Music studios used to fill entire rooms with a complicated and expensive array of switches and meters for recording sounds onto tape. Mixing and editing those sounds was a limited and painstaking process.
Now, for $49, anyone with a moderately muscular PC can have a multitrack remix studio and make dance club CDs with little more engineering ability than ordinary mouse smarts.
Club Tracks by Cakewalk, of Cambridge, Mass., allows nearly anyone to become a music producer. Users can make remixes in Hip Hop, Drum 'n' Bass, House and Techno dance music styles, even if their understanding of dance music has been limited to fox-trot, waltz and polka.
``Loops'' of sound can be arranged on each of eight stereo tracks by using a few mouse clicks. You can play back the results and make changes simply by dragging and dropping the loop.
You can add your own vocal and instrumental tracks, or import files from CDs. (Most of the artists on those CDs would substitute ``steal'' for ``import.'') And if you can't imagine music without a video component, the software will import AVI and MPEG files so you can sync your audio creation to visuals. EQ, reverb and other sound effects are available.
If your PC has a read-write CD-ROM unit, you can put the results of your effort onto a CD using a 30-day trial version of Cakewalk Pyro.
Cakewalk has been around since 1987, which in computer years means almost long enough to have sailed with Noah. Throughout the years, the company has produced consistently good software with a clean, easy user interface and ample documentation. Club Tracks is no exception.
The software protects those of us inclined to make musical mistakes. It explains that if you put a 120-beat loop on track 1 and a 90-beat loop on track 2, it isn't going to sound too good. It also offers to correct the mistake.
Even if you never have set foot inside a dance club, you can have plenty of fun creating music. It took little effort to produce a ``Please Phone Home'' MP3 e-mail rap for a college-age daughter, although it remained unsent because such conversations usually involve more expenses than the toll charges.
Cakewalk Club Tracks wants to see at least a 200-MHz Pentium, 32 MB of RAM and an 800-by-600 video display. And, of course, a sound card and CD ROM. Better yet, 300 MHz, 64 MB and full duplex sound cards.
Cakewalk products are widely available at retail and at the company's Web site â€” http://www.cakewalk.com â€” where you can also take a closer look at Club Tracks.