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In-depth Feature:  Apple Garageband
Mike Beaudet writes: .

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Kicking the Tires
In order to put Garageband through its paces I put together a short song using the software on my iBook G4 along with an Oxygen8 keyboard and Egosys Gigaport AG as the audio interface. Luckily I have a DVD drive because while the iLife software ships on both CD and DVD media, Garageband (and iDVD) is missing from the CD. Installation takes quite a bit of time as all of the iLife suite applications are installed at once, with the Garageband demo songs being the main option for most folks.

Loading the software for the first time I attempted to play one of the demo songs and ran across a fairly serious problem. It turns out the Garageband is heavily resource dependent, my system was incapable of playing any of the demo songs through without encountering either "Disk too slow" or "System Overload" errors. A quick visit to Apple's site confirmed that other users are running into similar problems. Although there are workarounds, such as disabling file system journaling on the hard drive used by the program, the need to use workarounds to get the demo songs to play will remind many a Mac user of their worst Windows nightmares.

Giving up on playing the demos I started the program again this time with a blank arrangement. Adding tracks and loops was very straightforward and using Reaktor as an AU plug-in as both an instrument and effects processor was much easier than had been expected.

Once I finally got a Real Instrument part down I wanted to save it as a loop. After virtually flipping through the multiple online guides, I discovered that it isn’t possible to convert a part or phrase within the timeline (or Track Editor) into a loop. Luckily it is possible to add user created loops to the library by dragging an audio file, either .wav or .aif, onto the Loop Browser. This means that if you want to export your loops as songs into iTunes you can then import the files from iTunes into your loop library for later use. One caveat is that user imported loops don’t seem to take advantage of the classification system, other than marking them as a Favorite, so they can be hard to find later.

Creating MIDI loops is another matter. There isn't anyway to export MIDI from within Garageband, so creating your own MIDI loops isn't an option at all. If you do have .mid files hanging around there is a handy utility called Dent du Midi ( that will split the MIDI into multiple tracks and create MIDI-enabled AIFF files that can be imported either into your loop library or directly to a track.

Neither my iBook nor Gigaport provide audio input functionality so I was unable to test recording real world instruments, though it is worth pointing out that the software is limited to interacting with one stereo audio channel at a time. Users who have invested in a high quality multiple I/O interface won’t be able to leverage the additional outs from directly within the software. Regardless of whether recording Real or Software instruments, the lack of a punch-in/punch-out function appears to be a real oversight by Apple for a function that would make the software much more useful for musicians and bands trying to get their sound on disk.

Disappointingly, Garageband also doesn’t provide the ability to control external MIDI devices. This makes recording external rhythmic MIDI instruments, such as drum machines, difficult as the tempos need to be manually aligned. A count-in function is provided to assist in getting the timing right but the ability to control external MIDI instruments or alternatively accept MIDI control messages would make some users very happy.

Exporting the results was as easy as selecting "Export to iTunes" from the File drop down menu. After some time rendering the song, iTunes launches and starts playing the recently exported song. The song itself is saved in AIFF format, which is roughly the Macintosh equivalent of .wav. Once in iTunes you can use the song in the other iLife suite products, such as a background track for an iPhoto slide show.

More Resources              Articles - full listing
  • Apple iLife
  • Access Garageband free loops

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