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A closer look: GarageBand for iOS and Mac OS X

updated 07:57 am EDT, Mon October 28, 2013

Apple extends your creative potential with GarageBand for iOS, Mac

GarageBand for iOS and Mac OS X both received comprehensive updates at Apple's "A lot to cover" event last week. GarageBand for iOS used to cost a few dollars, but like all of Apple's third party apps for both iOS and Mac, it is now free. GarageBand for iOS looks quite similar to GarageBand on the Mac, but the iOS version has of course been optimized for multi-touch UI. As far as music creation goes on mobile devices or on desktops, none are simpler to use. Yet at the same time, you can create highly polished pieces of music on either device with the iPhone 5s highlighting the processing processing power of Apple's 64-bit A7 chip, being able to handle up to 32 simultaneous tracks. It's hard to believe, but every iPhone 5s owner has more recording power in their pocket than The Beatles ever had access to.

That means the creative and musical potential in your iPhone or your iPad is quite amazing - this is extended even further on the Mac. Most importantly though, in the truest Apple tradition, GarageBand for both iOS and Mac are very easy to use, while you do not even have to have an ounce of musical ability to create an original composition. Apple has maximised this possibility on an iPhone or iPad courtesy of its multi-touch display which creates virtual instruments that you can interact with. The Smart Drums, Smart Bass, Smart Guitar and Smart Keyboards allow for manual control, so you can play individual chords or notes, depending on instrument. You have even get your iPad or iPhone to play along for you, with the only requirement being that you select a chord or note that sounds good together.

GarageBand for iOS on iPad UI (with Help)

In next to no time, you can have an original piece put together, one section at a time. Or you can play a part over all sections simultaneously by selecting 'All Sections' in the sections view. Get a part sounding right and you can simply copy and paste it, or double track it and more. You don't need any additional equipment in terms of instruments or even a microphone to record vocals on your track either - just use the high-quality built-in mic on your iPhone or iPad. Even better, for people who have some semblance of musical capability, you can also use third-party interfaces to connect your instrument directly to your iPad or iPhone and start recording immediately. You can use purpose-made, high quality interfaces, or something more simple as I have chosen in this instance.

GarageBand Smart Guitar (with Help)

For the demo track that I recorded for this story (below), I used my own Knaggs Steve Stevens Signature Kenai electric guitar hooked up to my iPad using an iRig by IK Multimedia. The iRig is a simple, low-cost way of connecting a guitar to your iPad or iPhone, via the headphone jack. It also includes a headphone port built, so you can record through the jack, still listen to the recording with your headphones on - so no problems scaring the neighbors - especially as you can crank up the volume of your guitar through the array of built-in virtual guitar effects. I then used the Smart Drums to create a simple drumbeat by pulling the snare, hi-hat and bass drum across to a pad-like interface. All you need to do is shuffle the instruments around until you get a beat that you like and you are good to go. And if you don't know exactly how to get something done, there are numerous on board tips that you can activate in any screen with a tap of the question mark icon.

While you can be quite happy just using the Smart instruments to put songs together, you can also opt to use one of the numerous built-in Apple loops to create your own tunes as well. These are more automated, but can still allow you to make great tunes. Or you can mix and match live playing with loops and Smart instruments - the possibilities are literally endless. You would think that I might have confused GarageBand for iOS with GarageBand for the Mac with what I have been discussing here, but it really is quite amazing what you can do with GarageBand for iOS. If you love music and music creation, or even the thought of it, buying an iPad, iPhone or even iPod, opens up an incredible opportunity for just about anyone to spread their wings in music composition. The demo I've embedded here took me about half an hour from scratch to put together on the iPad - the (ironic) vocals were recorded using just the built-in iPad mic. I also gave it a quick mix on the iPad using its built-in automation, volume, and panning controls.

GarageBand for iOS on iPad multitrack view

I then transferred this recording to my Mac, so I could flesh it out a little bit more using GarageBand for Mac. This was also a relatively simple exercise, with Apple giving you the option of sharing it to iCloud, the popular SoundCloud music sharing service, or even via email to your friends. To transfer the audio file in a GarageBand format, you just need to connect your iPad to your Mac, launch iTunes and navigating to the Apps tab. Once there, scroll down to the File Sharing section and click on GarageBand. There you will see the .band file that you want to transfer and it is simply at matter of dragging and dropping it to a folder on your Mac. Then launch GarageBand for Mac, navigate to the file and you are ready to continue working with the file that you started on your iPad or iPhone.

