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SOS Guide to Music Software

Last month we gave you advice on choosing a computer for musical applications; as a follow on, this month Mike Barnes provides a comprehensive rundown of available music software for the Atari, Macintosh, IBM PC, and Amiga computers.

Mike Barnes provides a comprehensive rundown of available music software for the Atari, Macintosh, IBM PC, and Amiga computers.

Since the Commodore 64, and to a lesser extent the BBC micro, first introduced MIDI to the personal computer user in the UK, the music software market has steadily grown and become (reluctantly in many cases) accepted as a serious, almost invaluable tool for music making. However, it was not until the past year that there has been a substantial national interest in this particular area of music. The unreliability of early music software meant that a great number of studios were slow on the uptake of software-based music systems, preferring to stick with the tried and trusted hardware sequencers. Additionally, the original software situation was such that there were only a small number of software manufacturers, who tended to market towards extremes such as providing an advanced IBM-based sequencing system for the professional studio user, and an extremely stripped down budget version for the home Sinclair Spectrum/Commodore 64 user. There was no middle ground presence of a high performance, low-cost computer to attract a pool of software affordable and available to the masses. The advent of a cheap but powerful computer in the shape of the Atari 520/1040ST, which could fulfill the needs of both professional and home user alike, has radically altered this situation.

The popularity of the Atari ST machine has given the music software manufacturers the necessary impetus to provide advanced and relatively inexpensive music tools. This has had an enormous knock-on effect for other software manufacturers, who have been forced to become more and more innovative and to exploit the music capabilities of whatever computer they write for. The combined effect of these and other related factors has been to push software-based samplers, sequencers, voice editors and librarians into the limelight, and forced the music industry to sit up and realise that computers have finally come of age. It has become apparent that to ignore this technology is to ignore a music tool with the biggest creative potential seen this century.

Obviously there are both pros and cons attached to music software as the current situation stands. Even today, after a few years of practice, the software manufacturers have been unable to instill the necessary confidence in a product such that bands will happily tour with a computer. Dedicated hardware still offers robustness and, hopefully, 100% reliability. To many people, these two fundamental 'features' are still a pre-requisite for any equipment which lays claim to being 'professional'. For others, bugs, crashes, and gremlins are an acceptable part of everyday music life. The open-endedness of a computer and the limitations of dedicated hardware are being juxtaposed more than ever, such that the whole way that users look at equipment is changing. The fact remains that your local music shop won't be able to do the 'mod' to turn your humble but rock-solid QX5 into a word processor/games machine to occupy those odd pensive moments which interrupt inspired composition.


In Britain, there are really only four computers currently competing for a share of the music-related market: the Apple Macintosh, IBM PC (and clones), the Commodore Amiga and, of course, the Atari ST. Due to a highly competitive pricing policy and an excellent distribution network, the Atari appeared with, and has maintained, a very high profile amongst music retailers and conventional electronic retail stores alike. It has consequently stolen the lion's share of the total market (ie. home user/semi-pro/pro). However, because of the ubiquitous international presence of IBM, many top studios with international clientele have opted for an IBM PC (or Amstrad!) installation. Additionally, the popularity of the Macintosh amongst many top American and British producers, and within the US PAN network, has given this machine its reputation as a high quality music workstation and ensured its popularity amongst music professionals. Similarly, the reputation of the Commodore 64, with its consistent involvement with MIDI from its inception (eg. through Sequential products), has meant that a large number of devoted Commodore users are switching to the newer Amiga for music applications.

There are, of course, newcomers such as the much raved about 32-bit Acorn Archimedes, with its incredibly fast RISC technology which threatens to become an enormous seller. But from a music point of view, the software houses have promised much but, so far, have delivered almost nothing. We also should not forget 8-bit oldies such as the excellent Apple II, which is competitively priced and is still well served from all software angles. However, these latter two machines are in the minority, and it is therefore appropriate here to focus on the 'big four'.

This article assumes you've weighed up your budget and feature requirements to a particular computer and thus selected your machine from the relatively small group of choices mentioned. This available hardware is well publicised and documented (see 'Choosing A Computer For Music' SOS March 88 for further guidance) and no attempt will be made to argue in favour of any of the alternatives here. What will be provided is a survey of available music software for each of the 'big four', to enable the user to keep his/her head above water on wading into the sea of MIDI software. Don't let anyone tell you differently - the market is vast, with big and small fish rubbing shoulders and coming up with some very innovative products. When you've cast your eye over the following summary, you'll be fuelled with the necessary information to outwit the salesman who says: "Of course, you know there's only one pro sequencer for the ******** computer!"

