Microsoft challenges Apple’s GarageBand with Songsmith

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Microsoft challenges Apple's GarageBand with Songsmith

Redmond (WA) – Microsoft
has been slowly but steadily building a set of accompanying software
that mimics Apple’s iLife suite of digital lifestyle applications.
While the software maker now has basic Windows Live counterparts to all
iLife applications, it didn’t have an application to compete with
GarageBand that lets users easily record a song and write music. A new
Microsoft Research project unveiled at the CES 2009 finally completes
the missing musical link – Songsmith.

Songsmith, a new music application from
Microsoft, lets users create music but it comes with an interesting
twist: in addition to playing your own instruments or writing music,
the application lets you sing a tune into a microphone to automatically
make musical arrangements that go great with it.

SLIDESHOW:
Microsoft Songsmith screenshots (5 images)

The software operates in an interesting manner. The application
focuses on singing. The user picks up a musical style, sings
into a microphone (on your laptop or desktop), and Songsmith will create
backing music for you. And yes, it does a hell of a good job.

Users can
then edit chords and arrangements, change musical styles, all with point-and-click
ease because Songsmith is music-making application is “for the rest of
us.” For more advanced users who know a thing or two about music, they can play their own
instruments into the application or edit tunes by hand. To top it all off,
the application doesn’t require monster audio hardware or a ninja PC. In
fact, Songsmith works just as fine on your average notebook with a
built-in microphone.

If you’re not satisfied with results, you
can move the “happy” and “jazzy” sliders to apply different chords and
get results more like what you want. Alternatively, you can lock the type of chords you
like and Songsmith will change the remaining ones. You can choose from among 30 different musical styles ranging from pop to rock to
country, all courtesy of PG Music, makers of Band-in-a-Box, who partnered
with Microsoft Research on
the Songsmith project. Built-in virtual instruments are provided
through a partnership with Garritan and Plogue. And, just like Apple’s
GarageBand, Songsmith enables users to purchase additional musical styles and virtual instruments from within the application.

In a nutshell, the basic steps are behind Songsmith’s magic.
The application analyzes your voice by utilizing a technique called
auto-correlation, in order to roughly determine frequencies and musical
notes you were singing. Then, Songsmith passes this data to a
mathematical model which has been pre-trained with 300 popular songs – so
it already knows what chords go best together and which ones sound good
with different melodies. Based on this existing set of statistics and chord
sequences, Songsmith generates new chords appropriate to your singing.
Finally, Songsmith turns calculated chords into actual composition by
telling any of the 30 different built-in musical styles which chords to
play. A music synthesizer then turns this final musical arrangement
into a sound output using built-in software-based virtual instruments (regardless of the sound card’s abilities).

When you’re done recording your next Grammy piece, you can export
the compositions as audio files and post them to a blog or share via social networks with
friends. Although the social component per se is
not greatly explored, we think future versions should
put greater emphasis on this aspect. Imagine being able to post your recordings online
for other Songsmithers for rating, comment and sharing. It is, however, the real-life
social component of Songsmith that Microsoft is trying the push, that
is: The idea that you will record a song and play it back to dazzle
your girlfriend, colleague, parents or someone else dear to you.
Microsoft’s funny promo videos pitch exactly this idea.

Although
Songsmith will not make you the next big thing in music, it does
provide a fresh take on music making. Besides that, the application is pure
fun and very entertaining. There is certain element of magic involved when
you sing and then hear a complete musical arrangement backing you up.
It also make you try harder, even if your singing skills are equal to those of a
deaf elephant.

Songsmith turns the genre of music-making applications
upside down, and offers a refreshing idea coupled with casual,
easy-going approach that might attract even those who generally steer
away off a software related to music-making.

Songsmith requires
Windows Vista or Windows XP with Service Pack 2 or greater, and a .NET
Framework 3.0, 1GB of RAM and at least 1GHz processor. A free trial is
available for download here.
The trial brings the full functionality of the paid version, but comes limited with
six hours of real use. Full version is available for $29.95 at the online Microsoft store.