“Smart” often means that technology has been added to something that previously had not had it.
With ‘music’, the term ‘digital‘ has been used for the distribution of consumer music in a ‘digital form‘ – Audio-CD, mini-discs, DAT and later the revolution of online distribution through the iTunes Music Store.
‘Smart Music Creation‘ could perhaps be considered to be where computerized devices help with the creation of music – the synthesizer, the drum machine, and MIDI generally. Drum Machines and Synthesizers are really new musical instruments lending themselves to new musical sounds and therefore new genres of music. That’s not smart really, it is just a different type of instrument.
Enter – Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI)
The MIDI platform has been around for 30 years or more and deserves
the name ‘Smart’. It automates the playing of the instruments by
encoding and reproducing the act of playing
on that instrument
with that intensity
precisely at that time.
That’s not just a new type of instrument, it is a way of codifying the playing of any and all instruments. Complete orchestral scores have been codified and rendered with MIDI. Great performances have been captured using MIDI recording. MIDI doesn’t have to mean sub-standard music – it can, if used with care, mean superb musicianship and great music production. Unfortunately, too many substandard performances have been codified and rendered with MIDI, leading to bad experiences and a bad reputation for the technology.
Enablement versus Truly Smart Music Creation
MIDI is a great enabler.
We shouldn’t blame MIDI for what we have, and haven’t, done with it over the last 3 decades. For truly ‘Smart Music’ what we need is to go further, more intimately marrying technology with music production.
The innovator – Band-In-A-Box
The first, mass-adoption innovation from MIDI was the song-based accompaniment application – PG Music’s “Band-In-A-Box”
available on PCs and Macs. This delivered on its promise of providing
tailored accompaniment for songs. It helps students understand the form
of the songs they play and to provide backing music for enjoying and
learning new songs. Importantly, the interface or ‘language’ of the
application is that of traditional music notation and concepts. It doesn’t rewrite musical terminology, it adopts it and extends what can be done with it. Band-In-A-Box truly is Smart Music Creation.
The Innovator’s dominance of the market
Band-In-A-Box has grown and grown over that time to a massive application with every conceivable feature – a real tour de force of software development.
The development of Long-form Audio complementing MIDI
Band-In-A-Box even addresses the sound-quality issue of the MIDI instruments by including high-quality, long-form audio – “Real Drums” and other “Real Instruments” where the audio is much longer-form than a single MIDI instrument ‘note’ as described earlier. This leads to much more satisfying backing music. It is high-quality, truly Smart Music Creation – which comes at a cost though. Not only the dollar cost for the software application and audio library but using the application takes considerable commitment to master and PC and Mac workstations aren’t always convenient for the world’s 10% that are musicians.
The Convenience and Ubiquity of Mobility
Perhaps the spiritual reincarnation of the original Band-In-A-Box application is realized for mobile devices in the form of Technimo’s iRealPro app. It’s a deservedly popular app, albeit with standard MIDI note sounds rather than long-form audio of ‘real instruments’. Now the world’s 10% of musicians, if they have a mobile device, can get very convenient song-based backing music through iRealPro. That’s great news for a generation of musicians. The cause of Truly Smart Music Creation is evolving.
The Opportunities to Advance Smart Music Production
There are opportunities to go further, to appeal to an even greater proportion of musicians with even more approachable technology marrying music production and technology. If we also can improve the quality and musicianship of the delivery, while reducing those complexities that are barriers to adoption, perhaps we can get closer to that mobile-carrying portion of the 10% of the world’s population that are musicians. Mobile devices are unlikely to provide the same results achievable with today’s desktop workstation that leverage long-form audio libraries requiring terabytes of data and masses of computing power, but innovations in client-server solutions are possible where the same quality of results could be achieved by supplying finished productions to the mobile devices from cloud services. There are other opportunities as well to improve the user-interfaces so that less experienced musicians and less adept mobile app users can get more from musician’s mobile apps. iRealPro has a well-designed interface but I believe the many musicians who use it are successful only because they limit themselves to selecting a song name, and playing it without ever wanting to delve into the actual arrangement details they have just chosen. It’s great that they can move to doing their own arrangements if and when they are ready.
I believe we need to stick with the established language of music while continuing to reduce the complexities of making music with mobile devices.
Apple’s own Garage Band mobile App has achieved great things in this respect. When they first launched the iPad product, there were many reports of young children taking to the device/app straight away. The interface is so intuitive. It is a very approachable app, though perhaps the audio quality is not as great as it could be.
The Future Imagined
What we need are new products that have
- iRealPro‘s musician’s perspective,
- Garage Band’s approachability, and
- Band-In-A-Box’s long-form audio quality
in a mobile client-server App. Add to that facilities for musician’s to easily share arrangements and setlists and arrange their songs merely with selection rather than sequencing and I think we are well on the way to the next generation of Truly Smart Music Creation Services for musicians. We now have this with the Song Rhythm Tracks service and iOS mobile App.
Song Rhythm Tracks
Song Rhythm Tracks are a new type of backing track composed entirely of rhythmic backing (no melody or harmony) arranged to the musical form of the song — it’s “songform”. These tracks are complete performances like one gets from a professional drummer. They have a count-in, introduction section, choruses and characteristic endings, framed by fills showing where sections start and end. Even musical bridges and middle choruses have higher intensity where appropriate to the style. All this without a typical arranger’s interface thereby keeping it simple. One can select a track in under 30 seconds — under 15 seconds once one gets the hang of it.
The App’s player has tempo adjustment and a facility to sequence the tracks for your gig or jam session. It is for musicians of all abilities. New musicians use the App to provide an accompaniment to songs. They get a rhythm that is sympathetic so they learn to keep time, get into the groove and internalise the song’s musical structure – All this while enjoying engaging and inspiring rhythms. Gigging musicians catalogue their backing into setlists and use it to guide performance. Having quality rhythmic backing, with a setlist facility and a musician’s player, all in the one App is so convenient one finds oneself using this rhythmic backing more and more.
Song Rhythm Tracks are truly high-quality rhythmic backing that is convenient to select and play. You are not going to get tired of these backing tracks. You are not going to have to sequence anything. You will find that the player and setlist’s user-interface encourages continued use. You will get to appreciate the form of your songs more and you might include these tracks into your own single and album releases.
Whether you are learning a new tune, jamming, gigging or cutting your latest album, this Song Rhythm Tracks provides a solution.
Check out samples of the audio at Alive Drumming’s Samples page
Check out these articles from Alive Drumming that give further insights into the thinking behind the product –
“When to work on your rhythm?”
“How to practice, then how to jam”
“Why songform with rhythm tracks?”
Download the Song Rhythm Tracks App on the Apple App Store
Try Alive Drumming’s sampler apps to sample previously arranged tracks of popular tunes. It is then easy to use the app to adjust these to your practice and performance requirements. All the sampler apps are the same Song Rhythm Tracks app but with the included sample tracks.
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