I’m a skeptic concerning add-ons to products that seem like they should have been included in the first place. PG Music’s “Xtra Styles PAK” series seemed to be the kind of thing I was against, so I was impressed when PG Music invited me to comment on their most current one, Xtra Styles PAK 9 for Band-in-a-Box 2020. I gave it a thorough test, trying every one of their styles and … I was amazed at how good these styles are. This was quite a change in my thinking, so I’ll explain how that happened.
First, I did what you should do if you even consider buying this PAK, and you should. I went to the PG Music videos page and watched the video Xtra Styles PAK 9 for Band-in-a-Box 2020, which gives quick demos of all 220 new styles. Having worked with many of them, I have to say that these rarely give the best impression of the styles but you do get an idea of the diversity as well as what BiaB is capable of.
I took notes on just my very favourite ones to investigate in depth. I chose slightly over half! I only came across half a dozen that I don’t really like, mainly due to certain instruments I don’t care for or certain genres. You will probably think differently, which is good.
Next, I tried each of the 110 or so favourites on a song I’m writing to spec. It combines some odd chords (e.g. it’s in C but starts on an A major) with some basic chord progressions (e.g. Dm-G-G7-C). I got some great sounding background tracks as well as a couple of perfect solos! I also heard this song in several versions I would never have thought of, giving me the idea of presenting the client with several versions.
So why not do that with the regular BiaB styles? It’s not as if they aren’t terrific; they are. But PG Music has gone deeper into several styles, using more or fewer instruments, adding unexpected ones, and giving some surprising make-overs. Others are more focused versions of particular styles with more extreme attention to the best of that genre. Other ones combine styles that sound great, such as adding a banjo to a rock or blues track, or a jazz sax to a folk style. There are many wonderful combinations to try out that will expand any songwriter or arranger’s palette. These are the things that make certain songs stand out, and experimenting with them is not just fun (a lot of fun!) but it will expand your horizons on what is possible and even excellent. For instance, my light jazz arrangement worked very well as a country song, which floored me, and also as a folk-alt-jazz fusion. One sax solo was worth the price of admission alone, as it sounds terrific in any of the arrangements.
As I said, the styles included with Band-in-a-Box 2020 are terrific, but I usually feel the need to tinker with the styles to get a particular sound, like a tinge of jazz in a rock song, or some country-folk to add some weight to a pop song. It’s as if the PG team anticipated many of the things I wanted, and even some I hadn’t realized I wanted yet. Many of the jazz styles fit several different decades, as well as blending with different genres. Gospel vocals add depth to many non-Gospel styles, while banjos and mandolins are given workouts in almost every genre. Even supposed “pop” styles have unusual depth for the genre, and you can feel some hits just ready to be made. In short, I felt little need to tinker with these styles to get top-notch results. But of course I’ll still tinker with them, but only after I have thoroughly worked through the possibilities already there. That will be some time in the future!
And speaking of the future, this is the first review a an Xtra Styles PAK, but not the last. I wanted to get this out while the special pricing for June is in effect, so you can get all of these styles for $29, a fantastic deal! I will soon be reviewing their loops PAKs, which can be added to the Xtra Styles PAK 9 for a little more. Also, I have been given access to all of PG Music’s style PAKs for Band-in-a-Box, so I’ll be reviewing them in a later post.
For now, check out the videos of the Xtra Styles PAK 9 and Loops-with-style PAK2.
As with Band-in-a-Box 2020 for Mac, these extra PAKS have my highest recommendation They are just an amazing deal at the current price.