Pretty much everyone these days has a soundcard in their computer, and many of those would like to have a go at making music with their PC. Who doesn't have the idle dream of being a pop star, or producing some classical piece of music or something like that.
For many people the problem is where to start, computers can be fearsome enough for some people, and music software can be as complex as anything. Many people are put off by the cost, complexity, or lack of knowledge as to actually go about this process. Even the "lite" versions of software bundled with many soundcards can be fearsomely complex for the beginner.
Step in Mixman. Mixman is a low cost software package aimed at getting people making music as simply as possible, taking out many of the complexities of sequencers and putting them within a very straightforward interface. In its simplest form Mixman is a sample playback program, you pick the samples and it plays them back. The clever bit is the looping that it does and the way that you can drop sounds in and out of the mix as you go along to produce your track.
The packaging and design of the software is very much targeted at would be "re-mixers" and to be fair that is who would get the most out of this program. However if your not a budding "dubby dub prince fresh hip hop MC" don't let this approach put you off. Many genres of music can be created using this program, though due to the looping technique 4/4 dance music is its forte.
Installation is painless, one thing to watch is the default directory it installs to, the root of your C drive, so type in a directory when prompted. No big deal but generally you don't want to be installing things there otherwise your computer will quickly become a mess. The program detects your soundcard and your away. You get a 46 page manual, that covers the installation, basics and three tutorials, but it's one you'll glance through once and put it back in the box. Once you get going the program is very intuitive.
First up I tried the demo song, and a ton of static broke up the track, quick look in the options box and there is a host of options for tuning performance to your PC's specs, on a 133Mhz Pentium I had to drop down to one of the lower defaults, on a 233Mhz it went OK with the defaults. The difference in quality though to be honest is marginal, so if you've a low specification Pentium you'll be able to run the program without difficulties, additionally you can export mixes as .Wav files, for this you can ramp up the quality to maximum irrespective of your system without a problem.
From the main screen you can choose either the Mixing Studio or Recording Studio, create a new mix, load or save a mix, choose the program options or quit. All very straightforward, most of the action occurs in the Mixing Studio.
In operation Mixman can handle up to 16 tracks of audio, using either .trk files or .wav files. You get a more real time control over .trk files, so if you've got a choice then go for those. The Mixing Studio is laid out like a DJ desk, with 8 tracks on each turntable, you load samples into 1 or more of the slots and press play and away you go. You can drop in/drop out tracks with a mouse click or key press, when recording this is remembered, and you can save your efforts for later editing, exporting to a .wav file or impressing your mates/mum/a&r representative.
You don't get a whole lot of control over the actual sounds, you control the selection of sounds of course, and can import your own .wav files. You can alter tempo (though altering this too much for some sounds can create some distortion), volume, panning and pitch (though again moving a sample too far from its original pitch can cause either a grainy effect or Mickey mouse type effect).
Also once you've saved a mix you can edit it, so get it right first time !.Though to ease this you can record macros - snapshots of how things are at any one moment in time, so get your sound how you want, make it a macro, get the chorus, make it a macro, get the intro - you get the idea. Enables you to drop in or out a whole number of tracks in one go.That pretty much is it, there is little in the way of creating music from the samples you have, if you have a decent selection of samples there is nothing to stop you producing a professional sounding track from using this program. It could even have live use applications,using them as the graphics would indicate as virtual turntables.
The Recording Studio is real straightforward, just enabling you to record sounds via a microphone plugged into your soundcard and outputs the results as a .Wav file.
Well no matter how clever a program its nothing without sounds, you can import your own, and Mixman provide a selection with the package. The following styles are covered - Acid Jazz, Funky, Hip Hop, House, India, Jungle, Latin, Metal, Reggae, Techno and World. Some of these have up to 12 elements, for example Techno has Bass, Hat, Kick, Loops, Musical Bits, Percussion, Snare, Synth, Upbeats and Vox and each of these sub categories has 3 or 4 samples. In all there are 77Mb of sound in 239 samples, which isn't a huge amount, but enough to get you going. You can certainly use these to produce a decent result, just listen to the demo mix.
To this end there are already 5 special Mixman Soundisc sample CD's, including offerings from "names" Skinny Puppy, K-Class & George Clinton as well as Gloss (House/Techno) and Street Level (Hip Hop/Funk). There are at least 10 more to come, check the reviews section for verdicts in the coming months. These will greatly enhance your ability to make tracks in your favoured genre, the samples that come with the program, by definition almost, spread themselves pretty thinly.
In use it's very simple to use and its very easy to produce a decent sounding track very quickly, it takes rather more to create variations and maintain interest in a track, but within 5 minutes I had a track chugging along, to help you there are a number of templates, though to be honest, starting from scratch is just as easy. On line help is pretty scant, just an overlay of keys, but very useful, gives you shortcuts for all the functions, especially for dropping tracks in and out.
Apart from the "remix" DJ would be's there are other uses for the program, quickly seeing how sounds interact together. For example .Wav files are becoming the norm, and if you've a CD full of them then auditioning them can be done using this program, looping them, over a riff or bass line you like. Or simply playing around with samples to get some inspiration, Mixman doesn't but technology in the way of making music, and maybe you'll come up with something that won't happen with a sequencer.
The program has limitations for sure, the lack of sound manipulation or editing facilities, and ultimately it is quite limiting (there is a Pro version on the way, plus a Mac version). However, for a low cost, fun and flexible music making program Mixman can be thoroughly recommended.