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Songwriting Technology

Microsoft’s Songsmith

Microsoft Research has made a trial version of its program, Songsmith, available for download here. Here’s some info from the website:

Ever sing in the car? Maybe in the shower? You know who you are. Admit it, you like to sing, and you like music. Ever thought of writing your own music? Most people never get a chance to try… but we want to give everyone a piece of the songwriting experience, so we’ve developed Songsmith, an application that lets you create a complete song just by singing! Are we going to turn you into an award-winning songwriter overnight? Of course not. But Songsmith will give you a way to create something authentically musical and authentically yours, even if you don’t know the first thing about chords or music theory.

Just open up Songsmith, choose from one of thirty different musical styles, and press record. Sing whatever you like – a birthday song for Mom, a love song for that special someone (they’ll be impressed that you wrote a song for them!), or maybe just try playing with your favorite pop songs. As soon as you press “stop”, Songsmith will generate musical accompaniment to match your voice, and play back your song for you. It’s that simple.

For songwriters, is Songsmith going to replace the craft of songwriting? Never. Could it be a super-useful “intelligent scratchpad” for exploring new melodies and ideas? Definitely. If you’re a songwriter, you’ve probably had the experience of coming up with a melody and finding the nearest object with a “record” button on it just to get your idea down. Imagine that first quick experience also letting you explore chord progressions, styles, even basic arrangement ideas. Then of course you’d work with other tools, other people, your instruments, and your own musical intuition to really develop a song. But Songsmith can be a great tool that lets you quickly explore new ideas in places where you couldn’t before (on the go, on the bus, in the airport, etc.). And Songsmith works great with instrumental input too!

Of course, Songsmith’s ideas might not be exactly what you want for your song. It’s music after all, and there’s no single right answer. So Songsmith not only comes up with music for your song, but puts you in the driver’s seat by letting you customize the chords and arrangement for your song, even if you’ve never heard of “chords” before. Move the “happy” and “jazzy” sliders around to get the chords you want. Lock the chords you like and let Songsmith change the ones you don’t. Set up your own custom band. Make it your song!

I have to admit this sounds intriguing and fun… My daughter loves to make up songs, so I think I’ll see how she does with something like this and if it helps make a song… Looks like the Muse is becoming a computer program… Watch the video of the program in action.

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Review of Sonar 8 PE by CakewalkNet

Songwriter, Rick Paul, has drafted a rather detailed, “thumbs up” review for Cakewalk Sonar 8 Producer Edition that can be found here on the CakewalkNet website.

Here is Mr. Paul’s bullet list of enhancements from the latest version:

  • New features, optimizations, and workflow enhancements: Loop Explorer 2.0, dedicated instrument tracks, performance optimizations, user interface optimizations.
  • Editing enhancements: clip selection groups, aim assist cursor, split and mute tools, free edit tool.
  • Recording enhancements: live effects and softsynth rendering, anytime recording.
  • Mixing enhancements: exclusive solo mode with solo override, bus inputs QuickGroup command, mono hardware inputs.
  • Control enhancements: transport updates, control surface enhancements, Track View and Console View sync.
  • Additional enhancements: enhanced sample rate conversion, Vista audio, QuickTime 7 import/export.
  • Workflow enhancements: insert send assistant, updated ACT presets, drum maps, and plug-in presets, new drum patterns for the integrated step sequencer.
  • New instruments: Beatscape loop performance instrument, Dimension Pro, TruePianos Amber VSTi module.
  • New effects processors: TS 64 Transient Shaper, TL-64 Tube Leveler, Channel Tools, Native Instruments Guitar Rig LE.

So, if you’re into Sonar (I have version 6) then check out this great review and you can even download a trial version from Cakewalk’s website here.

(M)Use the technology for the Muse…

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Music Computer Stolen – Important Works Lost

In Illinois, Lake Forest College’s Department of Music suffered a serious blow when it’s one and only laptop was stolen – read the full article here and a small selection follows:

Associate Professor of Music Donald Meyer, who chairs the department and specializes in use of the studio, called the incident “a devastating loss.” Besides taking away important work by his students and himself, the theft has disrupted his ability to teach Songwriting this semester. Productivity in the class came to a halt, since the stolen computer was the only one students could use to record and compose in the department.

I don’t know… I suffered the same fate once when my laptop was stolen, but I had most of my songs backed up (though not all). It seems to me that some precautions should have been taken – stolen or not, even a hard drive failure could have led to this outcome… but who am I to judge…

May the laptop be returned and may the Muse be with this songwriting program, professor and students…

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Tailor Your Backup Band – More Technology Coming

Another Listening Post Wired Blog post from Eliot Van Buskirk had me going today:

Amateur musicians should eventually be able to use similar technology to create entire songs using only a vocal melody and an idea of which band — or mix of bands — would sound right playing the accompaniment. Want a backing track for your “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” cover that sounds like a mix of Radiohead and Green Day? Soon, you could be able to click a button and make it so.

Pretty cool stuff… the program will take songs you “feed” it from a particular artist and become that band in style – they call it “Automatic Style Specific Accompaniment” or ASSA. You can see this in action in this video which shows the ASSA success rate of 82% in coming up with the melod of Creep by Radiohead after being given 3 of the band’s songs (High and Dry, Fake Plastic Trees and Airbag).

Who knows, eventually an artist/songwriter may license their “style” under ASSA? Will you be able to copyright a style? I guess if it can be analyzed and stripped to such a point that it can be copied and utilized to another songwriter’s benefit, the answer may be “Why not?”.

Right now the system is bits and bytes and MIDI-based, but theoretically, it should work on audio files as well in the future. As the author states in the article: “If all you need is a melody, lyrics and a concept of which band or bands you want your accompaniment to resemble, the bar to songwriting will be lowered.”

Something to think about…

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Music’s ‘DNA’ Decoded: Melodyne

Peter Neubacker, the music software engineer behind Melodyne, is interviewed online on the Celemony website here and I hope you take the time to take a look.

It’s really quite incredible what his invention within Melodyne, Direct Note Access (DNA), has done for polyphonic sounds (i.e. guitar/piano chords). It allows the user to take individual notes within that polyphonic sound and “play” with them (pitch/decay/timing, etc…) – see image at end of post.

As Eliot Van Buskirk states in the Wired Listening Post blog piece on this:

While Melodyne enabled anyone to sing in tune, Direct Note Access’ effect will likely be far more widespread. Any one of us will technically be able to create a guitar-based song by strumming all of the open strings on a guitar then editing the resulting chord to play whatever we want. Talk about your democratizing technology.

Celemony’s Direct Note Access will likely lead to a revolution in how music is made, although purists are likely to scoff at yet another technology that downgrades the importance of virtuosic talent. Others will surely see this as a natural progression in the ongoing musical fusion of human and machine.

Remember to check out that demonstration (very cool)! And may the technological Muse be with you too…

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MuseScore v. Finale NotePad

Last week I wrote about the demise of the free version of Finale NotePad and advising readers to pick up the free 2008 version before it’s too late. I received a comment on that post from David Bolton regarding the free and opensource project known as MuseScore.

Indeed, David provided a link to very helpful comparison of the features between MuseScore and Finale NotePad which I’d encourage you to read. It definitely is a great alternative, is well-supported and available for Windows and Linux.

May the Muse(Score) be with you…

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