|Operating system||Windows, macOS|
Band-in-a-Box is a music accompaniment software package for Windows and macOS produced by PG Music Incorporated in Victoria, British Columbia. The software allows the user to create songs by simple keyboard inputs: a musical style, a tempo and a key. The screen resembles a blank page of music. The user types in a series of chords, even complex ones, and the software generates a song, typically played by four or five musical instruments. The software can create backgrounds for almost any chord progressions used in Western popular music, and can play them in any of thousands of different music styles.
Band-in-a-Box was first introduced in 1990 for PC computers and the Atari ST. The creator of the software is a Canadian, Dr. Peter Gannon, for whom "PG Music" is named. Early versions of the software featured only MIDI data often emulating the phrasing of noted musicians. Later editions included recordings (called "RealTracks") of real musicians playing real instruments in the user-specified style, key and tempo, a breakthrough in the quality of the music. The developers have enlisted the help of a number of skilled artists as soloists and sidemen to build huge databases of phrases in many styles of music. The software intelligently retrieves and customizes groups of measures that are appropriate for soloing over a particular chord at a selected key and tempo. See example below.
Widely known as "BIAB" by its users, the software was initially used as a practice aid for musicians but quickly became popular for "one-man bands" to play at weddings or similar venues. It also became popular in karaoke venues which touted "Band in a Box Karaoke" in advertisements. Gannon said, "We started out with Band-in-a-Box as a MIDI program, generating MIDI and synth accompaniments." In late 1997, the "soloist" feature was introduced, allowing the software to generate solos choosing from a menu that includes emulations of jazz luminaries, past and present; e.g., Miles Davis or Freddie Hubbard in what reviewer Peter Hum calls "credible imitations". Jazz guitarist Geof Dresser, whose day job is a network software developer said," It's playing hipper lines than I can". Those lines were likely due to the company's musical director for many years, Vancouver Jazz guitarist Oliver Gannon,[a] the older brother of company founder Peter Gannon. Their father, Joe Gannon, was a professional pianist in Dublin, Ireland, before moving the family to Winnipeg in 1957. Oliver Gannon retired from PG Music in 2008.
From MIDI to real instruments
Band-In-a-Box used only MIDI until 1999, when digital audio was added, letting users record vocals and instruments directly into songs. The "Audio Chord Wizard", released with the 2007 version of BIAB, made it possible for a user choose any audio song from his computer; the Audio Chord Wizard then analyzes it and writes out the names of all the chords for it such as Fm7 or G7b9; however, if the imported song is not correctly tuned to standard pitch, the error rate is high.
A songwriter can create backing track, then go to "notation mode" and enter the notes on a staff to the melody he has conceived, then enter lyrics and play and print the result. Melodies and solos can be generated and these can be edited note-by-note in MIDI form.
A guitarist can input any single-note melody line (no chords) and the software can generate, as a learning tool, a Lenny Breau or Joe Pass style chord solo with chords than the user can actually reach that are shown on a screen window of a guitar fretboard. The user can specify just how close the chords must be, e.g., "within five frets".
In November 2006, PG Music released "RealDrums", which was the first step in providing users with tracks recorded by real instruments. Gannon said synthetic sounds were decreasing in popularity and real audio tracks were becoming so much easier to record.
In 2007, "RealTracks" was introduced, providing real musicians' recordings to be manipulated to fit any user's song— pianos, bass and guitars, as well as soloing instruments such as saxophones, guitars, and pedal steel, and many others, even double bass solos. RealTracks has significantly increased the quality of the sounds produced since the sounds are, in fact, real instruments played by real musicians. As of 2017, over 100 session players and performing musicians have contributed to Band-in-a-Box. They typically record in five different keys, with the remaining keys accommodated by a pitch-stretching algorithm. The musicians are requested to avoid playing across bar lines if possible on the sessions.
Later versions of the software provide the name the musician who is performing; e.g., the user can select Nashville session guitarist Brent Mason if he so chooses. RealTracks uses the élastique Pro V3 time-stretching and pitch-transposition engine by Berlin-based "zplane.development", which allows the prerecorded instruments to retain much of their natural sound when the tempo and pitch are varied. Software updates continue to widen the acceptable tempo range.
Audio files can be exported from Band-in-a-Box either mixed together or as individual tracks (one for each instrument) into any DAW for mixing, added effects and mastering. Songs created in BIAB can be burned to CD or copied to media-playing devices.
The software provides these capabilities (some MIDI only) to a music creator (not a complete list):
- Create a song any key, major or minor, at any reasonable tempo
- Auto-generate a melody or a solo for the chord progression
- Print the song as a lead sheet or other standard music form.
- Allow a different chord on each beat if desired, not just each measure
- Provide A and B sections in a song, each with a different "feel" for verse and chorus.
- Make drum fills at any given measure
- Provide an alternate bass note for a chord
- Generate an appropriate ending for the song
- Allow for repeats and D.S.
- Provide for skipping to a tag, coda or outro
- Insert bars of a different time signature
- Create "pushes": syncopation to hit the down beat early, to give emphasis (see example sound file)
- Create a "shot": have the band stop suddenly with emphasis (see example sound file)
- Create a "hold": The players hit a chord and sustain it
- Provide some styles actually played in all 12 keys (to allow Woodshedding of non-transposed solos)
- Create a holds or shots for certain instruments while others continue playing
- Suggest a random song title for any new creation, such as "Orange Sky" or "Waltz for Cabo"
PG Music sponsors a forum which showcases thousands of original songs created by its customers. Peter Gannon said, "This really helps with visibility because people hear these songs and hear what can be done by a single songwriter using Band-in-a-Box".
The basic functions are relatively easy to master; but, as evidenced by its 675-page user's manual, there is a long learning curve to get the full benefit. The software user interface has been criticized as clunky or awkward. Reviewer Jeffrey Powers in a 2018 review said, "it looks like it came from the Windows XP era". Robert Renman at Master Guitar Academy said the program was "completely amazing" but called the interface "quite intimidating".
Several versions of BIAB are available. Deluxe versions called "Audiophile Editions" are sold preinstalled on a hard drive and include studio-quality uncompressed RealTracks files. Uncompressed RealDrums as WAV or AIFF files are also available for lossless audio use.
- Oliver Gannon received the "Order of Canada", one of the nation's highest civilian honors (music).
- Wilkins, Dennis (May 1, 2017). "PG Music Band In A Box 2017". soundonsound.com. Sound On Sound Magazine. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
- Hum, Peter (January 15, 2001). "Digitally Mastered". The Ottawa Citizen. p. 14B. Retrieved 24 February 2019.
- "Nightlife: Band-In-a-Box Karaoke" (Vol.162, No.119). The Capital Times (Madison , Wisconsin). October 29, 1998. p. 16. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
- King, Andrew. "Supplier Spotlight: PG Music" (PDF). pgmusic.com. Canadian Music Trade. p. 18. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
- "Appointments to the Order of Canada". gg.ca. The Governor General of Canada. December 27, 2017. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
- "Vancouver Jazz Profiles – Oliver Gannon". vancouverjazz.com. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
- Powers, Jeffrey (June 4, 2018). "Band In a Box 2018 Song Creation". geekazine.com. Retrieved March 4, 2019.
- "zplane.development announce élastique AAX". soundonsound.com. SOS Publications Group. Retrieved March 8, 2019.
- Powers, Jeffery. "Band in a Box 2018 Review". youtube.com. Geekazine (Magazine). Retrieved March 7, 2019.
- Renman, Robert. "How to make Backing Tracks with B-I-A-B". youtube.com. Master Guitar Academy. Retrieved March 7, 2019.