I possess little to no musical talent – music lessons at school always left me stumped and longing for English or another subject where I could feel at home. However, this ineptitude doesn’t mean that I’m afraid of creating some utterly awful pieces of music on the PC if the opportunity arises. The opportunity did arise, and in the form of TuneAroundStudio. It’s a light-hearted application which can be used by amateurs (or more experienced fellows who like to show the rest of us up) to create tracks.
After downloading and installing the application will prompt you to log in. It’s mildly miffing that you can’t use the software without signing up for an account. This only use of an account appears to be if you’re planning on uploading your music to the TuneAround website, which if you’re as awful as I am, you won’t be. It’s apparently necessary since the software seems to save your data online rather than locally on your PC.
After signing up and logging in, you can then get down to business. You’ll be able to choose from a number of different pre-created tracks which fall into various categories varying from dance to classical. You can then load the pre-created items into your new creation, or start from scratch. I think the ability to start solely from scratch with a blank screen should be easier – it seems that you have to choose a pre-created track, but then opt not to import the music into it in order to start a blank creation. That struck me as little bit odd, but far from a catastrophe.
I was initially a little bit confused, but found that once I’d fiddled around for a few minutes, the basics were easy to pick up. Each instrument or noise which will play in your song is listed along the left. Clicking on one of those will open the interface where you can edit the current beats or add your own. You can right-click and drag to select areas to alter by right-clicking and selecting an area. You can then cut, copy, paste, or clear the area. Adding your own beats is a simple case of scrolling through the choices of different sounds and dragging them to a blank square. These squares are coloured to represent different sounds. Since I’m completely clueless when it comes to music, I just pick fairly randomly – pretty colours draw the eye of feeble minds like mine. Another useful feature is the ‘Autochoice’ button. There’s one of these under each instrument used in the current track, and after highlighting an area by dragging the right mouse button you can click it to have the software decide what will sound good there. That kind of takes away the fun, but it’s good for making a starting point which you can then edit.
Additional instruments can also be added by clicking the large ‘+’ button at the bottom right of the window. You can also add a microphone recording to your tracks. Since I won’t and can’t sing, I decided to add a recording of me clicking my fingers next to the microphone. It was a failure. Therefore it’s rather smashing that it’s very easy to delete or mute tracks – I can simply mute the track of my fingers snapping and cringe as the rest of the instruments create a cacophony of noise.
The usual controls that you’d expect in a media player are located on the bottom right of the window – stuff like play, rewind, and fast-forward. You can also save your creation to edit at another time, or export it as an MP3 which can be played in other media players. The final option is to upload your song to the TuneAround website, allowing others to hear it and vote upon it. If you make a masterpiece, it may end up being featured on the front page.
Overall a great light-hearted application. It’s a lot of fun and a great filler when you’ve got time to kill. The best way to learn how to use it is probably to have a fiddle around with it and try to create a few songs. Hopefully you should have some fun even if you create something which is liable to break glass and cause cats to howl. TuneAroundStudio can be downloaded from www.tunearound.com.
Whilst Windows Media Player suffices for most video files, it’ll refuse to play some without installing numerous codecs. These codecs can cause slowdown, and some video types don’t have codecs that work with Media Player. Therefore, you’re going to need an alternative if you want to play some odd video files. VLC Media Player allows you to this, and best of all, free of charge.
When running the software you’ll be greeted by a simple interface. VLC lacks the media library and such features that Media Player sports, but it seems to be intended for a slightly different purpose. Media is opened from the ‘Media’ menu, where you can then browse through your folders to find the file, folder, or disk that you want to play. You can even open media streams from a local network through the same menu.
The quality of the playback seemed to be pretty good; possibly better than Windows Media Player’s offering, but with no obvious differences between them. However, it’s difficult to judge since Media Player won’t play most of the files which VLC will, so I can’t compare. The interface, whilst not being the most attractive offering, is feature-rich and customisable if you’re willing to explore the menus and options within. I was very impressed with the various choices which are available; everything from audio output to network proxies can be set. This plethora of options lets you customise just about every detail of the software, allowing you to make it work exactly the way you want it to.
If you think of yourself as being one of those artsy types, you might not be impressed that VLC doesn’t, visually speaking, look quite right when compared to most of your other software. Luckily, like-minded people have come to the rescue by creating skins which can be downloaded from the VLC website. These can be downloaded and applied to your player to change the way it looks. You might want to consider the Media Player theme, which makes it look the same as Windows Media Player – the software you’re probably used to grappling with. Or, if you’re a fan of Apple’s brushed aluminium style, you might wish to opt for an iTunes or Quicktime lookalike. However, all these themes seem to take it upon themselves to hide the menus away, making them difficult to access, and unless I’m missing something, making some of them impossible to access until you revert to the default theme. This is fine if you just want to open files, but I like to have easy access to the menus at whim.
VLC is a smashing little bit of software for playing obscure video and audio files. It’s also very small in size and pretty lightweight, so it won’t be a drain on your hard-drive or system resources. You can download it from www.videolan.org.
The Internet now seems to have become the de-facto in entertainment: there’s various sources which use the masses of media available – some to better effect than others. You’ve probably got a fair bit of music stored on your computer, snatched from various CDs or swiped off the Internet. Spotify is a new way of listening to masses of music legally without having to store the files on your hard disk.
Installing the program was quick and painless, and when loading up the application it is clear that the devlopers’ inspiration for the GUI stemmed almost solely from Apple’s iTunes. However, its functionality is very different. A simple search in the box at the top left is enough to get you started on your discovery of both music you know and love, as well as introducing you to new artists. Type an artist name or track into the box and Spotify will dash off to find them for you. The tracks it then found for you will be organised into a sortable list, with a simple double click is enough to start it streaming. The audio is of a high quality – I’m not an audiophile, but I didn’t notice any loss in quality when compared to a CD or MP3 file.
If you’d rather not pick and choose tracks particular tracks all the time, right clicking on tracks will allow you to create a playlist of them for future use. Alternatively, in typical Last.fm style, radio stations for particular genres and artists are also available.
The application is funded by occasional advertisements that will assail your eyes and ears, but they are very rare and shouldn’t cause too much of a bother to you. The playback times are almost instant: you won’t be sitting around waiting for the track to download unless you are currently residing in the late 90s and still use dial-up. See what you think: www.spotify.com.