Hands on with Band-in-a-Box 2015 for Mac

Keith White
15 December, 2015
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AAA

Band in a Box 2015 for Mac

PG Music Inc, pgmusic.com

Pros 
  • ability to produce professional backing tracks from a seemingly infinite array of styles in seconds
  • all bases covered with outstanding features for music students, teachers and performers
  • great support on the PG Music website with tutorials and sound samples
Cons 
  • None – perhaps slightly daggy interface design features and feature overload might worry some folk a little at first

US$129

Reviews

Over the last few days I’ve been amusing myself with the 2015 release of Band-in-a-Box (BiaB). While this is not the major upgrade we saw in the 2014 version, there are over 50 enhancements and additions as well as 100 new Real Tracks and 15 new MIDI Super Tracks.

For those new to BiaB, the program first saw the light of day in 1990 for the Atari platform. It began as a very basic music accompaniment program, but refinements over 25 years have produced what is today a thoroughly professional music software suite with a host of functions invaluable to teachers and students of music. And performers like me.

Despite all of this added functionality the core of the program is still, as it was in 1990, the creation of backing tracks, known as Songs. All I need to do is type into the lead sheet a series of chords using standard chord symbols such as C Am F G 7. (The program is now capable of interpreting almost all known chord symbols right up to chords like C #m 7/E.)

I then select a style from what is now an amazing range of possibilities and then BiaB goes to work, producing a complete song arrangement with keyboard, bass, guitar, drums and strings/brass in seconds. These sounds are ingeniously computer generated using the internal MIDI sound bank in my Mac, but in recent years I have had the option to use Real Tracks or MIDI Super Tracks. These are actual audio or MIDI recordings laid down by professional musicians which BiaB intelligently sews seamlessly together to fit in with whatever chord progression I have chosen.

To really appreciate how natural sounding these Tracks are, check out the demos on the PG Music site. The upshot of all this is that I have at my disposal a backing band of leading session musicians in almost any style I can dream of. I can even alter the key or the tempo of the Songs I create without losing any quality. In addition, if I select Artist Performance Tracks I can actually follow the playing of leading musicians note by note on a guitar or piano keyboard. A great learning tool!

Some of the other features that BiaB has added over the years are the ability to record or import MIDI, automatic generation of a complete song arrangement with melody from a style I choose, harmonisation of a melody line from a wide range of styles, automatic generation of intros, endings and solos; recognition of chords from audio or MIDI files; a plug-in mode which lets me access BiaB tracks from other DAW programs such as Garage Band and Logic, user creation of styles, harmonies and solos, and generation of notation scales for practice. There are too many other features to cover in a single review so check out the PG Music website and look through its videos and sound samples to get a better idea of what BiaB can do for you.

Although many of the 2015 additions are relatively minor interface and operating improvements, which will be welcomed by seasoned BiaB users, there are some great new features.

I can now save my song sheet as a video for YouTube, which plays along through the chord chart if I want to share a song with someone.

I can now import an audio file or record audio inside BiaB.

A new Big Piano window shows the notes from any track as they play. This is really useful to see how it’s done.

For those into loops you’ll get 1000 for starters. These are mainly drums and bass in top 40, techno and dubstep style, but they’re not just dumb soundbites. They work just like a style, so choose a loop and type in your chords and they’ll play along with the rest of the BiaB band.

But are there any downsides? Perhaps. For design professionals the interface may still seem a little bit Windows 95 in spite of the recent improvements, but BiaB has always been Windows first, then ported to Mac. For beginners, the vast array of features, song and style varieties and customisation levels can be daunting at first. Personally, I am prepared to forgive all these minor grievances for the brilliant underlying technology, which allows me quickly to have professional musicians sitting by my side as I practise and perform. I also use BiaB to create royalty free background music for my documentaries and quite often just for plain having fun.

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