Please bear in mind the following points when choosing your software, they might save you making an expensive mistake!


The Software Buyer's Bible:

1 As you might expect, there are particularly 'popular' music programs for each make of computer. These so-called 'industry standards' feature in many professional and semi-pro recording studios around the country, and will therefore be familiar to the engineers and producers at these studios. If you intend to compose/arrange your music via computer at home and then record and mix in a studio, it may be advantageous to use one of these programs.

2 Established software will provide the opportunity to trade or borrow, for example, synthesizer voice libraries with other users. This can be extremely cost-effective.

3 If you are particularly interested in experimental algorithmic music, then you may be better suited to one of the more innovative (but more uncommon) sequencer products, rather than the conventional 'tape recorder' simulation environments most sequencers adopt.

4 Software companies appear to emerge and disappear on a frighteningly short time-scale. Be careful to check up on longterm software support of a particular product. New, small companies are particularly liable to this type of ephemeral existence.

5 Take a good look at all the possibilities on offer. Don't buy a feature-packed product that has a manual like the Encyclopaedia Britannica and that you will probably never bother to work out how to use. At the same time, don't buy anything that you will outgrow as soon as you buy another multitimbral expander.

6 Make sure the dealer knows what he's talking about! If the program crashes, you will need a reputable dealer who can offer constructive advice on the other end of the phone (ie. beware of cheap mail orders, they can sometimes backfire on you).

7 Always bear in mind future expansion of your computer music system. Certain programs are designed to work in conjunction with one another, and can sometimes both be resident in memory simultaneously. For example, if you buy a sequencer without score transcription facilities, make sure that the MIDI data is saved in such a format as to be able to be interpreted by another program offering these facilities.

8 Beware that certain software updates require more memory than earlier versions. In other words, a software update can effectively 'outdate' your hardware. The Steinberg Pro-24 is a classic case. Anyone who bought a standard Atari 520ST could run early versions of the program but would be unable to run the most recent (memory intensive) version without first adding more memory to their computer.

9 If you have seen what appears to be a good software demonstration, it is advisable to check what type of interface hardware is being used for the demo. For example, is there a MIDI merge box or splitter box (ie. some 'extra' interface requirement) hiding somewhere that is required to make certain facilities in the software really usable?

10 Remain calm even after what appears to be a stunning demonstration! The demonstrator nearly always (as he should, of course) shows off the best features of a software package, hooked up to the best expanders, with the best effects processors in-line. He will have honed the demo down to a fine art - two mouse clicks, a few lines of 'spec' dialogue, a pause for you to hear a few stunning sounds, followed by a hint of a special 'today only' offer, a quick look at his watch to tell you that he's really busy, and then an expectant glance which means 'It's decision time folks!" Don't rush in with a flurry of ten pound notes and a Cheshire cat grin on your face. Instead, nod knowingly, ask a few probing questions (gleaned from reading magazine reviews, of course!) and - most importantly - keep a clenched fist around your wallet. Spontaneous purchase is a salesman's dream!

About the author: Mike Barnes is a musician, programmer, and freelance MIDI Product Specialist for Yamaha R&D, London.

Main MIDI Software Manufacturers for the Apple Macintosh

ALTECH SYSTEMS (Contact Details).

MIDI Basic Excellent programming environment for MIDI applications.
MIDI Pascal
MIDI Phone
MIDI Write
Editors for DX, CZ, ESQ-1.


TX81Z Editor/Librarian Innovative editor with Universal Algorithmic Slider (UAS).
Editors for Yamaha FB01, DX21/27/100, Ensoniq ESQ-1.

BLANK SOFTWARE (Contact Details).

Sound Lab Sound designing for the Ensoniq Mirage.
Alchemy for E-mu Emax.
Drum File for use with E-mu SP12.

DIGIDESIGN (Contact Details).

