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PG Music Band in a Box 2021
3.6 3.6 out of 5, based on 3 Reviews

An excellent update with even more styles and useful features that make this version worth the purchase!

30th January 2021

PG Music Band in a Box 2021 by CoolGuitarGear

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 4 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.75
PG Music Band in a Box 2021

Band-in-a-Box (BIAB) has been around for about three decades, beginning with a basic Windows DOS platform (remember those days?) and working with MIDI instruments and signals. Even back then I found BIAB sufficient to maintain my playing interests, since I had no aspirations of playing in a band, doing gigs, etc., but wanted a band in which to compose and jam. BIAB fits that niche perfectly, which is why it’s so popular among home musicians, but also music developers. BIAB has crossed leaps and bounds ever since, with higher quality audio output, the annual creation of new styles (e.g., sub-genres of blues, metal, country, jazz, etc.) and, as important, the inclusion of RealTracks (e.g., rather than a MIDI piano, imagine an actual sampled grand piano). The demo below goes over the various ways in which I use the program, as a jammer and music composer.

To summarize the demo, there are a number of steps that I take when working with BIAB, and to get my creative juices flowing (I’ll get to the 2021 updates shortly). Generally, presuming I have a riff, melody or song idea, I will choose a ‘style’ in BIAB, based on my needs. For instance, if I want to develop an easy rock song, I won’t dabble into the metal selections, nor bossa nova, for instance. I may choose country (since that genre covers a lot more ground since the days of Johnny Cash), certain areas of jazz or pop, which brings in the choices to several hundred styles. This can be narrowed down if you know the feel (e.g., 4/4 versus even 16ths) and bpm – once you filter in your needs, then the choices reduce significantly, to dozens. (NOTE: You can select a style that may be 140 bpm and change it to 100 bpm, which can still sound appropriate, but some styles do not sound as lively or robust when altering the bpm too significantly.) You can choose from MIDI or Real Styles, the latter of which I prefer since it sounds far more authentic, but you can change any instruments (and their tracks accordingly). For instance, you may like a MIDI style, but can then change the guitar part to a ‘Real’ voicing; or, you can take a Real instrument and alter its application (e.g., strumming guitar versus a crunchy rhythm). Other times I haven’t a clue what key, bpm or style I want, and will select a random drum pattern and jam to it. If something comes of it, then I’ll develop the composition from there. Still, and if I want to get myself out of a rut, I will select a style that I typically do not play or compose it, whether it’s fast punk or new age. Now, the thing you can do with all this information/style, etc., is to type in what chords you want, but if you keep using the same chords, do not know what chords to choose, etc., then you can select the ‘demo’ that comes with a style and it will apply all the chords (from that demo) for you; then you can work with those chords, make changes, etc., for a new composition or for freestyle jamming. Further to that point, there is the Chord Builder – select the root (A, C#, etc.) and then as you click on the various chord types, they ring out. This feature helps you to discover the right chord (you can hear in your head), or perhaps select a more interesting or unusual chord.

There’s still more. You can have a composition developed in full or in part and change the style in general (and rehearse those styles with your chosen chords). Or you can change the style part way through the song (under ‘select style’ you can ask “show similar styles” so that something close to the original style can be selected). In fact, you can change many elements part-way through a song, such as bpm, etc. You can add lyrics, or use the chord wizard (this is great if you want to develop a comping rhythm section that plays a melody), and then view all of this via guitar tablature, music notes, chord charts, etc. And you can alter your key at any time, while transposing all the chords or keeping the same chords in the new key change. You then can use the Mixer to adjust volume level for each track, add plugins, and more. You also can record live audio into BIAB, although I tend to save that for my DAW. Once I’m done creating a song, I export the tracks in wav format (other formats available) and will then import them into my DAW for final customization. (NOTE: Most BIAB programs come with a copy of RealBand, which is an extended ‘track’ program that allows you to import and utilize most common BIAB functions.)

