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What Computer-based Music Tools Do You Use?

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Chris C
(@chris-c)
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Topic starter  

Hi all,

There are a bewildering range of computer based music tools out there now. So which ones do you use, and what do you think they do well or badly?

A few weeks ago I updated some of my hardware and software, and chatted to various resident ‘gurus' in the local music shops. These were guys who use the stuff for pro or semi pro work with bands, making Cds etc. as well as for home use. This is, roughly, what they said, or what I have learned so far. I can't vouch for any of it, it's not complete, and opinions will vary a great deal anyway as what suits one user won't be liked by another. So please add your experiences, contrary opinions, favourite finds, etc.

I've tried to list as many as I can but polls only allow 10 options, so apologies if I missed your favourite, or forgot an obvious candidate. If so, please tell us about it below. There are many others (such as Sonar/Cakewalk, Acid Pro, various specialist drum or midi editing programs etc.) and I'm sure they all have their good points, but I've only listed the ones that were actually suggested in the music shops when I asked, or that I have used myself so far. Feel free to tick me off for omitting your baby... :wink:

Thanks.

This is what I said that I needed to be able to do:

1. Record multiple tracks
2. Write music using standard notation (some would be wanting TAB though)
3. Write for a number of different instruments, e.g. drums, piano, guitars, strings, etc
4. Have the scores I wrote played back with decent sounds
5. Use the scores to generate midi files
6. Combine the midi based music tracks with recorded audio of instruments and voice.

There was general agreement that most of the more expensive professional software tended to concentrate on one aspect or the other, but that they were beginning to overlap and try and offer a broader range of features. But I was warned that they didn't yet do it well, and to take the claims with a pinch of salt. So, for instance, Finale and Sibelius are the big guns when it comes to producing professional quality scores, but they don't do recording well, if at all. You might get one track and that's your lot. Similarly, Cubase allows some editing and writing using standard notation, but there are other programs that handle that way better.

This is a very brief list of the ones that I've tried, or come across, so maybe we can add to that.

Audacity:
Free recording program. Outstanding for a free program, and hugely popular for that reason. Obviously, it's not as strongly featured as the pro stuff however.

Band in a Box:
I downloaded the demo (always a plus) but the features that most interested me were disabled. It didn't grab me hugely, but its many fans point to a range of features (such as the ability to generate a complete song arrangement in a selected style from only a handful of user chosen chords) that aren't found much anywhere else. I may succumb later....

Cubase:

This is not just ‘plug and go' you need to do some studying and fiddling about to set it up and learn to use it all. But there are a number of steps along the chain in both price and feature power. It seemed to be a favourite among the ‘semi-pros', and some pros, who said that it was much more interested in the midi angle than ProTools was, and felt that it was a powerful and upgradeable tool. Even the low end of the Cubase scale seems to provide everything that I could want. There don't seem to be any demos around.

Finale:
Goes from cheap (Notepad2009 at $10) to megabucks. One of the big two for writing scores. Good playback and midi generation available too. Not strong on recording (some versions now offer one track I think). I use Finale Print music, and so far I really like it.

Garage Band:
Only available on Macs. Compared to the others it's pretty easy to dive straight in and get something happening. Great for using loops - i.e. build a drum track using combinations of the supplied loops (of course you still need to have some idea of what drumming is about, and what beats and patterns you want and why...) or play one verse and one chorus and then copy and paste the track up, etc. You can drag your midi files from elsewhere and drop them straight in. Bundled with some Macs, but you can buy more content (better instrument sounds) and also find a lot of free user made stuff online. After reading Nuno's enthusiasm for his Mac, I took the plunge and bought an iMac. So it's all your fault mate....

GuitarPro:
I've read that some people use this to write their tracks and then sometimes also use the results in conjunction with other programs, but I don't know much about it. I bought it, but it didn't really float my boat. Others may love it, and know much more than I do. It includes Tab, notation, chord diagrams, onscreen guitar neck or piano keyboard, drum track capability, etc.

