Advent Showdown Round 5 : Free Music Kits
Ludum Dare’s judging period is going on right now, and many of the creators, especially those working solo in the LD competition, will have been scrambling until the very last minute to create music and sounds for their games. Quite often, music gets forgotten about or left until the last minute as game creators end up focusing on bug fixes and gameplay while time slowly ticks away, which can be a great shame. A good piece of music can make all the difference, especially in a game where mood is a big factor of what makes the game appealing to play. There are a good fistful of great free music creators out there that can help you create some amazing music relatively quickly and easily, and I’ve picked three of the best to attempt to figure out the best music creator for Ludum Dare compo entrants.
Todays participants are Bosca Ceoil, Abundant Music, and Audiotool. All three of these tools allow you to export and use the music you make freely, so long as you haven’t copied someone elses save or sample.
Bosca Ceoil is an easy to use graphical music maker made by gaming giant Terry Cavanagh. Its simple to use and you can learn its innermost workings in a few minutes. Bosca Ceoil is designed explicitly around looping tracks with its simple graphical interface, the songs are built from 16 note patterns and you can add and remove notes from patterns by simply clicking on the timeline, where the columns represent the time and the rows represent the note scale. The result is played back instantly so you don’t have to fuss about with a player. These patterns form the core of everything you will make in Bosca, and is part of why the creator is so simple, yet can be so effective. You can play several patterns in tandem with each other to create a more complex song, or arrange them at different points in the overall timeline.
Theres a small set of options you can change, such as scale, beats per minute and the note patterns, and you can also add a delay. Theres a decent range of instruments and Bosca allows you to save and load your creations in a .ceol format, or export as a .wav file which you can use in your games. That’s pretty much it in regards options you can fiddle with, but when using Bosca, I didn’t feel like it needed anything else. Its ease of use and simplicity is its greatest strength, and doesn’t feel like a restriction. Indeed it lends itself to endlessly tweaking your tracks to the finest detail possible until you have what you need, and doing it is a complete joy as you listen to your little piece evolve over time with each addition and removal of each note.
The best way I found to make a piece of music on Bosca Ceoil is to make a quick looping tune that you like as a base for the rest of the piece, and then add to and edit chunks of it as you go on. One of the best ways I found to use Bosca was to use it to create a large piece of music with a simple loop, and then slowly increase the complexity of the music, exporting wav files as I went so that I had several pieces of music that all sounded similar to each other, but increased in intensity as I went. Its a very simple but delightful little music maker that you can make some very interesting tracks with, and its more powerful than it originally looks at first glance.
Abundant Music is a ‘one click’ music generation tool that works entirely in your browser, and only has full functionality in Chrome. To generate a full length song, you simply enter in a seed, export the result and play, either with the exported file or the player in your browser in a couple of clicks. It’s a ludicrously powerful tool that can give you a great randomised track in seconds, and if that’s all you want or need then you can stop right there. However, if you want to have a little more control over what Abundant Music outputs, you may be pleasantly surprised to know that once you get stuck in, everything is much more controllable than it first seems.
You see, Abundant Music works off seeds, strings of text that the software uses to define what elements are used where, and how often. Everything that Abundant Music outputs is based in one way or another on one or more seeds, and all of these seeds are open to view and edit as you please, right there in the browser window. Its all very complex stuff, but it becomes a little simpler quite quickly once you start spending time with the tutorials and getting to know how the seeds work.
The most basic thing you can do is use the main seed to enter in a value, any value, and the software will generate a track for you. If you then want to edit elements of the track you can go into the sub seeds and change seeds for various aspects of the song, for instance instrument type or melody rhythm. Using these you can pick out what elements of the song you like, and with a button click, redo the elements you don’t and either have them randomised or write in your own new seed.
