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The Bass Geek

Some Quick Thoughts on Garageband for iPad

Folks used to working with the Mac version of Garageband will probably notice a little loss in functionality - only 8 tracks, and the audio recording process isn't entirely intuitive. Monitoring of the audio signal being recorded isn't on by default, and you have to record in the instrument section and not the track view. Editing in the track view is relatively simple, though, and moving and deleting audio is quite easy. The recording process also involves recording in sections (A, B - think pop song structure) of variable number of measures (4, 8, 16, etc.). Record your A section with all instruments, then move on. Good for songwriting, but not necessarily for free-form idea recording.

The virtual instruments are unusually effective here - the virtual guitars and basses have virtual frets you can touch to get the note. The virtual basses also allow for sliding notes along strings and bending strings. The virtual guitars allow the same on a regular fretboard, and you can also set up sections of chords where you can strum or "fingerpick" without having to worry if your left hand has fretted the chords correctly.

The drums are interesting - you have your choice of a drumkit you can tap beats out on, or you can use "smart drums." These drums function on an X-Y axis of simple to complex and soft to loud. Pick your drumset, then drop the bass drum on the X-Y axis. The application "plays" the drum in accordance to where you dropped it. This means you can have a steady, loud bass drum with a more complex snare and hi-hat above that. Move them around to tweak the beat to your liking and add more percussion instruments, if you wish. It's not a standard drum grid, but it might act well if you want a thought-started for songs.

At a price of $5 (plus whatever hardware you buy for getting audio into your iPad), there's a ton of functionality for both sketching and field recording for the price. It doesn't replace the software I use for recording or podcasting, but it does make for easy recording of ideas and allows me to get decent audio away from my home rig.

EDIT: How could I forget the most egregious omission?! THERE'S NO VIRTUAL BASS AMP?! Amplitube takes care of live performance needs, but it doesn't feed audio in GB. Please, Apple - could this be an upgrade for the next version?


Microsoft Songsmith

When Apple's Garageband first came out, it was little more than a pleasant distraction.  It could record basic tracks and make some interesting sounds, but it didn't compete with more fully featured programs.  As it evolved, it became a much better alternative, and I can actually see using it now on a regular basis (minus crappy Sting guitar lessons in iLife '09).

I suppose it's possible that this new Songsmith program could undergo the same form of evolution and grow into something useful, and the automatic creation of backing tracks from a melody line is an interesting feature.  But right now, this graft of Band-In-A-Box and a basic recorder suffers from a huge flaw.

The music used to advertise it is terrible.  And it's not just kinda bad.  It's mall-organ-store bad.

If you're selling something that can be actively perceived in the commercial, you should probably make sure the music in the ad sounds good.  After all, that's what you're selling - music.  This ad brings along a basic MIDI wonder and uses it as a calling card.

The description of the software is intriguing, and it's clearly targeted at casual users as opposed to pros.  Still, I can't wait to hear the mangled sounds that end up coming out of this program.  Pair it with some of the worst "American Idol" first-rounders for extra fun.


I don’t need much of a reason to hate Sting.

His general temprement and predeliction towards lute albums take care of that.

But man, now he's got to turn traitor, too?

The new Garageband in iLife '09 features a few music lessons.  And that's great - I'm always in favor of music lessons.

Except when they involve Sting and a guitar.

He's famous for his work in a group where he played bass (or got the heck out of the way and let Daryl Jones play bass for solo work, which is perfectly acceptable).

Now we get to let him prattle on about the guitar?  Joy.


Goddamn, Garageband made my day . . .