Q Sheet MIDI automation/SMPTE lock via excellent 'virtual' control surface.
FX Designer for Lexicon PCM70 processor.
Softsynth Digital additive synthesizer with 32 partials.
Sound Designer for the following samplers: Akai S900, S612, S700, X7000; Ensoniq Mirage; E-mu Emulator II, Emax; Sequential Prophet 2000/2; Korg DSS1; Roland S10, S50; Casio FZ1. (Waveform Editing, FFT, Digital EQ, etc.)


DMP7 Pro Professional automated mixing via MIDI for Yamaha DMP7
TX81Z Pro Librarian/editor.

DR. T's MUSIC SOFTWARE (Contact Details).

Keyboard Controlled Sequencer 1.5 Innovative, powerful sequencer.
Roland D50/MT32 Editor/Librarian

ELECTRONIC ARTS (Contact Details).

Deluxe Music Construction Set Notation-based sequencer.

GRAPHIC NOTES (Contact Details).

Music Publisher Professional music publishing system.


Concertware + MIDI Simple 8-voice sequencing. 3 integrated programs.


Jam Factory Improvisational package, many innovative features.
M Interactive composition and performance system. Advanced improvisation facilities.
UpBeat Advanced rhythm programmer with Roland-like graphic editing.

MARK OF THE UNICORN (Contact Details).

Performer 2.2 Industry standard professional sequencer.
Professional Composer Pro music stave notation, composition, transcription system.

OPCODE SYSTEMS (Contact Details).

Sequencer 2.5 Pro sequencer.
Music Mouse Mouse-controlled MIDI. Limited but interesting and useful.
Cue Advanced system for film music composers.
Editor/Librarians for the following synthesizers: Yamaha DX, TX, DX7II, FB01, TX802, Roland D50.
OvalTune Integrates MIDI with computer graphics. Music and Art.
SPX90 Editor for Yamaha's effects processor.

PASSPORT DESIGNS (Contact Details).

Master Tracks Pro 2.0 Pro 64-track sequencer.

DX Librarian
TX816 Librarian
CZ Librarians for Casio CZ101, 1000, 3000, 5000.


Masterpiece 32-track sequencer.


Total Music 50,000 notes, advanced functions, Southworth interface included.
One Step Graphic MIDI controller.
MIDI Paint Graphic MIDI sequencer with 400 independent sequence loops!

ZERO ONE RESEARCH (Contact Details).

D50 Editor

Macintosh MIDI/MTC Interfaces

ARGENTS (Contact Details).

Mini MIDI Communicator 1 input/4 outputs.
MIDI Communicator 2 inputs/8 outputs.

ALTECH SYSTEMS (address as earlier)

MIDI Interface 1 input/3 outputs.
MIDI Interface 2 inputs/6 outputs.

OPCODE SYSTEMS (address as earlier)

Professional Plus 1 input/4 outputs.
Studio Plus 2 inputs/8 outputs.
Studio Plus 2 2 inputs/8 outputs plus modem/printer thru ports.
Timecode Machine read/write SMPTE formats and MIDI Time Code from SMPTE.

PASSPORT DESIGNS (address as earlier)

Mac Interface 1 input/1 output

SONUS INTERNATIONAL (address as earlier)

Macface 2 inputs/6 outputs (switchable MIDI/printer).

SOUTHWORTH MUSIC SYSTEMS (address as earlier)

Jambox 4 4 inputs + SMPTE to MIDI
Jambox 2 New universal interface for any computer.

Main MIDI Software Manufacturers for the IBM PC and compatibles


TX81Z Graphic Editing System
TX802 Graphic Editing System
TX16W Sample Editor Waveform editor for Yamaha sampler.


Tiff 64-track sequencer.

DR. T's MUSIC SOFTWARE (address as earlier)

The Copyist Score editing, transcription and printing.
Waveform Ensoniq Mirage graphic editor.
ESQ-ape Ensoniq ESQ-1 voice editor.

IMAGINE COMPUTERS (Contact Details).

Master Series Patch editors for Yamaha FB01 and TX81Z.

JIM MILLER MUSIC (Contact Details).

Personal Composer Unique sequencing, notation, librarian/editor. Very powerful, uses artificial intelligence.

MAGNETIC MUSIC (Contact Details).

Texture 2.5 60,000 note sequencer with 640K RAM, pattern-based structure.

MELLOTR0N DIGITAL (Contact Details).

MUART 4 in/8 out MIDI interface.
Spirit 48-track pro sequencer.

MIDI CONCEPTS (Contact Details).