Further beyond the sub seeds, there’s also parameters, domains and details which allow you to have a ridiculous amount of control over timings, what instruments are used and when, and even the chance of various things happening. I’m no musical expert, but every aspect of what makes a music track I could think of was there to be edited in various ways. There’s a mind boggling amount of little editable options and frankly unless you’re a master at knowing what everything means or changes you really need to spend some time with the tutorials before you start changing these settings. That said, the worst that you can do is produce some odd songs, so if you like diving in at the deep end and just fiddling around figuring out what everything does yourself, you can happily do that too.
One way or another, Abundant Music offers a wide range of options for those of every skill level, from those who just want to drop in and generate a piece of music with a few clicks, to those who want to slightly edit and produce multiple pieces that sound slightly different, to those who want control over every little bit of the generation algorithms and are willing to spend hours getting lost tinkering and tweaking settings until the piece is just right. There’s something for everyone here.
You probably already know about one part of Audiotool, a small browser based app called Tonematrix, which gained a lot of popularity across the internet a while back when it was released. Tonematrix was basically a graphical music creation application for your browser, very similar to Bosca Ceoil, but limited to only one instrument and mostly made just for messing around with, and indeed you can still mess around with the original here: link .
The original Tonematrix was so popular that the makers expanded it, adding in drums and other synth sound creators as well as a large amount of effect generators and tools, all shown graphically in your browser. The best way I can describe it is that it is a DJs entire kit, right at your fingertips. Of course, a DJs kit is pretty useless without a DJ to use it, and that’s where Audiotool’s complexity can be daunting. If you don’t know the music lingo or what does what in such a kit, then you’ll probably be spending a few hours with the tutorials, of which there are many. There’s also a lot of other options scattered around the interface but thankfully the many tutorials cover everything and there’s even further help to be found on the forums in the shape of Audiotool’s active and helpful community. I found myself needing to make several trips to the forums as Audiotool is an impressively powerful piece of kit that doesn’t look complex to begin with, but before long you start finding more and little things you can do, and the complexity starts ramping up at quite a pace.
After you’re done music making and have something you like, its a slight stumbling block to notice Audiotool requires a login for many of its non-musical features, including saving and exporting. Thankfully registration is pretty quick and if you have a track already done you can register in a pop up window while it is saved in the background. After you log in Audiotool will save your tracks to the cloud where others can use them as samples, and you’ll be able to export your songs so you can use them.
All in all, its a deceptively complex piece of kit, with a graphical interface that looks and feels simple and easy to use, and to start with is indeed easy to use, but the more you delve into it, the more you might find yourself a little lost until you head towards the tutorials section.
I have to confess, I’m not very musically minded, and I don’t know very much about what a lot of musical terms specifically do. Because of this, I struggled a little with understanding all of the little numbers deep in the bowels of Abundant Music, though I was able to make some great music without going into too many of its complexities. A similar sort of thing happened in Audiotool, except I found the mostly graphical interface a little easier to grasp in comparison to the wall of numbers of Abundant Music. Another criticism that can be levelled at both Audiotool and Abundant Music is that dependant on the software you have on your home PC and the method of exporting, the instruments used in the software can sound different to the instruments used by your computer on the exported file. In Bosca Ceoil, what you hear is what you get in the exported file.
This showdown was tough to call, because these three music apps are all great dependant on your skill level and personal experience, and I felt like I could get a little more out of Audiotool and Abundant Music if I had more time to spend on the tutorials. However, I imagine many game developers also have similar levels of experience, and so based on the ability to make and edit a music track quickly and efficiently with the most control possible, I have chosen a winner.
Todays winner is…. Bosca Ceoil!
Once again, if you’re more experienced in music making, you may prefer Abundant Music or Audiotool, but for me, the ease of use and instant feedback was a huge boon while I tinkered with my patterns. All three kits are great in their own way and each has their own ace in the hole, with Bosca’s instant feedback and looping patterns, Abundant Music’s one click song generation and Audiotool’s impressively slick graphical interface. If you can, I would heartily recommend spending a few hours with each one to get a proper feel for how they work.