GarageBand 2, by Apple Computer
Posted: 7-Jul-2005

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Apple Computer Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Teawell Class: MULTIMEDIA

Overview
GarageBand 2, part of the iLife '05 suite, is a digital musical creation system for the home computer. It can be used by either the musically challenged to the "expert" arranger. It can be used as a self-contrained unit, meaning that there is nothing to add, all the way to a "miniature" recording studio.

MIDI, which stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, is a protocol for recording, storing, and playing music electronically. A MIDI file cannot be played in say iTunes or Amadeus II, although it can be played in Quicktime. It requires a sequencer to interpret the digital cues that start a sound, tells it how long to play, how loud to play, and what instrument to sound like. GarageBand is basically a sequencer. That is, it turns digital instructions into music, and provides some amazing tools to do so.


System Requirements
Apple says that a G3 (600 Mhz or better) G4 or G5 is sufficient to run Garageband 2, although a G4 or faster is required for GarageBand software instruments. 256 MB or RAM is the minimum requirement with 512 MB recommended. System 10.3.4 or later is required. Quicktime 6.5.2 or later is necessary with a display capable of 1024 by 768 resolution. A DVD is necessary to install GarageBand. 4.3 Gigabytes of storage is necessary for the entire iLife '05 suite, but Apple gives no requirements for just GarageBand.

The evaluation system is a dual 1.25Ghz PowerMac G4 with 1.75MB of RAM, an ATi 9000 OEM video card driving two monitors, and system 10.4.1.


Setup
GarageBand 2 can be installed as part of the iLife '05 suite or individually in the iLife "Custom Install" option, or just launching the Garageband package. I installed Garageband 5 via the "Custom Install" option, which went without a hitch. I then did a "Software Update" search and updated to version 2.0.1.


Interface
When GarageBand 2 opens, it will load the last song that was active. If it cannot find the last song, or if it is the first time, the user is presented with a dialog box allowing you to set up the parameters (beat, key, name, location, etc) of a new song. Then GarageBand finally opens. By default there is already one track specified and it is the grand piano, along with a floating keyboard. The look of Garageband 2 is somewhat different than what is becoming the normal look of Apple windows. It is neither Aqua or Brushed Metal, but instead wood trimmed. All action takes place within the top window pane, with Track and Mixer columns on the left, falled by the Timeline. The lower pane can change configuration (see figures below), depending upon whether you are selecting the Loop Viewer or the Editor.


GarageBand 2 Timeline and Loop Viewer

 


GarageBand 2 Timeline and Editor


The menus across the top of the screen are limited in function. The FILE menu includes standard functions such as New, Open, Save, Save As, and Export to iTunes. EDIT, of course, contains Undo, Copy, Cut, Paste, Delete, and Select All, as well as some special functions. The Split function divides a track at the point of the cursor. Join takes to parts and joins them together. Add to Loop Library allows a section in a track to be saved to the Loop library. This is great for loops that have been recorded from an outside source (it wouldn't make sense to re-save loops that are already in the library). One missing feature that would be nice is to have is adding a new "instrument" categories so that mixed-down tracks could be re-imported and added to the loop library.

The TRACK menu allows the user to either display or hide different features of the the track(s) in the main window. With this menu, tracks can also be added, deleted, copied, etc..

The CONTROL menu toggles on and off a "Metronome" as well as a one bar "Count In". The "Loop Browser" and "Editor" can be toggled between Show or Hide. These two menu items affect the display at the bottom of the screen, which is also controlled by the two buttons in the center toolbar (the eye and the scissors).

The last menu, WINDOW, is for minimizing and zooming the main Garageband window, and for displaying both the "Keyboard" (a standard piano keyboard) and "Musical Typing" which allows the standard computer keyboard to act as an electronic trigger. This is no substitute for having a live instrument attached, but it was interesting to play with. MIDI keyboards, or electric pianos with a MIDI interface make for much better triggers.


Piano style keyboard

 


Computer keyboard


Mixing, Creating and Editing

For the beginner, it is very easy to create a Garageband tune. Start with a New window, open the Loop browser, select an instrument, preview the canned loops, and drag the one you want up into the main window. It's that easy. Just add various loops of various instruments, and mix and match until you hear a sound you like. Continue reviewing the different instruments or kits and selecting the sound bites and dragging them into the main window. Tracks can be lengthened or shortened by moving your cursor over either end and waiting for the cursor to change to a vertical bar. If you put the cursor over the upper right-hand corner, it changes to a bar with a circled arrow the track will begin to repeat itself. Dragging the end of the bar will only add "dead space". If you overlap a new loop over an existing loop in the time line, the old segment is automatically truncated (or shortened). Then is one problem with Garageband, in that it is very easy to accidentally overlap loops, but it it not at all obvious when Garageband has truncated loops. At one point everything seems to be in sync, and the next moment loops are out of sync, all because of an incidental truncation that can often be difficult to locate. This needs to be fixed in Garageband.

Each track lists the type of instrument, and includes a picture of the instrument, a set of buttons, and some controls.


An Electric Guitar track

The five buttons under the instrument name in the "Tracks" column are record (will turn red when clicking on the track), Mute or Unmute the track, Solo or Unsolo the track (meaning to play it by itself), locking or unlocking a track (thus protecting it from accidental edits), and volume and pan track editing. It is great to be able to either listen to a track with other tracks, by itself, or to drop a track out of the mix temporarily. Unfortunately, there is no one button to re-set all the tracks at once. If you have only one track in solo mode, deselecting it makes all the tracks active, but if you have two tracks in solo mode, both have to be de-selected.

