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Software Every Songwriter Should Own

Aug 17, 2007
Are you a songwriting prude? Do you sigh and shake your head when someone mentions "rhyming dictionaries"? Well, folks, I hate to break the news, but the information highway is plowing a great big road right through your creative process and perhaps it's time to jump on board.

So if you have been hesitant to use all these "new-fangled" tools or just haven't been made aware of them, here's your chance to see what "high-tech" songwriting is all about. Don't worry. It's not going to tell your creative side to go sit in the corner. Rather it will open your eyes to just what is available. In fact, these tools will allow you to concentrate on that one thing you really want to do: write a great song!

Need rhyming software?

Rhymesaurus is the ultimate collection of computer reference software tools for songwriters needing to find "just the right word." The rhyming dictionary portion of Rhymesaurus contains over 120,000 words and provides 21 different rhyme types including perfect rhymes, reverse rhymes, assonance, consonance and more. It also uses a unique "sounds-like" reference that uses two different algorithms for finding words that sound similar The software also includes Webster's Dictionary with over 115,000 word definitions and Roget's Thesaurus with over 1000 categories. Rhymesaurus is available from Purple Room Publishing.

Also available is Rhyme Wizard and easy to use. With over 100,000 words and phrases, all with cross-references to near rhymes only a click away, Rhyme Wizard is an indispensable tool for any songwriter. The program was created by a songwriter and teacher whose goals were to create a rhyming dictionary with features most useful for writers. It is easy to use. Simply type in a word or phrase and click. That's all there is to it. Its a great tool to add to your bag of tricks. It's not a crutch, but a faithful writing buddy that's always there when you need it.

Whether you are a poet, a rapper or a marketing writer, there will come a time when inspiration leaves you and this is where the McGill English Dictionary of Rhyme can help. Operating the program's interface is a snap. You simply enter a word in the search box and the application instantly displays rhyming terms in one of three columns. The first column is for standard, straight-up rhymes; the second is for rhyming phrases; and the third is for Roundex rhymes (words that sound similar but don't actually rhyme.) And the best part about this software is that it doesn't cost a dime! Anyone who routinely works with words will find this indispensable.

I've used Rhymer for years and find it compact and easy to use. You can use a free version of Rhymer online or buy an evolved version for your desktop at an affordable price. The desktop version contains a 93,000 word dictionary and can even be used inside Microsoft Word (Windows version). You are able to specify the range of syllables you want, the range of letters you might require and even choose from alternate pronunciations. (e.g., when you type "read" do you want it to sound like "reed" or "red"?) They also offer WriteExpress Phonetic Finder at no cost (Windows only). This phonetic dictionary software lets you find words that have whatever sounds you want in whatever order.

A Zillion Kajillion Rhymes, however, may be the best software rhyming dictionary available. In fact, The Philadelphia Inquirer calls A Zillion Kajillion Rhymes "one of the 6 essential writing tools" The program instantly finds single, double, and triple rhymes on literally thousands of words claiming to find more rhymes than any book in print. "A Zillion Kajillion Cliche's" is also available from Eccentric either as a stand-alone program or purchased with "Rhymes". You can download a free demo from the Eccentric Software web site. It is limited in scope, but you'll get the idea.

Now for some cool software programs that not only help with the task of songwriting, but allows you to keep track of everything from lyrics to who you sent your latest demo to.

Lyricist may be the ultimate songwriting tool. No more folders full of unorganized document files. No more searching through the pages of your rhyming dictionary or scanning the thesaurus for just the right word. Lyricist combines everything you need for lyric writing and archiving into one package. If you're at all serious about songwriting, you're already using a number of tools to help you get the job done. If Lyricist is not among your arsenal, you are truly missing out. You'd be hard-pressed to find another program that incorporates so many essential features for the songwriter.

MasterWriter does not come cheap, but it might be the most complete collection of songwriting tools available. It includes a rhyming dictionary with over 100,000 entries, a dictionary containing over 35,000 phrases, idioms, cliches, sayings and word combinations, a rhymed-phrases dictionary with over 36,000 entries, an alliterations dictionary, the American Heritage Dictionary and Roget's II Thesaurus, a state-of-the-art database that allows you to keep track of all the lyrics, melodies and information related to the songs you've written or are writing, a stereo hard disk recorder for recording your melodic ideas, Songuard, an online date-of-creation Song Registration Service, a library of over 250 tempo adjustable MIDI Drum Loops and much more.

To put it simply, GarageBand may be the best bang for the buck currently on the market. The program combines the CD-quality samples of Apple's Soundtrack software with the hard-disk recording features of Digital Performer and the canned rhythm tracks of Band in a Box. But what's really mind-boggling is the way this program can turn the inspiration of musical novices into commercial-sounding demos. Imagine how many thousands of singers and instrumentalists, though blessed with enormous native talent, remain undiscovered because they lack recording studios and backup bands. For them, GarageBand may open a lot of doors--or just offer a lot of fun. My biggest complaint? It is only available for Macs! (For serious musicians it could be the one reason to invest in a new Mac.)

Cakewalk Home Studio is the newest member of the SONAR family and comes with a comprehensive feature set that turns your computer into a multitrack recording studio, giving you everything you need to take your music from inspiration to finished CD. If you have a PC and you are looking for an inexpensive entry-level sequencer that will record both audio and midi, you might want to take a look at this one. This program will turn your computer into a home recording studio although it isn't near as easy to use as GarageBand for the Mac. (Sigh.). This is probably the best alternative for PC users however who are ready to take the first step into digital recording.

Finale Songwriter is another great productivity tool for songwriters. While Finale SongWriter makes it easy to create great sheet music at an affordable price, that's just the beginning. Finale SongWriter allows you to enter notes from a mouse, computer keyboard, or midi keyboard. You can add chord symbols, fret board diagrams, and multiple verses of lyrics. Finale SongWriter can automatically add two and three voice harmony to your melodies and instantly add a drum part. The music you create sounds great through your computer's speakers thanks to Human Playback and 128 professional sounds. You can import and export MIDI files, create MP3 files, and save your work as a standard Finale file which can also be shared with users of Finale Notepad (a free download). If getting music on the printed page is part of your songwriting project, Finale SongWriter is the perfect collaborator.

Band In A Box is also a bargain for songwriters and great for creating that next great tune. When the idea of fetching a song out of thin air seems a bit overwhelming, Band-In-A-Box can give you a plenty of chords, melodies - even a title - to get things rolling. Band-In-A-Box can create a solid scratch melody for you generating original chord progressions, rhythm tracks, bass lines, titles and melodies in various genres from rock to country to pop. (The Windows version can even record your vocals.) Using the software as a simple song generator is easy, but there is a bit of a learning curve when you start writing complete chord progressions of your own. You can download a free demo at their web site PG Music.

So invite the muse in for a cup of coffee and get ready to create. She'll love all the new gizmos and gadgets too!
About the Author
Portions of this article excerpted from The Songwriter's Journal by Stan Swanson. The book is available from Amazon: The Songwriter's Journal and Stony Meadow Publishing
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