Music Composers Unite!
This thread's theme may be related to questions arising from Ray's recent threads on musical intentions/resulting performances and main requirements towards producing interesting music, but I thought the subject of auto-accompaniment software may merit its own thread if many people are interested in it.
WEB LINK FOR MY INITIAL ENQUIRY
BAND IN A BOX
(I remembered buying this programme in c. 1990, in a midi music exhibition. It had four midi tracks only. I used it only once, manifested how laughable it was and never used it again. Well, given time, I must say, it has progressed also in 25 years…)
For the last few days I have been reading and following a lot of training videos to quite a few auto-accompaniment pieces of software. They come in all sorts, sizes, prices and features for the user and I believe that the PGMUSIC costly combined package "Band in a Box + Real Tracks" offering thousands of patterns, and a DAW, synth and speedy chord entry that are supposed to make possible the creation of a song in just 2 minutes is perhaps the most impressive as it affords the use of 8 bar loops of real recordings by great performers to be incorporated. All that is very nice and groovy, but I have a lot of aesthetic, musical, moral dilemmas with it. To me a song was never a 2 minute process although its conception is often less than that. It was first and foremost shedding my blood (creative or otherwise) in all its lyrical/musical parameters. All my songs are done in Sibelius, I am responsible for all music, lyrics and performance instructions on every staff and I don’t care how poorly they sound in that programme cause they are meant to be done by real musicians (although they probably never will), but I have to look at the possibility of forgetting all that and just write a melody line and chord symbols and let the software do the rest with its auto-accompaniment routines with some really impressive results.
My question to this forum is: How much of the end product could be termed as really "mine" and whether I should buy the product and do my best with it or just send them the following letter:
I am a real musician (good or bad-should not matter much to your philosophy), and I'm trying my best to write songs with what little flame of originality nature has hopefully endowed me. In the end of all this and after many-many years of trying to materialize my music thoughts by using an electronic solution, I have to admit defeat. It seems you can do it better with some computer software and a few keyboard strokes. It looks like I'm done as a song writer…
but… am I really?
I wish that I could make your software aware of all my musical intentions (not only the haphazardly chordal ones that you offer).
Question and your answer no. 23 of your FAQ help page is very indicative of what your programme is really all about:
(copied from PGMUSIC's web page)
23. Do I need to be a musician to use your products?
No! Our products can be used by anyone, regardless of their musical ability. Although we have many satisfied customers who are professional or amateur musicians and educators, you don't have to be a musician to use or enjoy our products.
Band In A Box, Real Tracks, and Real Band are not at all the real thing as far as real musical composition is concerned. But probably they have the potential to be. (Don’t ask me, I don’t know how… it is a technical matter, I'm only a musician)
The real thing would be, turning all notated musical ideas in a score writer like Sibelius with midi playback into real sounds. In other words turning your midi soloist and midi melodist into real ones and have an unlimited number of such soloists/melodists.
So, not really 8 bar loops, pre-recorded by real great soloists following a transposable chord progression are required in composing, but limitless number of bars, and then who would need entering chords? Entering one's musical ideas into some short of digital record (pen and paper entered into a score writer is a good example) comes easily to mind as a desirable facility. Then it would be up to the musician to do the rest, so your real programme would be for real musicians and not for every other hopeless case that it is aimed at in its current versions from the day of its conception.
Tonal Harmony (in its macro-historical sense) is not the beginning of musical composition, only a common denominator of it. Independent melodic lines with their rhythmical shapes inherent have always been the beginning of music, and that is how they are still.
What differentiates songs are primarily the melodic lines and the lyrical content (verses), harmonies can be the same, changed, imitated, manipulated, whatever, but they are very secondary to real musical invention in my opinion. What is the point of writing 3,000,000 songs that anyone else can also write with your software. Where is the originality? Where is the real musician in them?
Can your famous Elasticity 3 technology involved in real tracks reach this goal? Not replace human factor, just make him more readily available to real composers? Or to put it clearer for musicians to understand: Can you give us the choice of free/independent horizontal melodic lines rather than vertical chordal blocks in Real Tracks? If you could do that your offering would be meaningful to real musicians.
