Review of Some Music Composition Apps I Use

(posted 3/14/2017) -

Keywords: ChordPulse, Jammer-Pro, One Man Band, Studio One Prime, Cubase 7 AI

I've been using a combination of ChordPulse 2.4, Jammer-Pro 6, One-Man-Band 11, and Studio-One 3 Prime to create stem-tracks for editing and mixing in my Cubase 7 DAW. The advantages of each of these programs will be fully described but for now the take-away is that my goal is to make great sounding multi-track compositions more easily. I like the above programs because they all include large libraries of music components (loops and one-shots) that I enjoy building music around.

On a side-note, one complaint of MIDI based compositions has historically been the quality and diversity of instrument sounds. That is now a non-problem because all major DAWs have instrument sound generation (VSTI) capability that operates in real-time and is indistinguishable from a recorded instrument. Once you're in your DAW your MIDI stems can be matched to an appropriate VSTI instrument quite easily.

When operating outside of a professional DAW many users of MIDI apps (eg. ChordPulse, Jammer-Pro) are unsatisfied with their PC OS's default instrument set (General Midi Spec). A quick way to remove your App's dependence on low-fi GM sets is to download the freeware VirtualMidiSynth software utility from CoolSoft and also download a freeware soundset file (such as FluidR3_GM.sf2). VirtualMidiSynth will act as a MidiMapper and Synth Device using your chosen SF2 file; so that ALL your MIDI apps including your PC's defaul media player can select this device. The benefit of this is that all apps playing a given MIDI file sound exactly the same!

When you want to export a MIDI file to an environment outside your control (ie share it) you should render the MIDI file to its audio equivalent (WAV or MP3). One easy way to do this is with MIDI2WAV and WAV2MP3 freeware utilities. I use VIVSoft's MIDI Converter 1.0 utility (you can select the sound font sf2 file to use at render time). I like to separately convert the resultant WAV file to MP3 using Pazera Audio Extractor 1.4 since it lets me chose MP3 quality parameters.

Let's talk about the afore-mentioned composing apps and what makes each particularly useful:

  • ChordPulse 2.4

    This is a totally graphical application that sells for $22 and can be loaded on multiple machines (no crazy digital rights restrictions - just an auth-code to enable). Go to the website to get info on the app. The way I use it for composition is to choose a set of complimentary band-styles and for each I create a chord sequence in the desired tempo. I save the results for each band style as a separate MIDI file (with a separate track for each instrumnet). Each MIDI file will be imported into my DAW and the VSTI of my choice will drive the instrument track sounds. Just move the track content to the right bar positions in the DAW and you can affectively get intro, verses, chorus, refrains, outro in the desired bandstyles. There are over 150 bandstyles in over a dozen categories of music hard-wired into Chordpulse. Also each of the 4 instruments in each bandstye can be manipulated within any beat in a bar. A built in instrument mixer allows balancing levels. Chordpulse is real-time in playback mode -- allowing a composition to move forward really quickly. All chord variations in any key are accessible graphically (plus the all important inversions of each chord type).
  • Jammer Pro 6

    This is an old but very sophisticated rule based music composer from SoundTrek with several hundred pre-built band-styles and the ability to mix and match any musician from a style with any other band-style. Percusion and rythmn composers allow for parameter based creation of new sounds and patterns for given musicians (called riffs). A very useful feature is a Midi to Style import operation that allows an external MIDI pattern to be added to the set of bandstyles (when the MIDI file has multiple instruments) or added to the musician styles when the MIDI file is a single instrument track. This program is not real-time, you input the chord patterns and band-styles and mark up measures then hit play to hear the resulting composition. A major advantage of this app is that you can create band-styles any number of musicians for thick layers of sound.
  • One Man Band 11

    I don't use this $50 app as its author intended (to compose with a Midi Keyboard Controller). Instead I use it as a conversion app. There are literally thousands of free Yamaha PSR band-styles available for download from the internet. I grab sets that represent music styles I like and load the PSR files into OMB 11 one at a time. I then select record and hit the Play C Chord key, then cycle through the Intro, Verse, Chorus, and Outro options for the given band-style. Then I do the same for Cmin (so I have the Major and Minor variants from the PSR file for the given bandstyle. Then I save the two recorded files as MIDI with a track for each instrument selected. Now I have a set of MIDI riffs for Intro, Verse, Chorus, and Outro in C Major and C Minor. I import these Midi files into Jammer Pro 6 using the MIDI to Style dialogue and create either new bandstyles or new musicians, depending on what I want to pull out. A note -- a nice feature of OBM 11 MIDI files is that they have text fields delineating the bar in which Intro, Verse, Chorus, and Outro begin so it is really quick to convert in Jammer Pro since the measures view clearly marks where each variation starts.
  • Studio One 3 Prime

    This is a full-fledged DAW which is the freeware registered version of Presonus's Studio One line of professional DAWs. The reason I use it is because for $25 dollars I was able to add literally 4000 loops and one-shot files packaged in Presonus's proprietary soundsets (Presonus Add-Ons Complete Set). These multi-gigabyte archives contain ACIDized audio loops and MIDI loops and one-shots from virtually every genre of music. The really nice thing is that the Studio One Prime DAW has a loop browser that allows searching categories (via file class filters) and then previewing sounds very efficiently. The files are tempo stretched automatically when dragged into a DAW track. Also, the DAW allows either MIDI or audio loop transposes in semi-tone increments so it is possible to adjust the sample pitch to the song as needed. Note that there is still the limitation on major and minor intermixing - I usually use the trick of using a relative degree when trying to push a minor sample into a major point of my music; and vice-versa. So a C major in the music could play an Aminor sample and style sound 'correct.' Another wonderful capability of Studio One Prime is that I can export either a Stereo Mixdown or selected Track/Channel Stems as WAV files. Thus I can use the audio and MIDI loops all mixed to my preference from the soundsets then export as WAV stems that I can import for final editing in Cubase 7. Note that Studio One Prime uses the XT Presence VSTI for all Midi sounds (they are quite good and have met all my MIDI needs to-date).
  • Cubase 7 AI

    OK, Cubase is a great DAW and probably the thing I have learned to like most about it is the ease with which I can change the tempo of all my audio and MIDI tracks. It produces no noticeable artifacts to record audio at a more leisurely pace then speed up the tempo of all tracks post recording. This is a feature of Cubase 7 called Set Definition from Tempo (found in Audio->advanced menu). Off course MIDI tempo changes never have an issue; but matching the audio is a great plus. If you would like to see some samples of my use of all the above apps, with final editing and mixing done in Cubase 7 here's a link to some of my recent efforts I'm still learning to mix and equalize -- and am using a rather cheap dynamic microphone so you may fairly critique my productions but I think you'll see that a broad range of interesting music is possible.

Link to my Music (as MP3) is Here.