As part of their iLife ’11 suite – US$49 or free with a new Mac – Apple announced their updated release of GarageBand.

Consistent with the relationship of the two products, much of what’s here has been inherited from Apple’s flagship Logic, albeit in a simplified form that’s friendlier to newcomers. That means several of Logic’s features from last summer have now made their way into the entry-level tool.

I will not resist the temptation to add some color commentary; after all, you already know where to find apple.com.

  • Flex Time As in Logic, you can now adjust parts of a waveform rhythmically. It’s a nice feature, not only for cleaning up parts but for creative work. (This stuff hasn’t yet become the rhythmic equivalent of AutoTune, partly I think because there’s not any “quantize all” feature.)
  • Groove matching extracts a groove from one track and applies it to the others. Here, there is a definite possibility of overdoing it, but as with anything else, you have to use the function judiciously and artfully.
  • Guitar amps and stompbox adds more models, with twelve amps (seven of them new) and fifteen effects (five of them new), as with Logic.

GarageBand ’11 also extends Apple’s commitment to making people better players:

  • Tests and visual feedback. A bit like the light-up keyboards of years past, you get interactive feedback on how you’re performing. It’s funny, though, I wonder if features like this make sense in an age of Rock Band. Those games do a good job of “quizzing” you mechanically, and beyond that, you really need a human teacher.
  • New lessons. Many onlookers, myself included, complained when Apple dropped the ball with providing more of their nicely-produced lessons. They seem a good way to get people into playing. Sure enough, Apple adds some 22 lessons, including genres like various classical contributions (at last) and blues. It’s still a drop in the bucket, but since the idea is to give people a taste of music learning, it makes sense.

It looks like Apple has given its UI a nice coat of paint, too; the whole app looks a bit sleeker, more in line with the Pro apps.

But I’m not only interested in what I think. Getting a handle on how GarageBand does among users, particularly newcomers, has often been a challenge. I’d love to hear your thoughts, particularly if you are (or know) musical novices interested in the program. (Or, for that matter, given that many serious users make use of this app, I’m curious to hear from you, too — Flex Time seems a nice addition, especially if that’s all you wanted out of the latest Logic.)

Check out the new release:
http://www.apple.com/ilife/garageband/

  • jason

    But Peter, it's not open source. How can you be positive towards something that is obviously closed source?

  • http://truechip.org peter

    wow cheap shot!

    Anyways I think it looks cool for a new comer.. Ive always recomedned gb for people who arent sure what software to use and have a mac..

  • synthetic

    Can I control it with my Arduino-based, solar-charging, custom-built grid controller designed by two naked Swedish guys in a communal chat-based open collective?

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @jason: You've, uh, missed a *fair* amount of the zillions of pages of writing I've done on proprietary software.

    Seriously, is there some reason people are so defensive about any advocacy of free and open source software, *ever*?

    "Here's some free candy!"

    "Damn you. You and your FREE candy. I'll bet you never buy candy. I'll bet you've never tasted it."

    It's cool, whatever. I'm just curious. :)

  • spinner

    It would be nice if the incorporation of these new features are a first step of returning Logic as a tool for more demanding users rather than trying to make it a "daw of all trades……."

    Adobe might not be any less of a corporate than Apple but at least they've never tried to pretend that their pro apps are anything else than that, and consequently also has a much steeper learning curve than your average casual image app.

    I love how accesible the ilife apps are and find it rather "democratising" that anybody with little experience of computer design can do creative multimedia work.

    However leave the pro apps as exactly that… I've got the knowledge, the need and the inclination to learn them – if you don't then they're probably not for you…….

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @synthetic: Thanks to MIDI, yes. ;)

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I'm going to stay onto this until people can explain why they have a chip on their shoulder. This month, October. Number of posts on CDM that singled open source? One.

    Last month? One.

    Seriously, then, WTF? Do we have pro-proprietary trolls now, some weird mirror-image of the FSF?

