First off, I really like Groove Agent 4 for its powerful features. I think this is where Steinberg shines in general. Not so much in GUI and workflow (at least in GA), so here are some of my suggestions (I will also take the survey):
1.) Major GUI overhaul needed: Re-sizable windows have been mentioned; But also start to introduce larger buttons & flat icons as now standard everywhere else in XD (in GA they are too small, too many, hence too complicated). 2.5 mm size buttons might have been cool in the 90ies, but with large screens and higher resolution these minute icons are a killer for our eyes. Also, please make the whole GUI experience (XD) a little more intuitive. The guys that developed SD3 nailed it. I’ve also seen this feedback regarding small icons in GA in Music Magazine btw. I really think the Dev / Design Team should take it to heart and move away from the tiny buttons / GUI philosophy.
2.) I love Maggi’s idea of a separate “Synth / Drum Machine Agent” (808, 909 & Co) for GA. Maybe include a dedicated kick drum designer based on the existing sample layer feature in Beat Agent, but a multi synth layering feature with a more EDM friendly workflow in mind. Again, make GUI a little more intuitive. Beat Agent: Sample based drum beats. Machine Agent: Synth based drum beats. Give us a drop down to choose various Models (808, 909 are obvious ones, but include some other cool ones). Also including styles (Midi’s) from different EDM genres, to get us started quickly (House, Trance, Trap aso.). Do I want the ultimate Drum Machine / EDM Styles Expansion pack?!? Yes please!
3.) Too many options in general can greatly slow down our workflow. Don’t cram the GUI with millions of options and tiny buttons. Let us focus on the major workflow options we need at the current stage we are working in. I find myself looking up the manual constantly (after taking courses multiple times, reading the manual, making multiple cheat sheet aso). Check out NASA’s guidelines on c o c k p i t resource management. Simplify the " c o c k p i t " but keep it powerful under the hood. Its hard to do (a development within the development) but cool when you pull it off. It can of course backfire when you overdo it (see Adobe Acrobat DC - a terrible example of over-simplification).
4.) Steinberg has this immense talent to place the most important features onto the smallest possible icons no less than 2,5 mm in diameter. If you forget to press one of these buttons, you often don’t get any sound or other issues (hence, simplify midi routing, outputs, mixer aso). The best of pilots would have crashed his plane with that kind of GUI layout in the c o c k p i t. Also, it shouldn’t take an hour just to get sound / midi / mixer routing set up. But defacto that’s what I find myself spending alot of my time on (where I should be spending time on beat making and other creative processes). Let Groove Agent do the setting up for us. For obvious options, let GA make decision and move decision making & further options to the background. All the options and little buttons, icons and symbols are often counter-intuitive. You really expect us to memorize all the icons / symbols, especially when they are that small? In the meantime I am remembering most of them, but I really don’t enjoy it. Maybe focus less on making everything available in GUI through small buttons and focus more on serving us only the buttons / options we need within the workflow stage. Make it less tech freaky and more user friendly. GUI Design with creators not programmers in mind. GA does not yet feel like a user-friendly instrument, too tekky & cluttered for my taste.
5.) Pad based layout? Hmmm. I think I would actually prefer a more time line based layout within GA. A nice track layout, where I can setup, drag, mix and shuffle within Groove Agent, test my beat within GA and when I like the full beat, pull it over to Cubase / DAW Project window at the end of my session and/or save it as a midi file, style, kit, audio file or as dissolved audio files (as separate audio for each instrument).
I understand that pad based layouts might be a good idea for live performances: But lets be honest, how many of us are going to schlep their workstation w/ monitors, DAW and Interface onto a stage when performers usually have a dedicated DJ Deck anyway? With devices that are more reliable, don’t freeze or crash in front of an audience.
Or make both workflow options available: Pad & Timeline. Screen Real Estate has increased, so why not? To have only a pad layout feels clumsy, because I have to drag out individual parts onto the DAWs project window, then move back into GA to find a fill or break beat, then back to the DAW, then into the Drum Editor / Beat Designer and vice versa just to lay down my full beat. Maybe also add a dedicated effects timeline within GA just below the beat time line, to make effects more visible and not hidden in another tab (the effects time line could make changes visible and could translate into the automation lane later after the beat is dragged over to the DAWs project window). Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a feature like the “direct offline process” for parts on a timeline within GA? It should really be easy to create the full beat within Groove Agent without ever leaving GA and have the best possible options available when exporting / dragging & dropping the end result (either as Midi Full, Midi Dissolved, Audio Full, Audio Dissolved).
6.) Besides a timeline, a more consistent stage based approach (tabs) would also be preferable (to me at least). Stage 1: Setup / Routing — Stage 2: Choose Kit — Stage 3: Choose Style / Midi — Stage 4: Dynamic & Creative Effects — Stage 5 Mixer / gain-staging aso — Stage 6: Save or move to project window. Yes its nice that GA is super powerful. But there are so many different ways of doing the same things that it is very confusing at times, especially when you just want to get something done quickly. It certainly doesn’t help to focus: One Road ahead - lets go, many roads ahead - scratch my head. Groove Agent should help us tighten up our workflow, not broaden it to the point where we get distracted by endless possibilities and technicalities, little details that make us forget what we set out to do at the beginning: create a beat quickly!
6.) Dragging MIDI into the DAW / Cubase Project Window can have awkward behavior. Sometimes I can drag it onto a pre-existing Midi Track, sometimes not (then it creates a new track).
7.) Drag Audio, full or dissolved: Would also be nice, if we could drag individual drum instruments from GA directly into DAW audio tracks as audio (not just Midi). As an example, move my kick onto an audio track, my snare onto another audio track aso without setting up output channels, routing and groups (just to lay down some audio). I just think drag & drop (in this case audio) is just so much easier and more intuitive. It would save time, as we don’t need to put our heads round output and routing setups. By the time I got all outputs / routing / midi / groups aso set up, my creative hype is lost in translation. Yes currently GA gives us many possibilities, leaving many options open, but that’s not a cool workflow. Also, it is important to commit at some stage. Otherwise you eternally keep doctoring on your Midi parts / styles. It important to have some degree of restraint, set of rules and focus. If you add a timeline within GA, this would absolutely make sense. Development that focuses on what the creative process demands in 95% of the cases and not development that expands on complex possibilities for the remaining 5%. Its a challenge, finding the simplification / possibility sweet spot.
I have a feeling Groove Agent 5 will be big. If we all take the survey it definitely will be!