MAGIX Music Maker

By Shamus
on Aug 27, 2014
Filed under:
Music

Ages ago I dabbled in making music. How long ago was it? Well, I was making tunes for the Doom 2 mods I was building. So, sometime around the mid-90’s. While writing this post I searched around and found that my mods are still out there in the wild, still being played. Here is someone playing through one of my levels with the music cranked.

That is a pretty good demonstration of my musical approach at the time: Find a few notes that sound barely tolerable together, then loop that arrangement to the limits of human endurance. Seems ghastly now, but I remember thinking it was awesome.

I never really understood music or music theory. My music-making was purely brute force. The software I was using at the time (Cakewalk) let you build MIDI music a note at a time. This is ideal if you can’t play an instrument and don’t know what you’re doing. Just shove the little notes up or down until you find something that doesn’t sound dissonant. Didn’t understand chords. Had no idea how different keys worked. I had no idea what the sharps and flats were for. (They always sounded dissonant, so I stuck to the “white keys”. I suppose this means all my stuff was technically in C major?)

Recently I got the urge to try my hand at making music again. I have no idea why. I have important projects that need doing. But in a mad impulse I bought myself MAGIX Music Maker 2014 Premium on Steam. It wasn’t even on sale.

I’ve hammered out a couple of tunes. Here is probably the most complete effort:

On Soundcloud I said this was my “first effort”. Technically it’s my first full-length piece of music in 20 years. (I made a shorter tune on Saturday.) But you get the idea.

mmm3.jpg

If you’ve never used a program like this, here is how it works:

You make a sequenceThe nomenclature is all over the place here. You can call them “sequences” or “arrangements”. Music Maker calls them “objects”. Whatever. Boxes with notes in them. of notes by drawing on this grid. You adjust the pitch and length of notes by moving the little rectangles around and re-sizing them. Above are the chords that repeat throughout the song I linked. If you actually know what you’re doing, you can just play the notes you want on your MIDI instrument of choice. And if you’re completely clueless, you can skip arranging notes and just use the hundreds of pre-fab sequences that come with the software. You really can make a half-decent song by just throwing crap togetherAll you need to do is make sure your sequences are all in the same key, which the program helpfully lists for you.. And if you’re both clueless and lazy, you can use the automated song maker tool, which will let you specify a genre and it will gather a bunch of samples and combine them for you. (I tried it a couple of times. It’s not as good as something made by a real musician, but it’s surprisingly serviceable and roughly equivalent to what I can accomplish. Which, now that I think about it, is kind of embarassing.)

You could put an entire song into a single sequence, but that’s like working in photoshop and putting everything in the same layer. Your goal is to make these little groups of notes that can be dragged around, copy and pasted, looped, etc. You can then take an arrangement and put it on one of your tracks. Maybe one track is a saxophone, and another is a keyboard, and another is a guitar. Drag-and-drop your box of notes from the guitar track to the sax track, and it will play those same notes but with a different instrument.

See? Easy peasy.

mmm1.jpg

In case you’re curious: I made all the sequences myself, but I used a couple of pre-fab drum loops and some vocal samples. (I find mapping out drums to be kind of tedious.) The green, orange, and purple boxes are pre-fab, and the rest is stuff I mapped out by hand.

It’s a fun activity, and it’s amazing how far you can go with just rudimentary knowledge. It’s a shame the software itself is kind of annoying in a lot of trivial ways.

It crashes every couple of hours. Sometimes the play button just stops responding to the mouse, but the hotkey (spacebar) still works. Sometimes it won’t play at all until you hit play half a dozen times, rewind to the start of the song, and chant an incantation. Once you get even a modest-sized project like mine, the whole thing becomes very sluggish, even when doing simple stuff like opening a single sequence. There are a bunch of annoying bugs with scaling the track list, and sometimes you can re-size things and sometimes you can’t. The vocal tune tool is horrendously sluggish and hard to use. (And I’m not even sure it does anything.) It doesn’t let you set your MP3 or OGG tags when you export. When you’re mapping out notes, the time markers are displayed in a completely unreadable white-on-yellow. It locks up instead of closing and has to be killed with task manager. It pops up two gibberish error notifications in a row when you reverse an audio sample, even though the process worked just fine.

mmm2.jpg

Also, the company has a completely nonsensical approach to adding content. Half the fun in using the program is in arranging all the cool little samples and instruments. The base product has a bit of everything: Pop, electronic, rock, metal, techno, reggae etc. After a while, you might wish you had a bit more. In a sane world, if you were working in heavy metal then you could go download the “heavy metal pack” and get a ton of samples that are useful to your project. But instead they’re sold in these grab-bag mixes that cost $40 each. You don’t know how many samples it has, or what portion of them are in your genre, or what key they’re in. (It generally offers samples in several different keys so you have a little flexibility, but sometimes the sample you want isn’t available in the key you’re using.)