  • spinner

    Pete, don't feed the trolls ;)

  • http://www.graphicdesignstolemysoul.com Priscilla

    Hi Peter,

    I used GarageBand when I first started making serious music on the computer. I think Garageband is fantastic. I still reference some of my tracks from back in the day. The thing that makes garageband great for beginners is that it's soooooo freaking easy. Even if all you are doing is dragging and dropping loops, it starts to get people to really enjoy the process. I started with only loops, then moved to creating my own stuff with midi, and sampling.

    It's so easy to get lost, in ableton, reason, and maschine. There is too much. Garageband, only enough to get the most basic ideas out. The real power rests on the creativity of the user. It has everything you need to make a track. I remember reading an article that the glitch mob, mainly likes to chop up audio manually in cubase. Well you can do that in Garageband as well. It's all up to you how complex you want to make it. It even has automation.

    Never really tried the lessons, although love the new classical lessons, so that might be fun.

    Coming from someone who started with drums, guitar, then onto fruity loops, then garageband, to maschine, logic, ableton, and traktor scratch pro. Garageband is alright in my book.

  • kev

    Pete, I don't always agree with your opinions but I appreciate that you have them and share them. Your reasoning is always sound, backed up with feeling and you always make me think.

    Don't let the cheap shots from people who fear different ideas get under your skin.

    Cover what you like, do your thing, and Thanks!

  • Martin

    @Peter

    Since you ask, It seems to me that you have often put more considerably more emphasis on the importance of something being open source than I personally would, but one of the reasons that I come here so often is precisely because there is a different perspective here compared to most music tech sites, so while I might not always see things exactly your way, i'm certainly not complaining about encountering different views on here ! However I think Jason's tongue might have been being slightly more in cheek than you are giving him credit for.

    And, bringing it at least slightly back on topic re the announcements at today's Apple event, I have to say that the advent of the MacAppStore or whatever they are calling it is yet another sign of a growing tendency chez Apple that is making the wider issue of open/closed-ness of all sorts look like becoming more and more important in the near future.

    So no problem here with open source- centric articles !

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Yes, Jason was joking, so no reason for *me* to go off-topic.

    Anyway, GarageBand is important. In terms of combining an entry level portal into a pro app, keeping the engines (from core code to samplers) consistent across entry level and pro, designing a genuinely user-friendly entry level UI, *and* bundling lessons and notation features designed to teach people music … no one is doing this. I'm not convinced GarageBand is the perfect solution to the challenge, but it's one of the only apps that tries.

    Open source development is important to me partly as a means to a musical end, one which can't always be fulfilled by other tools – and yes, a license is a tool. This is another effort that fulfills an important musical end.

  • Emu

    In relation to Priscilla's comment, does anyone else think that Live isn't a user friendly software? I thought one of their core goals was to keep things as simple as possible but with the option to dive as deep as you wanted.

    When I first started to mess with DAWs I really didn't like all the software out there that was treated like virtual hardware studios. Which kind of brings up an interesting idea that maybe beginner friendly can mean two things…

  • HEXnibble

    @ Priscilla: I'm not sure how you can lump Maschine in with other tools that offer "too much" to "get lost" in. For me, Maschine has been a revelation in it's intuitive hardware-like workflow for a "software tool". Perhaps for he absolute beginner not familiar with drum machines but more familiar with iMovie, GarageBand (which i do recommend to all beginners personally) might make more sense. But I do love Madchine for it's simplicity and easy hands-on approach, when it comes to electronic music.

  • http://www.analogindustries.com Chris Randall

    @Peter: Not to disagree with your detective work there, but that's a bit disingenuous. While it's true you only tagged one post each in September and October, fully half of your posts in both months (actually, it appears to be more like 4/5ths in September, but I just did a cursory search) make some quip or another regarding something-or-other's openness.

    I only bring this up because you regularly wonder out loud why people constantly berate you for harping on openness. It is, as it turns out, because you continually harp on openness. It's kind of like if I wondered why people seemed to think I don't like Logic.

  • Nick

    Just one small point on Flex Time- there is a 'quantize all' feature in flex time in Logic. You can turn on flex time, go to the region inspector menu and click on the quantize menu. Any selected regions will be quantized.

    Not saying it will always sound good, but one could say the same thing about auto-tune. :0

  • Greg

    @Peter, and everybody else.

