The program starts with a screen of numbered measures, and you just type in the name of the chords where you want them to appear in the song. For example, a blues song in the key of A would have an A in the first measure, a D in bar 2, and back to an A for bar 3 and 4, etc. The band will keep playing the last chord you put in, so you only need to enter a new chord when it’s time to change. Like any new software, there’s a learning curve, but, with practice, typing in the chords only takes a couple of minutes — and you can even copy and paste. When the whole song is typed in, just select the style, speed, instruments and the feel of the playback, and then give the program a minute to create the song for you.
When you play your creation, it will have drums, guitar and bass, and some presets even have violins, sax, harmonicas and steel guitars. You’ll have total control over the instrumentation, so as your scene starts with an actor walking down a road, you’ll hear just bass and drums, and you can add more instruments as the action progresses. I did the testing on my audio workstation from Titanus Computers. This quad-core workstation is small and quiet yet was powerful enough to handle anything that Band-in-a-Box threw at it. I tested the full-blown UltraPlusPAK version that comes on a hard drive.
If you purchase the UltraPlusPAK, Audiophile Edition or EverythingPAK, you’ll get a free USB hard drive for no additional charge because it comes pre-installed. You can use Band-in-a-Box directly from the hard disk or copy it to your computer. If you’re serious about how your songs will sound, buy the full-blown version because it includes RealTracks and MIDI SuperTracks. With over 1,000 RealTracks in the UltraPlusPAK, EverythingPAK and the Audiophile Edition (which uses only uncompressed wav files), you’ll have at least 1,000 hours of recordings with real studio musicians. And when you play back your song using these files, it will sound realistic because it’s made by real musicians playing real instruments on real recordings.
If you’ve ever used MIDI steel guitars or sax solos, you know how cheesy they can sound. So I was really surprised when my results with RealTracks sounded like a real band. The RealTracks sets include jazz, rock/pop and country styles with accompaniment recorded by Nashville guitar legend Brent Mason; country and blues sax by Nashville session master Mark Douthit; piano tracks by CMA winner John Jarvis; as well as fiddle, mandolin and resonator guitar solos by Nashville great Rob Ickes, who won 13 International Bluegrass Player of the Year Awards. There’s also Texas blues slow 12/8 soloing and rhythm with guitar masters Sol Philcox and Brent Mason.
MIDI SuperTracks are a great-sounding option for those interested in using MIDI in their arrangements. MIDI SuperTracks has piano tracks in many styles, including classic, country, traditional and smooth jazz, Celtic, folk, pop, new age, Latin, funk and praise & worship. The High-Quality (Hi-Q) MIDI Sounds make both regular and MIDI SuperTracks much better, and they’re very handy if you want to make royalty-free accompaniment tracks for singers in your film. Aldo, every style has a Web demo available: just click on the Web demo button in the StylePicker to hear a demo of each style.
A new Song Form feature allows you to define sections of a song, like A for verse, B for chorus, and C for bridge. You’ll then rearrange the song by simply typing the form you want, like ABABCAB, and you can revisit this dialogue to reorder the sections. If you need to change a chord in the verse, just change it in the “A” section and the changes will be made through all of the verses at once. The popular Band Button has styles and categories listed with submenus for various genre subcategories. For example, a Campfire Guitar subgenre is added, with many RealStyles of simple strumming guitars.
What if you have a scene with an actor who pretends to strum a guitar? Just pre-record a song of the right length and play it back as the actor is faking it. Use the original track that you created for the sound design and sync it to what the camera recorded. You’ll then mute the camera audio, leaving the actor to effectively play a clean track. If the scene was shot around a campfire, just add in fire sounds, forest ambience with a cricket or two, and get a beautiful result. And if you need sound FX, Pro Sound Effects provides very convincing sound elements — and the company is offering a deal for freelancers. When your song is finished, you can use “Save Track as Performance” and send your Band-in-a-Box song to a friend who will be able to play the track without needing RealTracks installed on their computer. By pressing the WAV button, you’ll see a menu that allows you to quickly save a song as WAV, WMA, MP3, MP4 or M4A.
For sound design work you may want to use simpler tracks, and many RealTracks have a “Simpler” option available. When you set the Simpler option, the RealTracks play a simple, unembellished arrangement. If you want clean tracks to load into your DAW, use the “Direct Input” guitar option for RealTracks to get no effects added. And if you’re a musician, Performance Tracks has an “Artist Performances” function that allows you to convert performance tracks to audio and vice versa, so you can add multiple audio tracks in a song that you recorded without going into your DAW. If you don’t already have a DAW of choice, Band-in-a-Box comes with a DAW called “RealBand.” I use my Titanus audio workstation with Avid Pro Tools 10 as my DAW of choice, so when I finish a song, I can export it as separate tracks and import those tracks into PT10. From there I use iZotope’s Nectar, Alloy and Ozone to tweak the tracks. I monitor and add my own guitar parts via POD Farm and a Line 6 UX2 interface. I’m also a big fan of using Sonicfire Pro 5 software over regular “Needle Drop” CDs because you can control the instrumentation and easily match the length of the track to your video.
PG Music’s Band-in-a-Box is the easy way to achieve a cool soundtrack when you want to make something original. It offers so many styles using real recordings from actual studio musicians, and you also get all of the benefits of working quickly without having to do everything yourself (or paying others to do it for you). And, best of all, the results sound great. Band-in-a-Box also comes with live help and a 30-day money-back guarantee, so there’s a lot to gain and nothing to lose.
MSRP: Varies with package (the UltraPlusPAK version I tested was about $500) Contact: PG Music Inc. 29 Cadillac Ave. Victoria, BC Canada V8Z 1T3 Sales: 1-800-268-6272 or 250-475-2874