With thousands of styles, songs and sounds on tap, Band In A Box 2017 can supply everything from inspiration to finished tracks.
PG Music’s automated composing, arranging and auto-accompaniment program Band In A Box was last reviewed in SOS July 2000. In the 17 years that have elapsed since then, it has undergone continuous development, and remains hugely popular with gigging and home musicians who need decent accompaniments but don’t have the necessary skills or resources to create them. In addition, it provides a wealth of educational and practical tools for keyboardists, guitarists, composers and music students. Band In A Box 2017 is available for Windows and Mac OS.
In this two-part review-cum-workshop I will review what Band In A Box (widely known as BIAB by its users) offers, and provide tips and explanations of features that may not be evident by looking at the main program window, or even by reading the 675-page PDF manual! Of course, working with a program yourself is the best way to learn and I will try to guide you to the fastest routes to the most useful features. I will not delve into the moral philosophy of using artificial intelligence to help compose music!
BIAB is not a digital audio workstation, but like most DAWs today, it is a very complex program. To learn its basic features requires only a little time, but you could spend weeks delving into the more advanced features. I first used BIAB in 1990, so I’m familiar with its basic functions, but decided, after getting the 2017 version, to read the entire manual and check out new and old features. Much is clearly explained in the manual, but some steps can get lost in all that text, and some details are not covered. If you are a brand new user, or just considering BIAB, I will explain what it might do for you, and if you’ve been using the program for years, I hope to provide some useful tips.
As it says on the tin, “Band In A Box is an intelligent automatic accompaniment program... and a powerful and creative music composition tool for exploring and developing musical ideas with near-instantaneous feedback.” Unlike my venerable Casio CT6000, which played accompaniments in real time as chords were formed with the left hand, BIAB is an ‘offline’ composer and arranger that can complete an arrangement in seconds, then play it with a ‘band’ of up to seven musicians who live in your computer. And while some are not as good as the best session players in Nashville, all of them are reasonably competent, and some actually are session players from Nashville — over 100 session players and performing musicians have contributed to BIAB. In addition, BIAB comes with a set of educational tools, covering ear training, sight-reading, popular and jazz chord instruction, keyboard and guitar practice sessions, and even some arcade-style audio-video games!
The program comes in a range of versions, all of which include the same composer/arranger program, with the difference in cost reflecting additional styles, loops, MIDI and audio tracks that are provided. The smallest versions come as a download, on DVD, and on a USB thumb drive, while the larger versions require a (big) download or hard drive. The USB hard drive version, which occupies about 108GB, can be run from the USB drive itself, rather than being installed on your computer.
The program requires authorisation which can be automatic if your music system is online, or can be done in a ‘manual’ mode for offline systems. You have 30 days to evaluate the program, but must purchase it. There are no free evaluation versions, but PG Music will refund your money if it really doesn’t work for you (and they are nice honest folks!). There is a very active user community, as well as information about BIAB and other PG Music software on the PG Music site (see box). If you are looking only for educational tools, PG Music have several other products that might be right for you, but BIAB is the flagship.
In 28 years, BIAB has grown from a relatively simple program with only MIDI...
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