Music help?


  • I survived the hour long Uno hand

    I could use some help getting set up with this new project of mine. Since I'm bad with terminology, let me just explain what I'm trying to do: I can play some piano, but my efforts to learn guitar have been less than successful. I want to physically play a piano but create a digital audio file that has guitar, bass, and the like.

    Presumably I need a keyboard. What am I looking for that would make one better than another for this? I don't want to go all-out and spend a ton, but I don't want to buy something and then not have it work.

    Presumably I need software. Is there free software that can do this? Is there some software that's better than another? I have linux and windows machines, no mac, so Garage Band is out.

    Do I need any other hardware or software?


  • SockDev

    @Yamikuronue said:

    I want to physically play a piano but create a digital audio file that has guitar, bass, and the like.

    sounds like you want to be doing MIDI synth

    hmm.....

    a quick google suggests that

    might be what you want..... maybe?


  • I survived the hour long Uno hand

    That looks like a playback tool?



  • @accalia said:

    sounds like you want to be doing MIDI synth

    This. You can use any cheap keyboard that has MIDI output. Then you'll need some hardware to get the MIDI connected to your computer. Then you need software to capture your performance and synthesize the different instruments you want to hear.

    I've only used Pro Tools for this. It's quite expensive and not even the best at MIDI stuff. I'm sorry, but I don't know enough to recommend any cheap/free options for you.


  • SockDev

    @Yamikuronue said:

    That looks like a playback tool?

    might be....

    i did say that it was a quick google.



  • @accalia said:

    @Yamikuronue said:
    That looks like a playback tool?

    might be....

    i did say that it was a quick google.

    Well, that's kinda what MIDI is all about. You create your performance with a MIDI controller (your keyboard in this case). Software will capture everything about your performance (what keys you hit, when you hit them, how hard you hit them, etc), then play back the performance using a MIDI instrument. The MIDI instrument can be a separate piece of hardware like a synthesizer, or just the software itself.



  • First question - do you just want to play some music, or do you want control over how your instruments sound (things like effects, synthesis, etc)? In first case, Guitar Pro or some other sheet music based software should be enough, in the other, you'll need to research trackers and such.

    As for the keyboard, any that has MIDI output should do. Obviously some will have better quality keys, more octaves, pitch wheels, etc., but if it has MIDI out (or these days USB, preferably), it should work.


  • I survived the hour long Uno hand

    I want the output to be a digital audio file; it looks like Guitar Pro outputs sheet music?


  • I survived the hour long Uno hand

    Pro Tools does have a free version now, but it is quite restricted. You are limited to a small number of cloud only projects. I've used Cubase before and I thought it was good. At $100, it isn't cheap. ACID Music Studio is another, slightly cheaper option but the last version I had was ACID 3 and that was well before they added MIDI sequencing. I have a keyboard and cables sitting around unused because I haven't convinced myself that I would use them enough to justify spending the money on the software.

    And yes, Guitar Pro is primarily about sheet music.



  • Sounds like you need a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Pro Tools is one such program. Personally, I'm a SONAR guy. What you will want to do is first select your DAW (you probably are just fine with the $100 version and not the $500 super pro version), and then get some virtual instruments (which are basically DLLs that your DAW host loads dynamically). There's a common standard called VST which just about everyone supports.

    When it comes to VSTs, they're usually worth what you paid for them, although there are some free gems too. There are lots of competing libraries out there from the low $xxx to the high $xxxx. I own a few of the EastWest/Quantum Leap products (Symphonic Orchestra, Ministry of Rock, and Symphonic Choirs), which are not cheap, but can produce great results with some skill.



  • To connect a keyboard to your PC, you'll need one that has a MIDI plug (a lot of cheap ones do, so not a huge hurdle), and some kind of MIDI->USB adapter. They're pretty cheap, I don't know if there's any difference between brands/drivers.

    As for software, the only software I've used in the modern era was MAGIX Music Maker 2015, and Music Creator 6 Touch. Both I got through some deal thing on Steam ages ago. I've tried Music Creator 6 Touch, and it's UI is ... it has a terrible UI. And it's sold as easier to use than the competition. So expect a nasty learning curve.

