Thinking Outside Band-in-a-Box

The software program Band-in-a-Box (BB) has gotten a bad rap by musicians as a kind of cheesy substitute for talent. Although I can see that using BB to generate MIDI files to back up your live act could be stretching it a little, I would offer this tip in defense of BB.

Think of BB as a songwriting or rehearsal TOOL, not as live accompaniment. Here at STJ we have written many songwriting tips that suggest doing manually many of the things that BB can do “right out of the box,” so to speak.

Consider this: You’ve written a new song, and it sounds OK, but you’re not satisfied with it. Maybe it’s a little unpolished at this point, or maybe you’re not sure how it might sound as a bossa nova, or as a rock ballad. BB can help you both as a rehearsal tool, and as a “style experiment” tool.

First of all, you can put your chord changes in with about as much arranging complexity as you can muster, and BB will play it back for you, over and over if you like, til you’ve got it down. Maybe you want to work on the vocal melody repetitively (BB will display the lyrics for you, if you want). Or maybe you want to play along with BB on your ax, just to decide if the arrangement you’ve got works for you.

If your song isn’t quite cutting it as is, try playing the changes in a different style. BB has thousands of different available styles to choose from. If your song was originally conceived as a ballad, it may sound quite different as a zydeco shuffle — or at least good for a laugh!

Here are more things you can do with BB. Is your song too high to nail the vocals, or too low to get any power out of your voice? Transpose to a different key with the click of a mouse. Is the tempo too fast or too slow, or would you like to test a faster or slower feel? With another mouse click, you’ve got a different tempo. Maybe you’d just like to print out your song for other players. BB will print out lead sheets with chord changes, fret diagrams or tablature.

In short, if you have a computer and would like to use a handy tool to help you with your songwriting, Band-in-a-Box is a great choice, with a feature list too long to print here. BB is available for both Windows and Mac OS X. Get the Pro version for $129.

Let us know if you find this tip helpful.

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One Response to “Thinking Outside Band-in-a-Box”

  1. ddcampayo Says:

    That’s right, I think some musicians complain about BiaB’s glitches, without realizing how amazing this program is. You have to come from both sides, music and computation, to appreciate what this program does (OK, I’m an expert in neither, but I do have some working knowledge in both). It’s not perfect, and it’s likely that the ultimate step (sound like actual humans playing) is unattainable, but it’s already a great tool for musicians.

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