Now onto the new features for the 2021 version of BIAB (new versions tend to release around December of each year). I think this is one of the most crucial and beneficial updates available, and it really impresses me. First, there are a bunch of new styles (typically every year), but I’m really liking the diversity and sound of what has been created by PG Music this time around. Yes, I like and have used new styles from previous versions, but the acoustic and rock styles really sound good. The 202 new tracks or styles include: 51 jazz, blues, funk and Latin; 80 rock, pop and world; and 71 country, Americana and Celtic. Second, the sound quality of this version is much enhanced, and worth the upgrade or purchase alone. BIAB now boasts 24-bit audio playback, recording, mixing and rendering. There’s also 4-times faster audio DSP processing for smoother playback and faster rendering, which is ideal when working with multiple styles, complex track arrangements or long compositions. And, this version now has Hi-Q Tempo Stretching for playback and rendering. Third, there now are 16 editable Utility Tracks for MIDI or audio editing, recording, etc. Fourth, and I’m glad this came about, is the ‘audio-fix sour notes’ function, which is necessary with styles that use jazz-type chords or unusual chords (this function removes notes that may be part of the scale, but that clash with the chords or melody). Fifth, the Mixer improved with hide/show select tracks, direct access to plugins and the ability to place and embed the Mixer in different ways on the screen. Best of all, the new 2021 Mixer allows you to save those mixer settings; previously, if you muted a track, that muting would not be saved next time you open a song. And there are a number of useful upgrades, including the ability to generate audio harmonies into individual tracks, a RealChart for RealDrums (with accurate drum notation and MIDI triggering capabilities), being able to copy and past (as text) chords, displaying two chord types, importation of MIDI markers, and more.

From my perspective, as a long-time user of BIAB, the above improvements, changes and additions definitely take the program to the next step. The new elements and audio upgrading are fantastic and I’m even more excited to work with this version than some others in the past. Although I did create a demo using new 2021 music styles (and so pay attention to the sounds as you progress through the demo), I merely mentioned what is new for the 2021 version.
Consequently, do check out PG Music’s overview of BIAB, which then goes into the new 2021 changes in the latter half of the video. FYI: BIAB eats up a huge amount of hard drive space, over 200 GB, and so, I recommend buying the program on a portable harddrive, which loads and runs quickly without issue, and you can transport it to a different location. My C:\ drive (on a new computer!) was only 250 GB to begin with, which means running BIAB on its own drive.

  • 1
25th February 2021

PG Music Band in a Box 2021 by Sound-Guy

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 5
PG Music Band in a Box 2021

Band-in-a-Box 2021 by PG Music

As each year for decades, PG Music have updated the Windows version of Band-in-a-Box for the new year, usually releasing it in the fall of the preceding year. BIAB 2021 is a very complex program with many new features and functions making it even more complex than ever, but the user manual continues to improve helping both new and experienced users to navigate all the features. And as always they have added new sound and performance content. However, 2021 brings one feature I’ve been wanting to see for decades, the ability to “re-generate” a section of a song, from just a fraction of a bar to as many bars as you want. And the way they implemented this is much different than I had envisioned.

PG Music Band in a Box 2021-main-chord-sheet.png

In order to maintain backwards compatibility with projects from earlier years (many BIAB users have hundreds if not thousands of these, many “in progress”) they have not changed the basic layout of the primary “intelligent” tracks, tracks that can compose and arrange parts based on a selected musical style and chord progression. There are still the basic Bass, Drums, Piano, Guitar, Strings, Melody, Soloist and Audio tracks (although not necessarily named as such or needing to play those instruments) and they can still load previous projects and generate parts as BIAB has done for decades, but now in addition to these there are 16 Utility tracks with some extremely useful functions.

At the simplest, you can copy any track to a Utility track, either MIDI or audio or both at the same time if they are RealTracks with RealCharts. This is handy if you have a track part you like and want to keep, but want to experiment with variations. Utility tracks do not generate a new version when the main Re-Generate button is pressed, so they can preserve any data stored on them. You can also record directly to a Utility track or load an external file (MIDI or audio) to them. So in addition to the legacy single audio track (still there for compatibility with old projects), you now have 16 additional, very flexible tracks.

