Whether you love or hate Apple, you have to admit that it stepped up its audio game lately with the powerful new Logic Studio suite (see “New Products,” pg. 62). Fortunately, Apple also applied and adapted some of Logic Studio's new ideas to GarageBand '08 (GB08, aka GarageBand 4), bringing it into its own as a computer audio tool. Powerful new options increase functionality without alienating beginners, all while making a smoother transition for producers who begin songs in GarageBand but finish in Logic Pro/Express. Definitely still designed for computer audio beginners or pros looking for a quick way to draft ideas, GB08 has nevertheless become a pretty impressive workstation that is intuitive and simple. Remix has reviewed previous GarageBand versions, so I'll focus mainly on the new features.
First up, the new Magic GarageBand option makes it quick and convenient to set up a new session. Choose the option when you start GB08, and nine style options appear, each offering a basic song structure that can be used to audition a group of GB08 instruments together. GB08 places the “band” of instruments on a well-drafted virtual stage and lets them play through the stock song together. Once you've chosen a style starting point, you can swap instruments to put together a custom ensemble. For example, click on the drums, and a small spotlight appears over the kit; below, a few options become available for other GB08 drum kits to take its place. Once you've got the group set up the way you like it, click Create Project, and GB08 launches a new session with the instruments loaded up and ready to go with the stock song already placed into tracks in sections. It's easy to use the stock song as a music bed for practicing or to remove the stock song's loops and use the instrument set for your own ideas — a shortcut to starting a session with minimal hassle.
Another of GB08's new powers is multitake recording. This is one of my favorite new features because it allows you to run ideas over and over without losing anything — great for people who compose at the computer. Simply make a selection in the Arrange window, press C to cycle/loop that selection and record as many takes as you like. Then just click on the small number at the top left of the region to choose a take from the menu; it's simple yet effective. Once you get the takes you want, GB08's new Arrangements feature lets you give sections of time a name (such as verse, chorus, bridge, etc.) and then organize those sections as chunks. It's pretty cool being able to creatively reorganize a song; try starting with the chorus or maybe doubling the verse before the bridge. Again, this feature is great for those who compose at the computer, helping you crank out ideas while inspiring new things.
The new Visual EQ represents a pro-level nugget inside GB08. With spectral analysis overlaid atop the EQ curve, you can drag the four curve points and see the results on the signal in real time. Support for 24-bit recording, playback and output (24-bit-capable audio interface required) lends even more of a professional edge, as do the new mastering options that offer a host of preset master-track effect chains. Simply open the Track Info sidebar, click the Master Track tab and then surf the available setups (which can include any Audio Units plug-in you have). Each chain contains six slots: Echo, Reverb, User AU, Visual EQ, Compressor and Ducker. Sadly, they cannot be reordered, which limits your options. But custom chains can be saved as presets for easy recall, and with the User AU slot you could simply run another mastering plug-in such as IK Multimedia T-Racks or PSP VintageWarmer. There is also Normalize, which will automatically maximize the level of your song or podcast. However, you cannot manually adjust it.
Other new features include a Live Chord Display that analyzes your MIDI input against the song's key and displays a chord name for what you're playing — great for figuring out improvisations. Just click on the tuning fork in the LCD to activate it. Also, GB08 can take your MIDI tracks and output print-ready music notation for sharing parts with players. While the output is a bit limited for high-level score work, like the rest of GB08, it is designed for quick, simple usage and is an easy way to go from computer ideas to rehearsal scores. A big bonus, Audio Units effect and instrument parameters can now be automated like the track volume and panning was before, and the Master track finally has tempo automation, something sorely lacking in previous versions.
Overall, GB08 is still geared toward more “informal” audio use than the larger DAWs available, but Apple clearly has listened to GarageBand users who wanted expanded features. While being undeniably fast for putting down ideas, GB08 also lets computer-audio beginners explore producing in more detail without leaving their user-friendly GarageBand comfort zone.
GARAGEBAND '08 > $79 (PART OF ILIFE '08, INCLUDING IDVD, IMOVIE, IPHOTO AND IWEB)
Pros: Support for 24-bit audio. Multitake recording. New Visual EQ. Enhanced track automation. Arrangements make song editing faster. Same low price.
Cons: Can't change the effect chain order. Still a bit of a processor hog.
Mac: G4, G5 or Intel processor; 512 MB RAM; OS 10.4.9 or later