, the software (it’s called “Cakewalk by BandLab” rather than Sonar) is still being supported and updated, and I still recommend it highly.

Historical notes and griping about apparent demise of Cakewalk/Sonar from 2018-09-15

Well, another one bites the dust. Twelve Tone Systems which became Cakewalk is a relatively recent victim of the industry; they were bought briefly by (Sony?) and now apparently have been cast adrift. The message at Cakewalk’s home page, visited today, reads:

Following the acquisition of certain assets and the complete set of intellectual property of Cakewalk Inc. from Gibson Brands on 2/23/18, BandLab Technologies today announced the relaunch of SONAR as Cakewalk by BandLab – available free-to-download to all BandLab users worldwide.

For more info I refer you there; I don’t know all the aspects of this change. I do know that Gibson acquiring other companies is the kiss of death, most sorely felt in their acquisition and destruction of Opcode Systems; a sorry and sordid tale for us stalwart fans of Vision, Galaxy, Max and other wonderful things.

Cakewalk was pretty famous for making solid, reliable and powerful music software, mainly for Windows. Their flagship DAW was named Sonar, and they also had extremely interesting soft synths Dimension, Rapture, Z3TA, Pentagon, sfz and other products. (In fact Dimension is still a staple of my productions for many years.)

In particular, one of my two or three favorite books on music software is “Cakewalk Synthesizers: From Presets to Power User” by Simon Cann.


Although I primarily use Ableton Live for my own productions, for power MIDI editing I use Cakewalk’s Sonar product (version 8.5.3 as of this writing.) For things like microscopic tinkering of MIDI events, handling System Exclusive and the like Sonar is the way.

Due to budgetary reasons, I’ve only been upgrading it about every other version. In 2010 I finally plunked down the upgrade money (which is usually quite reasonable) to get up to the 8.5 version. For my needs it probably has more power and functionality than I really need.

Here’s a quick list about some of the things I like and don’t like about it

Good things

  • Pretty nice GUI
  • Plenty of MIDI functionality

Not so good things

  • NO HEXADECIMAL!! I understand that it’s tough to get your mind around hexadecimal notation when first getting into computer music, but you really do need to do it at some point. it makes handling of program changes and MIDI controllers too weird (for instance, a bank of programs that might be referred to as 1500 Hex would be something like 5376 in decimal.)
  • Somewhat equally complex to do simple functions particularly the drum editor
  • Soft synth handling and VST a little baroque
  • Although the GUI is very customizable, the size of fonts is not. So throughout the GUI on a large monitor set to a hgh resolution all the GUI labeling is in tiny letters and numbers.

For someone used to using Live for most of his production, Sonar is a bit cumbersome. But there are plenty of keystroke shortcuts and such, and if I used it on a more regular basis I might get more adept.

Page#77 / last modified 2022-04-09