Station MIDI Busker
You've traded in your drummer for a machine, ousted the bass player in favour of programmed lines on your monosynth. Now it's time for the plank spanker...
This is interesting. We've had all sorts of MIDI file aids from drum patterns and ready-built sequences to jam tracks. MIDI Busker is a collection of guitar strums. "Sniff... so what?" I hear you say. Well, as the hardened MIDI-ophiles will know, MIDI was and is very much a keyboard-oriented medium. And if you've ever tried to create convincing guitar tracks using a keyboard you'll know how difficult it is. Not only do you have to hit the right notes across the right range in the right order - in order to replicate the strum you also have to get the delay between the notes exactly right on the down strum, and on the up strum! Not easy.
The solution - or perhaps I should say a solution - is to use a real guitar. But if you don't want to record the guitar acoustically - or you're not a guitarist (and don't have a guitar) - you're back to square one. Which is precisely where MIDI Busker comes in.
The disk contains strumming patterns which were recorded using a MIDI guitar. There are eight styles in total - Ballad, Blues Rock, Country, Fingerpick, Folk, Strat, Vamp and Accent - and each style contains several chords. There are two files for most styles - one containing the most common chords such as majors and minors and the other with more exotic offerings such as minor ninths - and so on.
Each pattern contains several tracks of the strum, each on a different chord - so you need to copy off the ones you want. You can transpose them and string them together in your sequencer's arrange page or chain mode to produce a guitar backing to your song. What you do not do with these patterns - needless to say - is quantise them!
On close examination it looks as though the chords have been tweaked and edited. Many of the velocities of similar patterns are identical, which would not, of course, be the case had they all been recorded live and left in their original state. This does, however, make for consistency.
And on the subject of velocity, some of the patterns have a high (127) velocity level which I wouldn't have thought was always desirable (I'm surprised they didn't try to nudge them up to 128 on the rock patterns - Ed) but it's a simple enough matter to globally reduce these where necessary. The patterns are mapped to GM and there's plenty of advice to help you get the most out of them, along with tips on using the program with C-Lab, Steinberg and Hybrid Arts sequencers.
The final result is like, er... well, like a guitarist. I suppose they could have been a bit more adventurous with the styles, but the patterns are essentially for accompaniment purposes so you really don't want anything too off the wall or whacky. Apparently, Station Records have been working on an Electric version of Busker which should be available by the time you read this (there's an Electric demo on the Acoustic Busker disk) and they no doubt have more styles in the planning stage.
I do wonder why they didn't come up with a name with a bit more cred - something like Guitar Session Man or Death By Strumming. 'Busker' is a little too redolent of the kind of junked-out hippies that inhabit London Underground stations for my liking. Just a thought, guys...
There's a note in the documentation to the effect that you can freely use the patterns in any music you produce, but Station do ask you to contact them for a licence if the music is for sale or distribution. The licence is free and its purpose is simply to stop the cowboys copying or sampling the stuff and flogging it on. Well, here's hoping...
I like Busker. It's a great idea, extremely effective, and it should fill a gap in many a songwriter's and demo-maker's arsenal.
Price: MIDI Busker Acoustic and Electric £14.95 each
More from: Station Records (Contact Details).
Review by Ian Waugh
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