Thursday, November 13, 2008

GarageBand '08

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my penchant for digital audio software - Pro Tools, Cubase, Reason, Live, etc. I'm most proficient with Cubase 4 and am easing my way into Pro Tools gradually. The rest I just dabble with for fun.

The GarageBand app that comes free with your new Mac - as part of the iLife bundle - was always a fun little diversion, but not really all that useful.

Until now. I traded in my refurbed 15" MacBook Pro for a new, 17" MacBook Pro last week. My old one had just had a logic board replaced ($688) and started running hot...within Apple tolerances, but not mine. The new Mac, actually the model before the brand new one, was on sale for $1699, a full $1k less than the NEW new model. I got 2.4gHz and 2gb RAM with a 160gb hard-drive. Nice.

GarageBand '08 is the latest, greatest version of the program and in my opinion it raises GB into useable pro audio recording device...at least for demos. Apple's flagship DAW, Logic Studio has a little brother called Logic Express....GarageBand is Logic Express Lite.

These new features make all the difference for me :

  • Multiple takes with comping option
  • Built-in tuner
  • Automatable effects
For those of you not savvy to studio jargon, "comping" is short for compiling. You can comp several takes and use the best parts of each one to make up a master take. Let's say you were singing "Happy Birthday to You" and you loved the way you phrased "Happy Birthday", but did not care for that take's "to You". You like the "to" on Take 3 and the "You" on Take 2. Now you can use each of those favorites and consolidate them into one new track of a perfect vocal. Not a small thing. The same, of course holds true for guitar solos, bass lines, whatever.

The built in tuner may be minor to some, but it's one more piece of essential gear you can leave home as part of a mobile notebook-based studio.

Automatable effects is a really pro feature. You could already automate the volume and panning of any track. Panning refers to the placement of the instrument on the left or right stereo field. Very useful in crafting a professional mix.

Now I'm sure some will claim that this is not a pro app, that it is a toy to play around with and write EurodiscoTranceHouseAcidJazz beats with. Fine, suit yourself. To me, it is the ultimate demo machine. I can get a track up and running in minutes, and take the next couple of hours refining the drums and bass parts into what I envision.

My attitude toward demos has changed a bit. I used to think that it was a waste of time and that you might accidentally get the take doing a demo...and if you were in a hurry and cut corners on tonal quality, you might get a take that, while perfect, is sonically unusable. I remedied this by always using my fill-blown rig to record demos or worktapes with.

For this record, my wife Donna' s second effort, we decided to rent some studio time in a real commercial studio to cut the bass, drum and acoustic guitar tracks. You can't get a better sound than that at home, usually, and it will help the record compete with other albums in the marketplace. We're scheduled to go in the second week of December. We will still do a lot of overdubs at home - vocals, electric guitars, pedal steel, fiddle, etc.

But to save time in the studio, we are demoing the songs, giving the players a pretty good idea of what we want while not tying them to my feeble attempts at drums and bass programming. We can create the general vibe of the song well enough to pass it along for reference. The bonus for me is that I get inspired by the great sound in GarageBand and start playing parts that I might never have come up with if I only allowed myself the tracking day or "guitar overdub day" to be creative. I can re-visit the song over and over, adding and subtracting ideas until I get a rough image of the finished product.

I'm using the Line 6 KB37 as a front end for GarageBand. 2 mic pres with phantom power, a 2.5 octave keyboard, a USB audio interface, and access to the Gearbox Gold bundle of guitar, bass and mic pre models. The Gearbox effects show up as AU plugins in Garageband, meaning I can apply them to any track, not just guitar or bass. Bus-powered, so no power supply.

You can hear the rough version here: "Can I Get a Ride". Some of the parts are out-of-tune, some out of time, but I was getting ideas and I just recorded them as they came to me. It's a demo!

I cut all of the acoustic guitars and Dobro with an M-Audio Pulsar II mic or B.L.U.E. Bluebird mic into the KB37 through a Gear Box model of an API mic pre. The electrics (Crunch rhythm, Clean Lead and 12-String Jangle) went into the KB37 and through my own tweak-as-needed preset of a Mike Campbell tone I call "American Girl", essentially an AC-30 with a bit of compression and reverb. The drums and bass are samples from the GarageBand library that I modified to fit our song.

I also just figured out that my Waves Musicians Bundle II plugins that I bought for use with Pro Tools and Cubase work with GarageBand, so I can access world-class EQs, compressors, delays, etc.

