Band-in-a-Box 2019 for Mac is the latest incarnation of a perennial star of the music software world. Hard as it is to believe, it will be 30 next year, and that 2020 version is already available for Windows! But I’m a Mac user so I’ll be reviewing that one which is MORE than exciting enough!
I’ll admit that I don’t upgrade BiaB every year, but my last review of it in 2015 — in Just Jazz Guitar magazine — was a rave. The 2019 version has really improved, but I have another compelling reason to revisit this wonderful software: Stelios Panos has upgraded his astonishingly accurate Django Reinhardt transcriptions as well as adding several new jazz guitar artists to his collection, and these take full advantage of the new capabilities of Biab 2019 for Mac.
Band-in-a-Box has come a long way from the early days and each of the many upgrades has introduced lots of features including new songs and styles as well as more realistic performances. Their focus on making fine music and helping musicians achieve their best has remained constant, and Band-in-a-Box 2019 does itself proud in this and every other area. BiaB started as a brilliant MIDI app in its earliest days on the Atari ST, moving to the PC and Mac soon after they became available. The addition of pure digital content in RealTracks was a huge step into more realistic sound, and this realism keeps evolving with studio musicians recording licks, patterns, and even complete songs and studies. The musical content of BiaB continues to expand, taking advantage of new technologies to keep up with computing necessities. With the huge growth in content came the option to purchase BiaB in its own hard disk, and now with speed improvements that we will look at more closely.
Yes you have a band in the box, but do you know all that your band can do? You can work with it to have input from individual instruments to complete arrangers (bandmates-in-a-box to arranger-in-a-box). The best bands get input from each of their members, while the best soloists work with arranger/producers to get that extra input that we all need to do our best. You might be a great guitarist, but how are your drum chops? You might want to call on an expert, or a bunch of them. Then there are teachers in that box that let you study specially-written etudes as well as the arrangements that you like and showing you great licks, chord progressions, melodic ideas, you name it! Whatever you can do with a real band (except maybe fight between members) this boxed version provides. And like seasoned pros, each iteration gets better and benefits from more experience.
So what’s new for 2019? Real Tracks have expanded the genres of Jazz, Blues, Latin, Pop, Rock, World, Country, Americana, and especially Celtic. There are even vocals! Yes, Gospel “Mmms” can be used as a choir of four doubled voices, or as individual voices mixed or solo.
Bassists will love the new Pop Basses with 6 new MIDI Super Tracks (much like the existing Jazz ones) in both electric and acoustic flavours.
Nashville guitar whiz Brent Mason adds Country Pop Guitar Licks in all 12 keys. The most amazing part of this feature is the way they are presented, showing how useful they are in all sorts of different musical situations. These country cousins are at home in any city.
Drummers have a lot to love in this package including drum notation that can be viewed in the RealDrums Picker by filtering for “RealDrums with RealCharts“. A great way to improve your reading, your ear, and your playing all at once. This is also a real boon for arrangers who are not fluent with the notation but know the sound they want.
One of the more unexpected but very welcome additions is “Low Man” and “Re-amped” Metal/Thrash Electric Guitar RealTracks in all 12 keys. These are previous RealTracks that have been “re-amped” to give them authentic Metal/Thrash tones, with both rhythm and solo playing over the necessarily wide range of tempo. Like the snarl and growl of tuning a guitar down 4 or even 6 semitones? “Low Man” has you covered with that very particular timbre of distortion.
Brent Mason returns with a country Train-Beat licks as Instrumental Studies in all 12 keys: 10 each for a total of 120. Geoff Kelly, a founding member of Canadian band Spirit of the West, contributes his Celtic Flute to the Celtic RealTracks for a new sound you want to get to know. There is even Celtic Cello provided by Natalie Haas!
BiaB as a PLUG-IN!
One of the most exciting developments for recording is the ability of BiaB to act as a plug-in for virtual every major DAW. The plug-in generates the same BiaB audio or MIDI that you then drop into a track on your DAW! No need for intermediate solutions and complicated routings. The whole Band-in-a-Box is just one plug-in!
If you are like me and constantly run out of disk space, you will be glad to know that the HD version of BiaB now blazes at USB 3.0 to keep the music flowing. If you prefer (and have the space) you can still install and / or download the app to your own hard disk, of course. And with USB 3 there is no need for an extra USB port “just in case.”
New SongPicker Design
The SongPicker was overdue for a rewrite, so it’s great to see that the new one has many added features that users have requested or dreamt of. Most outstanding for me are the filters, which let you choose songs by genre, feel, time signature, style, and many more musical features or by the more traditional sub-folder choices. Interesting results can come from filtering files with similar chord progressions or melodic fragments. This is a great way to find variations on your favourite progressions or melodies. I like to combine both approaches and save particular favourites that I’ve filtered for into their own folders and sub-folders.
The filter for RealTracks, RealDrums, and MIDI SuperTracks uses a hash tag (#) to trigger the Advanced Filter with many new options. The StylePicker has been rewritten as well. All these filters for choosing songs are very welcome improvements when dealing with up to 50,000 songs! (If these are not enough for you their are also optional Xtra Styles PAKs that you can purchase separately to keep up with the very latest styles!)
PG Music has been providing videos to help you learn about Band-in-a-Box for quite a while now, and if you’d rather see the new features than read about them (or best of all, do both) you can find the videos here. You will not want to miss “Band-in-a-Box 2019 in less than 6 minutes!” because, if you notice that it actually runs just over 10 minutes, it contains special offers that you want to know about! Other than that one, there are many helpful videos from “What is Band-in-a-Box” to dozens and dozens of videos on specific topics to make sure that you get the most out of BiaB in the shortest time.
Of course the whole idea of Band-in-a-Box is that you can create your own music and save it. This extensibility also means that you can create your own libraries of greats that work with BiaB, which is exactly what Stelios Panos has done with the great jazz guitarists. My next post will look at his new transcriptions of Joe Pass, Grant Green, and the upgrade to his stellar work on the music of Django Reinhardt. Stay tuned for that one!
I have only scratched the surface of the capabilities — and even the new features — of Band-in-a-Box 2019. There is a full 32-page booklet included with Version 2019 for Mac that is the New Features Guide! At least you don’t have to worry about upgrading to run Biab. Here are the System Requirements for Macintosh and Windows. Windows users are in luck as Band-in-a-Box 2020 for Windows is already here! For more information on special offers, new features, and even to chat online with the experts visit PG Music here.
Create, arrange, learn, record — is there anything musical you can’t do in Band-in-a-Box. With some creativity there is very little, so be sure to get a copy and dive into the deep end of music!