First, if you are a musician with a few hundred dollars in your pocket and a desire to make music on your computer, buy Sonar. There is a good reason why it’s the US’s most popular PC-based music sequencing/recording package. Although it runs under Windows, with all the horrible tinkering that implies, once set up, it does magical things. Yesterday morning I knocked together a simple five-part gospel chorus [750K mp3]—with each voice positioned in an imaginary room—in less time than it would have taken to teach the parts to a real choir.

The program detected what key I was singing in and, with a couple of clicks of the mouse, I converted each part into an “intelligent” loop—these can be speeded up and slowed down arbitrarily at any point without changing the pitch of my voice. Awesome. What’s even more impressive is that I managed to lay down bass, drum and organ lines too, to go with the singing. Sadly, my incompetence with actual musical instruments made this a rather slower process. Although a skilled user can correct all sorts of mistakes with Sonar, I could hear the artificial element I was introducing when I tried this. I had to get most of the tracks right the hard way: practice, practice, practice (of which more later).

And the program comes with so much other free stuff—almost all of which I can actually find a use for: effects, instruments, samples, format converters…

Of course, despite the integral kitchen sink, one hugely important thing is missing. My browsing of Sonar communities on the Web reveals this absence to be a kind of running joke in the world of Sonar users: there’s no bloody metronome! For those of you who have suffered like me with this terrible shortcoming here are the free and the pay solutions.