    Please stop saying Open Source when you are talking about GPL'ed software.

    Garageband strikes me as a very elaborate, unfortunate ad for Logic.

    Tell me something Garageband does that LMMS (plus audio editor/recorder of your choice linked up via jack) doesn't, besides work easily on Mac. Walk through the things LMMS does that Garageband, even Logic, doesn't.

    Then investigate Qtractor or the like.

    What are you people paying for?

  • http://www.myspace.com/bubblescum Vaihe

    @Emu: I think Live is very un-friendly for even pros's. It took me sometime to understand the logic behind it and i know lot of cubase / Logic users who would like to use it but UI is too unfriendly.

    I also know few people who make music with garageband who know nothing about computers and that is great! It is very powerful software for being FREE.

  • http://www.myspace.com/bubblescum Vaihe

    @ Greg: U answered it: Easily.

    LMMS is probably great software but it looks like you need some sort of computer degree to use it :D

  • Emu

    @Vaihe: Yeah that's what I'm realizing. A lot of people that don't like Live are the ones that already have other DAW habits or are hardware oriented people. Which is exactly what I was referring to by beginner friendly. Some people aren't bound by gear aesthetics so replicating that environment does little to help people like myself. I'm just glad that there are options out there on both sides of the beginner friendly spectrum (though Live's price tag is hardly beginner friendly lol).

  • spinner

    @Emu I don't think Live is beginner friendly at all. This is both as long time DAW user and as a teacher of various music software including Live.

    A great beginner software has a solid core functionality and few options. Live of course has the former but for the begineer the abundance of options and not one but two user interfaces is pretty much always a step too much……

    Garageband is has exactly the traits I mentioned and that's why it's such a good software to start off with regardless what your previous computer experience is.

    @ Greg – Because I have a life……. ;)

  • Velocipede

    Regading Live's ease of use, I spent a few months with Cubase VST on OS 9 but decided not to upgrade when switching to OS X. After some time with just Reason, I got Live 2 and found it super easy compared to cubase, which I never really mastered. Live has gotten more complex, but I still find it much more intuitive than Logic, which I also use now, and i usually turn to it first. Still, it has gotten complex enough that I also would recommend GB to Mac owners first.

  • griotspeak

    @Chris – Not to fight anyone's battles, but mentioning openness and being down on anything that is not open are different things. Yes, 'openness' is a frequent topic of conversation, but how much of that is because we readers bring it up or are bound to? this article was not really about openness and here we are.

  • dioxide

    @synthetic lol. Yes that accurately describes a lot of the music tech stories that do the rounds. I'm a geek of sorts but some of the stuff out there is just silly.

    Regarding the free candy thing. Free candy is short term. I want my software to be long term. This is stuff is good and affordable compared to a few years back. Just pay for it. Free is good but it won't be around longer term. So if that's likely to be an issue for you (as it is for me) then avoid the freebies.

  • trojanboy

    It's not free (as you can only get it with hardware) but I've been using Pro Tools SE for a few weeks now. I'd say it's easier than Garageband, Live, Cubase etc to use. And it's also got tutorials built-in.

  • greg

    Anyone who links LMMS takes too much time to learn needs to shoot himself in the face.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Okay, I've stopped feeding the trolls, including even the insightful trolls, like Chris.

    I think what people are hitting on is that finding an interface that's friendly to beginners is an elusive thing. I think it's part of interface design, generally – unless you want something banal and boring, you have to piss *someone* off.

    It is perfectly possible to use GarageBand in place of Logic. Have a close look at the feature list. It really is a full-featured DAW by any measure. It's a testament to how complex DAWs have gotten that a lot of people still want more.

    At the same time, that's part of the problem — it's still a DAW, and that may or may not be intuitive to everyone. I think they've done a good job of it, but recording audio and making music is itself a non-trivial task.

    That said, while GarageBand is the only app I can think of that's incorporating lessons in this way, and that has this consistent a path to the non-entry-level app while maintaining its own UI, it's not the only option. For some, Pro Tools LE is a comfortable way to start, or Ableton Live, or Reaper, or… I could go on.

