PG Music Band-in-a-Box 2022 by Sound-Guy
Band-in-a-Box 2022 by PG Music
Once again PG Music have updated Band-in-a-Box for the new year. The Windows version was actually released late last year, and the Mac version in mid June. As always BIAB is extremely complex with many new features, new sound and performance content added. But 2022 brings one feature that’s not in the program itself, a One-Click Download and Install feature that enables you to download and install the entire content of your order with with one click.
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. . . . .Band-in-a-Box 2022 may look like an ode to the past, but is a truly powerful and modern tool.
So the first thing I tried (because I had to!) was the new download and install system (you can alternately purchase a USB hard drive or flash drive version for some of the packages – see PGM site). I installed the UltraPAK which has about 125 GB of download files using the LAN in my studio which has a nominal 95 MB/sec (750 Mbps) download speed – if the server at the other end can handle such a speed (most can’t come close!). Turns out PG Music was able to deliver a varying download speed range from about 5 MB/sec to 85 MB/sec, with an average of about 25 MB/sec, which is actually impressive. Still took about an hour and a half – and that’s just the downloads! The install process starts at the same time, but lags the downloading, so another hour and a half passed before it was ready to run. This new download/install system worked flawlessly for me in spite of me trying to “crash” it – both accidentally the first time, and after an hour or so, intentionally. I paused or stopped the process, opened other file management windows, yanked out the LAN cable (really!), even moved my BIAB download folder (BBDownloads) to another hard drive. The new system was able to continue and load what was still needed and so far I haven’t found any problems with the thousands of files it loaded. Very robust. However, I don’t suggest you try this at home! See the next paragraph.
At first I left the default folder locations (which were remembered from my 2021 version) which was fine for the RealTracks and other audio files, but not for the initial download location (the BBDownloads folder) which was left in my C: drive. Not a good plan – it needed over 100 GB of free space and thrashing your system drive is not a wise move! Easy to change using the selections at the bottom of the new downloader window, which you should do before you start the process. Best to use one of your data drives that hopefully has plenty of free space. Note this BBDownloads folder can be removed after all is installed (mine was 128 GB in size). Another thing I didn’t try was to select only the new datasets that I didn’t have from BIAB 2021 – that appears to be possible, but I figured a full install would also update any sounds or styles that might be improved. And since it ran fine unattended, I didn’t spend much of my time watching it. If you have a slow Internet service you will want to buy a USB version.
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. . . .Close-up of toolbar menus and icons – there are many – along with the first four bars of the Chord view.
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. . . .Close-up of Mixer section – the same window can show Plugins, a Piano view, Patches, and some system settings
. . . .and can be docked or floating.
New in the Program
There are a lot of new features, several major additions and many minor improvements. Here is a brief summary of the new features that I found very useful:
▪ All Tracks are now “equal” – all 24 tracks (8 main tracks and 16 Utility tracks) can be used as RealTracks, RealDrums, MIDI SuperTracks, Loops, etc. Formerly only the “Big” eight could do it all.
▪ You can edit audio on any track that contains audio, not just the Audio and Utility tracks – this is a major improvement in my mind, as I’ll describe later!
▪ Styles can now be made using up to all 24 tracks.
▪ You can customize RealTracks performances adding your own notes, either augmenting or replacing what the RealTracks is playing, for any sections in the song. Another major improvement.
▪ Enhanced MultiRiff feature lets you generate riffs for a section of an audio track (up to 20 “riffed” candidates), audition them, and pick one to either replace or merge with the existing RealTracks.
▪ You can now enter up to 4 chords per beat (previously only one) – and you can select which tracks will play these “MicroChords”, enabling some tracks to play fast moving chord progressions and others to play the main chords.
▪ New “Motifs” feature lets you specify rhythmic patterns to be played by selected tracks for selected bars while remaining tracks play with the normal feel.
▪ New Volume Automation provides node-based graphic control of any audio track for fades, crescendos, mutes, etc.
▪ Drum Stems are now available for some RealDrums (over 50 sets) providing separate tracks of the different mics used in the RealDrums recordings. The RealDrums Picker window has a new column listing the number of microphones used for recording and an option to load drum stems to separate tracks or load them all to the same track.
▪ RealDrums supports tuning certain RealDrums sets like TablaCoolSw16_75 so that they are play their drone notes on a root or 5th of the key.
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. . . .Audio Edit view available for any track with audio data, shown here ready to re-generate the highlighted portion
. . . .of a RealTracks performance, which will play a different "riff"..
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. . . .New node based graphic volume automation available on all audio tracks.
There are dozens of other changes and new features that should prove helpful, but the above features alone are worth the update, in my humble opinion.
