When it comes to making music, everything can feel complicated. You may be overwhelmed by using different software, wondering how to arrange your music and create quick demos or backing tracks in one place. If you’re lacking in music production knowledge, I have found a great tool that you can use to create music. Band-in-a-Box by PG Music is an auto-accompaniment tool that can solve all of your problems in one swoop!
In this article, you are going to find out what Band-in-a-Box software is. I am going to explain to you the difference between Band-in-a-Box and a DAW, and the minimum computer specifications that are required. You will learn about my favourite features and how you can use Band-in-a-Box. You will find out if it is for you, and how to choose the ideal package for your work.
Band-in-a-Box is an auto-accompaniment tool that uses a chord progression, key and tempo of your choice. The tool automatically generates top class, real sounding accompaniment. It does this with technology that manipulates audio recorded by real session musicians to fit the selected key signature, chords and tempo. These musicians are at the top of their game, and the recording is done in a first-class studio.
Band-in-a-Box is a computer application that automatically generates musical accompaniment using real musicians, and real instruments. The software creators are the British Columbia based company PG Music, headed up by Dr Peter Gannon. The program has evolved from a MIDI based product into a fully featured music generation software package. Band-in-a-Box has almost 3000 real instruments and 588 real drum tracks.
There are 349 different acoustic guitar tracks to choose from. There are real tracks with unusual instruments, like the Koto and the Kalimba, and even some vocal oohs and aahs.
The real tracks and drums are organized into over 4,000 unique real styles, all professionally mixed and ready to go. These are complimented by 1778 MIDI styles and over 1000 loops.
In a word, no. Band-in-a-Box is not a DAW, as it can operate as a completely self-contained music production space. It allows you to play up to 7 different instrument tracks at the same time. You can also record one audio track. This is perfect for generating quick practice backing tracks, or creating song demos. However, Band-in-a-Box’s strength is in using it in conjunction with a DAW. Find out what a DAW is and some of the best ones to use in our guide to DAWs!
You can use Band-in-a-Box to generate your custom backing, and then use your DAW to do your arranging, mixing and to record your vocals and harmonies. You can use your DAW to add audio recordings of as many other instruments as you want.
The latest version of Band-in-a-Box offers a plugin where you can use the tool to generate real tracks from directly inside in your DAW. The Windows version of Band-in-a-Box also comes with a free DAW called RealBand, and you can get your feet wet in the world of DAW’S without any additional investment.
There is such depth to this tool that almost anybody can benefit from using it. Even if you know nothing about music theory and don’t play any instruments, you still can make a professional sounding custom backing track in a matter of minutes. If you are a hobbyist who is learning an instrument, you can use the tool to quickly produce practice tracks. You can slow the track down, speed it up and transpose to any key.
Songwriters will find this tool invaluable, not only for inspiration – but also for laying down demos. The possibilities for music teachers are endless. Performers can make their own custom backing tracks for cover songs or originals. Podcasters can quickly generate royalty free music to be inserted and mixed in with in their own audio. Audio engineers can supplement their client’s recordings with professional sounding instruments that would otherwise be unavailable to the client.
Band-in-a-Box is available for both Windows and Mac. The tool was born in 1988 in an MS-DOS environment. As a result, it is very light on resources. It will not hog memory or processing resources on your computer. It will even operate on minimal spec computers. For Windows, you need a computer that runs Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, 8 , 8.1, or 10. It will run on both 32 or 64-bit architecture, and requires only 1 GB of memory and a 1 Ghz processor. For Mac, it will run on Mac OS X 10.6 or higher, and requires a minimum of 512 MB of RAM.
The main constraint on resources is disk space. The package comes with audio tracks of every single real track purchased. However, you can choose to have the software delivered on flash drive, DVD or external hard drive. You can choose to keep the real tracks on external media and only run the minimal installation on your computer’s hard drive. For this, you will need 1 GB of hard drive space on your computer. If you choose to download the program or to install it on your computer’s hard drive, the amount of disk space you will need will depend on the package purchased.
Band-in-a-Box is a complex program, and to use all of its features would take even the most enthusiastic audio nerd months to work through. As a taste, I will be telling you about a few of my own favourite Band-in-a-Box features.
This feature is at the core of this tremendous product. Say, for example, you want to make a backing track for Amazing Grace. Simply open up Band-in-a-Box.
Select a suitable style (you can use the songs database to find a suitable style). Choose your tempo. Type in the chords, adjust the “End” bar and press play.