On the left is the sound pool you start with. It has a little of everything. Except country. And classical. And folk. And reggae. And new wave. And do-wop. And bluegrass. And classic rock. And industrial. But if you buy enough booster packs maybe you’ll find what you need!
On the left is the sound pool you start with. It has a little of everything. Except country. And classical. And folk. And reggae. And new wave. And do-wop. And bluegrass. And classic rock. And industrial. But if you buy enough booster packs maybe you’ll find what you need!

I would love to spend a little money and get more samples to work with, but I’m not dropping $40 on a sound collection when I can’t tell what I’m getting or if it would be useful to me. This “booster pack” approach to content is ludicrous. It guarantees that the majority of the content you get will be useless to you and just clog up your samples list.

Also: The program is available through Steam, but the sound packs aren’t. So if you get it through Steam you’ll have the worst of both worlds: Your software will be tied to Steam but you’ll have to manage all the add-ons manually. Oh, and they only sell physical copies. You have to buy PHYSICAL media for your DIGITAL software. So you have to pay for shipping and wait X business days to get your content. What century is this?

Basically, this program is a magical toolbox that can make you feel talented and clever, but the software is harmed by a glaringly bone-headed decisions that can suck the joy out of the experience.

Enjoyed this post? Please share!

Footnotes:

[1] The nomenclature is all over the place here. You can call them “sequences” or “arrangements”. Music Maker calls them “objects”. Whatever. Boxes with notes in them.

[2] All you need to do is make sure your sequences are all in the same key, which the program helpfully lists for you.


20201959 comments. It's getting crowded in here.

From the Archives:

  1. Ilseroth says:

    I’ve considered using a tool like this as I do have some musical training (6 years of playing/taught trumpet and now a couple years of self trained guitar) but they always are extremely expensive and while I think I would have a good time; I don’t have much money as it is (college student) so it would be quite the investment.

    I actually considered taking a class in it while in college, but oddly enough it seems like every music related class requires that you are a music major and you already must be extremely familiar with the subject matter. Seems counter intuitive that a learning institution doesn’t want to teach but it is what it is.

    Out of curiosity, do you intend on composing music for Good Robot?

    • ET says:

      Huzzah for trumpets! :)

    • That would be awesome, but by the sound of it he’d probably kill something in the process if trying to use that software.

      My suggestion would be to look at Renoise or Reaper.
      Renoise merges old school Mod Tracking and DAW.
      While Reaper is a DAW.

      Then there is OpenMPT (previously known as Modplug Tracker) which is a free mod tracker.

      AFAIK all three support VST which there is a ton of free and non-free instruments/plugins and DSPs you can use.

      But I’m getting sidetracked.

      Shamus doing his own game theme, and level tracks would be awesome.

    • Hamilcar says:

      “I actually considered taking a class in it while in college, but oddly enough it seems like every music related class requires that you are a music major and you already must be extremely familiar with the subject matter. Seems counter intuitive that a learning institution doesn’t want to teach but it is what it is.”

      Had the same issue at my university. In my graduating semester I needed to take an extra class. So I thought why not expand my horizons and learn to play an instrument? Nope, I personally called up every musical instrument professor and none of them would teach me unless I was some kind of music major. I don’t think any other major does this for their introductory classes. Stupid and pitiful.

      • Ilseroth says:

        Well, I believe the concept is that university is supposed to be for “Higher Learning”, But at the same time most universities offer base classes in almost all subjects.

        That being said, there are classes specifically in guitar, but it isn’t official through the school, just through the music department separately.

        • Jeff says:

          The thing is, the basics of learning to play an instrument isn’t a post-secondary-level program. It’s secondary-level at best, but more likely primary-level.

          Even a “base class” for math is not going to teach you addition and multiplication, they’re going to expect you to have that level of mathematics skill/knowledge going in.

  2. urs says:

    Read up until here

    “I suppose this means all my stuff was technically in C major?”

    and just want to be the first smartass to say “or, A minor.” :þ
    Now for the rest.

