Making music on your computer
(Amended from old site archive and updated as article was a bit out of date!)

I've always enjoyed making music on my Amiga. Now that I have a PC with a large hard drive and Amiga emulation, this may not have become easier creatively, but there is a lot less hassle. Sampling in 16-bit and large CD-Quality recording of instruments direct to memory or HD is a reality. Of course, none of these methods (with the exception of 6.) will be any replacement for a lack of talent (believe me, I know!) but with perseverance even the lamest can write a classic or three. So, regardless of your machine, here are the main ways of making music on your computer.

1. Sequencing
Notes are stored as a time based sequence, usually on a computer but then, original musical notation is basically sequencing. Sequencers allow music to be created in your own time or real time making it easier for novice musicians to create music. Sequencers tend to be used on Midi-based instruments although there are certain types (Trackers) which operate on sampled sounds or waveforms. An example is the classic Steinberg Pro 24 for the Atari ST which I've heard some bands still use today. Apparently Queen used Atari ST's on their recordings! Another I believe is Bars and Pipes but I've never really used these.

These are a different type of sequencers which operate on multiple time-based lists of notes, samples and effects running together. The Amiga had four channels (sometimes 8) so four lists were used. On the PC, the best tracker that I've seen has 256 channels, which is fine for music. Unlike sequencing, the tracker does not usually use Midi. Instead, it plays samples of instruments at varying rates and amplitudes to achieve the desired notes, volumes and effects. Some examples of ProTracker (an Amiga favourite) .MOD files can be found in the download section. As this can use samples, it is very handy for recording live music mixed with sequenced drums. As I have a PC now I would recommend the excellent ModPlug Tracker as it can create anything from MIDI files to PT, S3M, FT2 and IT modules as well as load and convert from other formats eg. (Octa)MED, MIDI, I think TFX also. Standard PC WAV files can be imported even if you are writing Amiga ProTracker MOD files.

3.Specialist software
Includes popular recent releases like E-Jay and MusicX along with others. These allow you to create tunes by connecting pre set patterns together. These can be original pieces but often is impossible to really take the credit for creating the music. Most allow you to add and record your own samples which turns the software into a quite groovy digital multitrack recorder/mixer! I use them for this.

4.The Direct Approach
This is just plugging your instruments directly into your sound card via the microphone or line inputs. These tracks are then either mixed together using software or by just playing the previous recording in another package and recording directly over the top. The downside is that no volume changes or effects can really be added once the recordings are mixed. But it is darn quick to get a result and is very good for jamming/testing ideas. Although the specialist software above have samplers which can do this and allow you to mix later. See below.

5.Mixture of the above
As it says, you just use whichever of first three methods to create samples that can be directly mixed together as in 4. This is how I created the sound files sanity.mp3 and wheeldemo.mp3 in the download section. The drums were created using ModPlug Tracker and the riffs were recorded using the basic MS Sound Recorder and added to the module. The vocals were dubbed and mixed to a sample of the module using a coverdisk version on Dance Ejay 2 (!). And those are the results!

6.Novelty software
There are a number of novelty applications such as Algomusic for the Amiga. This creates 'random' pieces of music from a set of pre-learnt 'rules'. The results are obvious as an Algomusic tune but the music is credible. You can't really say that you created the music yourself though. Another package took a bitmap image and converted it into a tune (!). These usually sounded awful but occasionally, you were lucky. I suppose that if you drew the picture then you could claim the credit for the music! Anyhow, I'd stick to the above options if you're serious.