What is GarageBand for?

In a very loose and relatively useless way I’m aware that GarageBand is an app designed to let you create music. But I don’t get it at all.

If GarageBand lets you record incoming digital audio, I was unable to figure out how to get it to do that. It also doesn’t seem designed to open and edit AIFF files, WAV files, MP3 files, SND files, etc. So it’s not a sound editor?

If GarageBand lets you compose music by dragging or otherwise inserting tones of a specified pitch and duration to a specified temporal location and assign an instrument/voice to it, I was unable to figure that out either. So it’s not musical composition software either?

I was able to use the “grand piano” tool to insert individual notes while a metronome flew me along. Like that’s gonna be useful. If I had an actual keyboard (which I do, it has MIDI ports and true audio-out ports) that could work to do a rough recording of a composition, but I’d have to be be able to edit it extensively. I’m not the type or calibre of keyboard player who can insert a new composition off the top of my head in perfect rhythm while a metronome clacks at me though. If it were something I had already composed and played many times then maybe. But it’s a bloody klunky way of trying to create a new piece from scratch.

Having done so, I found an editor that let me create new notes, change existing notes, etc. OK this is more like it… except that you can’t save the results as MIDI or export them as MIDI? Well, I may cycle back to this and see if I can get useful service out of this part of it…

Mostly GarageBand seems dedicated to the idea that there exists something called a “loop”, of which they give you a batch, and I guess you can create your own, which you are expected to assemble into something listenable which would consist of these little “loops” playing themselves over and over in perpetuity. Do lots of people create music that way and I just never noticed?

All in all, a strange little app.

I don’t know and I took it off my dock. I’d like to know, though–in case my other career plans fall through.

I’ve never quite figured it out myself. It seems like it’s sort of intended for someone who can play one instrument to have a backing band, or maybe to edit the stuff they’re recording. It’s not totally dissimilar from iPhoto (in the sense of working with existing equipment), it’s just that almost everyone has a camera and can use it well enough to use iPhoto. Fewer people have an instrument that they can use well enough for GarageBand.

The recent versions do seem well-designed to make podcasts, since you can have each person on an independent track, edit the audio, and add sound effects nicely.

(I don’t do either of those things, but like you I wonder whether I need GB around.)

Writing new music isn’t easy, but it is possible. If you add a new track using Software Instrument, you should get a staff/sequencer grid window that opens up at the bottom. Once you’re in that view, you use the completely nonsensical Command-Click to add notes, which will add a new note where the cursor is. I think you can modify lengths by stretching the note, or use right-click to bring up a duration context menu.

Almost nothing about it is intuitive, though. That makes it kind of a fun toy to play around with, but I’ve never really found an application for it.

Anyone who knows they have no use for it, and are on a laptop or computer with limited space is well-advised to get rid of it. There are about 2 GB of Instruments and sample songs (In Library/Application Support/GarageBand), plus another 1 GB or so of Apple Loops (in Library/Audio/Apple Loops/Apple/Apple Loops for GarageBand) that can be dumped to free up space.

If you want to compose music manually, create a new track, select a software instrument, and command-click on the track to insert a new “blob.” Drag the edge of the blob to make it as long as you want. Double-click on the blob, and that will open the note editor which will let you place notes manually in an interface that looks like and old-skool piano roll. There’s also a quarter-note button there and if you press that, you get a musical staff and notes interface.

You can command-click on the piano roll to start placing notes and move them around. Change their duration by dragging their edges to make them longer or shorter. Once you’re done with that, you can turn the blob into a loop and make it repeat over and over, or not.

ETA: The point of the weird “blobs” interface is so you can create multiple tracks with simple loops in them and arrange them to make your symphonic masterpiece. It’s not like a traditional high-end composition program, because it’s meant for just general screwing around. (Though some people have made some impressive compositions with it.)

