Community Forums/Developer Stations/Music?

EvilMeowChi(Posted 2003) [#1]
What are the best programs for composing music for a game?

Rob Farley(Posted 2003) [#2]
Wow... totally open question!

Okay, the best programs for composing music full stop, regardless if it's for a game or whatever are decent sequencers, you've got 2 main ones that people fight about much in the same way as Blitz or DarkBasic, these are Cubase and Cakewalk, personally I'm in the Cubase camp.

However, these are only any good if you have a wealth of keyboards attached to your computer as they don't actually make any sound. You can run you sound card off them but unless you've got a Terratec soundcard (or something similar) it's really not worth it. You're talking around 50 for the basic versions of these tools.

Then there are sample manipulation tools, there are loads of these, and personally I'd go for Sonic Foundry's 'Acid' as I think it is superb, you can get sample CDs from their site too. Acid can also be used a mix down tool once you've created something on Cubase to add vocal or guitar tracks, a very handy piece of software indeed. Comes in at around 50. Acid comes in the form of Acid Hip-Hop, Techno, and Rock, each of these has a load of samples that are free to use in commercial projects (assuming you've bought the software) in the said style. What's also cool is that it just used regular Wav files so you can create your own too.

You've got sample creation programs like Rebirth by Propellerheads that is also superb and can also be linked in with cubase and cakewalk to beef up any sound with a nice analogue techno sound. Again mix it all down in Acid.

If you're thinking of getting hold of a good cheap synth you can't go much worse that a Yamaha DJX, they're dirt cheap and have some great sounds for dance music. However, if you're after cleaner sounds, great string pads and realisic pianos etc, you really want to go for a Korg. There are some old Korg sound modules like the 05R/w which you should be able to pick up for around 100 (if that) which are packed full of great sounds.

I think that's about it for starters.

jhocking(Posted 2003) [#3]
My favorite apps for creating music are Anvil Studio (free) and FruityLoops ($50.) The former is really good for setting sheet music to a MIDI soundtrack because you can represent the notes as music notation; just make the track you are creating match the sheet music. The latter is really easy to compose original tunes in. Note that I'm not a musician; these are mostly easy beginner's tools. FruityLoops was recommended to me by accomplished electronic musicians. I get the sense that, as a sample sequencer, it compares to Acid in much the same way that PaintShop compares with Photoshop for 2D graphics.

Skitchy(Posted 2003) [#4]
However, these are only any good if you have a wealth of keyboards attached to your computer as they don't actually make any sound.

Not true.
VST instruments are fantastic (instruments that run as plugins in Cubase or other host sequencers). They are as good as, if not better than hardware instruments and they exist solely in the digital domain of your PC (so no signal to noise ratio to worry about, plenty of memory and instant parameter recall). They are also much cheaper. You should probably start with a sampler as these can 'sample' and reproduce pretty much any sound, real or otherwise.
I reccomend the Halion sampler plugin, or Kontact if you're well versed in sampler tech.

Cubase is quite frankly the best thing in music/sound creation. I have it coupled with Propellerhead Reason, which can feed its audio directly into Cubase via an invisible system called ReWire.

When you stop and think about it, a sampler/synthesiser is just a highly specialised computer with inputs/outputs. Modern PCs blow the processing power of these things away by a huge margin, and editing on a computer monitor is a damn site easier than editing on a tiny LCD screen (refered to as 'trying to decorate a hall through a letterbox!).

I payed 1000 for an E-mu sampler, and 200 for Halion. Guess which one I used more?

BHoltzman(Posted 2003) [#5]
There's a free and very unique program (at least unique to me) out on the market called hyperscore. It's a school project for a couple of MIT students written for children. What's nice about this program is how it lets you compose music without knowing anything about music. You put together several little musical themes and then you paint these all together adjusting the pitch, length, volume etc... The last part is to select an auto harmonizing method. The music can actually sound good! As of yet the program doesn't save in a usable format and I don't think you can change instruments. But it is a kids program afterall.

Anyhow, it might give people some good ideas to work off of.

Follow this link to explore the idea further.