    • David says:

      Or D Dorian, or E Phyrgian, or F Lydian, or G Myxolydian, or B Locrian… :P

      • SpiderDave says:

        Aw man, I wanted to be that guy.

        • Radagast says:

          Well, you also missed the part that it wouldn’t really be A minor since there’s no G#, it would be A Aeolian.

          • Bryan says:

            …I am *so* confused…

            (Probably doesn’t help that I don’t know the first thing about music…)

            • Ooh, I can explain! You know the scale do, re, mi… That’s a major scale. It has a certain arrangement of intervals between notes (generally called whole and half steps). All these others are based on starting at different points in the major scale. So a minor scale (the only other one you’re likely to run into) goes from la (or 6) to la instead of do (or 1) to do. The notes are the same, but the arrangement of whole and half steps changes which changes the sound of it. Does that make any sense?
              A minor has the same key signature (the arrangement of # or b at the beginning of the piece) as C major, and that is none. It’s all the white keys on the piano. I have forgotten how you tell if a piece is major or minor by looking at the sheet music, but they do sound different. Minor tends to be a bit more mournful.
              Ooh, this might help a nice page on scales with pictures.

          • Joe Cool says:

            Well, A natural minor.

  3. ET says:

    Just wait ten years, Shamus – then only the top 10% of musicians in the world will be able to compete with the software. Another ten to twenty years, and we’ll all be out of jobs. We’re doomed; Doooooomed!

  4. Alex says:

    There are free synthesizers out there as well. Have you looked at SunVox? SolarLune has quite a few tutorials on it. It seems like it’s more of a pain to set up( because you are essentially making your own instruments), but you can get a pretty good variety of music( because you are essentially making your own instruments).

    • urs says:

      Oh. Ah. Sunvox looks cool. I like the – in lack of a better comparison with the one made being possibly way off where was I? Ah, yes – the Jan Hammer vibe I’m getting from some of the example I’ve listened to. Gotta try this.
      DIN is Noise is also quite interesting. Weird, too :) From what I understood, it’s strictly a live instrument but actually playing and crafting multilayered drone-y compositions can easily eat several hours before you even know it.

  5. Eric says:

    Really impressive work, Shamus, especially given you don’t know much music theory. That new song you posted is pretty awesome. Alexander Brandon being given a run for his money there. ;)

    (Also REAPER is my favorite DAW, but maybe that’s just because I don’t do much MIDI save for drums.)

  6. Mersadeon says:

    Gotta say, I am digging that DOOM music. Catchy. Sounds like something that really fits that kind of game. I like it.

  7. Phantos says:

    I had a very similar urge on a trip to Future Shop and picked up the physical copy of Magix.

    Likewise, not much of a musician, can’t read music, don’t understand music theory or any of that stuff, but it’s something I’m glad I tried.

    I never did figure out how to get additional sound samples, though. Now that I see what a stupid process it is, maybe I should switch to a different music program…

  8. Retsam says:

    You’re clearly missing a great chance to demand your share of the revenue from all of the 81 views that video has gotten, and mute their video until they comply.

    • guy says:

      You know, I just thought of a possibly stupid question about the ContentID system.

      It works by automatically matching patterns in the audio to copyrighted songs or whatever, right? Instead of muting all the audio, couldn’t they just have it go in and remove the matched patterns? I mean, Youtube only displays certain formats, so it’d be possible to write an automated editor that extracts the audio, goes to the matched timestamps and performs an operation to subtract the sound of the copyrighted material, and makes the result the audio track. Obviously, when people are talking over the sound, there’s a risk of false negatives, but it’d still be an improvement on the current system if it was designed to err on the side of false positives.

      There is the technical challenge of implementing that, but I’m pretty sure the hardest part of the implementation is the matching, which they’ve already done. Storage space is also a concern; probably it’d be best to save the original audio track as an audio file instead of making a copy of the whole video. Processing power’s a bit of a hurdle, but again I think the existing matching would contribute most of that, at least if you wrote a custom auto-editor instead of using software with a GUI element and such.

      • Arven says:

        Actually, youtube have that feature. A year ago I accidentally included a copyrighted song when I uploaded a game footage and YT detected it and issued a copyright strike. Following a couple link YT provided to resolve it, I arrived at a form that let’s me choose between taking the video down or allowing them to mute the copyrighted music. I chose to mute it and it did so while leaving the game sounds intact (I don’t know how it works with real voice though).