With audio, once a Utility track has a part loaded, you can edit the track in various ways – while not as extensively as with a DAW, still very usefully. You can copy, cut and paste any time section from one Utility track to another or to a different location in the same track. And when you cut/copy an audio region and paste it elsewhere, the beginning and ending of the regions cross-fade to make a smooth transition which I found to work very well. There are other functions for Utility tracks accessed by an Edit command in the Audio Edit window: you can change levels and fade audio in or out, you can create harmonies from any track with audio and spread them to several Utility tracks, and there is an “auto-tune” function that can fix out of tune notes even in polyphonic audio (this also works on the legacy Audio track). A very useful feature is that you can place a time mark (a vertical line) anywhere in the Audio Edit window and pressing your keyboard space bar will start to play there, pressing it again will stop play and return to the time marker, which I found very helpful for “micro-editing” audio. This is a more precise way of selecting a section of a song to work on than using the main Chord Sheet.

But the most useful function for me is that you can Re-Generate audio on a Utility track on its own, using any style and any RealTracks instrument performance. And even more useful, you can do this for any portion of the song, from a few notes to multiple measures. When I started to play with this I found I was able to hone in on a final rrangement/performance, all in BIAB, much faster that the approach I’ve used for years, exporting files to a DAW, regenerating tracks multiple times and exporting each variation to the DAW to be assembled there. With the new Utility tracks I could change a few bars, listen to it, undo back to the previous version, redo the change, and even change the selection until I had what I wanted. I could copy the part to another Utility track for safe-keeping and continue working on the same bars or different ones.

And for MIDI, you can record MIDI or import a MIDI file to a Utility track for playback, Notation display, or editing using the Notation view or Piano Roll window. And you can copy the MIDI data from a RealTracks with RealCharts track to a Utility track, edit it as desired, and use it to play an instrument plugin, either on the Utility track or copy it to a normal track. I found this a great help with drum parts, when the RealDrum tones weren’t exactly what I wanted and I could use a VSTi drum program like BFD with which I could change instruments, change tuning, damping and other parameters. It’s true that extracting MIDI from “Real” tracks has been possible in previous versions, but without the Utility tracks it’s more tedious and less flexible. If I had to choose only one new 2021 feature, Utility tracks would be it!

But there is More
The Copy/Move Track Feature has been enhanced. This works on any tracks, not just the Utility tracks, and now let’s you copy or move audio data in addition to MIDI from one track to another. And you can now filter out various types of events when you copy or move MIDI. While you can copy data from any track to any other track, there are some practical limitations with RealTracks – you can copy them to Utility tracks for editing, but if you copy a Utility track to a RealTrack, only the MIDI data will be copied, which accomplishes nothing useful since RealTracks are audio performances of different instruments (played by some pretty capable musicians such as Brent Mason, Jeff Lorber, Alex Al, Sol Philcox, and Johnny Hiland to name a few). Since they are not single note recordings but complete riffs, up to eight measures long, they do not respond to MIDI data. However, you can copy their MIDI data to a MIDI track or Utility to play it with a virtual instrument, so there are a lot of possibilities.

Another very useful feature is you can view audio wave-forms on any track with audio – RealTracks, UserTracks, and Loops not just the Audio track. And speaking of audio, you are no longer limited to 16-bit audio – 24-bit audio playback, recording, mixing, and rendering is now supported. And if your system supports it, 32-bit audio can be used, though I find that overkill. The dynamic range that can be represented by 32-bit audio data is 1,528 dB! This is greater than the difference between the silence in an anechoic chamber and a nuclear bomb blast! There are good reasons to record using 32-bit audio (which uses floating point math), but I won’t go into that here. You can look it up.