    I can't really recommend either program, as I haven't worked enough with either. BTW: good news? There's TONS of competition in this space. It's not like video editing where there's basically Vegas and Premiere, or $30,000 and nothing in between. There's a wide range of digital audio workstation software. There's like 5 or 6 competing products on Steam alone.

    I had a great, great, great music program back on Mac Classic which I can't remember the name of, but it was so powerful and simultaneously easy. My brother and I had a blast making music in that when we were kids. Kids today I don't think have anything easy to use. Sad.



  • @Maciejasjmj said:

    keyboard

    @Maciejasjmj said:

    MIDI out

    @Maciejasjmj said:

    USB

    I didn't know that was a thing. Makes sense, though.

    @Placeholder said:

    spending the money on the software

    Just reminded that my girlfriend's sister uses Reaper, I was told it's much less than $100. Quick Google search says it'll do everything Yami wants...



  • Oh hey I was looking on Steam, and Sony actually has a product there called ACID Music Studio by the same people who make Sound Forge. I'm betting that's pretty good. (Not sure if it does MIDI though.) The cost of entry is only $50.



  • I bought ACID on Steam, and I can verify it does indeed have MIDI support.


  • I survived the hour long Uno hand

    Looks like a direct competitor to Garage Band? And apparently lets me create songs without a MIDI keyboard as well, interface looks surprisingly non-cryptic, meaning I can get started before I buy the keyboard... That definitely looks worth a shot.



  • Caustic is a software that may be worth looking, the desktop version is free



  • @Yamikuronue said:

    Is there free software that can do this?

    There's Ubuntu Studio.



  • I haven't used ACID, but I've used the other Sony Creative products, and they're far higher quality than the brand name "Sony" implies.



  • @NedFodder said:

    You can use any cheap keyboard that has MIDI output.

    One notething to be aware of1 is that the cheapest don't do this:

    @NedFodder said:

    how hard you hit them

    The software should be able to take the MIDI data and synthesize an audio file from it. Even MuseScore, which is primarily a composition rather than MIDI/performance program, can generate an MP3 output even without actually playing it. (It can also import/export .midi files, if you like using a sheet-music sort of interface, rather than trying to play the keyboard. I play piano keyboard even worse than I type, so this works for me. :) )

    1 The pun was unintentional, but as soon as I wrote it, I realized it was too bad to allow it to live.



  • @HardwareGeek said:

    I play piano keyboard even worse than I type

    Me too. A friend of mine called that "composer's piano": good enough to write music on the piano, but not good enough to play what you wrote.



  • Start with (Cockos) Reaper. It's a bit bare bones, but you can download the trial for free.

    If you want something a bit more fancy and slick, Cubase is the best all-round package for Windows. Start with the cheapest version. Forget ProTools: it's good for multi-track recording acoustic music, but not for noodling around or playing with plugins. And it's expensive to boot.

    The EDM crowd likes FL Studio, which is not unlike GarageBand.

    Note that none of these are going to keep you satisfied after a while. To get a really good drum, bass and guitar sound, you'll need to invest a bit more.


  • Fake News

    @blakeyrat said:

    To connect a keyboard to your PC, you'll need one that has a MIDI plug (a lot of cheap ones do, so not a huge hurdle), and some kind of MIDI->USB adapter.

    Nowadays you can buy a keyboard controller which comes with USB and velocity detection out of the box. My brother recently bought one from M-audio - no need to pay for a synthesizer if you aren't going to use the audio parts (unless you can get a good for a bargain of course).


  • Fake News

    @Hanzo said:

    To get a really good drum, bass and guitar sound, you'll need to invest a bit more.

    This. Most of the software around comes with rather underwhelming sounds unless you invest more like $100 per type of instrument. Still, better to get started with something simple than to spend a wad of cash on something you won't do very often.


  • I survived the hour long Uno hand

    I grabbed a trial of Acid Music Studio 10. Things I don't like:

    • The keyboard has to be plugged in before I start the software, which can casue some issues because the USB ports on the machine I'm using it on are flakey as shit, so slightly bumping the cord can cause the keyboard to d/c and r/c. This will be solved by getting a usb hub to go to the ports from the back of the machine that are less flakey

    • The window has to have focus for the sound to be piped through from the keyboard, so I can't let my husband practice while browsing forums. I've solved this by grabbing my tablet for forums.

