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Lyricist Product Review 
by Tom Boyles, the PARIS directory

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Tom Boyal PictureWhen Virtual Studio Systems introduced their Lyricist software back in 1999, some nay-sayers questioned how necessary it was to use a computer to do something theyíd always used a pencil and paper for. After all, if you come up with a song idea while relaxing at the local pub, your cocktail napkin is a lot handier than your PC at the moment of inspiration. But a cocktail napkin is not exactly what youíd call a secure storage medium, and sooner or later youíve got to put your precious lyrics somewhere a bit safer. Plus youíre probably using a rhyming dictionary, and maybe a thesaurusÖultimately, thereís more to songwriting than jotting down a few lines on a beer-stained napkin. Every trade has its tools. And Lyricist quickly demonstrated itself, even to the hardcore non-believers, to be an efficient and well-designed technological means to a creative end. Now that VSS has released Lyricist v2, a piece of software that once might have been described simply as "handy" is becoming more and more essential. If youíre a songwriter, you want Lyricist.

Lyricist Screen Shot - Click to BuyAll of the features that made Lyricist v1 a success are back in version two, of course. The built-in rhyming dictionary and thesaurus are essential for any songwriter. Spell-checking is a given. The Style buttons let you set the text formatting for your Title, Chorus, Bridge, Verse, and Copyright text. This feature is similar to paragraph styles in Microsoft Word; if you like your titles to be presented in 14pt Arial bold, set the Title Style to that formatting and then apply it to your text with a single click. Lyricist v2 expands upon the previous versionís functionality by giving you two extra Styles to be used however you see fit. Very nice, but these are all features you might expect to find in any number of generic word processors. Lyricistís strength as a songwriting tool goes well beyond these typical Rich Text features.

One of Lyricistís strengths is the way in which it stores your songs. Most programs will create a separate file for each document you create; over time, this can lead to obvious problems with organization and backup. Lyricist solves these problems by storing all of your songs in a centralized database, and organizing them into "Albums." Your work is automatically saved; you will rarely if ever need to hit the Save button. Backup involves saving a copy of just one file rather than separate files for each song. And of course thereís no difficulty in trying to remember where you saved your songs. Centralizing your data this way prevents any number of potential headaches. And if you find yourself in need of a separate copy of a song, Lyricist provides an export feature which creates an RTF file of any song in your collection.  You can import any RTF file into Lyricist as well.

Lyricist Screen Shot - Click to BuyIf youíre like most songwriters, you probably record a quick demo of your songs while they are in work. Maybe you have a few demo MP3 files on your hard drive right now. Lyricist lets you link up to five media files to each song, and launch them from the programís menu bar or toolbar. This saves you the trouble of having to launch your player and browse for the media file Ė a definite time-saver.

Maybe youíre in a band or other collaborative project, and you want to share your work with your friends. No problem, just use Lyricistís mail feature. Lyricist will export your song to RTF format, and compress the file into a ZIP file (if youíve linked a media file to your song, Lyricist lets you include that in the ZIP as well). Lyricist then attaches the ZIP to an outgoing email. Thatís it! One mouse-click is all it takes.

That all sounds great, and it isÖbut all of those features were available in version one of the software. What, you ask, distinguishes Lyricist v2 and sets it apart from the rest of the pack? The short answer is: Chord Charting. This is the feature that Lyricist v1 users were clamoring for, and not only is it finally here, itís here in grand style.

Lyricist Screen Shot - Click to BuyLyricistís Chord Charting feature represents a major step forward in the way songwriters will use their computers in the realization of their craft. Sure, there have been programs that let you insert chord symbols into your lyrics, but nothing on this scale. If youíre used to apps that place their chord symbols off to one side, or have a limited selection of basic chords with few if any variations in voicing, then Lyricistís Chord Charting feature will blow you away. The software comes with no fewer than 2,550 chord symbols. Thatís 425 different chords, with up to six voicings per chord. The first three voicings have been created for you; the other three are offered as blank templates you can use to create any additional voicings you may need. Lyricist also provides you with the editing tools you need to create any chord your fingers can play.

Chord WizardWith Lyricist v2.2, the folks at VSS have added a new addition to the Chord Charting feature: the Chord Wizard.  Most songwriters, at one time or another, have stumbled across an unfamiliar chord while experimenting.  When that happens, simply plug the notes into the Chord Wizard, and it will identify the chord for you.  As an added bonus, the Chord Wizard also provides a list of similar chords that can be created by changing a note or two.  This comes in very handy when the chord you're using is close but not quite right.  The Chord Wizard ties directly into the Chord Charting feature so that, once you've found the chord you're looking for, you can insert it into your song with ease.

Lyricist Screen Shot - Click to BuyLyricist v1 offered a single window for viewing your lyrics. The addition of the Chord Charting feature has necessitated the creation of three different "Views" for working on your songs: Lyric View, Chord View, and Arrange View. Lyric View is where you do the bulk of your lyric-writing. Once thatís done you can move on to Chord View, which as the name suggests, is where you insert your chord symbols. Just place your mouse cursor anywhere you want to insert a chord, and click a button. Up pops a chord selection dialog box, where you can select the root, flavor, and voicing of the chord you want, with the resulting chord symbol displayed there for your convenience. Enharmonic equivalents (C-sharp and D-flat, for example) are given their own sets of chord symbols, so thereís no need to compromise. Click "Insert Chord" and youíre done. A crisp, well-rendered image of your chord appears at the insertion point. The same functionality applies to Arrange View, which is intended for laying out the chord progressions for each section of your song, without the lyrics in the way. This is extra-useful for recording sessions and band rehearsals.

In the rare event that the voicing you want is not provided by the chord selection dialog, just select a blank voicing template and click "Edit Chord." The blank chord symbol opens automatically in your default graphics program (for most Windows users, thatís Microsoft Paint). The chord selection dialog provides you with tools that let you add fingering dots, fret numbers, open-string "O"s and mute-string "X"s. Anyone with the most rudimentary graphics skills should be able to handle it easily, and Lyricistís Help system is there to walk you through it if necessary. If you can hit Paste and drag a dot to where you want it, you wonít have any difficulty at all creating your own chord voicings. And once youíve created a chord symbol, it will continue to be available to you in the future, so you donít have to rebuild it every time you need it. Again, Lyricist provides an enormous collection of chord symbols, so youíll rarely need to worry about it anyway.

Just to add one more nice feature to the program, Lyricist v2 provides two new web link buttons. One takes you to Virtual Studio Systemsí links page, where you will find a wealth of music-related resources, from education to shopping to music news. The other button takes you to OLGA, the On-Line Guitar Archive. Here you will find a collection of guitar tablature for a wide range of music across several genres. Itís little touches like this that take an already indispensable tool and make it fun.

If youíre at all serious about songwriting, youíre already using a number of tools to help you get the job done. If Lyricist is not among your arsenal, youíre truly missing out. Youíd be hard-pressed to find another program that incorporates so many essential features for the songwriter. This reviewer has never subscribed to the tongue-in-cheek, yet still widely promoted, aphorism that says "computers make everything better." But even if youíre content with the old pencil-and-paper way of doing things, itís hard to argue against the fact that Lyricist does make the job a heck of a lot easier, prettier, and more enjoyable. And for a drop-in-the-bucket retail price of $39.95 (USD), itís a tough deal to pass up. No question, Lyricist v2 is quite an impressive piece of work.

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