The production of the IMN podcast doesn't usually involve the use of Garageband - normally, I just take our chattering off of the recorder we use and dump it into Soundtrack Pro for all of the clip sequencing and audio manipulation and such. This week, though, we recorded straight to my laptop using GB, and I was fully prepared to go through the steps I'd used before:

  1. Perform the cuts and track insertion in Garageband
  2. Export final file to iTunes as an AIFF file
  3. Wonder again why I can't just export the file straight from GB to the disk
  4. Watch as iTunes automatically adds a copy of my new podcast to the library and begins to play it
  5. Move the final file from my iTunes folder to the podcast folder
  6. Curse GB for having to do this
  7. Remove the podcast file from my iTunes library and delete extraneous folders
  8. Curse GB one more time
  9. Open file in Soundtrack Pro and go from there

This is my first time producing in the relatively new version of GB, though, and they finally managed to get it right - export straight to disc as uncompressed audio that I can work with, not as a compressed mp3 or AAC. Skips iTunes entirely, meaning that I reduce my workflow by five or six steps and a lot of cursing. Joy.


New Podcast Is Up

You can download the latest IMN Podcast from this link right here, or you can get it from the Flash player on the main site.

With Expert Podcasting Practices For Dummies on the shelves right now, and since I already brought up podcasts, I thought I'd shed a little light on the dark, troubled way the IMN podcast comes together. In this post, I'll detail the tools we use and have used in the past, and I'll look at the actual process next Monday.

In the two years, we've tried a variety of methods in hopes of finding one that produced the best quality of audio in the shortest amount of time (co-host Steve Hayes and I have lives to get back to, after all). We've tried recording directly to a PC using Sonar Home Studio, recording directly to my Mac laptop using Garageband 4, recording to a hard-drive-based music workstation, and a flash memory recorder. We alternate at this point between recording to my laptop or the flash recorder, depending on which one is easier to grab at the time. Both have proven to be fairly stable solutions, barring user error (yes, that user would be me).

Post-production stuff like editing and file conversion is done on the Mac using Soundtrack Pro and a couple of freeware programs: Switch converts the AIFF file to a 128kbps mp3 file, and Musorg helps me edit the ID3 tag for each file. I used to use iTunes for both purposes, but I didn't care for the fact that I had to clear out the library each time I edited an episode. From there, I just SFTP the episode and the XML file for our RSS feed to the server, where it lies in wait for unsuspecting listeners.

In a perfect world, I'd have already upgraded to Logic Studio and use the new version of Soundtrack Pro 2 (my current version comes from the Final Cut Pro bundle), but that's dependent on the budget. And the budget is slowly shaking its head at new carpet and an upcoming trip to New Orleans, so I don't think I'll slide this by for awhile.

So that's the techie side. The planning and scripting part comes next week.

EDIT: Forgot to mention that we've used Shure, AKG and Blue Snowball mics. We've achieved great results with all three, although getting two Snowballs working at the same time required a little tweating in the Audio/MIDI section of the Mac OS - I had to create an aggregate device out of both mic and route the audio through there.


Trent Reznor goes solo

Not that Nine Inch Nails wasn't his baby anyway, but here's another former major label artist taking it on the road for himself, according to this link (there's no permalink there, so I'll quote for posterity's sake):

Hello everyone. I've waited a LONG time to be able to make the
following announcement: as of right now Nine Inch Nails is a totally
free agent, free of any recording contract with any label. I have
been under recording contracts for 18 years and have watched the
business radically mutate from one thing to something inherently very
different and it gives me great pleasure to be able to finally have a
direct relationship with the audience as I see fit and appropriate.
Look for some announcements in the near future regarding 2008.
Exciting times, indeed.

Even if you're not a fan of the music (I'm sitting on the fence), the effort Reznor puts into creating awareness for his music (from posting tracks to be remixed via Garageband to the innovative "Year Zero" viral campaign) shows what's possible for the innovative musician without the assistance (some would say the hindrance) of an outside label.

Again, though, it should be noted that this ability comes after years of exposure via said major labels and the accompanying funds that come from said exposure. I doubt that many independent musicians will have the resources to create such huge campaigns, or will want or be able to create these elaborate sites and storylines. But not all of the fans are looking for that kind of thing, either. The overall appeal, then, is the direct connection between artist and fan.