    @JBert said:

    Most of the software around comes with rather underwhelming sounds unless you invest more like $100 per type of instrument

    • The guitar sounds that come with this are absolute balls. Totally unrealistic. :( Advice?


  • @Yamikuronue said:

    guitar sounds ... Advice?

    Sorry, I can't offer any suggestions. Unless you're talking about Andrés Segovia-style guitar, guitar music isn't really my thing, and even then I don't know anything about MIDI guitar synths.



  • I don't want to sound like a dick, but a guitar (electric or acoustic) seems like an instrument that would be virtually impossible to synth well. It's not like a trumpet or clarinet where everybody on Earth agrees what "good" trumpet playing sounds like...


  • I survived the hour long Uno hand

    Yeah, might be. I don't really know much about it.

    In the meantime we've been putting together piano covers of songs instead of trying to make them sound more guitar-like :)



  • @Yamikuronue said:

    - The guitar sounds that come with this are absolute balls. Totally unrealistic. :( Advice?

    You need to study the wonderful world of (VST) plugins and samplers/sample players, and then learn how to make your performance sound realistic. It's not going to be just 10 minutes of installing and you're done.


  • I survived the hour long Uno hand

    Got a book or web reference for where to get started? I'm open to learning new things :)



  • It's a bit of a long path. First: don't get disappointed by mediocre results. It's like learning how to write: you can't write a novel after just learning the alphabet. The only path (this sounds horribly StarWarsy) is by trying and listening. Every time you hear something in your own work that could be improved, you make a step. The next step is how to actually improve it.

    So, where to start? There are quite a few websites, blogs, etc. dedicated to making music "in the box", as making music with a computer is commonly called (the opposite being "in a studio"), but they usually assume some level of knowledge. So you've got to learn a bit about the software you use. There is probably a dummy guide, and there are video tutorials all over the place (although probably no good free ones). Warning: Acid Music Studio does not seem particularly popular. Get the cheap version of Cubase: it'll make everything a bit easier. There is a 30 day trial version, and there are bundled versions that come with certain hardware. Many people already have DAW software, and don't use these versions...

    Once you've understood the basics of MIDI recording, plugins, samples and mixing, you might be ready to look how other people make music. YouTube has quite a lot of people showing how they make songs, and there are forums for just about anything, e.g. the Cubase user forum or kvraudio.com/forum. There is no structure, so you'll have to stumble through that.

    PS Be aware of the Gear Acquisition Syndrome, the idea that buying a more expensive product will magically improve your music. E.g., there are really expensive orchestral sample libraries (we're talking $1000 and up just for strings) that sound beautiful, but require a lot of knowledge to use. There is also snake oil: e.g. there are some very expensive plugins that claim to emulate EQ of a studio console, but in reality sound just as good as the cheap stuff. Start simple, and only buy when you're confident that you can use the product, that it will benefit your music and when you have the money for it.



  • Ignoring popularity, do any of these programs have a simple intuitive interface?

    It seems the word "professional" in this industry seems to mean, "46 overlapping windows, all of which contain unlabeled controls in grey-on-slightly-darker-grey". Just looking at the screenshots of Cubase sends shivers down my spine-- if that's what they use to sell the software, I can't imagine what daily use of the software looks like!

    I think back to the sheet music/MIDI software I had as a kid (which unfortunately I can't remember the name of), and go: "wow, a poor kid doing this shit today would be completely lost in the dust".

    EDIT: it might have been MusicWorks or ConcertWare. I remember it had an "instrument editor" that let you make a waveform loop which it would then pitch up and down as needed, so you could make your own "instruments". I remember it was very old by Mac standards, and didn't support proper multitasking, so you had to "quit" the sequencer to go into the instrument editor-- that places it certainly before 1991 and probably before 1988.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    Ignoring popularity, do any of these programs have a simple intuitive interface?

    Basically: yes. I agree that they've gone overboard with the blackness in a (pathetic) attempt to look cool. I think it's not necessary to have overlapping windows in Cubase. Logic has largely done away with that (although some overlap isn't bad, BTW).

    But the interfaces are relatively easy to learn, given all the potential tasks.