Logic Pro/Express:
I'm told this is good too. It looks like GB's big brother, for Macs, but I've not used it.

ProTools:
Fans always refer to this as “the industry standard” - so much so that I suspect that the phrase is part of ProTools marketing. I was told that for studio quality audio recording there was none better, but that unless you actually were a pro studio then it may not be the way to go. Reasons given included that if you started with the basic version (bundled with some audio interfaces) and want to move up then there's not much in the way of intermediate steps. The full versions can get into serious money. They also require a fair bit of study to get the best from. If you don't have studio quality gear, sound balanced rooms, and session muso skills then you're unlikely to be able to benefit from any supposed quality difference anyway.

Reaper:
Has some staunch fans here, but I know nothing about it. I think it's free to download but you are asked to donate to the development. Looked very good when I glanced at the site, so if you're a fan please tell us why.

Sibelius:
The other biggie for scores. I've not used it, but its fans say it's outstanding for the job. It can cost big money. Again, input from users would be good.

Other?

There are numerous small programs that do jobs like slow down music so that you can learn it or transcribe it, converters from one format to another, etc. Please list any that you find particularly useful.

Any input appreciated. You can also vote for multiple choices in the poll above.

Cheers,

Chris


   
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gnease
(@gnease)
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Other: Cool Edit Pro II (now Adobe Audition). It's a very good audio analysis and editing program that has a multi-track recording feature. Works well with my Presonus Firebox firewire audio interface - not using the Cubase LE that came bundled with it.

-=tension & release=-


   
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jwmartin
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I use Reaper and can be counted among the staunch fans. I started with Cubase when it came bundled with my mixer. It was an older version and, while it got me started, it just never felt "right". I'm a software developer and I'm pretty picky when it comes to the UI and useability of software, and Cubase is obviously designed by audio pros, not software pros. I tried Audacity for a while and liked it for simple things, like throwing some riffs together. But, if I remember correctly, it doesn't have the MIDI support I needed for Addictive Drums. I was going to upgrade to the new version of Cubase, which looked better, but someone on here recommended Reaper. When I first started using it, the offscreen choir started singing "Hallelujah" :D It was just "right". It's very flexible, there are a million plugins, and there are a bunch of skins so you can change the look. And it's only $50. The cool thing is, the downloaded version is fully functioning, so you don't have to pay before getting to test out everything. And you can test it as long as you like.

Bass player for Undercover


   
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Chris C
(@chris-c)
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Topic starter  

Thanks for the additions guys. :)

Good to hear about Adobe Audition.I didn't know that one. The Presonus Firebox was also at the head of my interface GAS list for a while, but has been postponed now that I have something else currently covering that angle. It was highly spoken of by the resident guru in one of my favourite gear shops though.

I must check Reaper out sometime. I believe Kingpatzer is a fan too. I'm always a bit reluctant to download stuff that I know I won't probably won't be paying for though (I don't use credit cards, so overseas payments are a pain...). Maybe I should get a Debit Card ( visions of my wife lighting up the international trade figures when she realises that on-line bead buying is now a goer... :shock: ...). Cubase was a fair bit of work to begin with, but I've grown to like it. More than one fan that I spoke to told me they ran with two screens so that they could cluster some of those moveable panels (mixer etc) and get the power without the clutter, as it were.

Chris


   
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Nick Torres
(@nicktorres)
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Acid Pro and Magix Music Maker 14 Producer edition


   
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notes_norton
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Posts: 1497
 

I use Band-in-a-Box, Master Tracks Pro, and either Power Tracks Pro Audio or Aucacity to make backing tracks for my duo.

see: http://www.nortonmusic.com/backing_tracks.html

I use CDex to rip them to mp3 files and an old version of Encore to print lead sheet charts.

I work in MIDI only and avoid loop software because I want to be able to extensively edit the files. See http://www.nortonmusic.com/midi_vs_loops.html although this pertains mostly to Band-in-a-Box, the reasoning goes for all looping products.

