As computers gain in popularity and drop in price, software developers continue to create products that aid nearly every vocation. One profession that has benefited greatly from increasingly powerful software is musicians. The music software market has titles for: music notation, digital sampling, digital special effects, and even multi-track recording. This is a list of five common tasks that musicians undertake, and the software that can help carry them out.
If you need to write or transcribe a piece of music, musical notation software is a must. Fortunately, there are two excellent options available: Finale and Sibelius. Both are similar in features or price, but each has a unique user interface, so the choice lays in personal preference. Both programs allow input by computer keyboard, MIDI keyboard, microphone, or by scanning an existing piece of music. They each ship with a library of world-class instrument sounds, so you can hear what a piece of music will sound like as it you compose it. The one clear advantage that Sibelius has over Finale is the "magnetic layout" feature. When using dynamic markings and other musical devices in Finale, the markings will sometimes conflict with one another. Sibelius's magnetic layout avoids this my causing the markings to move out of each other's way as you create them.
One huge benefit of increased computer power is multi-track recording. Fortunately, there are many options available no matter what your budget is. One inexpensive option that continues to gain in popularity is Apple's GarageBand. GarageBand is free with every Macintosh computer that includes the iLife software suite. GarageBand is easy to use, relatively powerful, and is easily upgradeable to Apple's flagship Logic Studio, should your needs change. On the PC side, the three most popular programs are Cubase, Cakewalk, and Ableton Live. The difference between these software packages is beyond the scope if this article, but each one has a free trial version and a "lite" version. The lite versions of these programs are fully self-contained software studios, but they have a limited feature set compared to their full-version counterparts. Each of these are worth test driving, and given that you can try them for free, you don't have anything to lose!
A digital sampler is a machine that plays back pre-recorded instrument sound for recording and live performance purposes. By using samplers creatively, a computer musician can make recordings that use instruments that he or she does not know how to play. In the past, samplers were large, heavy, expensive, and very limited in what they could carry out. Fortunately for computer musicians, there are now software samplers that are far more powerful than the hardware units. The current industry standard software sampler is Kontakt, produced by Native Instruments. Kontakt comes with a forty-three gigabyte sound library that covers genres including: pop/rock, Latin, world, sound track, and orchestral. Instruments have built-in digital effects, and is customizable using a range of controls. Some multi-track recording software, such as Ableton Live, come included with software samplers that are adequate for most producers' needs.
Self-Contained Software Studio
If you need software that is a full music production environment, you need look no further than Reason and Record by Propellerhead Software. When used together, these two software packages have everything that you need to make full music productions. Collectively, they include: multi-track recording software, pitch correction, digital effects, mixing and mastering suite, samplers, synthesizers,an arpeggiator, a MIDI sequencer, and much, much more. In addition to their rich feature set, these programs are relatively inexpensive, and are very easy to use. They are worth consideration for a relative newcomer who is getting serious about computer music production.