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Software used in pop music?


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What software do the producers of today's pop music use to create sounds that don't come from, or replicate live instruments? What are the most popular pieces of software? Is the name for this a Software Synth? Please forgive me, I am a bit lost in the whole world of computer generated music, but I am starting to get quite interested.



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Ok, I've only taken one "introduction to electronic music" class, so forgive me if I get the details wrong.


Sounds that don't come from or replicate an instrument are synthesized sounds. Quite often a keyboard is used as the interface to a synthesizer. (Electronic tone generators from decades ago used knobs, switches, buttons, etc.) The synth sounds can be generated by electronic hardware or entirely by computer software. The latter are commonly called softsynths


Keyboards can also interface to sample libraries to replicate sounds from other instruments. In essence, pressing a key simply replays a short recording -- a sample -- of a "real" instrument, like a violin or oboe. Some sample libraries are quite sophisticated and the keyboard can control things like bowing technique and vibrato to give a more realistic string performance.


Typically, the keyboard data -- which key did you press, how fast (velocity), etc. -- is sent to the computer in MIDI format. This is common to both softsynths and samplers. [Note: not sure if MIDI is used internally for synths/samplers that use their own sound module to produce audio.]


Using a sequencer, MIDI from the keyboard can be recorded. During playback, MIDI can be sent to different patches from a sound module or sample library. For example, I have one song that uses the same exact MIDI data for a piano sound, and then later for a violin sound, as they take turns playing the same melody. (Most players would probably record separate MIDI to tweak the performance for each sound.)


This isn't the way it has to be done, but it is pretty useful to send MIDI to a softsynth to generate synthesized sounds. When you add a sequencer you can easily audition several sounds using the same MIDI data. The alternative would be to replay at the keyboard for each sound and (optionally) record the audio signal. [MIDI is digital and audio is analog.]


You can do the same thing with a stand-alone hardware synthesizer, as many have built-in sequencers now. Instead of mousing around a computer screen to switch patches, you can simply press a button or a small touch screen. For performances (as opposed to studio recording), the feedback I've gotten from this forum is that hardware synths are more reliable.


What software is used? Good question. It seems there are several choices in this realm, as opposed to audio recording where ProTools has become an accepted standard. With a hardware synth, no (external) software is used. With softsynths, there are many choices.

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