BTW, I write after-market styles and fake disks for Band-in-a-Box (self-serving plug). If you want to listen to free mp3 demo files of what BiaB can do with my styles, go to http://www.nortonmusic.com/styledemo.html

I've been making computer music since the 1980s and these are the tools I have settled on. They do what I want them to do with the interface I find comfortable to use.

Band-in-a-Box is the best auto-accompaniment program out there so there is no choice.

As far as Sequencers, Audio Recorders, and Notation Editors, there are many to choose from. In most cases you can get a comparable end piece of music with any of them, so choose them for the interface (easy for you to work with) and the fine-point features that you want.

Insights and incites by Notes

Bob "Notes" Norton

Owner, Norton Music http://www.nortonmusic.com Add-on Styles for Band-in-a-Box and Microsoft SongSmith

The Sophisticats http://www.s-cats.com >^. .^< >^. .^<


   
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Ignar Hillström
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I'm using Cubase, and to be honest it really doesn't matter at all whether I'd use Sonar, Cubase or ProTools. For what I, and 99% of musicians, do all of these programs will easily fulfill all my needs. Heck, the LE versions of these would probably do just fine. I sometimes use GB to figure out how it creates it's solos. For example I sometimes just fill in totally random chords, have it generate a solo and look at what it's trying to do and why. It's a really fast way to get a whole bunch of licks and general principles under your belt.

For notation I use Sibelius. It does all it needs to do, as does Finale, which I tried but dont use any more. It really is more about preference then anything else, unless you're going to notate some really exotic things, in which Sibelius is (presumably!) better. Most of my money goes into VST additions to cubase, mostly instruments but some effects too. Most notably Garritan GPO and Gofriller, The Grand2, Groove Agent2, Absynth4 (woot!), ARP26000 and Izotope Ozone. I usually download a pirated version first to make sure it's what I need (there really is NO point in 'demoíng' Absynth4 for fifteen minutes in a store, it takes weeks). If, after a month, I still use it it ends on my 'to purchase' list. If it doesn't it gets of my HD. Espescially those larger libraries like Quantum/EW Symphonic Choirs (50+GB!) need to be really awesome to be worth the harddisk space and money, so I'm using fairly 'small' vsts mostly. On my list to check out is the new Garritan piano and other modern piano VSTs, plus a new drumkit. Both The Grand and Groove Agent are getting pretty dated and a lot of progress has been made there.

As for GuitarPro, I used to write songs with it until I got Sibelius. Don't bother with GP unless you're trying to learn a guitar part of an existing song. It's like tab but better. It's not for writing songs, let alone recording them.


   
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CitiZenNoir
(@citizennoir)
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Posts: 1247
 

Hey Chris :D

I like to use Kristal.... It's a freebee like Audacity.
(I have Audacity too).

If I'm just throwing together a quick demo version of something, I usually pull up Audacity,
as it's pretty simple to just hit record and go....
Though I like to use Kristal for any in depth 'real' songs;
Stuff that needs looping. pasting, editing, mixing.... all better and easier on Kristal IMO.

To me, Kristal makes better sounding recordings as compared to Audacity as well.

I'm using Kristal for the 'Phosphorescent' masters, though I used Audacity to change the formats of the samples,
and for things like making two channel stereo samples all right or left heavy for certain effects, and for making
them all in the same pitch/key.

I had no idea that there were recording devices that did all of that other stuff!
Sounds like fun.... maybe.

Oh, and I wouldn't recommend using a Debit card online.... def. wanna use a credit card for that stuff :wink:

Ken

"The man who has begun to live more seriously within
begins to live more simply without"
-Ernest Hemingway

"A genuine individual is an outright nuisance in a factory"
-Orson Welles


   
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Vic Lewis VL
(@vic-lewis-vl)
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Audacity's enough for my needs at the moment. I'm a firm believer in KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid! - and it doesn't come much easier than Audacity.

