Save Your Studio Setup with SYSX

Last updated on 3/31/2016

By Scott Garrigus

If you have MIDI-compatible hardware in your studio, you can back up all of your custom settings and patches in SONAR, Cakewalk Pro Audio and Cakewalk Professional. This month's tip is on a powerful feature found in these programs called SYSX (System Exclusive) banks. It's the perfect way to back up the custom settings of your studio in case disaster strikes, and also the best way to make sure your songs will sound great when played in another studio.

This tip was taken from SONAR Power!, the definitive guide to all the tips and tweaks you need to know to become a master at this powerful program. Order SONAR Power! today.

System Exclusive

MIDI devices (other than MIDI instruments) don't usually provide standard  musical functions, so their internal parameters are not compatible with standard MIDI messages, such as Note On messages, for instance. Instead, they have to communicate using special MIDI messages called System Exclusive. System Exclusive messages are discussed in Chapter 3 of SONAR Power. System Exclusive messages give you access to any special functions that a manufacturer includes in a MIDI instrument or device.

Not only do you have access to these functions, but by utilizing System Exclusive messages, you can send all the data from the MIDI instruments and devices in your studio to SONAR to be stored in your projects. Why is this capability important? Because you can set up all your equipment with specific settings for a project, store the data in the project, and then send the data back to the devices at the beginning of your next recording session. This means that the next time you open the project, you can have all the equipment in your studio set up automatically, without your having to touch a single knob.

The SYSX View

SONAR gives you access to System Exclusive data via the SYSX view. Using the SYSX view, you can store up to 8,191 banks, each of which can contain any number of System Exclusive messages (limited only by the amount of memory in your computer system). So, for example, you could dedicate a different bank to store the data for each separate piece of equipment in your studio. You could also store different sets of patch data for a single MIDI instrument in separate banks. then, during different times in your Project, you could send specific patch data to change the sounds in the instrument for that part of the song.

Recording System Exclusive Data

To store System Exclusive data in a bank in the SYSX View, you need to do a data dump. Essentially, the MIDI device from which you want to grab data dumps (or sends) it to your computer to be stored in one of the SYSX view banks.

NOTE: Be sure to check SONAR's global MIDI options to see whether the Record System Exclusive data setting is activated. To do so, select Options > Global to open the Global Options dialog box. Then select the MIDI tab. In the Record section, click on system exclusive to place a check mark next to it. If this setting isn't turned on, SONAR will block all incoming System Exclusive data.

Creating a Data Dump

To do a data dump, follow these steps:

  1. Choose View > SYSX to open the SYSX view and then click on a bank to highlight it for incoming System Exclusive data.
  2. Click on the Receive Bank button (the one with the downward-pointing red arrow) to open the Receive System Exclusive dialog box (see figure 14.2).
  3. Choose a DRM (dump request macro) from the list. If you don't see your MIDI device listed, select the very first option: <You start dump on instrument>. Click on OK. Then start the data dump using the Control panel on your device. (See the device's user guide for more information on how to use the control panel.

    Note: Dump request macros (DRMs) are special System Exclusive messages. Some MIDI devices support them, and some don't. If you have a MIDI device that supports DRMs, SONAR can send a DRM to the device, asking it to send back its parameter data. If you have a MIDI device that doesn't support DRMs, you have to initiate the data dump manually from the control panel on the device.


    Just because your MIDI device isn't listed in the Receive system Exclusive dialog box doesn't mean the device doesn't support DRMs. You'll need to look in its user's guide to see whether it has DRM's available. If so, you can set them up to be used within SONAR. To do so, open the file C:\ProgramFiles\Cakewalk\SONAR1\cakewalk.ini using the Windows notepad. Inside that file, you'll find instructions on how to add new DRMs to the list in the Receive System Exclusive dialog box.
  4. If you do see your device listed, select the appropriate DRM and click on OK. The DRM may ask you for additional information. For instance, if the DRM requests that the device send the data for a single sound patch, you'll need to input the patch number you want it to send. This process is pretty straightforward; you can just follow the prompts.
  5. Whichever method you use to initiate the data dump, SONAR ultimately displays the SYSX Receive dialog box when it's ready to receive the data. The dialog box shows the number of bytes of data being received as the dump takes place.
  6. When the count stops, click on Done. After the dump is complete, the SYSX view shows the bank you selected with a new name and length (in bytes).

    Note: If the number of bytes stays at zero more than a few seconds, then most likely something is wrong. Your MIDI device might not be hooked up properly, or you could have given wrong answers for the additional DRM questions. Those answers differ depending on the MIDI device, so you'll need to consult its users guide. In any event, if you have this problem, click on Cancel. Then check your connections and try the procedure again.
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