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Apple GarageBand 2

Home studio audio and MIDI software By Dave Nagel
Summary: GarageBand, from Day 1, has been a fantastic tool for roughing out arrangements, recording practice sessions and even creating final mixes. Version 2 takes this a step further with support for multi-track recording, on the fly notation for software instruments, the ability to save recordings as Apple Loops, the ability to import MIDI files and support for Acid Loops.
Recommendation: 5 out of 5
Users: Garagebands, starting musicians, low-end home recording studios
Platform: Mac OS X
Price: Available as part of the iLife '05 collection for $79; five household user license available for $99; also available free on new Mac systems
More information: http://www.apple.com/ilife/garageband/

When I got my hands on the first version of Apple's GarageBand, I was hooked immediately. Here was a package that would not only allow me to record practice sessions on the guitar, but to lay down entire arrangements with complete ease. I'd start by dropping in one of Apple's drum loops and playing to that, then go back and tweak things around into the arrangement I wanted, complete with accompaniment. Every evening and weekend when I wasn't working, I was playing around with GarageBand, and, within the first month, I'd gone from a bunch of assorted riffs and rough ideas to eight finished instrumental tracks, complete and ready to present as sort of polished draft arrangements for the people who will one day be my bandmates in the greatest band that's ever existed. You'll see. In fact, you'd better ask me for my autograph now because soon--five years on the outside--I'll be far too busy and famous to have dealings with the likes of you.

Since my initial experience with GarageBand, I've bumped up to Logic Pro 7, Apple's top-end audio and MIDI suite. But I have to say that, despite Logic's high-end features, I still find myself going back to GarageBand for practically everything I do in the initial stages of my arrangements--now up to 30 or so, by the way--because it's just so easy to use and, in several important ways, powerful as well. Obviously I'm not going to compare a piece of $1,000 software with the likes of GarageBand, which is free on new Mac systems, or $79 as part of the iLife '05 retail package, but for the basic stuff, GarageBand's going to get the job done much more quickly. And since Logic can open GarageBand files natively, that means you can get your arranging and recording some in GarageBand and then bring it into Logic Express or Logic Pro for higher-end effects, track automation and higher-quality mixdowns (and, in the case of Logic Pro, surround mixing).


GarageBand's main interface

Now GarageBand 2 is out, and what was already a fantastic program has gotten even better, with the addition of multi-track recording, on the fly notation for software instruments, the ability to save recordings as Apple Loops, the ability to import MIDI files and support for Acid Loops, among other things.

Ease of use: 5 out of 5
I've mentioned GarageBand's ease of use already, and I can't emphasize this enough. But it's almost impossible to understand just how simple it is to create complete arrangements in this software until you've had a chance to try it out for yourself. Here's how I typically work through a new song idea. First, I'll begin by selecting a drum sample from the loop library. To do this, I click on the Loop Browser icon, which reveals the various categories of loops available. I select the Drums category, and then click on any of the loop names to listen to the samples.



When I find one I like, I drag it into the main interface, and a new track is automatically created for me. Then I simply drag the sampled track to loop it, and I have the basic beat for my song ready to go.

Then I make some adjustments to the "Master Track," which controls things like tempo, time signature, key and any effects that you want to be applied to all of the tracks in your composition. Note that setting the key for your composition means that any Apple Loops that you bring into the composition will automatically adjusted to match the key you've set, and, of course, the tempo will also cause loops to be sped up or slowed down to match.



Then I want to record my instrument, so I create a new "real instrument" track, which, like the master track, allows me to load preset track parameters or create my own, including basic functions like gate, compression, equalization, echo and reverb, along with a choice of two other types of effects. There are 27 effects total--everything from amp simulation to vocal transformation.



Then I can just record my track, edit it all I like, loop parts of it, cut other parts out, etc. And I can drag and drop other loops into the arrangement to complete my project.



When I'm done, I choose the "Export to iTunes" function, and GarageBand generates my mixdown, creates an AIFF file and automatically brings it into iTunes for me, where I can sit back and listen to my final work.

In GarageBand 2, ease of use is even further enhanced with the ability to add my own recordings to the GarageBand loop library. This allows me to reuse elements I've created in any song. Not only that, but my recordings will be adjusted to match the key or tempo of any new song in which I use it. And these adjustments are made on the fly, so I don't have to wait for any destructive processing to be able to hear the track in a different key or at a different speed. Great stuff!



Working with software instruments is just as simple as recording live instruments. Plug in your MIDI keyboard, create a new software instrument track, select the instrument you want to use, and you're good to go. GarageBand supplies a ton of instruments to choose from, and you can customize each of these to create completely new instruments or simply variations on the existing selection.



Features: 4 out of 5
Ease of use isn't the only thing GarageBand has going for it. While not exactly a full-featured audio/MIDI suite, GarageBand provides you with just about everything you need to get the job done, provided you're working on single-tempo, single-key arrangements. I can't get into every feature that GarageBand  2 has to offer, so here's a rundown of the basics.

