If you’re a compulsive singer but can’t play an instrument, help is at hand with Microsoft Songsmith. Just sing while Songsmith accompanies you and save the result. But don’t let the simplicity of the process fool you. Even without any knowledge of music theory, you’re totally in charge of the process and can adjust a wide range of settings until you get exactly what you’re looking for.
Point your browser at http://tinyurl.com/songsmith, download the software and install it on your system. This free trial is 100 per cent functional and lasts for six hours. The clock stops when you minimize it or start work on another application, so this should give you plenty of time to create a few songs. if you decide to buy the full version, it costs just $29.95. You’ll need a microphone plugged into the microphone socket on your PC, although if you’re a laptop user you may find the built-in microphone is good enough.
1) Tell Windows to use the microphone as its recording device. If you’re running Windows 7 or Vista, right-click the speaker icon in the System Tray and select Recording Devices. Select the microphone input from the list and click Set Default. Then click Properties and the Levels tab, and adjust the volume so that the meter in the other dialog box reaches about half way up when you sing into the microphone. Windows XP users should right-click the speaker icon in the System Tray and select Adjust Audio Properties from the drop-down menu. In the dialog box that appears, click the Audio tab and ensure that your PC’s sound card is selected as the default device for sound recording. Click on the Volumes button, make sure that Microphone is selected and adjust the volume as necessary.
2) Launch Songsmith and, when the Register Product dialog box appears, click on Continue Trial. Make sure the New Song icon is selected before clicking Next. Two more dialog boxes appear in succession; the first allows you to select the musical style, and the second the tempo. We’ll accept the defaults for now, so click Next followed by Finish.
3) You then need to decide what you’re going to sing. Choose something you know well – your aim for now is to find your way around Songsmith rather than honing your singing or composing skills. Once you’re ready, click on the record button (the red circle) in the toolbar at the top of the screen. At this point, the beat starts. Once the instruction Sing! appears, sing into the microphone. Try to keep the Mic Level indicator at the bottom of the screen in the green area. If this proves difficult, you may need to adjust the microphone volume level again.
4) Once you’ve completed a few bars of singing, click the stop button (the black square). Songsmith will then generate a musical accompaniment to match the tune you sang, and play it back to you. To hear it again, click on the play button (the green triangle).
5) There are various ways to adjust the backing track. For a subtle change, adjust the Happy and Jazzy sliders at the bottom of the screen. You’ll hear and see the chords given to each bar change as you adjust the sliders. If you know your music theory, you can adjust individual chords manually using the drop-down menu buttons to the right of each bar.
For a more fundamental change, choose a different musical style from the Style drop-down list at the bottom left. Alternatively, click the Browse… button followed by Get More Styles… to be taken to a website with additional styles available to download, You’ll have to pay for these, though.
6) Click the Mixer… button at the bottom right to display the Set Up Your Band dialog box, Choose the instruments you prefer from drum, bass, piano, guitar and strings. Use the sliders to the right of each one to adjust its level. You’ll hear the results as you make changes (if the Preview Instrument Changes option is checked), but they are merged with your vocals only when you click on the Done button to go back to the main screen and click play.
When you’re happy with the result, save your masterpiece by pulling down the menu from the Save Song button in the toolbar. Use the Save As… option to save in Songsmith’s own format if you want to continue working on your song later. Use the Export… option to save in a format that can be played back using a standard media player or emailed to a friend. If you choose the MIDI format, it will save the instrumental backing track but not your vocals.