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. . . .RealDrums Picker page with new Stems column (S on far right) showing the number of stems available, and a selection
. . . .of the stem mics that can be used shown below the main section.
As before, to maintain backwards compatibility with projects from earlier years (many BIAB users have hundreds of “legacy” projects) 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 eight tracks, Bass, Drums, Piano, Guitar, Strings, Melody, Soloist and Audio, that have been the backbone of BIAB for decades (it is 32 years old now). They don’t have to play those particular instruments or use those labels, of course. Old projects that used only these tracks can still be loaded and enhanced with the new features. The 16 Utility tracks first added in BIAB 2021 are still here, but can do more than before, even acting like one of the “main” tracks.
With the 2021 version you could copy any track to a Utility track, either MIDI or audio (or both at the same time if they are RealTracks with RealCharts), and do some basic, but useful editing. Note that using Audio Edit the edits apply to the highlighted region of audio, but if no region is highlighted, they apply to the entire track. You can silence the audio, increase or decrease the volume of the audio, normalize audio to make the loudest part match a set decibel level, create a fade in or fade out, cut or copy the selected region of audio, etc. There is also a very useful “generate” function for RealTracks audio that can be applied to all or any specified section of a song for that track – without re-generating the rest of the song.
While you can still use Utility Tracks that way, you can now use any Utility Track to create full instrument parts on its own. And you can now edit audio the same way on any track, which really saves time since there is no need to copy an instrument track to a utility track first. PGM point out this also saves disk space during editing because extra “scratch” files are not needed. I found using the Audio Edit mode a good way to come up with alternate riffs for a single instrument, but there are some “gotcha’s” – if you perform some operations like generating new audio, you may convert the track to “pure” audio (the track name up in the mixer window turns an alarming orange colour and changes to “ARTIST” rather than the former RealTrack name). If this happens you will find the track no longer acts as a RealTrack (because it is not!). If this happens to you (as it did to me) you can use Edit/Undo (at upper left of the screen) and pop back to your version with a RealTrack – then use the method below.
The best and quickest way to explore alternate takes on a portion of a RealTrack is to use the improved MultiRiffs function that enables quickly creating up to 20 different takes on a specified section of a RealTrack, listening to each one in the context of the song, switching back and forth with earlier versions until you like the results, and with a single click saving the new version in the song. To access MultiRiffs you can use the f8 function key or right-click on the track name up in the Mixer area, select “Track Actions” in the window that appears, and choose “MultiRiffs”. Note that if you already selected a section of the track in the Audio Editor, it will be ready in the MultiRiffs window – otherwise you can select a portion of the track by bars or by time. This method will not convert the track to an Artist Track and enables trying all kinds of variations in any region of a song (but only for RealTracks, not for MIDI tracks). It works a treat from my testing – I spent some time tweaking tracks in a few songs with some really impressive results. The improved MultiRiffs will certainly be part of my arranging process.
One thing I’ve always wanted in BIAB was the ability to change individual notes played by a RealTrack, but since RealTracks are actually audio performances by studio musicians lasting a few measures, that would be quite a trick! BIAB 2022 has come up with a clever solution to this, that while maybe not perfect, is certainly usable in most cases. So what do they offer? You can now select a section of a RealTrack, make its notes as shown in the Piano Roll or Notation window into “playable” notes that will play sounds from a Hi-Q soundset (sfz sforzando files). You can actually change the displayed notation notes to playable, and/or type in your own notes. You can either play the original RealTracks audio with your new added notes, or mute the RealTracks to hear only your added notes. This, of course, will not include the nuances of a musician playing a real instrument, especially instruments like guitar, fiddle or pedal steel, but you can add bends and vibrato if you need for more realism. Also, the sforzando sounds may not exactly match the RealTracks instruments, but the few I tried sounded pretty good in a mix. I believe PGM will be expanding this capability significantly in the future, but it’s already a useful feature.
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. . . .Playable RealTracks in Notation view – the green notes have been changed from the original RealTracks performance
. . . .and will play instead of the original tracks because RealTracks are muted for measures 1 and 2, indicated by the green
. . . .line above the measures.
The new MicroChord function enables specifying up to 4 chords per beat (previously only one). This can be very useful as long as the tempo is not too high – you won’t hear much if your song is rolling along at 240 bpm and there are three chord changes in the space of 250 msec! But it is a great feature for slow tempos, especially since you can put these extra chord changes on specific tracks while other tracks hold the basic chord.
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. . . .MicroChords window with a two chord per beat example.