A Macworld commenter put together this list of new features:

  • Full effect automation. You can alter any parameter of any effect over time
  • Automation points (e.g. Volume curves, Pan curves, etc) can now be "locked" to their region so that they move along with it when dragged or duplicated
  • Each track now offers 4 AU effect slots per track instead of only 2
  • Multi-Take: You now have the ability to loop and record your performance on a "Real" (Audio) track over and over, later selecting which ones to keep, combine, and/or delete without having to stop your recording session.
  • "Software" (MIDI) tracks also offer Multi-Take, if you wish, or you can choose to have them work as they have in previous versions, combining each pass into a single take
  • Software Quantization is no longer "All or Nothing" there's a slider for the amount of Quantization.
  • Effect slots in Track info can be rearranged to effect a track in different orders
  • Exports to disk can now be AIFF, AAC, or the often asked for Mp3
  • Uncompressed AIFFs can also be exported as 24-bit files for further Mastering
  • Loop Families: A quick and easy way to swap loops between similar ones of the same name (Family)
  • GB can now show you the name of the chord you are playing on a "Software" (MIDI) track
  • In notation view, along with the proper note being displayed (1/4, 1/8, etc), a small bar visually shows the note's duration when the note is selected.
  • You can delete a region and have all the regions to its right move to the left, the duration of the deleted region
  • There is an "Arrange" track that let's you create and name sections, like Verse, Chorus, Bridge, etc. These sections can be dragged, duplicated, or deleted as a chunk
  • Software tracks offer an Enhance Timing feature now that can even be used while recording
  • There is now a Fade Out option to fade out songs in a curve
  • The Master Fader and Master Volume Curve now operate independently
  • There's the new Visual EQ, a hybrid of a Graphic EQ and a parametric EQ, with a built-in spectrum analyzer
  • The somewhat useless "Simple" compressor has been replaced by a real one with parameters that can be set
  • The length restrictions have been vastly increased, in theory, over 16 1/2 hours without any hacks needed to get there.
  • The Digital display under the timeline offers some new, and some improved options.
  • GarageBand can now burn CDs
  • Ability to edit AND print notation.
  • Timeline control over tempo.

I'd highly recommend GarageBand '08 to any musician looking for a quick, easy and comprehensive demo solution.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Hucbald said...

I just recently upgraded to iLife '08, and to be honest, I've had Garage Band for years AND NEVER EVEN OPENED IT UP! I use ProTools LE 7 and a Digi 002 rack to record myself at home (I'm a solo electric nylon string player, and I can do an entire CD with just stereo tracks out of my Lexicon MPX-G2), but when I recently decided to put together a mobile recording rack to capture my live performances, I was iffy on the idea of using ProTools LE 7 because it's so memory intensive, it really needs an external firewire drive, and the 002 Rack is 2U.

When somebody suggested I could do it all on my 1.67 GHz 17" Powerbook with Garage Band '08 and the 1U firewire interface OF MY CHOICE, I actually laughed out loud. Well, darned if that isn't what I've decided to do!

Like I said, I never even opened up the old version of Garage Band from iLife '06 I had, but since I program all of my stereo effects in the MPX-G2, all I need to do is record two tracks for stereo, and as I started poking around in GB '08 I noticed that would be a snap!

If this works out, I may forget all about ProTools LE... OK, perhaps not, but it's a distinct possibility!

Cheers,

George

14/11/08 09:16  
Blogger Shawn Levasseur said...

I'm surprised a legion of nit pickers hasn't descended upon you yet, for this little error:

The "W" is not capitalized in Macworld.

14/11/08 10:14  
Anonymous Big Mike said...

I've been using cubase, DP, sonar, and tdm-based protools for just over 10 years now. Even used the dongle-based Protools LE software for more hours than i'd ever want to remember. Different approaches to solving different problems, but if you can keep your hotkeys straight you can trick them into getting what you want.

I have actually been using the bundled garage band '08 for scratch ideas because it takes less time to create a session. Although audio engineering is one of the hats i wear, as a music maker i like just being able to quickly load up garageband and have it see my RME I/O box (and all the expensive analog real world goodies hooked up to it) and jot down an idea. Then cut up up, make a slave session and send it off to my cheap internet musicians that won't pay for software. Then when the various trackings are done, i can comp it all back into a "real" daw that has more advanced mixing and editing functions. And it isn't too much of a big deal to move between the majors. And for rough mixes of song demos, i have my arsenal of AU plugs (native and uad-1) right there.

GarageBand is a far superior creative tool as compared to the 4 track cassette decks i grew up with. Time code isn't bleeding into track 3 and you don't have to bounce. A cheap USB i/o and recording with my laptop (an 867MHz 768MB prehistoric tibook) while traveling is quite doable. And yet garageband draws more sneers from both professionals and kids than the digi001 ever did, and it doesn't even come with preamps. I've only been using GB '08 part-time for 8 months now and haven't had any surprises or crashes. Saves you time and headspace for practicing and rehearsing.

14/11/08 12:34  

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