Late last year, electronic musician and YouTuber Dylan Tallchief made a functional drum machine in Microsoft Excel after a bunch of Excel DAW memes made their way around social media. Now, Tallchief is back with an even more ambitious project that fully realizes the original meme’s potential: an Excel DAW he calls xlStudio. (For those outside the audio world, DAW stands for “digital audio workstation” and is a software suite like Ableton or FL Studio used for making music.) Tallchief walks through xlStudio’s features with a cover of a-ha’s “Take On Me,” using patches that sound like they were designed by an early ‘90s Japanese sound card company. It’s surprisingly robust: there’s a transport section with playback controls, a looping function, the ability to solo and mute tracks, and global settings that assign the track’s BPM, legato, swing, and output routing. It even exports projects as .als files so they can be opened and worked on in Ableton. There are also tons of granular controls. Each track has a submenu for changing the instrument sound, volume, and semitone for transposing things up or down. Melodies can be written in a separate piano roll editor that lets you edit and tweak individual notes. The built-in shortcuts here are big time-savers and can automatically make chords so you don’t have to draw out every single note. For example, if you type “D” (for dominant) into a cell, xlStudio will then play all the notes for that chord based on the root note.
There are big limitations, like the fact that xlStudio can’t load any plug-ins, so it isn’t fully functional as a standalone DAW. But it’s always fun to see just how much the spreadsheet tool is capable of. (Remember when someone made a playable XCOM game in Excel?) Although Tallchief says with a laugh that xlStudio is “no longer a funny meme, but a sad reality,” I, for one, appreciate this new level of Microsoft Office proficiency.