Of course you may say that technology has not progressed that far as yet. Then why bother? Let us wait and see how much original music is created by your customers first. (I know that 1000s of tracks are created by BIAB and are published on youtube daily, only I can't remember a single tune out of them).
But what the hell am I talking about, eh? I'm asking you to limit rather than increase your real sales/profits?
Real things have a real price! (the kind of price you wouldn't know anything about).
I wouldn't send them that letter. Honestly, it sounds kind of twatty.
The point of such software is exactly so non-musicians and above can have fun with it, not so real musicians can be frustrated with it. "Real" musicians have instruments and dedicated software/hardware to make their music which non-musicians can't use. If you widen the complexity of non-musician software to make it palatable to you, non-musicians will not be able to use it and the result will simply be a low-functioning DAW, of which there are many.
It reads as similar to your frustration with companies not producing software that perfectly marries DAW with NS, as if they're obligated to and you have a right to it. They're not, and unfortunately you don't.
Bemoaning the lack of "real musician" in users of this software also doesn't read well. Let them have their fun, it's easy to forget that to many people the ability to create music seems far out of reach. Let them make music like this and perhaps they'll start learning the fundamentals to make it themselves. Before I played guitar, long before I started composing, I loved messing around with software like Rave eJay, where you just put blocks together. It was great. It felt wonderful, I still remember, because it was simple. It didn't matter that it took no musical skill.
Personally, I would use BIAB to create backing tracks for guitar playing.
Thank you both Dave and Ray for your replies.
I am very interested in other musicians' views on the subject, as I'm afraid my own may be on the conservative or "old fashion" side.
Dave you are right, I am frustrated with lots of things about the impossibility (at least for me) to create decently sounding tracks and marry them easily to pre-notated music in Sibelius.
I agree to your observation about the point of this software been different to what I would like it to be, and I would never deny to non-musicians their natural right to have fun with music. I just felt that perhaps it was too costly an offer (but that's neither here nor there if people will pay for that kind of fun), but on the other hand, looking/hearing the results of such programmes in youtube and observing/knowing that this is one of the well-kept secrets of industry in musical production, I also felt frustrated that ordinary consumers accept the end result completely uncritically-unconsciously, I would say. They like the music produced by BIAB as real music!
(on the funny side, where I gig in south Crete in the summers, usually alone or with another musician, some German tourists have even offered to create backing tracks for us with BIAB-so we can have a more full band sound!). It is really a kind offer, but I dread to imagine what Greek music would sound like coming out of real tracks! I mean I have used auto-accompaniment almost exclusively for years in London, with much appreciation by the audience, but down there I would probably get shot by some local. :-) and that would be a wrong way of dying, imo.
Now, you have a point when you say, that companies don’t have to produce what I want, and unfortunately I don’t have the right to expect that. Well yes, in this world we live, but (consumer) rights are volatile by nature in a free market economy, and my consumer rights would be more right in a more controlled economic environment, wouldn't you say?
The whole cultural deference between my potential benefactors or assassins is only a difference between Smith and Marxist organization of economy in the end of the day, nothing more. So perhaps my complain is more political rather than musical.
Ray, I agree to what you say, if the song is worth it, perhaps easing the frustration on a real DAW could get far more musical results. Unfortunately I don’t have your knowledge to do that, but if BIAB was free or ten times cheaper I would also give it a go, at least for backing tracks.
I find auto-accompaniment software redundant, so I don't use it. Obviously there's a market for it, but meh. Let people do whatever they want, the kind of music I'm interested in doesn't work with auto-accompaniment anyway, so it's not my concern.
As far as decent-sounding tracks vs. nice notation is concerned, while in an ideal world you'd be able to have both, given the current state of software I have come to the conclusion that it is best to keep the two separate. If you want good notation, write notation in a notation software and tweak it for the printed score. If you want decent-sounding tracks, create a separate score dedicated to MIDI or DAW or whatever means you're using to produce audio, and in there do whatever it takes to make it sound good -- including all the things you'd never want to see in a printed score, but are necessary to kick the software to do what you want it to do. Yes, it sucks that you have to duplicate the work, but given the current state of software, this is probably the most painless way of doing things. Trying to do both at the same time will almost inevitably turn into hair-pulling frustrations.