    I remain interested in the original question. For those of you who talk to beginners other than yourselves, what do you hear?

  • http://www.analogindustries.com Chris Randall

    I concur entirely. I've often recommended it to people just starting out, with the caveat that it doesn't follow the mixer/tape deck paradigm of Cubase, Logic, PT, and Sonar very closely, and thus won't prepare someone for that world as well as we would like to think it would.

    It does lower the barrier to entry to the professional music recording world, though, and I think that's the point. While it is an advertisement for Logic, that's just good business, and I don't think anyone would fault Apple for having common sense, at least in this one little area.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, and it helps everyone. I know plenty of people who have graduated from GarageBand to Logic, but also to Live and others. The Pro Apps people at Apple would prefer you choose Logic, but Apple I'm sure is happy that these folks buy their computers.

    It's also there on your Mac, regardless. I've used it as a quick notational sketchpad on a couple of occasions, just a way of transcribing and improvising. The biggest challenge for any upgrade is simply that some of the other versions do their job just fine.

  • Brian

    Ok, here's a gripe that has NOTHING to do with "open source-iness". Why Mac only??? Yes I know there are GarageBand-like alternatives that can run in the Windows world, but I want GarageBand for Windows! Microsoft was nice to the Apple folks with Office…time to return the favor :)

  • Human Plague

    I rewire Garageband to Renoise. Playing my guitar through the included amps is fun.

    People hate on Garageband, but it's included when you buy a Mac. If you actually give it a go, it's pretty decent for just being on the HD ready to use. Compared to say, nothing on Windows, or "Everything! You pick! Infinite free time to explore, right?" on Linux.

    Not sure if i'll upgrade, or just wait for my next Mac though.

  • http://www.smalldotcomplex.com Carl

    I've used GarageBand off and on, but I always found the interface to be less visually intuitive than Reason. My first exposure to Logic (Express 7) was a complete disaster because I could not comprehend it. Visually, it made no sense. Garageband is better at this, but still falls short for people like me who were trained with actual hardware and cable patching.

    Still, I will usually tweak a synth in Garageband, save a wav file of it, then bring into Reason to tweak further.

  • http://ardour.org/ Paul Davis

    I've never understood why anyone would imagine that there is a single user interface or workflow or overarching design that will somehow Just Work for everyone, at least not for a tool as complex and capable as (even) Garageband).

    After 10+ years of developing Ardour, it has become abundantly clear to me that almost everything you might do that wins the wholehearted endorsement of one set of users as an improvement will be complained about by a different set.

    We don't all drive the same cars, ride the same bikes, use the same coffee makers and some of us don't use one or any of these things. Why the idea that there can be a holy grail of DAWs?

  • http://www.myspace.com/bennywa Benwa Sands

    Hey all,

    i'm a complete novice when it comes to recording (i figure thats whey there are sound engineers), but just got an apogee one and started using garage band 09. In-fact i only started playing with GB09 on tuesday when i got the One. I have found GB quite easy to follow as far as the basics go, and to record down ideas which is great, and what i want it for, although i have already found a few things to be a bit limiting like

    1. exporting multi track recordings to other programs – I want to be able to send files back and forth between myself and a few friends without having to convert the music, track by track to mp3 or acc formats then send this individual tracks to the other person that is using sonar or pro tools. Then do the same thing in reverse when they send me a music track. I found this out about 1/2 an hour after i started using GB09.

    2. Feedback control. This is to sensitive and an annoyance, especially since i am using headphones and no mics.

    3. Lack of any bass amps! I am a bass player, and as such would like to see bass amps, built in. Even though i use GB for ideas, i still want a great bass sound, as i have great live equipment. almost all of the bass guitar settings in GB are terrible and lack any real depth.

    Aside from that, it is a good little program for a brand new user. I hope Garageband will be a great learning tool for a beginner like me. Once i get a handle on Garage band and it's full capabilities i will then upgrade to logic.

  • http://shaneking.com shane

    I always recommend Garage Band to beginners. It really is a great place to start and to introduce someone to non-linear recording. And even better, it's free on every Mac. You can't get a better deal than that. The podcasting feature is quite nice and has some things that Logic doesn't offer, like ducking. And after someone is comfortable with it they can decide if they want to move on.

