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November 2003

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Band-in-a-Box - The Ultimate Music Library

by Glen Emerson Morris
Editor's Pick
Band-in-a-Box
The Ultimate Music Library


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Anyone who needs copyright free music for advertising or media production should take a serious look at a software package called Band-in-a-Box 12.0 from PG Music. It costs a fraction of the price of a traditional canned music library, yet it out performs one in many ways.

Initially designed to provide musical accompaniment for musicians practicing alone, Band-in-a-Box has evolved into one of the most sophisticated musical production products on the market. In the process, Band-in-a-Box has managed to keep the extreme ease of use that PG Music products have always been noted for.

Band-in-a-Box's popularity with advertising and media producers started when it began to include a feature that created songs from scratch. Creating a new song is as easy as making a few menu selections. (It can also be much more complicated, but only if you want it to be.) The choices you can make include what style music you want, what kind of instruments you want to play it, who the soloists will be, and what type of melody you'd like. Add key and tempo preferences if you'd like, hit the go button, and you have a professional sounding song.

The soloist feature is one of the most remarkable features of Band-in-a-Box. By an extremely esoteric analysis of the playing styles of some of the greatest musicians in history, Band-in-a-Box has managed to offer virtual versions of dozens of great musicians to play solos in the songs you create. If you'd like to have a mellow jazz piece with Miles Davis on the horn, select him on the soloist's menu. The result is uncannily like a Miles Davis solo from the 50's and 60's. Pair Miles with another classic musician and the results sound even better, which is part of another remarkable feature of Band-in-a-Box. Combine two hot musician soloists and they seem to interact with each other, driving each other to even better performances.

For instance, let's say you have to come up with 30 second music bed for a upscale product. Classical isn't quite right for the client, and neither is rock, so you settle on a medium tempo jazz number with a samba beat. You decide on a quintet featuring an acoustic bass, grand piano, string background, and jazz drum kit. You select Miles Davis to play a cool trumpet solo, and Oscar Peterson to add a little fire under him on the keyboard. The default acoustic bass player will do a solid walking bass line, tastefully based on the notes of the chords, the virtual strings will mellow things out, and the virtual drummer will be on top of everything that the other virtual players do.

In a music creation software application, it might seem that the more complex a song was the worse it was likely to be. The case is the reverse with Band-in-a-Box. The more complex the song is the more it sounds like real musicians are playing, and very good ones at that.

There are now 36 different style CDs available for Band-in-a-Box, and each has up to 50 different styles. There are also 9 soloist CDs with a dozen or more virtual soloists each, and 256 different instruments to choose the 5 instruments from, so the number of combinations possible runs into the millions even before issues like tempo and key are factored in.

So how is the sound actually made? Band in a box creates songs in Midi format, and then plays them back using one of three methods. The least expensive method is to use a $20 software package PG Music sells that emulates a Roland Sound Canvas synthesizer. This works by using the computer's processing power, so no sound card is needed. A sound card is another possible option (these can cost a couple of hundred dollars), and so is an external synthesizer (which can cost from a few hundred dollars to several thousand).

The cost of the basic Band-in-a-Box package is $88, but given that additional style CDs are $29 apiece, and there are over 30 of them, the $249 mega pack, which includes all available style and soloist CDs, is a genuine bargain. Toss in the Roland Virtual Sound Canvas at $20 and for under $300 you have one of the most versatile music bed libraries available at any price.

Band-in-a-Box is available for both Mac and Windows. For Windows Band-in-a-Box will run on Windows 9x/ME/NT/2000/XP and requires 35-135 MB of hard disk space. The Mac version, currently at 11.0, requires Mac OS 8.x or 9.x. Running Band-in-a-Box on Mac OS X is not recommended at this time.

In the 12 years I've tested major software products in Silicon Valley, I've never seen a product better thought out than Band-in-a-Box. Just calling it brilliant doesn't do it justice. Band-in-a-Box is one of those rare cases in software development where what is achieved is state of the art perfection.

Not surprisingly, Band-in-a-Box has been winning awards in the electronic music world for years. It's only a matter of time before Band-in-a-Box as widely known in the advertising and media production industries. If you need affordable music, Band-in-a-Box can deliver, and with price to performance ratio that no other music program can match.


Glen Emerson Morris has been a senior consultant for Network Associates, Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Apple, and Adobe.


Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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