Thursday, 10 September 2009

Have you got the music in you?

About a year ago I found a nice piece of software called ‘Virtual DJ’. At first I was clueless. There were a lot of shiny knobs and some things that made a creaking noise when I put my curser over them. Quickly, I figured out how to make Stevie Wonder sound like he’s just sucked on a helium balloon, while making Matt Bellamy sound like someone’s jammed a stale pork pie down his throat. Then I made things faster, slower and heavier.

Then the first track came out. It was simple and rough. A weird take on Life in Technicolor ii by Coldplay. I mixed it with some in-built samples and recorded it; all of this was done within 2 hours. It sounded bad, but it was something that I had made. I listened to it twice and made something new. A mix of No Time For Tears by The Enemy. It sounded better and louder. I was hooked.

Then came the album. It was sketchy but people liked it. I made fifteen copies and they all went within one week. No more have been made and no more ever will. So 5 months later I’m working on the difficult second album and have been testing a new piece of software.

The pieces of software I use are very difficult to use, unattractive and clunky. But I have to use it because it’s my only option. Mac users have the great Garage Band and Linux has...well...Linux doesn’t have ANYTHING in general, so that’s out of the question. But
Microsoft has just released SongSmith. And I’ve been having a go.
Obviously this is not a £600 piece of software; in fact you get everything you need to create a simple song in demo mode. The interface is attractive and it’s very easy to use. The playback is smooth and – although rough around the edges – sounds professional.

In fact, there’s only one thing stopping this programme being as good as GarageBand. This is not mixing software, it’s not even creating music. All this programme allows you to do is sing over a backing track. There’s ways of adding your own riffs and drums I think but they don’t sound very good on the videos and samples I’ve seen.

Don’t get me wrong, this could be used well in a school environment. Probably not in the upper-regions of secondary schools but from ages 5 to 14, this could be a great part of music lessons, teaching students how to use: Tempo, bass, beats, layering techniques and quality finishing. I wouldn’t suggest this for higher-secondary use because it would have no gain to GCSE/A-Level music. There’s a lack of versatility and serious lack of ‘stuff’ to use.

So to all the teachers and parents with young children, go for it. Let the young ones use it, catapult them into mini-stardom. But to all you teenagers and secondary-education teachers, don’t bother in the upper school, give it to the kids and move them up to programmes like “Virtual DJ”.

Ease of use: 9/10 Actual music making capabilities: 2/10
Aesthetics: 8/10

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Free Software

Hi again readers. It's been a while since I've written a serious post that doesn't include: A) A review or B) Tom Hanks so expect several grammatical errors. Also, sorry for the massive photo, Blogger didn't want to let me resize it. So yes, free software.

I've just got a new laptop as a well done for my exams. It's one of the new Inspiron 15's in red with a T4200 dual core upgrade and 3gb RAM, it's got a 250gb hard drive and runs games/internet/movies as smoothly as one of those Alienware Area 52's or one of those Rock laptops. But there's one thing that's really bothered me about this laptop, and with my previous laptop. Not something internal, but more to do with the man in the picture and his company...and Dell I suppose.

Software. I've been given Roxio, a lame excuse for "music recording software" and I was given the dreadful McAfee anti-virus. They chucked in Solitare and Purble Place, they were kind enough to give me some webcam software too. There's some music-enhancing stuff that's possibly even more useless than the chocolate teapot. And then there's the Microsoft Office 2007......demo.

Yes readers. After having £400 spent on this beauty of a machine, I haven't even been given a proper copy of Microsoft Word. I understand this isn't entirely Microsoft's fault, seeing as it is a Dell and that they're selling it. But for goodness sake, £219 for the basic Microsoft Office? It's no wonder people have turned to illegal downloads when we're being robbed in broad daylight. After 60 day's it all goes away and I'm left with...well...Microsoft Works. And who the hell still uses Microsof Works?

Fortunately I know someone who has access to these programmes and gave me the key to unlock a copy of Microsoft Office Ultimate. But think about the student in Claenwyd Uni who doesn't have access to this sort of stuff and is stuck with Notepad and Microsoft Works. I think that if you're spending £350+ on a laptop, you should at least expect Microsoft Word. I don't care about excel, or OneNote, and who the hell uses PowerPoint any more? I just want Word. So I propose that when you purchase a laptop you should get that sotware for free, and not pay £200+ for it.

All you have to do is stick a CD in the tray and press enter a few times. Is that really too hard Mr. Gates. Your friend Mr. Jobs seems to be able to do it.