With the release of GarageBand 2, Apple Computer's consumer-level audio sequencer continues to expand and gain more converts. As its user base grows, so does the demand for the loops and software instruments that make GarageBand a stimulating environment for creating music. The release of Logic Pro and Express 7, which support Apple Loops and GarageBand instruments and have the ability to import GarageBand files, has heightened that demand even more.
FIG. 1: GarageBand Jam Pack 4 is the most recent entry in Apple''s series of loops and instrument samples for Mac-wielding musicians.
GarageBand's introduction in January 2004 coincided with the release of the original GarageBand Jam Pack (Mac, $99), a single-DVD collection of add-on loops, instruments, and effects presets (see the July 2004 issue of EM online at www.emusician.com). Since then, Apple has launched three additional titles in the Jam Pack series. Each has its own stylistic niche that targets a different group of musicians. The second volume concentrates on electronica and dance music, the third on traditional and pop genres, and the fourth on orchestral instruments. Each supplies more than 2,000 Apple Loops and numerous multisampled instruments.
I installed Jam Pack 2 and Jam Pack 3 when they were released in October 2004, and Jam Pack 4 in January 2005. Instead of providing sample files that you simply copy to any hard disk, each Jam Pack disc has an installer program that places data in various folders on your main hard drive. Discovering what went where proved to be a challenge, but most files go into folders within your startup drive's Library folder — either into Application Support's GarageBand folder or into Audio's Apple Loops folder. Along with the content, each Jam Pack comes with several demo files that show off the kind of music that you can create using the resources it has. Some demos are resource intensive and require a Mac G5 to play.
Music for Remixers
GarageBand Jam Pack 2: Remix Tools (Mac, $99) is packaged on a single DVD. It supplies content for an assortment of electronica and dance genres that span 2-step, breakbeat, down-tempo, drum 'n' bass, electro, Euro, Goa trance, hip-hop, house, new jazz, R&B, and trip-hop. If you're unfamiliar with some of the musical descendents of funk and techno, working with Jam Pack 2 can teach you to recognize what makes any of these styles distinct from the others. Most are beat heavy by nature, and each has its own evolutionary lineage that can be traced to the Detroit club scene, German discos, or London's all-night raves.
Although most of Jam Pack 2's Apple Loops are categorized by style, these grooves invite you to mix and match styles to create your own hybrids (see Web Clip 1). Many of the most exciting loops are the beats; if the drum and percussion grooves here don't make you want to get up and move to the rhythm, you might want to check for a pulse. Jam Pack 2's software instruments also focus on the funk, containing drum kits, percussion, and synth timbres.
As a synthesist and an EM editor, I've had ample opportunity to hear dozens of sample discs in most of the genres represented on this disc. Jam Pack 2 is certainly one of the finest collections of funky beats and danceable grooves I've heard, and for less than a hundred bucks, nothing else comes close.
Most musicians will find GarageBand Jam Pack 3: Rhythm Section (Mac, $99) to be the most useful of the three. These two DVD-ROMs offer the greatest breadth in terms of style, encompassing rock, blues, folk, Latin, jazz, country, and other mainstream genres.
About half the Apple Loops are drum patterns, with the other half divided between rhythm-guitar patterns and chord progressions, bass grooves, and even some mallet percussion. If you don't already own a library of prerecorded drum loops, Jam Pack 3 is an excellent place to start. Most of them offer enough variations and fills to bring your backing tracks to life. The rhythm guitars alone make this collection a worthwhile investment, though you must be careful not to transpose pitch or tempo too far from the original (see Web Clip 2). Acoustic and electric strumming patterns are presented in many styles, and thanks to the ability to change the key and meter of Apple Loops, most of them transpose well as long as you avoid extremes. Like the loops, Jam Pack 3's software instruments concentrate on drums, bass, and guitar, a classification that also includes banjo and Dobro.
Jam Pack 3 is an essential collection of sounds that almost any user of Apple Loops and GarageBand instruments — especially songwriters — should definitely have. More than any sample collection I've heard (except for Jam Pack 1), it adds a wide-ranging and colorful palette of useful sounds to the content that comes standard with iLife '05.
Hooked on Classics
Given the enormous selection of orchestral sample libraries available, any competing collection faces a challenge. Nonetheless, GarageBand Jam Pack 4: Symphony Orchestra (Mac, $99) stands out from the crowd (see Fig. 1). Its Apple Loops supply enough recorded phrases to compose some respectable mood music. Most of the loops are best suited for quickly producing soundtracks (see Web Clip 3). In fact, many of its demo files pay unspoken tribute to the works of contemporary film and television composers, from Danny Elfman (“Escape”) to Snuffy Walden (“Capitol”). Many MIDI piano patterns are available — enough to arrange your own piano concerto — and more than two dozen are in waltz time. I especially appreciated the whole-tone piano parts.
Like most symphonic soundware compilations, Jam Pack 4 has a nice variety of instrumental samples, but their high quality belies its bargain price. Almost any orchestral instrument you might need is on hand, including legato and staccato woodwinds (individually and in sections), orchestral harp, glockenspiel, gong, and tremolo timpani crescendos. String-section articulations include legato, staccato, pizzicato, tremolo, and trills. The pipe organ samples are especially impressive and well worth the entire price if you need pipe organ samples.
Jam Pack 4's orchestral instrument samples are a major improvement over those that come with most sample-playback plug-ins. These two discs will never compete, however, with big-budget soundware from developers such as Sonic Implants, Garritan, or Quantum Leap. But for users on a budget or for those who are looking for ready-made orchestral and cinematic loops, this collection has plenty to offer.
Something for Everyone
I rate all of Apple's Jam Packs extremely highly for value and very highly for quality. The diversity of loops and multisampled instruments is comprehensive. The only common instrument in short supply is the human voice; only a handful of loops tread that territory, and most of those are heavily processed effects. Considering the fact that transposition artifacts are most evident in vocals, perhaps vocals are unsuitable for Apple's pitch-stretching algorithms.
In lots of ways, Jam Packs' loops provide the ultimate in needle-drop. (Needle-drop is a term referring to libraries of canned music, so named because in the age of vinyl, you could buy music-library LPs and license the music as needed.) Many of the problems associated with traditional needle-drop — finding music suitable for a particular project's pacing and density requirements — are easily solved by using Apple Loops. My only wish is for more endings, because I found myself doing fades at the end of most loop-based compositions.
Like the original Jam Pack collection, all three volumes give you more than what you pay for, and each sounds exceptionally good. If you create music in any of the genres targeted by these soundware libraries, you will not be disappointed by the GarageBand Jam Pack series.
EM associate editor Geary Yelton bought his first Mac in early 1984. He authored the book Music and the Macintosh (MIDI America, 1989) five years later and has reviewed Mac software for EM since 1986.
GarageBand Jam Packs 2, 3, 4
OVERALL RATING [1 THROUGH 5]: 4.5
PROS: Excellent sound quality. Masterful multisampling. Impressive variety. Outstanding bargain.
CONS: Some samples lose their integrity when transposed too far beyond their original pitch or tempo. Too few endings among the Apple Loops.