  9. GiantRaven says:

    As a musician, I find it utterly demoralising that somebody with no musical training could write something so catchy so easily. I’d struggle like hell to write something that sounds this good.

    Seriously nice sounding little track you have there.

    • urs says:

      Well, this ↑ and I’m sure know you how much basically cheating goes into the making of goodenough music*. And from what I’ve gathered on here Shamus has a decent enough all-around taste so I am not surprised he’s capable of pushing things around until they don’t suck.

      *Anecdotal evidence: I’ve only ever made about 3 or 4 tracks/songs that deserve this noun. One of those has a synth solo that after many years I’m still proud of. It’s fucking stellar :) Because, hey, my fingers played it on my keyboard. That is, by using a monophonic synth and playing a lot of overdubs, very slowly, in half the BPM :)

      • Cybron says:

        “And from what I’ve gathered on here Shamus has a decent enough all-around taste so I am not surprised he’s capable of pushing things around until they don’t suck.”

        I believe it was Shamus who said his taste in music was best described as ‘elitist plebeian’ or something like that.

        Not that I’m one to talk, since my taste is pretty similar.

  10. Cybron says:

    I know absolutely nothing about making music. I am profoundly untalented in that arena and it’s probably in everyone’s best interest that I avoid programs in which I might accidentally assemble some form of sound.

    That said, the program I’ve heard people talk about before is Fruity Loops. No idea if it’s any good though (see above).

  11. Bropocalypse says:

    I’ve clonked together music in a couple odd programs before. I like the IDEA of making music, but I don’t have the attention span to make a song that’s either very long or very interesting. Besides, the sonic nature of the thing means I can’t have any work music going while I’m doing it.

    • urs says:

      Same here. I’d LOVE to make more music but every time a something I’m “working” on reaches like 16 or 32,whatever bars – the point where it should start to turn into a song/track – I go full imbecile mode.

  12. Ah, yes, Cakewalk. I used that until college to learn the accompaniment to my voice music (I have no piano skills to speak of other than being able to read music).
    Honestly, I minored in music and specialized in composition, and all the theory really did was make me able to write music without having any idea what it’d sound like. Seriously, I’d just write down a bunch of notes, and turn it in. I can count on one hand the number of compositions I created by singing ’em first (mostly because it was far more difficult to sit down, sing something while recording it in 1 minute snippits (my computer only recorded for a minute at a time), then spend a couple hours at the piano figuring out what notes I’d used and what length they were, than to just grab a sheet of paper and write down a bunch of notes and hear it for the first time in class).
    Composing is one of those things it’s just fun to play with, and it’s great that tech allows us to hear what things sound like without having to hunt down and then possibly bribe some musicians, especially for rarer instruments (like male voices on a women’s college campus, I had a heck of a time finding a baritone to sing in my Christmas carol composition, ended up bribing my theory teacher with a coffee).
    Can’t wait to see what you do with this!

  13. Dave B. says:

    The world is full of musicians who can write a catchy tune, without any formal training whatsoever. Let’s use an analogy: language. Now, language (and grammar) is very complex. And sure, it’s a huge help to have studied and learned all of the rules, conventions, verb conjugations, special cases, and exceptions to the special cases. Yet, a typical 5-year-old with no formal training at all can speak quite well (though they probably can’t pun like Rutskarn, with his fancy English degree.)

  14. evileeyore says:

    Anyway to get these tracks without having to jump through Soundcloud hoops?

  15. Jeff Truelsen says:

    I have the video editor by the same company. They took all the lessons they learned from the music maker and used them to make even more mistakes with the interface. I weep.

  16. MadTinkerer says:

    “Just shove the little notes up or down until you find something that doesn’t sound dissonant. Didn’t understand chords. Had no idea how different keys worked. I had no idea what the sharps and flats were for. ”

    Ah yes, the musical composition equivalent of button mashing. Takes me back to… yesterday when I was trying to do a Music Creator 6 Touch tutorial.

  17. BeamSplashX says:

    My brother and I jokingly wanted to write hip-hop tracks in high school, and I was looking into making non-MIDI music, which is how I found out about ModPlug Tracker. In retrospect, it wasn’t a good first choice at all, but I had a lot of time to figure it out. I’m actually quite proud of what I’ve gotten out of it, but it’s limited in many ways (and not just because it’s free).

