Tested By Kent Carmical
GarageBand ($49 retail/street N/A; also available as a free bundle with iLife in new Macs) is one of the few digital-audio recorders that the standard technophobe guitar player can sink his or her teeth into. While several software companies have done a good job of turning a computer into a recording studio, the vast majority of software packages are just too complicated and expensive, and they generally lack the instant gratification factor that drew us all to guitar in the first place. GarageBand aims to change all that.
A clever loop browser—with more than 1,000 loops arranged by instrument, genre, and mood—makes it easy to build tracks by simply dragging loops to a main screen, and, even better, all the loops you choose are automatically matched in key and tempo. (You can select the key, time signature, and tempo yourself, or simply accept the program’s default settings.) About half of the loops are audio, and the other half are MIDI, and many users won’t care which are which, as the sounds are generally very good. Of particular interest to guitarists is GarageBand’s powerful physical modeling engine that offers amp emulations (British Gain, American Clean, British Crunch, etc.) and effects (auto wah, tremolo, distortion, chorus, etc.). Parameter control is pretty hip for an inexpensive program, and you can get fairly deep into editing loops if you desire. (For power user tips, check out the July 2004 issue of Keyboard.) When you’re done, you can mix down your track, and export a 16-bit AIFF file into iTunes or burn a CD.
One could hardly call GarageBand a studio-on-your-computer, however, if it couldn’t record external sources. All you need is a simple USB audio-input device, and you’re in the recording biz. (Some instrument preamps, such as the Boss GS-10, offer software drivers that allow easy connection, or you can input keyboards, guitars and basses, and microphones with any number of USB interfaces.) Apple is really proud of their guitar amplifier models, and you can plug directly into GarageBand and select, say, a Fender blackface model with stunning spank and twang, or a Vox model that’ll chime the Beatle boots right off your feet. I was especially impressed with the plexi Marshall model, which can totally nail the whole Mick Ronson/Ziggy vibe with a little tweaking. Hell, all you need are a guitar, a laptop, and a USB interface, and you could record tracks anywhere!
While GarageBand is cheap, fun, and incredibly easy to use, it’s also a fantastic tool for making demos and practicing riffs. All cuddly stuff and teenage-focused “Hey you can make music” hype aside, GarageBand is, in fact, an extremely serious hard-disk workstation for musicians who don’t want operational gymnastics to impede creativity. And isn’t making music is what it’s all about?