Along with the MicroChords enhancement comes “Motifs” which is set up using the same MicroChords window. You can enter rhythmic patterns to be played by selected tracks for selected bars while the remaining tracks play the normal feel of the style. For example, you might want the bass to play a brief 16th motif rhythm while the piano, sax and other instruments stick with the normal feel. Very nice addition.
And There is More
There are many other new features and minor improvements which add up to more flexibility and in many cases, easier control. One handy change is a new “Track Settings and Actions” window that assembles many track settings, formerly spread across several windows, onto one page. The Feature Browser introduced in BIAB 2020 is enhanced with more topics, providing a catalogue of functions using a text search, descriptions of the function, how to access it, and in some cases directly launch it. There is an expanded Song Titles Browser in the StylePicker (mine shows 21,162 titles!) to help find styles that match songs from a range of genres and decades, everything from traditional folk songs to 1900’s, 1910’s, 1920’s and on through 2010’s songs, from Abacab by Genesis to Zungguzungguguzungguzeng by Yellowman (note these titles provide only style recommendations, not the actual music since that would create a serious copyright issue).
The StylePicker itself has hundreds to thousands of styles with the number depending on the version you use or any additions you buy – up to 8,848 styles in the UltraPAK. As always, any version of BIAB provides the same features and functions – the “entry level” version can do everything the top version can, just has less styles, less RealTracks, less Artist Performances, etc.. 2022 adds 222 new RealTracks (62 Jazz, Blues & Funk; 89 Pop and Rock; 71 Country, Americana & Folk) with the total number of RealTracks and RealDrums available at over 3,300, and there are over 2,800 MIDI styles available. And if you really want to be original, you can design your own styles “from scratch” – this is very advanced and detailed, and could keep you busy for a long time, but you might come up with something really new and unique. You can also just modify any of the factory styles, or even create a style from a MIDI file if you want to quickly get something different.
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, woodshedding, guitar practice, ear training, jazz and chord exercises, and over 1,000 piano/guitar examples including master solos and riffs.
The DAW plug-in, introduced a few years ago, has been updated to version 4 with new features such as a Chord Builder, Chord Theory, the MicroChords feature described earlier for the main BIAB program, the ability to drag MIDI chords and markers to your DAW, volume sliders for each track, the ability to save/load chord progressions, and more. I have used the DAW plugin at times, but with all that the main BIAB program can do I find any composition, arranging and basic mixing that I need can be easily completed in BIAB, then tracks drag-and-dropped into my DAW for final touches. But the DAW Plugin is another way to work, allowing you to generate song ideas right in your DAW. It worked fine for me testing it in both REAPER and Studio One.
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. . . .DAW Plugin running in Studio One after generating a new arrangement and “dropping” the new tracks onto the
. . . .Studio One project tracks.
Band in a Box continues to evolve as an expansive musical tool-set for both novice and experienced musicians to compose, arrange and mix songs. You can not only produce new compositions and arrangements, but also perform them with excellent musical “talent”. It’s easy to use the basic features, but there are advanced tools that will challenge the most experienced musician or music producer. There are also many educational tools available from very basic concepts to advanced playing techniques for guitar and keyboard that can provide many hours of practice time. And every version includes all these features and tools.
Extremely comprehensive set of functions, but easy to use right out of the box.
New One-Click Download and Install feature is a welcome improvement.
New “all tracks are equal” is a great feature, with Utility tracks able to act as instrument tracks and the ability to edit audio on any track that contains audio.
Enhanced MultiRiff function is a real time saver for exploring performance variations.
New Editable RealTracks on a note-by-note basis is excellent.
Includes many useful educational tools.
The user manual (PDF) has been cleaned up again this year and reduced in size to 438 pages (last year was 590 pages) and describes every function, including the new ones, and there are a lot of them! There is still a lot of information to be absorbed, but the user manual is a lot easier to navigate than past versions.
Will aid (and challenge!) anyone from a novice musician to a seasoned composer.
The VSTi DAW Plugin has been enhanced again with useful added functions.
Both 64 bit and 32 versions are supplied. And BIAB is supported in 32 and 64 bit versions of Windows® 7, 8, 10, or 11.
The basic “Pro” version costs less than many single plug-ins, and includes all the features and functions that the more expensive versions have, just not as many RealTracks, MIDI SuperTracks, Artist Performances, Styles, etc. More styles and sounds can always be purchased later, but of course are cheaper in the bundled BIAB “PAKS”.
Extremely comprehensive set of functions that may confuse new users if they try to understand it all at once! Although you can get usable results almost "instantly", it will take many hours to master the more advanced capabilities that will help you create the most natural compositions and performances.
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 fine, honest Canadians!).