You know something? If you go to the Apple site and read the reviews on iLife '08, the software suite which includes Garageband 4, you might think Apple was selling something that plain did not work. Well, if you read further, you would see that the majority of negative reviews have to do with the program iMovie and that is simply a matter of long time users of that program spouting off because Apple changed the interface. We are not talking about iMovie, so lets move on to Garage Band, however; before we can do that I should address the fact that Garage Band has had it's share of whiny reviews on the Apple site too. I think you will find though, like most "sour grapes" opinions, these are more akin to knee jerk reactions rather than a fair assessment, and I feel that a fair and consistent overview is what is necessary if anyone hopes to gain from this sort of dialogue. That is my aim.
Garage Bandâ„¢ is digital music recording software designed to allow almost anyone to put together recordings by using pre-recorded samples or "Loops". In this, it is quite like making a picture with a paint program where you might drag and multiply various pre-loaded shapes and pictures. Given that example, then a person could simply drag different loops onto the virtual mixing board that is part of the Garage Band interface. You could choose from several hundred drum loops or patterns and then add a bass pattern which sounds good to you plus any number of phrases from keyboard, wind and string instruments are available. Beside all this groove, a person can then create a "Track" and will then be offered the option of using a "Real" or "Software" instrument. A software instrument would be one of many samples of actual instruments residing in the program and usually played by a MIDI keyboard which acts to trigger the various notes. Most of the modern variety of these have USB connections and the Garageband program is very good at "seeing" them. If you don't have such a device Apple has a clever set up called "Musical Typing" where it will convert the standard keyboard into a musical octave with A S D F-etc letters representing the white keys and W E T Y O the black. An 88 key graphic shows where you are playing and you can move the octave up or down as needed. There is also the option option using the mouse to click on the full piano keyboard. Either of these will trigger the sounds of whatever software instrument you have chosen. The real instrument option is for plugging microphones and guitars directly into the computer. This can be done in several ways, but most often a preamp of some sort is employed. This is a box which has the proper type of plugs for the various input cables and interfaces with the computer via USB or Firewire. It also has at least two channels, a head phone jack and phantom power which is a small amount of voltage necessary to run Condenser Microphones, a type often used in recording acoustic instruments.
So far we have talked about getting the music into the computer. What you do with it then makes the difference between a decent recording and a muddy jumble of sound. To explain the process of music recording would take much more time and space than one would want to employ here, so I think It would be important to remind everyone of the old computer axiom. "Garbage in, garbage out." When you make a recording, there are many things you can do to change the sound, however; it is very important to record the very best that you can and remember that the final mix is used to polish the product, not to "fix" it. Garage band goes a long way to help you get things right. One thing is the Magic Garage Band feature. All that really is, is a group of prerecorded songs in several genres that let you drop various instruments out of the mix and play the parts your self. Big deal? I don't know, but it does give you the opportunity to practice and if you are playing all the parts on a project, it can help you find a groove, Another thing about Garage Band is it's ability to let you record multiple versions of a track and then choose the best take. It also allows you to set the areas of the tune, such as "verse" "Solo" Bridge" and so on. When you set up your tune this way, all the tracks that fall under a particular field can be moved as one, say if you want to add a verse or solo later in the tune. These things save a lot of time as does the ability to automate parts of any track to change volume or meter and other little things that make a song sound good.
This would bring us to why we want a good sounding song. Well, Garageband is a very solid and surprisingly feature laden tool for anyone wanting to make a solid demo CD of his or her work, make up arrangements, try new formats and even print out the musical score. Not to mention it ability to produce Podcasts and provide music for your video production needs. That's quite bit for $79 bucks.
Now. Garage band is not ProTools. ProTools it the state of the art in digital recording and a ProTools set up can cost thousands and dollars. Still, I am able to work up projects in Garage Band and move them to ProTools and come up with a decent sounding mix in the end. ProTools, Reason and some other high dollar digital recording outfits will beat Garage Band for final sound quality. I won't argue that.
I will however remind everyone that not only are those programs expensive and difficult to use by those not trained as recording engineers, but the require large amounts of computing power to prevent latency in the sound and this usually means a computer with fast external storage media needs to be dedicated
to the studio. Meanwhile Garage Band, while wanting it's share of power as well, will allow you to use it on a fast laptop while not having to give the machine over to a single purpose.
So I'm saying Garage Band does a good deed for a varied group and that's kind of what you look for in this type of product. I'd say it out does itself really, considering the cost, and what you can get if you will just read the manual and not try and skimp on the resources. I would invite people to go find negative reviews and see if you can't tell that they mostly spring from someone who expects the program to make them sound better than they actually are or else is trying to sneak by with a under powered machine or one lacking in RAM or HD space. Any program of this type whether its Photoshop or Garage Band needs your computer to be in it's best shape possible.
If you live near a town with an apple store, you can go and play with Garage band yourself. If not, well it comes on most new Macintosh computers so maybe you know someone who has it, and can check it out. I believe it is a good way to test the waters of home recording before jumping in to a high dollar system and finding you are over your head.