The Mixer has been improved with new customizable display options including, sizing and placement, an embedded window mode, track selection to display, and automatic show/hide during playback. The level, pan, and tone controls can now affect VSTi plugins as well as MIDI sample players, a welcome feature. And speaking of plugins, plugin control has been expanded and improved in other ways with direct access from the Mixer, the ability to view multiple plugin GUIs at once, and WAVES plugin support for those who wish it. One oddly missing capability is the use of VST3 plugins, especially considering that the BIAB DAW plugin (see below) is itself now VST3! I’m sure we’ll see VST3 support before long. A minor feature I like in the mixer is you can set Volume and Panning to display as decibels instead of MIDI values. And speaking of the mixer, when generating separate audio files for each track, BIAB can ignore the Mixer settings of each track and use volume = 0 dB, pan = 0 (centered), Reverb = 0, Tone = 0 (neutral – negative values boost bass, positive values boost treble).

There are many other new features and many minor improvements which add up to more flexibility and in many cases, easier control. Some new/improved functions are an “auto-tuning” function, ability to send MIDI track outputs to another track, the expansion of RealCharts to all RealDrums (with accurate Drum Notation and MIDI to trigger drum sounds), an expanded auto-intro generator, and improved Audio Chord Wizard that can even analyze audio files that are out-of-tune, and several improvements in the Chord Sheet view.

The Feature Browser introduced in BIAB 2020 is still here with more topics covered and I still find it helpful after using BIAB for thirty years. It provides a catalog of functions using a text search and provides descriptions of the feature, how to access it, and in some cases directly launch it.

The Song Titles Browser in the StylePicker has 7,000 new titles for a total of 21,000 (!) to help find styles that match songs from a range of genres and decades. The StylePicker has hundreds to thousands of styles with the number depending on the version you use – over 900 in the basic version to over 7,000 at the high end. As always, any version of BIAB provides the same features and functions – the “entry level” version can do everything the top version can. The higher priced versions include more Styles and more RealTracks, so if you start off at the low end, you can always add more of these. Of course, buying them all at once is cheaper than adding sets of styles and RealTracks later.

And as in earlier versions BIAB also provides educational value with a number of tools such as play-along features to help improve sight reading, guitar practice, ear training, jazz and chord exercises, and examples including over 1,000 piano/guitar master solos and riffs.

DAW Plugin
The DAW plug-in, introduced a couple years ago, has been updated to version 3 with enhanced audio rendering (24-bit), support for displaying two chord types, and selectable audio output channels, among other additions. Although BIAB already has a “DAW mode” in the desktop version that enables drag ‘n dropping tracks into your DAW, the DAW plug-in provides an alternate way to access BIAB functions working directly in your DAW. I found the plug-in version 3 to be much more useful than the previous versions, although I find BIAB itself now has enough features itself to produce complete music productions without needing a DAW for the final editing.

Band in a Box continues to evolve into an expansive musical tool-set for both novice and experienced musicians. You can produce not only new compositions and arrangements, but also perform them with excellent musical “talent”. It’s easy to use the basic functions, and challenging enough to keep you occupied for years. As it has been for years, it’s an amazing program. See earlier reviews (PG Music Band-in-a-Box) for a lot more detail on all the features.

Extremely comprehensive set of functions, but easy to use right out of the box.

Both 64 bit and 32 versions are supplied. And BIAB is supported in 32 and 64 bit versions of Windows® 7, 8, or 10, as well as 32 bit versions of Windows® VISTA!

VSTi plug-in has been enhanced again with many added function, and works fine in my tests with both REAPER and Studio One.

Includes many useful educational features.

The user manual (PDF) is large (590 pages) and describes virtually every feature, and there are a lot of features! I’m happy to report the manual has been “cleaned up” over the past few years and is a lot easier to navigate, though there is still a lot of information to be absorbed.

Will aid (and challenge!) anyone from a novice musician to a seasoned composer.

The basic “Pro” version at $129 is fairly inexpensive to try, and includes all the features and functions that the more expensive versions have, just not as many styles and sounds.

More styles and sounds can always be purchased later.

Extremely comprehensive set of functions that may confuse new users if they try to understand it all at once!

There is no free demo version of BIAB, but you have 30 days to evaluate the program, and if it doesn’t work for you, PG Music will refund your money (and they are nice honest Canadians!).

BIAB 2021 is Windows only for now – Mac version, as always, will be out later in the year.

Attached Thumbnails
PG Music Band in a Box 2021-main-chord-sheet.png  

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