Garageband is an ultra-simplified multitrack program. Similar packages that are aimed at more professional users include Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase, Sonar, Nuendo, and Digital Performer. All of these programs are built upon similar concepts and workflow with GB offering the absolute basic functionality. Virtually all professional music made today was created using one of these packages.

Multitrack means that these programs allow you to play several sounds at the same time. This is in opposition to soundfile editors, like Peak and Soundforge, which are designed to work on one sound at the time.

Modern multitrack software can handle two types of data: audio and MIDI. In GB, these are labeled as “real instrument” and “software instrument”. A “real instrument” track will hold actual recorded sound, while a “software instrument” track will contain MIDI data, which will drive a synthesizer on playback.

A fundamental concept of multitrack software is the “region”. These programs allow you to edit sound, but do so non-destructively. When you cut, trim, or paste data, you’re only modifying markers. You create music by arranging “regions” in “tracks”.

As to your question about how to record sound into GB, follow these steps:

  1. Load GarageBand
  2. Chose “new music project”. If you were already working on a project, it will load automatically, so you may need to close it first.
  3. Fill in the form that appears.
  4. The project will now appear, containing a single MIDI track. You will not be able to record audio into this track.
  5. Chose “new track” from the track menu.
  6. Select “real instrument”.
  7. You should now have a track ready to record audio.
  8. You then need to put this track in “recording mode”: click the button with a small circle next to the track, not the main transport area.
  9. To start recording, press the record button in the main transport.

I used GarageBand to put together much of the score to a short film I made two years ago. There’s also a Web site (probably more than one) dedicated to letting Mac users share music they’ve made. Many of them use GarageBand for that; some of the music on that site isn’t half bad (although some of it is very, very bad).

I still use SoundEdit 16, which lets me create and record to as many tracks as I wish. And I still use MIDIGraphy to compose music (in a MIDI environment using QuickTime Musical Instruments), which gives me the opportunity to deploy different instruments and compose for each of them in a nice editing environment.

Seems reasonable that GarageBand will do that for me, but they sure could’ve made the interface less incoherent & user-hostile.

The interface is directly copied from the other programs I listed above. The main problem, in my opinion, is that it tries to dumb things down too much. It would be much clearer to label the tracks as “audio” and “MIDI”, as everyone else does, but they opted for the confusing “real” and “software”. That being said, if you learn GarageBand, it should be relatively easy to move to one of the more professional packages.

Eventually, though, the problem with GarageBand is that it makes many assumptions about what sort of work you want to do. If you stick to that, it’s fine, but if you’re more of a power user (or composer), you’ll end up fighting against it quite a bit.

Logic inherited an extremely un-intuitive interface from its original maker before it was bought by Apple, but it’s a very powerful tool at a relatively low price. Logic Express sells for about 200$.

There is also the open source Ardour but currently it only runs in X11, which handles clumsily IMO. There is a native OSX port in the works, though.

Ardour just released an OSX-native port. I am going to try it out.

Question: in iPhoto, I’ve put together some slide shows using music provided on my Macbook (I’ve no idea where the music comes from-sorry). If I delete or trash or whatever GarageBand, will I lose that music?

Almost computer illiterate over here. Post slowly and use small words. Thanks.

It looks like you need to build it from the source to get native support. I’m going to wait until it’s sort of stable, but that’s good news.

While potentially useful to some artists, this sounds like something of a niche app.
I wonder why Apple decided that everybody must have this on their phone?

I don’t think I’ve ever even opened it.

I used GarageBand to make podcasts.

GarageBand is excellent for making ringtones.

I’ve used it to create ringtones, and to edit podcasts into smaller samples. I’m glad it was included; it’s not something I would have bought for myself, but it has been useful.

The iOS version features simplified instrument interfaces – for example, a set of strings or a small keyboard. I’ve used this to [literally] play the tiny violin on a few occasions.

I don’t think I’ve opened it either. But I just checked and it takes 1.58GB of space on my phone. It’s the largest app there. Seems like a ridiculously large amount for an app only some use.