Tuesday, December 18, 2012

SessionBand: Music Making for the Musically Challenged

Mark Gibbs/Forbes

Do you have a friend or loved one who would like to be musical but just doesn’t have that music gene?

These musically-challenged people often try to learn an instrument but it just doesn’t “take” … they have a few lessons but somehow the music mojo isn’t there and they give up only to go through the whole process again a few months later.

Over the last few years a number of software titles have appeared that make creating music that can sounds really impressive something for people without instrumental skills. These products use “loops” (sampled musical instruments and sounds which can be manipulated) and a timeline onto which they can be dragged, dropped, and modified with effects (echo, flange, etc.) to create musical compositions.

The most famous of these products is Apple’s Garage Band but my favorite in this category is Sony ACID Pro 7 which is a professional multitrack recording, mixing, and looping music creation system.

But even though these products vastly simplify music creation they still involve lots of detailed work and a significant level of computer skill which those who are both musically and technically challenged will most likely find overwhelming.

It won’t surprise you to find that the platform that makes the interface complexity issues of music composition fade away is Apple’s iOS and I just tested an iPad and iPhone app that also simplifies the composition process for the musically challenged: SessionBand for iPad, published by UK Music Apps Ltd.

SessionBand is different from other loop editing systems because it uses samples that are chord-based – all the other systems I know of are beat-based; they focus on the time signature of the piece. Using a chord-based model which combines multiple instruments into each sample vastly simplifies the process of making something that sounds good

With SessionBand you select a style (piano, rock, jazz, latin, and so on) and then. using the on screen keyboard, pick which chords the styled loops should use, the number of bars that the chord should play for, which fill accompaniment should go with each chord, and the volume for each instrument in the chord. Even cooler: If you have a tune you like but it doesn’t work in, say, piano ballard style you can select a different style and voila! Your composition is now in dubstep style.

SessionBand ($0.99), available in separate builds for the iPhone and iPad, offers 80,000 professional musical audio loops in 71 musical styles (the app comes with a selection of styles and add-ons are available as in-app purchases).

While music created with SessionBand occasionally has a somewhat generic quality, the results are remarkably polished.

Want a royalty-free backing track for your home videos or your sales presentation? SessionBand is well worth considering as a quick, effective solution (although you’ll have to plug your iOS device into some kind of recording system to save the music … as of writing the app doesn’t export to a standard sound format such as MP3).

For the price, this app is not only impressive in making simple music composition accessible to the musically challenged, it also makes a great virtual stocking stuffer.

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