    I hear Linux MultiMedia Studio is a really great free tool, but I’m dragging my heels on learning anything new because I’m a huge baby. Besides, it’s hard to tell at my skill level whether I’m running up against an interface barrier or an inspiration one.

    What I’m saying is, peek around for another tool while you’re still somewhat fresh into it. This is a good track! I’d hate for your interest to be cut short by a frustrating interface.

    • Groboclown says:

      LMMS is what I exclusively use now for making my stuff. Even though it’s called “Linux” multi-media studio, it actively supports both Windows and OS X builds.

      It has worts and wrinkles, but it now has a large development group working on it, so you can see some definite improvements over what it was just a year ago. It doesn’t have the auto-music generator, or some of the chord/key helpers.

      But, for an open source studio, it provides a lot of power.

  18. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Needs more systems being down.

    Also,love it how the acronym of this is mmm.

  19. Disc says:

    Music isn’t really that complicated at its core. It’s not how they teach you to think at class (at least 12+ years back anyway), but I think the easiest way to understand how anything in music works is to think of it as a form of math. The basics are easy enough to grasp, things generally get more complicated the further you dive into it, but it all follows the same rules.

    It’s only the producing of music and playing your chosen instrument where the real challenges come, because it relies solely on your own creativity, motor skills and understanding of sound. Which are generally a lot harder to train and where natural ability ultimately sets the more gifted apart from the average joes.

  20. DrMcCoy says:

    “Just shove the little notes up or down until you find something that doesn’t sound dissonant”

    I basically did the same with Scream Tracker 3 and Impulse Tracker. :)

    • Nataline says:

      Same here, with ProTracker 1.1b.

      I acquired an ACA500 card a while back and extracted a few of my old mods from some disks. They are.. not quite as good as I thought all those years ago. :/

      Some of the oldest specimens sound like there has not been quite enough note-shoving done before declaring each masterpiece complete, lighting a cig and marveling at my own musical genius for a while with the aid of Paula (8364R7), a GoldStar GSM-6610 and a pair of Sennheiser 410 SLs. I can remember feeling what I had just created was the awesomest thing ever (until my next creation at least), but now I must honestly say that they are terrible. A few later ones have some salvageable bits here and there but mostly I’ve composed an awful lot of unbelievable crap. :(

  21. Paul Spooner says:

    Now that you’re back to a musical bent, I’m looking forward to your procedural music generation experiments!

  22. Ambitious Sloth says:

    And to think that about this time four years ago you were telling us how You didn’t think your taste in music was very good. Yet here you are writing music of your own taste and putting it online for us. I guess the times have changed. More seriously though, these are actually pretty good. Definitely something worth exploring further, and maybe incorporating into future projects. Like a video series where you use your fancy new camera (wink wink, nudge nudge).

  23. Xbolt says:

    For those who are interested, I found Shamus’ Doom mod on the /idgames archive.

    Gonna play through it tomorrow.

  24. MaxEd says:

    I play guitar (but I learned it from my father, without any accompanying music theory), so I use GuitarPro to write my music. It all works fairly well while I work with guitars and simple drumming patterns, but if I want to add a keyboard or, god forbid, brass instruments, I find myself in deep troubles :) I guess I just should practice more. As it is, I only tried to write music for my game, and came up with just two 1-minute tracks. It doesn’t help that I prefer my music to be rockabilly-derived and most games do not go well with such accompaniment.

  25. Mad says:

    My company has created a Music creation tool called “AIR Ignite”. You can download it if you own one of our keyboards / audio interfaces ( or find it “at other places” :)

    It also contains some content creation tools like automatic drum sequences and stuff like that. If you search youtube for AIR Ignite you can find a few tutorials and demo videos as well. Its small but pretty powerful and contains a very nice set of instruments and sounds.

  26. Nevermind says:

    Funny, it reminded me of many first-time games made with Unity3D or similar engines. At first sight, they seem really impressive, especially for people who never tried that themselves. And they ARE impressive compared to what one can create by hand.
    But look closely, and you see these games are rather simplictic collections of more-or-less ready-made components, slapped together, sometimes haphazardly, and sometimes ingeniously.

  27. Cuthalion says:

    I’ve fiddled with stuff like that on and off for several years. It’s fun!

    Then I went to school for audio production and got a programming job instead. My favorite audio program is Reaper, but that’s more for recording than composing. I’ve had a little luck with LMMS (Linux MultiMedia Studio, I think) for doing midi composing like you’re doing. LMMS, strangely enough, is available on Windows.

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