Concepts: One Innovative, comprehensive, pro sequencer.

MUSIC QUEST (Contact Details).

MIDI Starter System Interface package with basic sequencer, editor/librarians for Casio CZ and Yamaha DX21/27/100.

OBERON SYSTEMS (Contact Details).

Music Editor Top-flight pro music typesetting via laser printer. (Awaiting MIDI update.)

PASSPORT DESIGNS (address as earlier)

Master Tracks PC 64-track MIDI sequencer.
Score Advanced professional music editing/printing.
MIDISoft Studio Low-cost, full-feature sequencer.
MIDI Voice Editor Voice librarian/editor for FB01, JX8P and others.
MIDI Voice Librarian Stores synth patches for Casio CZ, Yamaha DX7, Roland Juno 106/JX8P, Oberheim OB8.

THE MIDI CONNECTION (Contact Details).

Tape 'n' Step New IBM-based 'concept' sequencer.

TWELVE TONE SYSTEMS (Contact Details).

Cakewalk 1.1 256-track sequencer.

ROLAND (UK) (Contact Details).

MPU-401 Industry standard IBM PC MIDI interface.
Music Processing System (MPS) Sequencing, music editing, score generation.

SYNTECH (Contact Details).

48-Track PC 48-track sequencer, supports SysEx dumps. Real/step data entry.


Sequencer Plus Mk III 65-track professional, full-blown system for PCs.
Sequencer Plus Mk II 32-track pro sequencer.
Sequencer Plus Mk I 16-track 'basic' version.
OP-4001 Intelligent MIDI interface, 1 in/1 out.
Patchmaster Multi-instrument universal patch librarian/networker.

Main MIDI Software Manufacturers for the Atari ST

BEAM TEAM (Contact Details).

X-Syn Module Series System oriented multi-synth editing environment for following: Roland JX8P, JX10, Yamaha DX7/21/27/100, TX7, FB01, Casio CZ series, Oberheim Matrix 6.

C-LAB (Contact Details).

Creator Pro sequencer.
Creator & Notator Music sequencing, editing and printing.
Xalyser Creates FM sounds, can port across to samplers.

COMPU-MATES (Contact Details).

R100 DrumDroid Graphic rhythm programming for Kawai R100.

DIGIDESIGN (address as earlier)

Softsynth Digital additive synthesis package, now supports FZ1, S7000, S700, DPX1 etc.

DR.T's MUSIC SOFTWARE (address as earlier)

Keyboard Controlled Sequencer Advanced sequencer.
Multi-Program Environment (MPE) Multi-tasking accessory: allows several programs to run simultaneously.
Programmable Variations Generator (PVG) Creates selective variations on musical parts.
Fingers Interactive algorithmic composition/improvisation tool.
MIDI Recording Studio 8 track 'starter' sequencer.
Caged Artist Editors for Yamaha, Korg, Roland, Kawai, Ensoniq, Lexicon.

DRUMWARE (Contact Details).

Soundfiler Sample editing for Akai samplers (S612, S900, X7000, S700).

HYBRID ARTS (Contact Details).

EZ-Score Plus Sheet music editing/printing.
SmpteTrack Pro 64-track sequencer, supports MIDI file standard.
ADAP Advanced stereo sampling system (full bandwidth).
EZ-Track ST Well-priced sequencer.
DX-Droid Patch editor/analyser with random patch generator for following synths: DX7, TX7, TX216, TX816.
CZ-Droid As above but for Casio synths.
MIDIplexer Enhanced Atari MIDI interface with 2 MIDI Ins, 1 Thru, 4 Outs.

INTELLIGENT MUSIC (address as earlier)

M As for Macintosh program but with simplified graphics.

MICHTRON (Contact Details).

Super Conductor Cheap but flexible 16-track sequencer.

MIDIMOUSE MUSIC (Contact Details).

Matrix 12/Xpander Librarian Librarian + 100 performance sounds.
Fast Tracks ST


CZ Voice Manager Cheap CZ editor/librarian.

PARADIGM SOFTWARE (Contact Details).

Omni-Banker ST Patch storage/manager which supports most MIDI synths.

PASSPORT DESIGNS (address as earlier)

Master Tracks Pro 64-track sequencer, graphic MIDI controller editing, SysEx librarian.
MIDISoft Studio Low-cost sequencer.

QUIET LION (Contact Details).