? Multi-track recording, up to eight real instrument tracks and one software instrument simultaneously. Note that the 8+1 limit is for live, simultaneous recording only. GarageBand supports many more tracks than this for arranging/mixing. I'm not sure exactly how many, as I've never hit the upper limit.
? Ability to synchronize recorded tracks to tempo changes.
? Ability to import (drag and drop) previously recorded files, including CD tracks and MP3 files.
? Import of MIDI files. (Note that tempo changes in MIDI files will not be respected.)
? Support for USB and MIDI keyboards, including modulation wheels, velocity and other MIDI device features.
? Two onscreen keyboards, including a basic piano-style layout and a "Musical Typing" keyboard for working with your computer's QWERTY keyboard. The basic keyboard has been improved in GarageBand 2 and is now full resizable. The Musical Typing keyboard is completely new and uses keyboard keys for notes, as well as features like sustain, octave changes and modulation.




?  Full MIDI editing capabilities, including notes, modulation, pitchblend and other parameters.



? New real-time MIDI notation.



? Ready to use loops for time signatures including 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/8 and 7/8, though by far the widest selection is for 4/4.
? New support for Acid Loops.
? Any previously recorded song or instrument can be converted to a loop.
? Up to seven effects per track, with a choice of 15 GarageBand Effects and 12 Audio Units effects. Effects are fully customizable.
? New tuning and timing correction for vocals and real instrument tracks.
? A new Vocal Transformer effect for changing around the sound of a voice (male to female, female to male and various other types of effects).
? 16-bit, 44.1 kHz AIFF export.

So you get the idea that GarageBand can do a lot. But where GarageBand is lacking most significantly in the feature department is in track automation, or the ability to modify parameters over time. You can modify track volume and pan over time, but that's it. If you want to increase reverb at a certain point, for example, you're out of luck. You get one setting for any given parameter over the course of the entire track, and you can't change it without changing it for the entire track. You're also stuck with one time signature, one tempo and one key for the entire song. So, if your song includes a tempo change or a key change, you'll have to create that section in a separate project, then merge them together later on. On the more minor side, GarageBand doesn't let you tweak the depth or sample rate of the song, export to other file formats or choose a name for the song on export. (The name is automatically assigned according tot he name of the project, which you can. of course, change later.) But those are really my only disappointments for this software. Remember that GarageBand is competing really at the level of freeware or shareware, and, in this context, it can't be touched. As I say, I use Logic for its higher-end features, track automation, surround mixing and finishing, and I'll sometimes launch into Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/) for some of the effects it offers, but GarageBand is still fundamental to my workflow.

Performance/Reliability: 5 out of 5
On top of all this, GarageBand performs like a dream. Everything about it is fast--from imports to opening files to mixdowns. I've played up to 22 real and software tracks while recording additional tracks, and GarageBand didn't give me so much as a hiccough. I exported a 10-minute song with 23 tracks in less than a minute, including the time it took to launch iTunes and import the song into the iTunes library. I can play said 23-track song and drag in new loops and audio files without pausing playback. I can even make adjustments to a song while it's playing and hear the results in real time.

For reliability, I've never once had GarageBand crash on me. Do I need to say more?

Quality: 5 out of 5
GarageBand has been put together so thoughtfully and with so much attention to detail that I can't fault it in the least for quality. The loops Apple includes with GarageBand are top-notch, as are the add-on Jam Packs that you can purchase separately for GarageBand. The software instruments included with GarageBand are also great. In fact, even when I'm working in Logic, I find myself primarily using GarageBand's software instruments. (They're interchangeable.) Everything about it is great. I did mention that I like to do my finishing in Logic, and that's simply because I have at times experienced a "mushiness" in the mixdowns I get from GarageBand. This is mostly owing to my own mixing limitations (cranking everything into the red, for example), and I have been able to get good mixdowns from GarageBand with some simple volume adjustment. But I do find the mixdowns from Logic to be more "full," which, obviously, you'd hope for with a $1,000 software package compared with a free one.

Overall: 5 out of 5
GarageBand ignited my interest in recording, editing and mixing. Before it, I'd never found a program to match my level of technical knowledge in the audio department, at least not one that was within my price range. But with GarageBand, I can not only get everything done I need to get done, but also enjoy myself while I'm doing it. And it also inspires me to do more. To experiment with layering. To arrange new songs. To create things that I wouldn't otherwise have the resources to create.

Get GarageBand 2. Plug in your guitar. Start recording. You'll soon find yourself deep into the process of creating music, rather than fumbling around with difficult software that can't even do half of what GarageBand does. It's just fantastic.



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Related Keywords:apple garageband, ilife 05, garageband 2, midi, audio mixing, multi-track recording

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