If you've already skimmed through this issue or copped an eyeful of the front cover, you can't fail to have noticed that this month's edition of your all-time favourite hi-tech music recording magazine is heavily devoted to music software. If you're the type of reader who hates the sight of computers and A5 plastic ring-binders, don't worry - the mag will be back to 'normal' next issue (and bigger and better than ever!).
The reason for the software special is straightforward: with our sponsorship of the Music & Micro Village at the forthcoming PC Show at Earl's Court, and the continuous flood of requests we receive from readers wanting to know whether there is an editor for Synth X that'll run on their particular computer, we couldn't resist killing two birds with one stone and publishing the most comprehensive guide to music software ever, to tie in with the show (be there or be square). Problem was, we hadn't anticipated quite how much music software there was kicking around!
Our original intention was to include every music-related program, regardless of the host computer. However, a quick investigation revealed that this would prove a gargantuan task - so we took the easy way out (wouldn't you?) and narrowed things down to a survey of music software that runs on the most popular computers of today: the Atari ST, IBM PC compatibles, Apple Macintosh, Commodore Amiga and, because of its dominance in the UK education market, the Acorn Archimedes. We also felt compelled to include music software for the old BBC computer in our guide, justifying our decision by the sheer size of its established user base (great stuff jargon, isn't it?). There are well over 5,000 examples of Hybrid Technology's BBC-based Music 5000 system in regular use in the UK today, primarily in schools and colleges, and - though most hi-tech distributors won't openly admit to it - that figure puts the sales of most other music software in the shade! And how could we leave out Umusic's BBC-based UMI software, still used by pro musicians like Vince Clarke and Adrian Lee?
No doubt some readers will be disappointed that we have not listed software for other machines, like the Commodore C64 and Sinclair/Amstrad Spectrum, but we feel that with powerful 16-bit computers like the 520 ST and Amiga A500 being sold so cheaply these days (have you been down London's Tottenham Court Road lately?), there is little reason why any musician wishing to take advantage of computer power in their MIDI setup would choose to use such limited machines as the C64 or Spectrum.
In preparing our guide, we came up against the problem of the ever-changing version number. It seems that the features and facilities of a music program can change beyond all recognition, almost overnight - usually just by adding a '1' to the version number!! This aspect of software makes life very, very difficult for reviewers and magazine editors, believe me. Many's the time in the past when I have been assured by a software house that a certain feature "will be implemented in the next version" or that the bugs a reviewer has spotted "are not in the final release version". The same can be true of some hardware products, of course, most of which are really music software programs disguised in fancy cases.
But whether you like it or not, software is here to stay, and its relevance to musicians will continue to grow and grow as computers fall in price and applications become more and more sophisticated. I hope you find the guide useful.