Clicking on the triangle opens the Volume/Pan editor. This is a wonderful feature because it gives the composer precise control over the volume and pan characteristics over time. You can fade in the composition, blast it at the bridge, and fade to nothingness at the end. Pan control allows the sound to be assigned to a particular channel (left or right) for a stereo effect. When the Volume/Pan editor opens, you choose whether you want to edit volume versus pan by way of the pop-up menu. The editor displays a line in the Timeline that represents either volume or pan adjustments, and can be changed at different points by simply clicking anywhere on the line.


Volume editing in Garageband


The knob and slider in the "Mixer" column will do the same thing - adjust volume and pan - except for the entire length of the track (rather than in specific places). The Master Track allows for the volume or pitch of the entire composition to be managed over time, but not pan.

For the more advanced, you can select a track and open "Track Info" (Command-I) from the TRACK menu. This opens an editing window that allows you to change instruments, while keeping the same notes, change the little icon at the left edge of the track header, as well as performing some very advanced editing. The Audio Units (AUs) that Apple supplies are found here. All sorts of high-end audio engineering can be performed.


Garageband 2 Software Instruments


Loops can be either recorded as analog music or in MIDI format. If it is in MIDI format, it can be edited. Recorded analog loops are blue, while MIDI is light green. Analog shows the waveform of the music while MIDI shows the individual notes. Analog are real instruments playing while MIDI are software instruments.


Garageband 2 Editor - Analog music



Garageband 2 Editor - MIDI/Software Instrument

The center toolbar is very simple. There is a Plus button to add a new track, the "I" button to Get Info and open the Track menu, and two buttons to open the Loop viewer or the Editor window. The big red button starts the record function. The next five buttons control how the regions (the area to the right of the mix controls) plays. The large arrow in the middle starts the cursor moving, and so does the Space bar. The two arrows on either side of the Play button move the cursor one measure either right or left. The first button re-positions the cursor at the start. The last button toggles the "looping" feature on and off. At the very top of the timeline is the repeat bar (orange color). With the looping feature turned on, it determines what will be repeated.

A wonderful feature is that in the Editing pane, the music can be displayed not only in its graphical form, but now as musical notation as well. For those who wish to view their creation as sheet music, Garageband 2 now provides that option.



Notes in Graphical Form

 


Notes in Musical Notation


Once you are satisfied with your Garageband creation, go to FILE>Export to iTunes to create a file playable from iTunes. The settings for the Export function are in the Preferences. Here you specify what iTunes Playlist to put this new arrangement in, as well as specify the Composer Name and Album Name. GarageBand 2 will export your creation to iTunes in the AIFF, 44.1 kHz, 16-bit format.

Performance
Everything I created during the practice phase played without any noticeable slowdown. The largest number of tracks I worked with was seven. There is a noticeable delay when dragging the different instrument loops from the library into to the main window. When exporting to iTunes, depending on how many instruments and how long the tracks are, it may take a while before the song shows up in iTunes.

GarageBand Additions
Just like the iPod, a veritable cottage industry has sprung up around Garageband. Loops of all kinds are now available. Apple has produced four Jam Packs alone, adding new loops and new instruments. Go to websites like
MacBand.com or MacJams.com and browse to your hearts content. If you like Blues, go to Jack's MIDI Music and download some MIDI files. Drag them into GarageBand to see them split up into the different tracks (this is a wonderful improvement over Garageband 1.0 (before it took another program to breakdown the MIDI file into its components).

The Help guide is quite specific on how to add new loops. New loops have to be dragged into the Loop Browser, and sometimes even the Timeline, so that they can be indexed. Loops cannot just be placed in the support folders. Most loops are stored in Library/Audio/Apple Loops, while other items are stored in Library/Application Support/GarageBand. I think it should all be stored in one place.

Editor's Note: To demonstrate the beginner versatility of this software, a couple of sample MP3's are provided here. These were created by a pure novice (Mac Guild Editor-in-Chief) for a freeware game called Excalibur: Morgana's Revenge. The first sample is called "Caffeine Rush", used in the EMR level, "No Time for Coffee". The second sample is called "Kirin's Lament", to be used either in the level "The Return" or "El Fin".


Caffeine Rush


Kirin's Lament


Summary
GarageBand 2 is a wonderful Apple application that just keeps getting better with each edition. Whether you are a dabbler, like me, who only wants to make musical loops to incorporate into iDVD or Final Cut Express, or a seasoned recording artist who has more artistic endeavors in mind, GarageBand 2 fits the bill. The interface is sharp and clean; there is nothing resembling an over-complicated mixing board and the menu items are few. With minimal help, anyone can begin arranging the pre-canned loops into something resembling a composition. Drag-and-Drop is the operative word here. If you like the notes, but not the instrument, just open the Track Info and select another instrument. If the drums are too loud, just turn down the volume on the drum track; if the Bass is not loud enough, turn up the volume on the Bass track. If you wish to record your own sound, just get a MIDI USB box and record away. When you are satisfied with your composition, export it to iTunes, and from there to wherever you want. Additional loops are available from Apple, or just search the Internet to find what you need. There are some interface issues that could be improved, but the bottom line is that GarageBand 2 "just works". It provides a balance of powerful features with ease-of-use that literally allows anyone with a Mac the ability to create their own music. GarageBand by itself is worth the price of iLife '05.


Pros
  • It is simple to use - no manual to read first, no classes to take; inside of one minute a "song" can be created
  • It is fun to use
  • It integrates with iTunes
  • Multiple track recording
  • View in notation mode
  • A great community of artists and third-party developers has sprung up to support this product

Cons

  • No contextual menus
  • Elements are spread throughout the hard drive
  • Incidental loop truncations can be cumbersome to resolve
  • Can only export to iTunes
  • There is no button to reset Mute or Solo buttons for all tracks.
  • No control over export parameters


Overall Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice