Before I got a day job, I used to be a professional musician. This goes back some time. Back to the 80’s and the days of big hair and skinny ties. That was also the time that MIDI really started to take off and there was a fantastic little application (that came on 3.5 inch floppy disc no less) called Band in a Box. I loved it back then and I’m very pleased to report (20 years later), Band in a Box continues to amaze.
If you are a singer or a musician and want to practice a song, one problem you will face is the fact that your band members are not always around. Using this application, it doesn’t matter. You don’t need any musical talent to operate it other than the ability to type in chord changes for your favorite song. Once they are in you set beginning and ending points and pick a genre of music and hit “play”. It is that easy. The application generates a convincing back up group, including piano, guitar, bass, and drums for you to play and sing along with.
The genius of this application is that it creates a full back up band for any song in just about any style for you to sing along with or accompany on your instrument. The standard version comes loaded with backup styles from salsa to straight ahead jazz. You can also buy supplemental style modules to fit your taste and needs.
Since its inception Band in a Box has played through the MIDI instruments in your computer. That was great 20 years ago but, if you don’t have the right hardware, can sound strangely like a bad e-card. Band in a Box has expanded beyond this applications MIDI roots and include wave files of actual musicians playing their instruments in place of MIDI signals. This “RealTracks” feature provides a noticeably better sound.
Once you complete your arrangements you can freeze the song so there is no delay in loading and starting. This would be great for live performances.
You can record your melodies right into Band in a Box or export a MIDI file for use in GarageBand or Logic Studio. This can provide a great jumping
off point for laying down your basic tracks.
The newest release of Band in a Box also features the ‘Audio Chord Wizard’, which will take an MP3 file and extract the chords from it remarkably well. Think about it. Any MP3 song converted to chord changes. No fakebook required. I tested this on John Coletrane’s “Giant Steps” which, has some complex changes and Band in a Box did well.
For guitar players, Band in a Box also includes ‘RealCharts’ with an on-screen guitar display so that you can hear the audio performance and learn from on-screen notation, tablature, or visual guitar fretboard.
This application could be extremely useful for students, musicians, singers, and music teachers. For music students in particular it is a fantastic tool teaching chord structures as well as providing an excellent back up band to play along with. It would also be nice for the karaoke crowd in that you could make a back up tape for any song you have chord changes to in the style of your preference.
You can learn more about Band in a Box at PGMusic.com. They have a variety of licenses starting at $129 and some versions (with the large real tracks and real drums files) ship on a USB hard drive. They also have an educational discounts and a generous upgrade policy. A few years ago I got the upgrade price from my original purchase of the application on an Atari ST in 1986. Check it out.
You can listen to this review on the MacReviewCast Podcast.
FTC (Keep MacSparky out of jail) Disclosure:
While I have paid for Band in a Box (several times) over the years. The version upon which this review is based was a review copy.