It just hit me how powerful a computer can be to a musician. I mean, I’ve always known what a computer can do, but recently, I’ve been really using my computer to help my music skills. Tonight, it all came together when I learned a song from start to finish, with a solo in less than an hour… Being the hardware junkie that I am, let me detail the hardware pieces first, then the software. I don’t wish to sound like a commercial, but I WILL detail the pieces that I use, and why, and also make suggestions as to other options.
1. Start with a Windows-based PC. What!?! After all my talk of Mac! How dare I suggest such a thing… The truth is, both Windows and Mac are EXCELLENT music machines. Almost everything I detail here works under both a PC and a Mac. There are a couple of exceptions, and that’s why I recommend the PC. A decent machine is going to be 2.4 Ghz up, with 512 Megs the minimum. Get one with lots of USB and/or Firewire ports.
2. Add a decent audio sub-system. Multi-channel audio is very reasonably priced, and most of them are now either USB 2.0 or Firewire. I use an M-Audio FW1814, and it works great. The FW410 is cheaper, with the same internals, if all the extra inputs/outputs are not needed. Edirol also makes some excellent I/O devices like the UA-101, FA-101, and FA-66. A good set of recording speakers helps, and a killer set of headphones is a must. The headphones I love are the Sennheiser HD 280 Pros. The headphones have to be light and comfortable, but have excellent sound quality.
3. For a guitar player, a good effects box like the Boss GT-8 is necessary. This allows for a good guitar sound that can be directly fed into the computer. The Line 6 Pod XT Live is also a good choice, plus is has built in USB port to go directly to the computer.
4. A couple of good microphones are helpful for recording acoustic instruments.
5. Overlooked hardware… A music stand is absolutely necessary! Get something with page holders. Good mic stands. I use a Kick-drum mic stand with a boom so that I can set the mic on a desk. Get good cables.
Ok, now we’ve got the hardware, what are we going to do with it? There are several pieces of software that I use to help my playing grow to the next levels…
1. The absolute most basic thing… A metronome. Crystal Metronome is great, has a LOT of useful features like beat subdivisions and customizable sonuds. Can’t beat the price, either (sorry, bad pun)
2. Transcribing software. I love Transcribe for all of its excellent features. Good transcribing software should allow you to alter the speed of the song without changing the pitch, alter the pitch without changing the speed, have a good EQ for isolating frequencies and allow for easy to use loop setup. Transcribing software is best used with the headphones.
3. Music downloads. Huh? I absolutely love being able to find a particular song, download it, and try to transcribe it. With Yahoo‘s new Music Engine, $7 a month gets you all the music you can download and listen to on 5 computers and a WMA player. The great thing is that Transcribe! can open the downloaded files and manipulate them just like any other type of music media. On a personal note, please be legal with this stuff. I will refrain from getting on my soapbox here.
4. Backing track software. Band-in-a-box is a great program where all you do is type chord changes into an excel-like interface and pick music styles, and it generates some excellent music. This is great for practicing jazz changes or setting up backing tracks for songs.
5. Notation software. Guitarists, PowerTab is an excellent tab notation software and there are some good sites that have free sheet music for it.
6. Last but not least, recording software. Ultimately, this is the make or break software for a music computer. This is where you find out if all the work pays off. Recording yourself is the best way to find out what you need to work on. I LOVE Cakewalk‘s Sonar.
This has been a rather long winded post. If anyone has suggestions for other tools for a musician, PLEASE let me know.