No one goes to recording studios anymore, or at least no one that wants to continue paying their rent and bills for the foreseeable future hands money over to a studio, anyway. These days it is all about home recording. I remember having an extremely basic setup with an old band of mine, recording drum parts with an 8-track analogue mixer and 4 vocal mics, but my how times have changed; the process of making music is now easier than ever. Garageband for the Mac has been part of Apple’ suite of products for a good number of years now, though it is rarely used by most in spite of its considerable usefulness to musicians and songwriters. Garageband for iOS has been available for our mobile Apple devices for a while also, bringing the Mac-based experience to iPads and iPhones in an equally intuitive and user-friendly manner. Making music has never been easier, and it is the powerful simplicity of this app which makes it that way.
First-time flyers in Garageband skies will have their first encounter with Apple’s take on music-making with the instruments screen where you can swipe to choose between a variety of choices to get started. Instruments are split into regular and the smart kind: regular instruments like Drums, Keyboard, and Guitar Amp allow you to input music in a “freehand” sort of way, tapping the screen with your own notes and rhythms to lay down tracks; “smart” instruments like smart drums, smart keyboards, and smart guitar are more restrictive but allow you to input specific chords and different stock patterns so that the relatively lengthy process of playing parts in manually is shortened somewhat. Essentially, the smart prefix just means that some of the work is done for you and you can use the handy grid-based interface particularly for the drums where sounds can be dragged and dropped into the exact beat and note position.The addition of smart strings in the latest update makes the selection of instruments a little more rich than it was before as well.
In terms of input, you can of course choose to use regular or smart instruments, tapping the screen or selecting chords respectively. You can also use Audiobus for inter-app recording, effectively using Garageband as an output whilst using other apps’ instruments. If you want to do any real-time shredding this Christmas in the style of the fourth Santa Rockstar game, you’re going to need a suitable interface for plugging into your iDevice, but at least you know that the option is there.
After recording you parts, you can view the different layers of your track in the track view section. Here, your tracks are laid out like a typical studio overview where each layer is listed on the left hand side with the waveform of each track extending horizontally across the screen, stacked on top of each other for easy visual reference. After recording a melodic instrument, you are taken to the beginning and playback occurs automatically do you can review your recent recording; drum parts loop by section, allowing you to layer percussion parts with ease. The only downside to this part of the app is the lack of ability to edit the waveforms’ individual notes which must be done by linking the iPad/iPhone to a PC for further editing.
The track view section is also a place for adding some basic effects like reverb, volume, echo, panning, and the usual tweaks that allow tracks to sit well together. If you are lacking in creative energy, you can also use some of the stock loops already on the app, placing them into your track as you see fit without even having to input a note if you don’t want to (if only it was as easy to do this in Guitar Hero 6; everyone would be a music-gaming master).
The smart and regular instruments, 8-track recorder, variety of input options and generally intuitive interface makes Garageband an incredibly powerful tool for music creation and to an extent, music production. This app has most of the power of a small recording studio and would be perfect for the average rock band or songwriter looking to save on heft studio costs, or simply for the curious musician that wants what is effectively the best music production/creation app available.