You can easily transpose the entire arrangement to any other key, or quickly slow down the tempo so that you can play along with your instrument.
Band-in-a-Box can have up to 7 different instruments playing at the same time. You can remove an instrument you don’t want, and substitute it for any other of the 2900+ real tracks. Using the “Bar settings” feature, you can completely change the style (and therefore the instruments) at a specific bar and later change it back, if needed. You can also change the tempo and key for certain bars and change it back.
Using the ‘chord settings’ option, you can change the chord on each individual beat in a bar. You can also get specific instruments to perform a rest, shot, or hold on a specific bar. Band-in-a-Box will also suggest suitable chord substitutions for the current chord sequence.
One of my favourite features is that it comes with a demo song for every single style. These demo songs can be used for practice, to explore all the available styles, or just for inspiration.
Simply find a style you are interested in, press the “Demo song” button, and Band-in-Box will populate the interface with suitable chord progressions for the selected style.
Band-in-a-Box uses TC-Helicon technology to generate harmonies. After you have recorded your lead vocal, with the push of a few buttons, you can generate multiple harmony and unison backing vocal tracks. You can export these to individual WAV files, and import into your DAW to be mixed to taste.
If you import an audio track into Band-in-a-Box and access the Audio Chord Wizard (ACW), it will analyse the audio and give you suggested chords, key and tempo. With the press of a button, you can populate your Band-in-a-Box session with the chords, key and tempo settings that were detected by the ACW. This is a great way to reverse engineer a song that you want to make a custom backing track for, or even if you want to harmonise a melody for which you have an audio recording.
The tool has full MIDI support, including the usual MIDI programming and recording, piano roll and notation. It also has some MIDI super tracks, which are similar to real tracks but are MIDI based. If you have a great synth on your computer, then these MIDI super tracks can sound outstanding.
There are several different ways to get your lyrics to scroll in time with the chords and the backing track. The tool will play a CDG file (if it can find one) with the same name as your Band-in-Box file. Secondly, you can enter lyrics into the staff in the same way as they appear on a lead sheet. Thirdly, you can enter lyrics on a bar by bar basis, and Band-in-a-Box will display them scrolling along in time with the chords.
Band-in-a-Box comes with the usual set of plugins that will suit the basic needs of most users. It has very nice compression and reverb plugins. The program can use all external and third-party plugs without restriction.
Band-in-a-Box comes with five basic packages:
Unlike other audio software, the functionality of the program is identical for all packages. The main difference between the PRO, MEGAPAK and ULTRAPAK is the number of real tracks you get. To give you an idea, the size of the PRO package (real tracks and all) is 15GB. The ULTRAPAK is 120GB..
The ULTRAPAK + comes with some additional songs and lessons, while the AudioPhile version also comes with uncompressed WAV files of the real tracks. The other versions come with compressed versions of the real tracks. The Audiophile version is not available for download, and can only be purchased on an external hard drive.
The PRO version provides a very basic introduction to the program. It comes with 300 real tracks arranged into 100 styles. These are pre-selected classic country, jazz and pop tracks and styles. The MEGAPAK has 500 real tracks in 300 styles. The ULTRAPAK comes with all 2900 real tracks, and is the most versatile version of the software. It will provide you with limitless inspiration. All Windows packages come with the free DAW RealBand.
Wondering ‘How much is Band-in-a-Box?’ The PRO version retails for $129 for first time users, while the MEGAPAK is $269.
The ULTRAPAK is $469, and for an extra $100 you can purchase the ULTRAPAK+.
Upgrades of the software are published in December for the Windows version, and February for the Mac version. PG Music offers substantial upgrade discounts if you purchase the upgrade directly from their website for about a month after they are announced.
Band-in-Box is a fantastic tool for anybody who wants an easy and powerful solution to produce high quality automatic accompaniment. It is perfect for songwriting, learning, teaching and music production. If there is any downside to the product, it would be that there is quite a learning curve associated with it. Some say the user interface is a little dated, and it can be quite intimidating due to the number of features in the program. However, the upsides of the program far outweigh these issues, in my opinion.
Music generated by Band-in-a-Box can be used in any project, commercial or otherwise, without any royalty payments or attribution to the original recording artist. How else can you have Brent Mason play his guitar on as many of your songs as you like for only $129? Well worth the investment, I’d say!
We hope this guide has helped you understand more about Band-in-a-Box, and maybe even made you excited to get started with it. Please share the article with anybody who needs accompaniments, backing tracks… or just wants to get creative!
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