Mu-script 1 Budget 16-track multifunction sequencer.

SONUS INTERNATIONAL (address as earlier)

Masterpiece Sequencer and Event editor.
ST Sonic Editor Sample editor for Ensoniq Mirage.
Superscore Desktop music publishing system.
7th Heaven Educational software incorporating Artificial Intelligence techniques.

STEINBERG (Contact Details).

Pro-24 Industry standard 24-track sequencer. Version 3.0 offers simultaneous 4-track recording.
Masterscore Converts Pro-24 files for printing as stave notation.
Soundworks Series Sample editors for S900, Mirage, Emax, Prophet 2000.
Synthworks Series Editor/librarians for DX7, DX7II, TX7, D50, MT32, ESQ-1, TX81Z.

SYNERGY RESOURCES (Contact Details).

Synthview Librarian/editor for Korg DW/EX8000.

SYSTEM EXCLUSIVE (Contact Details).

Iconix Professional 'open structure' sequencer.

TIGRESS DESIGNS (Contact Details).

Patchbox 32 Editor/librarian for Roland MT32.

Main MIDI Software Manufacturers for the Commodore Amiga

BLANK SOFTWARE (address as earlier)

Sound Lab Mirage graphic sample editing.

DATEL (Contact Details).

MIDIMaster 1 In, 3 Out, 1 Thru MIDI interface.

DR. T's MUSIC SOFTWARE (address as earlier)

Keyboard Controlled Sequencer
DX Heaven Editor/Librarians for CZ, ESQ-1, Lexicon PCM70, ROLAND D50/ MT32.

MAGNETIC MUSIC (address as earlier)

Texture Amiga version of advanced 24-track pattern-based sequencer.

MICRO ILLUSIONS (Contact Details).

Music-X MIDI sequencing, patch editing environment.
Micro MIDI Interface with 2 inputs/6 outputs (switchable as Out/Thru/ Off).

MIMETICS (Contact Details).

SoundScape MIDI sequencer.
Utilities 1 MIDI mapping, mouse becomes MIDI controller.
Utilities 2 Software accessories; MIDI delay, data analyser.
Librarians 1 Patch librarians for DX7.TX7, FB01, CZ101.
SMPTE Interface Locks sequencer to any SMPTE source.
Imagen Genlock device for pro video production.
MIDI Interface 1 In, 1 Out, 1 Thru.

OPCODE SYSTEMS (address as earlier)

Music Mouse Intelligent instrument (same as Mac version).

SOUND QUEST (distributed by Dr. T's Software)

DX Master Editor for DX7, DX9, TX data files.
DXII Master Editor/Librarian
D50 Master Editor/Librarian

SUPERSOFT (Contact Details).

Styles 1 in/2 out MIDI interface.

THE OTHER GUYS (Contact Details).

Synthia Basic digital synthesis package.

Main UK Dealers in Music Software

ARGENT'S (Contact Details).
AUDIO FX (Contact Details).
MCMXCIX (Contact Details).
SOUND CREATION (Contact Details).
SOUND TECHNOLOGY (Contact Details).
SQUARE DANCE AUDIO (Contact Details).
SYCO (Contact Details).
SYNDROMIC MUSIC (Contact Details).
TAKE NOTE (Contact Details).
NB. Have recently switched from software distributors to developers.

Reference Books/Articles on Music Software

The Complete Guide to MIDI Software - Howard Massey & PASS (AMSCO Publications, 1987).
Keyfax3 - Julian Colbeck (awaiting publication).
Personal Computers & Music, The State of the Art - Chris Yavelow (Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, Vol.35, No.3) Macintosh only.
Music & Digital Technology - Proceedings of the AES 5th International Conference, various articles on MIDI and MIDI software. (Macintosh only.)
Coda Software Catalogue - Wenger Corp, (Contact Details).


Although the above listing is fairly comprehensive, it is by no means exhaustive. There are no doubt some excellent programs omitted - there was that little Bulgarian software house...

No software retail prices are included since dealers tend to offer widely differing prices, and prices tend to change regularly due to competition from new products.

Previous Article in this issue

Sound Advice

Next article in this issue

The Man Behind The Radio!

Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Apr 1988


Buyer's Guide

Feature by Mike Barnes

Previous article in this issue:

> Sound Advice

Next article in this issue:

> The Man Behind The Radio!

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