Take Care,

Akat(Posted 2003) [#6]
try music maker 2003

Rob Farley(Posted 2003) [#7]
Not true.
VST instruments are fantastic
Okay, agreed, I've not had a whole lot of exposure to VST as my version of Cubase is so old you can't even use long file names! Still a damn good sequencer though. That said, you're still going to need a (musical) keyboard to play them though even if it is just a controller.

Caff(Posted 2003) [#8]
If you're new to writing music on the PC you can't do much better than Music Maker 2003 or Fruityloops.

Music Maker is much more visual than most packages (ie. dump a drum sound down, then loop it to get a beat) and is very easy to pickup and learn. It's very cheap but also very well packaged and includes most of the tools you will ever need to write music.

Fruityloops is a sequencing program which is slightly easier to use than cubase but almost just as powerful (not to mention much cheaper!). It's a bit like the old tracker programs on the Amiga / ST etc. but with a better GUI.

Cubase is for musicians who like to master tracks to studio production level. It's hard to learn but in the right hands can make some professional stuff.

There are others out there you might want to look at, like Rebirth, Reason, ACID, Buzz tracker.

I use fruityloops at the moment, as I'm still scared of learning Cubase.

Have fun

Skitchy(Posted 2003) [#9]
Be warned that some of the cheaper 'dump-a-sample-into-a-timeline' packages do NOT allow you to use the tracks you create commercially, because the samples are not royalty free (they are essentially parts of pre-recorded songs anyway).
Read the small print. :)

You're not going to get very much originality out of them either, but if you need a quick way of getting music done then they might be the way forward.

Caff - don't fear Cubase. It's not as daunting as some people might have you believe. ;)

-=Darkheart=-(Posted 2003) [#10]
A friend of mine who is an accomplished musician who is paid to play in concerts/competitions and on ships really likes Sibeilius (sp?).

I've never tried it so I couldn't say myself, I did try with fruity loops for a while but didn't like it that much.


Jams(Posted 2003) [#11]
There's lots of misinformation going on this this thread... but i think Skitchy is the closest person to making sense...


ACID: is mostly used for composing short pieces for television and radio work.... such as syncing a short speach phrase with a short loop etc... it's not really very good for composing original full length songs.

CUBASE: the latest version (Cubase SX) includes many VST instruments (so called - soft-synths)... and it is quite possible to create music without any keybaords attached to the computer. Cubase is mainly a hobbyist sequencer and you wouldnt really find it in that many studio's

LOGIC AUDIO: i CANNOT believe nobody has mentioned this! i personally use this and i think it's much better then cubase. You'll find this in many recording studios specialising in dance music (but it's not so hot for recording / editing live bands)... the latest version (5) is now mac-only.

NUENDO: is basically a beefed up version of cubase.... with surround sound support & video tools aswell.

PRO-TOOLS: now this is the daddy of the music world.... you'll find this in EVERY professional recording studio out there. The makers (digidesign) boldly claim that every CD in the top 40 at any time has been touched by pro-tools at some time in it's development.... they're probably right :) A complete Pro Tools HD3 package will cost you about 15,000, again, mac-only...

CAKEWALK: holds a very small market share.... mainly due to that fact that it doesnt support VST (Virtual Studio Technology), however the next version will through a DX-VST wrapper (i personally dont think this will be very stable though)

DIGITAL PERFORMER: another mac-only program, ive never used it.

FRUITY LOOPS: is a fun little program with a cult following.... it's really easy to use and you can get some decent results... i'd reccomend it to anyone on here wanting to write tunes for their games. (PC only)

REASON: Reason is a weird one, it's completely different from your traditional sequencer, i hate it personally but alot of people swear by it.. as skitchy quite rightly pointed out it can be combined with cubase via rewire... which i hear is a powerful combination.

SIBEILIUS: this is more for classical music and the like

wave editors:

SOUND FORGE: from the same people who brough you acid. It's a decent enough editor... all the functions you'd expect, except for VST SUPPORT! :( this is probably the most popular wave editor.

WAVELAB: from the people who brought you cubase and nuendo.. i think this is much better then soundforge... it's got a much nicer interface and it does more stuff.

COOL EDIT: another popular one, probably not as professional as soundforge or wavelab, but it's decent enough, i believe it DOES support VST plugins.

some VST plugins also worthy of a mention:

KONTAKT: Skitchy was quite right to point this one out, it's the don-daddy of all samplers... hard or soft. EXS24 and Halion are also good samplers.