  • @Hanzo said:

    But the interfaces are relatively easy to learn,

    Relative to what? A nuclear reactor control panel?

    @Hanzo said:

    given all the potential tasks.

    That's the exact problem. If you keep adding functionality without rethinking your UI/UX, that's what you end up with. I mean, what they're doing is glomming together the Office 2003 mess. The difference is eventually Microsoft noticed the pattern and said, "huh, maybe we should think about how to lay this out smarter".

    Oh well. Mostly I'm just nostalgic and grumpy thinking about the excellent easy-to-use music composition apps that existed in the mid-80s and that do not, apparently, exist at all anymore 30 years later. I hate IT.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    That's the exact problem. If you keep adding functionality without rethinking your UI/UX, that's what you end up with. I mean, what they're doing is glomming together the Office 2003 mess. The difference is eventually Microsoft noticed the pattern and said, "huh, maybe we should think about how to lay this out smarter".

    Let's leave the blind Microsoft idolatry for a moment: you're probably not appreciating the amount of functionality in modern DAWs. You can't compare Word to a DAW. There are simple programs. You click somewhere, it places a note. You hit play, you hear the note. They are like notepad: easy, but lack power.

    Programs like Cubase or Logic are much more complex, but aren't the nightmare Office was. They had modeless inspectors and responsive little mouse over thingies a long time ago, and configurable keyboard shortcuts (that you cannot really appreciate in a screenshot). Their devs have been chipping away at modal functionality bit by bit. But it's pretty hard to do that when there are thousands of functions, and your users want access to all of them, and you don't want to upset your small user base that has the UI burned into their motor cortex with gratuitous UI changes too frequently, like certain companies from Redmond.

    @blakeyrat said:

    Mostly I'm just nostalgic and grumpy thinking about the excellent easy-to-use music composition apps that existed in the mid-80s and that do not, apparently, exist at all anymore 30 years later. I hate IT.

    Yup, you are. Nowadays, you don't only have notes, you have multi-track, comped audio tracks in folders, hundreds to thousands of layered midi tracks with multiple controllers, video syncing, configurable windows, score editors, mixers, routing, etc., all in one view. If you want to see something complex, you could try this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFtja5P8OOU. The name of the musician should appeal to you.



  • @Hanzo said:

    Let's leave the blind Microsoft idolatry for a moment: you're probably not appreciating the amount of functionality in modern DAWs.

    No; I just don't have the bone-headed belief that more functionality = more obtuse UI/UX.


  • Fake News

    @blakeyrat said:

    Ignoring popularity, do any of these programs have a simple intuitive interface?

    It seems the word "professional" in this industry seems to mean, "46 overlapping windows, all of which contain unlabeled controls in grey-on-slightly-darker-grey". Just looking at the screenshots of Cubase sends shivers down my spine-- if that's what they use to sell the software, I can't imagine what daily use of the software looks like!

    I guess it depends. IMHO most software has become unwieldy from an unbounded growth of VSTs / plugins reinventing UIs which live in their own windows and use their own style.

    I like Propellerhead Reason (nice Google-able name isn't it?) for their skeuomorphic interface. You basically have 4 main windows: the device rack, the rack's backside where all devices can be interconnected in unexpected ways, the mixing desk and the MIDI sequencer.

    The interesting thing is that they when they finally did allow plugins, they put their foot down in sticking to their own development model instead of allowing VSTs. The end result is that all instruments use the same instrument settings format and all knobs are tweakable through the existing controller automation.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @blakeyrat said:

    I just don't have the bone-headed belief that more functionality = more obtuse UI/UX.

    You wait until you see the interfaces done by people running high-energy physics experiments. Definite “SEE ALL THE THINGS” territory, and just awful. A number of analytical chemists I work with are almost as bad. It seems to be something in the sorts of interfaces they learned as students, and they just keep on wanting more of the same.

    Oh well, since they're a fairly small and expert market in the first place, it doesn't make so much commercial sense to develop the more faceted views.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    Mostly I'm just nostalgic and grumpy thinking about the excellent easy-to-use music composition apps that existed in the mid-80s and that do not, apparently, exist at all anymore 30 years later. I hate IT.

    You change-fearing old Luddite, you.

    /ducks


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