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2,842 Tutorials

How to make music on your laptop or PC: use GarageBand and Mixcraft

Unleash your inner composer with a little help from your PC.

How to use Mixcraft Pro Studio 6

Windows 8.1, reviewed, doesn’t come with any sort of audio editing software installed, but as usual there are plenty of third-party options available to the PC user. Audacity is a free, basic editor but lacks refinement and can be an arduous first experience of a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). See also: How to use Audacity to edit audio files for free.

Sony has its own offering in Music Studio 8, a respectably well-featured program that sells for around £20 on Amazon. Our favourite though is the Mixcraft range from Acoustica.
There are several versions of the program, starting at around £40 for Mixcraft 6 Home Studio and reaching up to around £160 for the incredibly powerful Mixcraft Pro Studio 6. Each offering will allow you to create music, with the higher end obviously including more advanced features such as video editing and instrument emulation plug-ins. For this feature we’ll be using the Pro Studio 6 version, but the same layout and techniques should apply across the Mixcraft range.

In much the same way as GarageBand does, you’ll use loops of existing music to create a song in Mixcraft. This means that you won’t have to worry about learning music theory, or even playing any notes, instead you can put together a tune from the building blocks of loops that come free with the software.

To begin the process click on File>New Project and you’ll be given the chance to ‘Build Loop & Beat Matched Music’. Select this and you’ll be into the main control screen where the majority of the work will happen. The layout is a standard design for music software. On the left are your tracks, with the main expanse of the centre pane being where you’ll drag and drop your loops. Then at the bottom you’ll find the play controls, song duration, key and tempo controls, plus the all-important tabs that include one labelled Library. In here is the impressive range of loops which you’ll use to create your song.

Mixcraft Pro 1

The loops are sorted initially to include all instruments, tempos and keys. You have the option to change this via the two drop down menus, which allow you to zero in on certain tempos or keys. The left-hand pane has a breakdown of musical styles, and clicking on one will show the relevant loops.

The main pane has the loop name (which lets you know the type of instrument and style), its tempo, key and a few other details. The two that you really need to keep an eye on are tempo and key. While building your song you’ll need to choose loops with the same tempo, unless you’re trying some out-there prog rock epic, which is cool.

Mixcraft Pro 2

The key will determine whether the loops are essentially in tune with each other, so for now stick with the same key for all your melodic tracks. Drums and percussion are rhythm instruments and therefore don’t have a key, but remember to check the tempo.

Find a beat you like (clicking on the green triangle will play a sample) then click the blue 'plus' sign to add it to your track. Initially you’ll be warned if the tempo doesn’t match the existing one you’ve set and given the option to change the project. Do this on the first prompt, but if you’re asked this later on you’ll need to choose a different loop instead.

Mixcraft Pro

Now you’ll see the waveform displayed in one of the tracks in the main pane. You can move the loop around by dragging it with the mouse, and if you want to make it longer then click on the circle with a plus icon next to the loop’s name. Try adding a few new beats to other tracks, then start using some melodic instruments such as guitar, strings or piano - making sure to select them all in the same key and tempo. If something doesn’t work musically then just click on the loop to highlight it, hit delete and select another.  

It’s a good idea to have your song in sections, otherwise it might get a little repetitive, so use the numbers at the top of the timeline (which represent bars) as a guide. We suggest starting with a  eight-bar intro, then change a few loops and have a sixteen-bar verse, sixteen-bar chorus, eight-bar bridge - where you change the feel - and then build back up to a sixteen-bar chorus to finish.

All of this can be changed and adjusted as you go, but it helps to have a rough plan so you know what you’re aiming at. As your arrangement grows you’ll probably want to shrink the size of the loops on the timeline so you can see the project clearly, to do this just position the pointer on the timeline itself and roll the scroll wheel on the mouse to zoom in and out.

Once you’ve assembled a basic arrangement there are plenty of tools within Mixcraft that will add a touch of finesse, including setting individual volume levels, editing loops, and of course even recording your own vocals or live instrument directly into the project. There’s also a MIDI controller option that allows you to use your computer keyboard to play organs, synths, and a wealth of other sounds. With a bit of dedication and a spark of imagination, there is enough power in Mixcraft to have you sitting back in disbelief at the amazing quality of what you can create, and just how quickly it can all come together.

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