Even with the success of beginner-targeted software like GarageBand, computer music production is still something a lot of musicians have only started to explore. And while there are computer-savvy players of every instrument, there’s no question guitars are underrepresented for the size of the market versus, say, keyboards.

Sonoma’s RiffWorks has been one software entry trying to change that, by combining guitar-centric features (amps and effects) with loops, multi-track recording, and collaboration features. As with GarageBand and Steinberg’s Sequel, loops, machines, and effects assist in quick song creation. But unlike those products, Sonoma also emphasizes collaboration, and is targeted directly at guitarists.

Now, they’ve introduced a free version of the software called RiffWorks T4. While it’s free, it does quite a lot – presumably to try to get hooked on online collaboration on song making.

  • 4-layer song production
  • Basic effects (Wah, Multi-band Compression & Distortion, Modulation, Delay, Reverb, Compression, and British Style EQ), plus IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube LE guitar amp/effects and Gallo Engineering’s Studio Devil BVC amp model
  • An “InstantDrummer” drum machine/accompaniment tool with intensity, variation
  • Online collaboration and online song sharing community

Online collaboration has always been a challenge because the physical size of the planet Earth actually means that true real-time collaboration is basically impossible with music. The solution is simply to provide music that’s synced, if not in real-time. Sonoma describes their solution: “As a track is recorded, it streams to other players and is perfectly in sync.” (In other words, it’s better to be a bar behind but in sync than a fraction of a second off.)  [Update] To clarify: unlike many online music collaboration services, you can work simultaneously on a song recording – see reader discussion in comments. This is a step behind eSession-style near-real-time collaboration, in that you hear full riffs at once. (eSession is synced to a metronome, though it can’t do “true” real-time, either, in the sense that you can on a local computer.) It is a number of steps ahead of most other online tools, however – and the real draw is the software editing and effects anyway, as combined with these community features.

That said, I think online collaboration could be fun, if Sonoma can get a healthy community going. Many musicians still prefer in-person collaboration for other (non-technical) reasons. But then, the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, especially in our online-connected world. Sonoma tells CDM that over 1,000 people per day are signing up; now it just remains – as with other communities – to see how many get really involved.

Even if the online side doesn’t take off, perhaps the production tools will. Guitarists, if you do give this a try – or if you’re already a user of RiffWorks – we’d love to hear from you.

RiffWorks T4 [Free software, Mac, Windows]