I don't read music, so I don't need any of the pro tools for writing down notation. I did download Finale Notepad a while back - I was hoping to join in with the Sunday Composer's Workshop, but for various reasons I just haven't had the time. Chords and lyrics for my own songs I can write out in notepad, with maybe a small section of tab for a memory-jerker for any solos or riffs - but I tend to rely more on my own memory for those. After all, if I can't remember a solo or riff, it couldn't have been very memorable in the first place!

What I probably need is a better sound card, but I know next to nothing (OK, I know absolutely nothing!) about them. I have noticed a drop in recording quality, though, using the laptop I have now as opposed to the Sony VAIO computer I used to have.

:D :D :D

Vic

"Sometimes the beauty of music can help us all find strength to deal with all the curves life can throw us." (D. Hodge.)


   
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Nuno
 Nuno
(@nuno)
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Joined: 16 years ago
Posts: 3995
 

Currently GarageBand, Cubase, Finale NotePad 2008 and Songs (LaTeX package). If I get a couple of days for experimenting I want to try the new version of TuxGuitar (and after reading the Mr. Hillstrøm's post I want to try Sibelius as well).

Thanks.


   
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Noff
 Noff
(@noff)
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http://www.metronomeonline.com/


   
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Cat
 Cat
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I checked ProTools. My reason is that I live in recording studios here and abroad. The totally ubiquitous one is ProTools. While most engineers vary on what they prefer...and what they use...they ALL have a firm grasp on PT because it's more or less the universal OS...like knowing Pidgin English.

Sure, you can always convert sound files BUT that takes time and producers don't like spending money and they invariably say "Whaddya mean ya don't use ProTools???" It's like being forced to learn Latin, I guess! But...if yer in the industry...it's ProTools up yer sleeve or you don't work.

Go figure!

Cat

"Feel what you play...play what you feel!"


   
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Rahul
(@rahul)
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Audacity as I can't figure out the features in other complex recording programmes.

But, right now I am more interested in getting to know how to setup a good recording rig.


   
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Chris C
(@chris-c)
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Topic starter  

Hi all,

Thank you all very much for your great additions and comments.

Apologies for all the ones I forgot. :oops: I can't believe I left out Acid Pro for instance, it was one that I did read up about because a local shop who had run out of Band in the Box said "But we do have Acid Pro if you'd like that instead"...

It looked fine, and ran a creditable second in a review of competing products that I read. The main reason I didn't rush straight down and buy it was that I'd already invested a fair bit of time learning how to use Cubase LE, and I also met a few guys who did semi-pro stuff with Cubase and were convincing about its flexibility and suitability for what I had in mind.

I should have remembered Krystal too... :? I also used to use a free program called Best Practice which was good for slowing down music without distorting it too much, so that you could listen and learn more easily. But if you listed all the smaller stuff it would take forever....

I came close to going for ProTools (for the reasons Cat listed, and because a guy I have some lessons from has it in his own backyard studio). The basic version also came bundled with a hardware interface I was interested in. But we both have Garage Band, so that's working well for us now. I just take a project along on a thumb drive and we can work on it at either his place or mine. I'm also finding that I can sometimes move files for individual tracks from one program to another anyway, provided they're in the right format.

Thanks.

Chris


   
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Chris C
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Topic starter  

But, right now I am more interested in getting to know how to setup a good recording rig.

Hi Rahul,

I reckon that topic would be of huge interest to a large number of people who visit GN.

Why don't you start a thread here, with or without a poll, and see what people here think?

There are lots of possible angles. Here's a few, off the top of my head:

Do you record through mics or plug directly to some kind of hardware interface?
What hardware do you prefer?
Do you plug into the sound card or go through a dedicated audio or midi interface?
If you use an interface, how many inputs can it handle at one time?
Effects? If so at what stage in the chain?
Do you use a hardware mixer or a computer based software mixer?
Do you only want guitar, or vocals, drums, bass, keyboard, sax, synths. etc
Do you use only audio, or combine it with midi and virtual instruments?
When is cheap all you need, and when does paying extra prove worthwhile?
Any problems with lag/latency?
What the hell is Chris on about now?.... :?

Cheers,

Chris


   
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