FM7: is a really nice synth using FM synthesis... it's a bitch to program but you can get some nice sounds out of it.

Absynth: one of the best synths out there... great for atmospheric pads and stuff.... also a bitch to program.

ES2: Probably the best soft synth on the market right now.... it's exclusively for Logic Audio.

WAVES BUNDLEs: a top quality selection of DX plugins.... including the C1 compressor, L1 ultramaximiser, C4 multiband compressors, Q10 parametric EQ, IDR dithering etc


if you're only writing music inside your computer with no external gear, you can get away with a standard soundblaster. But the minute you add a keyboard or sound module... you'll need to get a better soundcard (soundblasters are not professional quality - even the top of the range audigy). Pro soundcards vary in price from about 130 up to about 1000. The terratec mentioned earlier in this thread, assuming it's the DMX6FIRE, is a decent budget card for around 160. Other budget cards worth a mention are the M-Audio Audiophile (140), Delta 44 (160) and Delta 66 (200). Top of the range soundcards would be the Creamware Pulsar 2 (550), MOTU 896 (999) or the TC Powercore (700)

hope thats cleared a few things up

CS_TBL(Posted 2003) [#12]
If you're a little into programming, then you could try Impulse Tracker. I use it for years and years now, and my customers never had any complaints (not that they care a nibble about how I create my tunes anyway :). These customers include film/tv/commercial-producers.

There's a new version coming up (more like a new product instead of just a new version), but it takes at least another year orso.

KRF(Posted 2003) [#13]

to JimJams' very informative post I would like to add a few items:

sequencer (commercial): Orion Pro or Platinum ( ) -- which like some of the others can use VST plugin instruments and export to WAV

with Orion and perhaps others you can add notes and adjust lengths by clicking on a grid with the mouse, though of course a MIDI keyboard would be a better input method

WAV editor (free): Audacity (

VST instruments: there are free as well as commercial plugins listed and reviewed at

some of my favorite free VST plugins are Synth1, Crystal and Triangle II, all of which could be used to make cool soundtracks (just what I intend to do)

and if you went this route you would be creating your own music, so no royalty/license/copyright issues

best wishes,


LineOf7s(Posted 2003) [#14]
...or, if you weren't the leader of a small Central American nation and didn't have access to the treasury, or didn't just step offstage from your latest performance of Mozart's crowning work (noble as either of these situations may be)...

You could investigate the freeware/cheap shareware route of trackers (as CS-TBL mentioned). As well as the old-warhorse Impulse Tracker are the very latest Windows trackers (modPlug Tracker, MadTracker 2) or the 'next generation' of trackers for Windows (Skale Tracker, Renoise), which these days even use VST instruments and effects. Pop any of these terms into the ubiquitous Google and within moments you could be supping at the table of Information herself.

WolRon(Posted 2003) [#15]
Doesn't anyone work with MIDI? Voyetra's MIDI Orchestrator Plus is a very decent tool for creating original compositions. And if the instrument sounds (for MIDI) on your current sound card are sub-par you can play back the file with collections of instruments that are emulated through software, such as some of Yamaha's collections.

But since MIDI sounds are dependent on the end users machine, I also use Easy MP3 Recorder to record the MIDI soundtrack as a wav file (it records whatever is being sent to your speakers regardless of source) so I know exactly how the end user will hear it. I can then convert the wav file to any other file of choice.

CS_TBL(Posted 2003) [#16]
Anno 2003, I think playing an mp3/ogg isn't a real bottleneck anymore. And besides, MIDI is totally uncreative. Asuming that it should 'the same' on every soundcard, you're stuck to the GM standard. Not my choice of a soundset, with it's ridiculous birdtweet, telephone, applause, other fake-sounding instruments and limited DSP specifications.

Anthony Flack(Posted 2003) [#17]
I agree about the limitations of midi - and if you convert the midi to wav, you're losing the only good thing about midi (the tiny file size)

Ricky Smith(Posted 2003) [#18]
The worst limitation of Midi is that you can't get a genuine Guitar Sound.
I'm a Guitarist - Cubase with Amplitube or Cakewalk Guitar Tracks with REvalver.
Here's a sample no loops - no midi - all original(1.4 Mb)

Anthony Flack(Posted 2003) [#19]
Actually, as a guitarist too, I think that that's a good thing. Ya just can't beat the genuine article.