Transferring song from iPad to Mac in iTunes

GarageBand for the Mac has evolved into an incredibly powerful music-making tool that can produce professional quality recordings. If you don't believe me, have a listen to this track that I published to iTunes last year called "The Fallout." It's a hard rock tune that I wrote completely using GarageBand for Mac of which 85 percent of the finished product is directly the result of what I created in the app. The vocals were recorded professionally, while I was incredibly fortunate to have my guitar hero Steve Stevens (Billy Idol, Top Gun Theme) play the lead guitar solo on it for me. It was then professionally mastered as well, but the entire guts of the tune were the product of GarageBand. I have started to dabble with Logic, which is Apple's incredibly affordable professional recording software, particularly because it debuted a new feature, Drummer. GarageBand users now gain free access to this super versatile tool as well.

The transferred track in GarageBand for Mac

Drummer is particularly handy for guitarists and those that prefer creating more organic sounding audio recordings, though really, most musicians will be able to find some use for it regardless of what style of music you prefer. For me, words can't describe just how awesome drummer is, but if you listen to the version of the same demo that I recorded above in GarageBand for iOS and compare it with the version I recorded using Drummer in GarageBand for Mac (below), you will start to understand what I am getting at. Drummer is a virtual session player developed in conjunction with leading session players and recording engineers to create completely manipulable drums tracks. Each of the five virtual drummers uses a custom kit to deliver a signature sound. You can then control the tempo, kick and snare variations, fills, you name it all with simple visual controls. With each part of my demo song brought across from GarageBand for iPad in sections, I was able to easily tailor the drum track by section all in the one Drummer drum track to achieve a highly realistic and studio quality drum track. For someone who has been scratching around for good quality drum loops, Drummer is exactly what I've been looking for.

With the power of iCloud behind GarageBand for Mac, I can send access this track back to my iPad and add more track parts there and then drop it back into GarageBand for Mac to complete the Drummer track for it and additional production. Interface wise, GarageBand for Mac looks more like Logic, making the step up to Logic and even easier one than it ever has been before if you want access to and even larger array of sounds, drum loops, effects, synthesizers, samplers etc. and finite studio quality control over all aspects of your recording processes. Yet at the same time, the iOS version of GarageBand is still instantly recognizable, but has a slightly more iOS 7 look and feel about it. Of course, I haven't really scratched the surface of what GarageBand for Mac can do, but it has never been better than it is now, with even better tools creating more possibilities allowing you to tap into your creative potential.

GarageBand for Mac with Drummer view at bottom of screen

If you want to read a little more about the features of both apps, Apple has posted a special site for GarageBand for iOS and GarageBand for Mac on its site. GarageBand for iOS and GarageBand for Mac highlight the fact that innovation at Apple extends well beyond its hardware. But it also highlights what Apple is capable of when it marries its tailor made software to its hardware. People who believe that the iPad is simply a content consumption device are way off the mark. GarageBand for iOS not only turns the iPad into an amazing content creation device, it also does the same for your iPhone and iPod. GarageBand for Mac might be aimed at consumers, but there will be plenty of professionals who will also enjoy its creative potential combined with Apple's renowned ease of use.

By Sanjiv Sathiah

by MacNN Staff



  1. mojkarma

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 10-13-11

    Err, not really the best article I've ever read here. First, 64 bit has absolutely nothing to do with the number of tracks. We had unlimited tracks on 32 bit devices for years.
    But the more important thing, at least IMHO is that Apple created new versions and left out a lot of features that were built in for years. That's IMHO very unfair to say the best. At lest, they could tell the reason for this. Instead, they're talking about new, polished versions where the only benefit is that something is more similar to the ios versions and at the same time half of the functionality is lost. Pages as an example is almost a joke compared to the previous version. Why they introduced a vertical ruler in the last version and left it out in the newest one, I'll never understand that kind of nonsense.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    Your rant is misdirected.

    The new version of GarageBand has not been limited compared to previous versions.

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