Time and time again we are being asked about all the Music Making Software available. Musicians want to harness the power of their PC, laptop or Mac and play. The problem is where to start, and how to pick a tool that won’t stand in the way of your creativity. DAW’s, notation software, audio editors, you will have heard lots of these terms, and seen some of the price tags, but how to choose? It is helpful that nearly every piece of software has a demo version you can download and try. But even then some of the software is so daunting and with such a steep learning curve that you can often become overwhelmed before you even recorded a note. Don’t give up straight away. My advice is KISS. Keep it simple, stupid! Once you have a bit of success with a good, easy to use, entry level product, then you can start dreaming even bigger dreams. Armed with a new set of skills. So let’s have a look at some really simple options.
Desktop Audio Workstations (DAW) and Sequencing Software
If you have an iPad or a Mac then you are in luck. Because where else would you start but Garageband? The new GarageBand for iOS makes the most popular music creation app for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch an absolute cinch. Play, mix and record your own songs. Then share them with just a few taps. It’s never been easier to create great music and get it out there. Even if you can’t play any instrument in particular, you can start putting tunes together with the huge library of loops, then gradually add your own recordings. If you are
But what about those on a Windows Laptop or PC? Well Sony ACID Music Studio 10 is perfect recording and editing audio and MIDI as well as having a huge loop library. gateway to total music production. It’s easy – drop a beat on the timeline and dig in. Put the software to work and take advantage of all the production tools you need to make the music you’ve always wanted to hear. Sony Acid has a suite of powerful MIDI editing and sequencing tools, it VSTi and includes 90 instruments for song creation.
Another option is to buy the home recording studio hardware you need such as a MIDI controller and/or audio interface and make sure it comes with a good suite of software so you can get started right away. Many manufacturers include DAW software and other goodies so that buying one bit of equipment can be like getting a whole ‘studio in a box’. M-Audio are particularly good for this: you can find M-Audio MIDI Keyboard Controllers and M-Audio Audio Interfaces at all price points – from entry level to pro – and they usually come with some great software packs at no extra cost.
If you have a traditional music background and can read dots on the page then you may prefer score-writing software. Or certainly find it a more natural creative environment. Once upon a time notation software was only useful if you wanted to create printed sheet music but now these programmes are full production tools in their own right. You can play back with fantastic quality and export MP3 and CD-quality recordings as well as creating beautiful manuscripts to print or share online.
The two “big names” are Finale and Sibelius. With Rolls Royce price tags to match their fantastic capabilities. But both have got “little brothers” which are perfect if you aren’t writing for a huge orchestra. Finale’s PrintMusic and SongWriter software both enable you to enter notes with ease, playback with human feel, print and export. Printmusic has added features like MicNotate (where you can transcribe by playing your instrument into a mic) and sheet music scanning as well. Phew, amazing for the price.
Sibelius’s cut down version is Sibelius First and has just about every feature you could want in mid-price music creation software. The only feature it doesn’t have which could be a slight pain if you are arranging for a band and want to give out individual parts is a part extraction feature. (So you can create the whole score beautifully, but you cannot, for example, just print off the violin part with the First version).
The third player in the market is Presonus Notion. Not as well known, but Notion has made huge waves for several reasons. One, the price. It has been priced very aggressively to really take on the big two. Two, the sounds. Absolutely superb samples make Notion a really fabulous performance tool, never mind just great notation software. Three the seamless integration with the app. If you have the Notion app you can easily create great things while you are out and about, with your iPad, then when you are back at base you can seamlessly import your work and continue to refine it on your desktop if you want.
Best of Both?
If you can’t decide whether you want a DAW or notation, and printing out sheet music is not your main goal or concern, opt for a DAW with built in notation view.
One of our favourite products, and one that doesn’t seem to come up much in this kind of discussion, is Band-In-A-Box from PG Music. This is probably the longest established and certainly one of the most popular music making software packages of all time. Already packed with features, the latest version has added functions that in our opinion make this an essential buy for musicians in any genre, for keyboard players, guitarists, singers, in fact any musician looking for an outstanding tool to make the most of their creative ideas.
The original idea of this software was to be able to quickly create backing tracks – and so you can. Simply type in the chord sequences, choose your style, and the backing track is generated. You can pick which instruments get included, the tempo, the style. You can record your vocal or instrument line on top. You can view the track in notation view. You can export the whole thing as a MIDI file and import it into any other music making software package which accepts that file format, or you can create an audio file which you can then burn to CD. Fantastic, easy and intuitive.
But check out some of the other things you can do with Band-In-A-Box :
- Generate a chord progression in the genre that you choose, based only on the melody. Wow. You think of a tune. Band-in-a-Box creates the backing for you.
- Audio Chord Wizard – you import an MP3/WAV.WMA file, Band-in-a-Box works out the chord sequence for you.
- Vocal Harmoniser – you sing a track, Band-in-a-Box will generate harmonies for it.
- Soundtrack Generator – if you need to generate some original, royalty-free music for backgrounds, home videos, slide shows, voiceovers, jingles, themes, underscoring scenes or entr’acte, dance routines, ceremonies or any occasion that calls for musical accompaniment, the soundtrack feature allows you to generate music in the style you choose for any length of time you specify.
- Look at the PG Music web site for the latest features – they update this software so much and add so many great features each year that it is almost impossible to keep up with their innovations!
It would be possible to go on and on – the latest version of Band-in-a-Box alone had over 50 new features, so no wonder this software just keeps selling and selling.
Well that was just a whistle-stop overview, hopefully given you enough information to whet your musical appetite. In a nutshell, start simple and get creating. Walk up a hill today and you”ll be scaling that mountain tomorrow.