    And from a slightly selfish point, it can get people to realize that writing and recording good music is harder than it looks. Maybe they'll appreciate the work that goes into it better.

    It sure beats the 4-track that I grew up on.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @Paul: I thought it was explained pretty clearly above. People are looking for the holy grail of *their own* DAW! ;) Problem solved!

    So long as you're thinking about your own needs, you're always right. Makes design considerations easier.

  • brian

    @shane

    Agreed. Its a perfect tool for anyone who needs a simple way to work out ideas. It can go even further if you add your favorite audio unit plug-ins.

    I just took a look at the learn to play stuff. The free lessons are pretty fantastic. I'm feeling pretty excited to finally learn to play some piano. Its certainly cheaper than a tutor and when I get to the point where I need a human, I can skip a lot of the early awkward lessons and practice a bunch on the basics. Now I just need a controller.

  • Darren B

    @ Benwa

    There are bass amps in GarageBand but they don't have the flashy 3D look of the guitar amps. You create a real instrument track and there is a bass category and from there you get a collection of bass rigs. I use them all the time and they are not bad actually.

  • greg

    Why aren't we just recommending audio recorders/editors to n00bs?

    I mean, if they can't just record something musically interesting, how much is something more complicated going to help?

    People who want to make music are going to make music. If they choose the "wrong" app, they'll probably make something more interesting anyway.

  • hobot

    Just wanted to mention – Garageband has had audio quantization since 08 or 09. So they've essentially had the Flextime engine built in, only with a less flexible interface.

  • http://shaneking.com shane

    @greg

    Your comment presupposes that being able to play an instrument with a certain amount of proficiency is necessary to make good music, and an instrument that is capable of carrying a song at that. Someone might be a heck of a french horn player but that would hardly be useful for recording a pop song. At one point I was a really good bassist but even I wouldn't want to hear a song with only a bass guitar.

    Me, I couldn't do music without sequencers. I was a shit keyboard player when I started writing music and am a slightly less shit keyboard player now, 25 years later. But that's ok, my talent isn't in my hands, it's in my ears. The tools allow me to write and record fully fleshed out songs. If i had to rely on my hands and an audio recorder I wouldn't be doing music worth listening to. Plus, I don't play the piano, I play the synthesizer. I find pianos to be boring. Guitars too, don't want them, don't need them. So while there is much to be said for music that can hold its own with nothing but an acoustic guitar, that is not the only measure of what makes something 'musically interesting'. Much in the same way that not every movie should be able to be performed as a play with minimalist sets. Terminator 2 is great movie but would suck on stage. Kraftwerk's 'Computer World' as a piano song? I'll pass.

  • http://wheatwilliams.com Wheat Williams

    Let's look at GarageBand for what it is and what it does, not what it isn't and what it doesn't.

    A beginning musician with no orientation to the recording process will love GarageBand. An experienced musician with no orientation towards the recording process will initially find GarageBand very exciting but will quickly outgrow it, upgrading to Logic Express or Logic Studio, which is a win for Apple. An experienced musician who knows a lot about recording (like everybody posting on this blog) won't care for GarageBand because it's too limiting.

    One gripe I've always had with GarageBand is that if you have a standard MIDI file with tempo changes (rubato, accelerando, etc.) when you bring it into GarageBand, it ignores all that and just plays one strict tempo. If you create a project entirely within GarageBand, you can put in tempo changes, but it discards any tempo change data brought in from the outside.

    I'd like to export scores from Sibelius as standard MIDI files and then bring them into GarageBand for MIDI tweaking, but I can't because of this designed-in limitation.

    Then there's the fact that there has never been a General MIDI instrument set included in GarageBand, which I just can't understand. You can sort of use Apple's DLS MIDI player from QuickTime, but GarageBand doesn't give you any user interface for choosing or changing instruments with MIDI program change messages. How hard would it be to throw that in, and would that be too hard for a beginner to grasp?

  • Anna

    won’t there be more classical piano lessons? there are so many lovely pieces you could tape!