Music making software - what to buy?

What a time to post wanting musos. The only ones up are the ones who haven’t got to bed yet.

I was talking to a friend who is a musician and mentioned a few snippets of things I thought would make good song lyrics. He agreed and said I should work with them and turn them into songs. All I play is pretty ordinary guitar so the thought was fairly daunting.

Although he is a luddite and uses computers very little he suggested, get some software. He mused there must be stuff that will quickly lay down a drum beat, maybe add a bass line and cycle through whatever chord progression you choose. Then he said it wouldn’t matter how long I fooled around finding the melody.

So I looked up such things and like most things in modern life it would be quicker and easier if I had less choices.

Who uses what? Simple is key I am not after CD quality as he will provide a complete band if he likes the songs. I want to quickly knock up a framework to play around in.

Of course any clues at all will be appreciated because my musical mentor has no idea.

if all you want is to lay down a beat and some changes, I’d look into Band in a Box. It allows you to select chord changes, and then apply styles to them for each instrument (bass, keys, guitar, etc) and has a decent notation output system.

For more complex (but still usable by novices) I’d recommend either Cubase LE or Reason (mac) These are basic DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstation)s

Avoid ProTools, Cubase 5, Reason Pro, and Logic Pro - far too high of a learning curve for what you want.

Thank you. The list just shrank.

Garage Band in the Mac universe will do the sort of thing you’re after, too. Big second for Band in a Box, esp. if you’re on PC - the Mac version is about 6 generations behind.

There are also Finale and Sibelius, but they’re more for music notation.

Muso who is up this early anyway…

Band in a Box - which version? Some cost a fortune.

I want to give the strongest possible recommendation for MBox 2 hardware and ProTools LE.

You get the hardware you need for direct recording of either digital, analogue or MIDI sources, plus all the software you need, plus a near-infinate rack of sounds and instruments, plus plenty of room for expansion.

The thing is, although you only have modest aspirations and fairly simple needs at the moment, once you start discovering the wonders of desktop music recording and mixing software, I suspect you will want to embark on more complex and ambitious projects.

Yes, there’s a learning curve for any Protools software, and you may need a friend with relevant experience to hold your hand for the first couple of sessions, but it’s well worth it. The power and sophistication you get is out of this world.

Here’s some of my own output. Here’s a simple solo guitar tune, here’s a slightly more ambitious project with some doubling of guitar tracks and this thing has more tracks than Grand Central station.

MBox is the shit.

I have an old MBox, got it about 5 years ago. I love the thing.

Thisthe latest thing I am working on using my MBox, Pro Tools, Ableton Live and Sample Tank. Ableton Live and Sample tank came with the MBox in a package deal.

I am going to move up to a Digi003 here in a little bit but I still love my MBox.


Another vote for BIAB, I would go for the MegaPak and add any additional Styles (RealTrack or MIDI) as you need them.

Just to explain the terminology:

BIAB lets you specify your chord progression. You apply a style to this - a combination of drum beats, bass riffs, guitar, keys etc. Originally, these Styles were MIDI based, and relied on a software or hardware midi synth to produce audio output (for some years, the megaPak and up licensed the Roland SoundCanvas Virtual Midi device, better than the Microsoft GM Software Synth, but not by much). RealTracks are styles that have been recorded by real performers, and get timestretched and pitch shifted to fit the song settings (within limits). They do sound better, but are less flexible (you cannot change instruments, but you can drop parts).

The different packs that PGMusic sell just include variations of styles, realtracks and tutorial software. They may or may not meet your requirements.

BIAB can do recording of vocal lines and instruments. It is pretty crap at that. I would use something else with the output of BIAB (either raw MIDI or RealTrack wave files) - I use Ableton Live, but something like EnergyXT or Cockos Reaper would be good and cheap for playing with. Or, for a few bucks, pick up a copy of Computer Music Magazine - the cover DVD has a full suite of music making software, including a customised version of EnergyXT and lots of software synths and drum machines. I would stick with SFZ - a software SoundFont player for playing midi. You can download some great free Soundfonts.


I used to use Acid Pro. This was before Sony bought out Sonic Foundry, but AFAIK they haven’t changed the software much. There’s a free trial version available, too.

Acid lets you record tracks, edit tracks, use loops as tracks (which can also be editted), add effects (even multi-layered effects), duplicate tracks, etc. It’s very complete but is also very easy to use. Extremely intuitive, IMO.

I’ve used it to create dance music, jazz, hip hop, garage band rock, metal, and a lot of weird cult shit that doesn’t really fit any category.

I’m currently trying to get myself set up with Logic Pro, since I now have a Mac, and hope to have some new tunes completed to start off 2010.

I’ve been doing this for years and it’s been quite a journey. I’ve tried pretty much every audio app out there. They all do basically the same thing in different ways with different features and it’s really about finding what works best for you…

With that in mind, on the PC side, good, cheap and easy to use software is out there. The one I’ve used with the most success is A good all around app that does alot of things well. Very cheap. A discount license will run you $60.

When I switched to Mac world, I gave GarageBand a whirl. It’s free with the iLife suite and it does loop production very well. Some parts of it aren’t too intuitive to me so I don’t use it much.

The only software that I’ve used through everything I’ve done (on PC or Mac) is the stuff from - Reason and Record. I used Reason linked into Reaper for a long time for my synth and orchestral midi programming. Then they came out with Record this past year as their audio recording app that integrates with Reason seemlessly. For me, this combo has finally given me the all in one tool I’ve been looking for. I’m a happy camper now - the problem is now I just need more time to write…

I used Melody Assistant ($25, online download) and was pleased with the results. Output to WAV, MP3, and possibly other formats. You can work with the free version to try it out, but you just can’t export or print the music unless you pony up the money.

I can’t believe I’m the first to mention Fruity Loops. FL7 is incredibly powerful. You can create anything you want from a simple drum beat to a full orchestra. It’s not the simplest solution, but even the demo version is very useful.

Based on this description, Band in a Box is most definitely want you want. If you know your chords it’s as simple as can be. (but if you want do more than that, it can do that too). You can also input the text and melody and create Karaoke files. Download the demo and play around with it a bit.