Bandlab Review – Is This Going to Change The Way Musicians Collaborate?
I recently read about a new initiative that really piqued my interest.
An online collaboration tool and app that allows musicians to work on a track together from anywhere in the world.
If a producer in California had made a great beat but couldn’t play an instrument they could get someone in London to record some guitar on it. Then a singer from Tokyo could offer to add the vocals!
Sounds pretty useful I thought, but I mean, you can kind of do that by sharing project files and transferring stems etc. (though I have to admit this has the propensity to be a nightmare, and requires a lot of social media hounding to find the right people).
As I read on I realised that this wasn’t just an online DAW, but was also an artists’ social platform.
Not only can you work on a track together (all online and stored in the cloud) but you can also connect with other musicians to chat and share ideas as you work.
All this together sounded too good to be true so I thought I best look into it and see what all the fuss is about!
Bandlab Review – My First Impressions
After creating an account you’re greeted by an instruction video to get you started and help you move around the platform, which of course came in handy as I was going into this pretty blind.
The first thing I did was to explore other users and check out some of the stuff they’d posted.
I have to admit I was impressed by the quality of some of the tracks, I don’t know what exactly I expected, but the stuff I heard stood up to the majority of things you would hear browsing SoundCloud.
The search function is simple, I was searching for singers/ guitarists/ producers etc. and I was pleased to see that my results actually threw up a lot of possibilities.
It was encouraging to see a lot of people already using this platform.
One small thing that I feel is missing is being able to search by location (forgive me if that is possible but I couldn’t find it!)
Even though it allows you to connect with anyone in the world it would be good to be able to explore the local users.
I started following a few users of interest and instantly on the home screen their latest creations were now visible in my News Feed.
Once you have some activity visible on the News Feed it allows you to like, share and comment on the tracks as they appear.
If you’re thinking this sounds a little bit like a Facebook/ SoundCloud hybrid then you’re pretty on the money.
This initiative in itself is a refreshing platform for musicians to connect, and I’m suitably impressed before I’ve even got onto the creating aspect.
So without much further ado I went to go and start building a track.
The DAW itself is very straightforward, and if you have any experience in using music production programs you should be able to get straight into it with little fuss.
The functionality has obviously been designed to accommodate users of other programs such as Logic on the Mac or FL Studio on PC.
Even the keyboard shortcuts were set the same as what I’m accustomed to.
First I started with a beat, and I have to say the built-in drum machine is pretty rad and extremely easy to program. There are a variety of different kits to choose from (I went with an 808) and they all sound like top quality samples.
After I’d laid down a beat I looked into a Synth Bass and I was really impressed with the quality of the presets. The Acid House bass in particular was a sound that I felt like I had been looking for in a plug-in for years!
You can’t really manipulate the sounds too much like you would an emulated plug-in but that doesn’t stop you from busting out some great sounding ideas.
I am certain that this will be constantly updated and evolving to address little things like this (it would be good to accommodate using 3rd party plug-ins or perhaps licensing them for use within Bandlab)
The arrangement window and piano roll is really simple and takes seconds to get your head around. As I mentioned previously a lot of the shortcuts are the same but one small thing missing is a Quantize shortcut (Apple+Q to me!)
You can go in and move the individual notes around and snap them to the beats you want very easily, but being lazy as I am it would be good to have a group function.
As well as using the built-in composer and keyboard (the keys on the piano also tell you the relative keys on your QWERTY keyboard which is handy and fun) you also have a large library of samples and loops you can import to get you started or for embellishing your track.
Realise that this is only the tip of the iceberg as we haven’t even thought about organic instruments.
It’s very simple to plug in and play when it comes to your instrument. I had a little strum around with my guitar and found the amp simulators there to be top notch, from bluesy crunch to heavy rock, it pretty much has all bases covered and sounds great.
Of course the same applies to recording vocals; just plug in and start caterwauling.
The audio editor is also really simple to use and has some really great built-in effects. It doesn’t have the largest library just yet but I get the impression that it’s growing day by day.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the functionality and easy navigation.
I wasn’t expecting something as in-depth as it was, and when stacked up against other DAW’s it really does hold its own.
Admittedly, it’s a stripped back younger sibling to established behemoths such as Logic and Ableton, but it was a lot more than I expected for something that is online and free.
I would say that I would prefer to use this over Garageband, especially if I was new to producing.
Once you’ve got to a point in your composition where you feel ready to share it (with the world or collaborators) it is super easy to export, or save to your personal profile (the tracks all remain private until you invite someone or publish them).
Connect, Communicate, Collaborate
After you’ve finished with recording your track or parts, the world is literally your oyster.
You can manually add people to the project to give them access to do their thing on it, all the while being able to chat with them through a Messenger style platform.
There are loads of different search categories on the homepage too, such as solo musicians looking for bands or tracks that need a particular instrument adding.
If you’re looking for help with a track, you’ll probably find it here.
It also has what’s called ‘Shouts’ which are photos or short videos you can share with others (a la Instagram) and you also have the added functionality to add text and filters to your posts and even share them across other social platforms.
It’s also available as a mobile app that has up to 12 tracks for recording on the go, which is great for moving your compositions around from place to place without having to save onto a USB or email a project file.
So, how do I wrap up this Bandlab review?
Bandlab is very much in it’s infancy, and I’m sure it will continue to evolve.
Bearing in mind how new it is, it’s quite remarkable just how good it is!
What’s even more exciting are the possibilities, and the promise of just how good it can (and I’m sure will) be.
That someone has been able to pull off an online DAW and social platform for musicians together is really great.
I can see a lot of people getting some really good results from this and making some new friends along the way.
It’s a really helpful tool especially for songwriters who want to back and forth with music and lyrics.
Some elements aren’t quite perfect (yet) but the idea certainly is and the execution is pretty spectacular.
At the moment it’s geared towards songwriters and musicians but I can see a lot of producers starting to use this as it evolves.
Anyway, that’s my 2 cents, but the best thing you can do is go and check it out yourself.
It’s free to download so why not give it a go and see how it works for you.
And please do share your thoughts in the comments – I’d love to know what you all think of this.
Is it going to be a game changer?