Can't listen to your track now; it's late, I can't make a noise...

Rob Farley(Posted 2003) [#20]
For want of not splitting hairs... a lot of people are talking about Midi and using Midi, just not the GM set on a sound card.

Ricky Smith(Posted 2003) [#21]
Understand exactly what you are saying Dr AV - Midi is a great tool in the music production process and the final output doesn't have to be a midi file.
I use midi to create my Drum Tracks - it is far more flexible than using sampled drum loops - as long as you have a good sound module to convert to digital.

CS_TBL(Posted 2003) [#22]
the MIDI standard dates from early 1982 orso! most of us probably don't have cars that old!

It's only a format-standard, not a sound-standard. What you can do is create a standard saying 'voice 001 should be a piano always', but that's it! Nowhere there's a description about HOW the piano should sound. Therefore MIDI shouldn't be used for things which should sound the same on different systems.
Then there are the old limits like, based on cramping things in individual bits, the oldskool way.
There were some attempts to create a new standard, but they all failed. Probably the main reason for this is that the current synths/interfaces need to work with that new standard, which they can't. Personally I wouldn't mind ditching MIDI and completely switch to something flexible, over USB orso.

This has been a hot debate in class, when I was studying musictechnology :)

But back to the topic.. ogg/mp3 is peanuts these days, why bother with MIDI ?

Ken Lynch(Posted 2003) [#23]
> CUBASE: the latest version (Cubase SX) includes many VST instruments (so called - soft-synths)... and it is quite possible to create music without any keybaords attached to the computer. Cubase is mainly a hobbyist sequencer and you wouldnt really find it in that many studio's

Well all the studios I've been in use Cubase.

Jams(Posted 2003) [#24]
To the midi debate.... midi is simply a protocol which sends messages to a synthesizer or sampler telling it when to play notes and what pitch to play etc etc

Note On;
Velocity 100;
Note Pitch 64;
Note Off;

blah blah

The audible output of that depends entirely on the quality of the synthesizer the messages are being sent to... which on your average soundblaster is gonna be pretty poor. There are other various midi implementations... such as Rolands GS (General Synthesis).. which adds a few extra things... or Yamahas XG... which adds a few more (for those working with midi only... i seriousley reccomend looking at the Yamaha SW1000XG). But really these are no serious improvement.... in the future.. Yamaha is currently trying to get it's MLAN protocol into the mainstream... which basically uses a firewire cable to transmit hundreds of midi channels and several audio channels simultaniousley down a single pipe. Cool stuff :)

jhocking(Posted 2003) [#25]
"WAV editor (free): Audacity ("

If you need/want a free WAV editor you should also look into Encounter2000 ( I use both Audacity and Encounter; I mainly use Audacity for working with wav files but I use Encounter for final cleanup and optimization (because it can convert and downsample, from 16bit to 8bit for example to shrink the filesize, whereas Audacity can't.)

Gabriel(Posted 2003) [#26]
ogg/mp3 is peanuts these days, why bother with MIDI ?

Erm.. huh? Ogg is peanuts. MP3 is a big no-no. Unless you're happy to pay a few Grand in licensing to Thomson for the "right" to use MP3's in your game.

CS_TBL(Posted 2003) [#27]
yeah, in terms of cpu-usage ofcoz :)

Russell(Posted 2003) [#28]
I musy have missed it, but didn't anyone mention Amiga-style mod trackers - many of which are FREE and can create very complex music in the right hands. I use Impulse Tracker myself, but most of them operate in a similar way. Some can even take midi input (a keyboard) to create the tracks in realtime and then you can tweak that input when you're done.

Do a search for 'mod tracker' and I'm sure you'll find many of them. Instruments for them can be found in many places as well (most are free). Try for example.

CPU-usage for playing a mod is quite low actually. FMod's site claims something like 3% CPU-usage, so don't worry about that too much.


Anthony Flack(Posted 2003) [#29]
I would think that for most of us, file size would be the biggest issue. Which is why tracker files are still a popular choice for net-distributed games.