GarageBand for iOS

£ 4.99 inc VAT • ap­

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS - Craig Gran­nell

On the desk­top, GarageBand is more or less ‘Logic Not Pro’, a con­sumer-ori­ented take on mu­sic-mak­ing. Al­though it shares cer­tain fea­tures with ex­pen­sive cousin Logic Pro X, GarageBand is a free­bie in­tended as an ap­proach­able en­try-level tool for new­com­ers and a sketch pad for pros. Even so, many mu­si­cians find GarageBand’s us­abil­ity and fea­ture-set good enough for work­ing up en­tire al­bums.

On iOS, things are dif­fer­ent. There’s no Logic for iPad and iPhone, and so GarageBand bears the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ca­ter­ing for all. Ini­tially a fairly am­bi­tious dig­i­tal au­dio work­sta­tion for mo­bile, GarageBand sub­se­quently ex­panded in scope,

adding fea­tures such as con­fig­urable gui­tar amps and a be­gin­ner-friendly loop grid player.

For song­writ­ers, there’s a ca­pa­ble multi-track recorder and MIDI edit­ing. Those who play live are catered for by on-screen in­stru­ments to tap and swipe. And a help­ing hand for new­com­ers ex­ists in the form of smart in­stru­ments that au­to­mate gui­tar riffs and en­sure melodies re­main in key.

But with ver­sion 2.2, GarageBand is push­ing fur­ther at the ex­tremes, with fea­tures de­signed to ap­peal to new­com­ers and pro mu­si­cians alike. In do­ing so, many per­ceived lim­i­ta­tions of the app have fallen away. In short, this is an im­pres­sive up­date. Here’s why…

Im­proved sound browser

The sound browser – that carousel of in­stru­ments that ap­pears when you add a track – had grown un­wieldy. In this up­date, in­stru­ments are now in­tel­li­gently grouped. For ex­am­ple, ‘Amp’ houses but­tons for cre­at­ing a new clean, dis­torted or bass gui­tar track. Un­der ‘Strings’ are op­tions for Smart Strings, note-play­ing and scales. And ‘Key­board’ of­fers Smart Pi­ano, the sam­pler and the new Alchemy Synth.

This up­dated de­sign feels more co­her­ent, al­though there’s a sense fur­ther re­fine­ment might be pos­si­ble: ‘Drums’ (man­ual drum sound in­put) and ‘Drum­mer’ (vir­tual ses­sion drum­mer) re­main sep­a­rate, and oddly dis­tant in the carousel it­self.

Still, any short­com­ings are for­got­ten on dis­cov­er­ing the ‘More Sounds’ but­tons. Tap one of those to ri­fle through avail­able sounds for the cur­rent track type you’re con­sid­er­ing, quickly

se­lect­ing the one you want, rather than you first hav­ing to cre­ate the track, wait for it to ap­pear, and only then get to pick your in­stru­ment.

Alchemy synth comes to GarageBand

Logic Pro X users should be fa­mil­iar with Alchemy. Pre­vi­ously a sep­a­rate prod­uct that cost in the range of £200, it in 2015 was bun­dled with Ap­ple’s pro mu­sic-mak­ing app. As far from a ba­sic add-on as you can get, Alchemy is a se­ri­ous heavy­weight lauded by many as one of the best synths in ex­is­tence. And it’s now in­side GarageBand for iOS. Sort of.

In ef­fect, Alchemy here is to the Logic ver­sion much like GarageBand it­self is to Logic: a stripped-back, sim­pli­fied take, de­signed to be

us­able and im­me­di­ate. But that doesn’t mean it’s lim­ited – you might not get all of the con­trol and sonic ma­nip­u­la­tion en­joyed by Logic users, but Alchemy on iOS has lots of pre­sets, the same core en­gine, and plenty of but­tons and di­als to mess around with.

The end re­sult heav­ily re­sem­bles what you get in the Smart Con­trols sec­tion of an Alchemy track within Logic it­self. For each pre­set, you can ad­just in­di­vid­ual prop­er­ties us­ing di­als, se­lect or morph be­tween vari­a­tions on the sound us­ing an eight-way trans­for­ma­tion pad, and make fur­ther tweaks us­ing two X/Y pads. Had Alchemy just been a bunch of new pre­sets, that would have been im­pres­sive enough, deal­ing in­stantly with GarageBand’s propen­sity to­wards cheesy rather

than con­tem­po­rary key­board sounds; but here you get a synth straight­for­ward enough for new­com­ers, but with enough power for vet­eran knob-twid­dlers to make the sounds their own.

Alchemy synth

One of the weak­est ar­eas in GarageBand was ef­fects. Tracks could have echo, re­verb and a com­pres­sor ap­plied, and that was about it. This has all dra­mat­i­cally changed. The Track Con­trols but­ton now opens a slide-in panel that houses menus with plenty of ex­pan­sion po­ten­tial.

With Plug-ins & EQ, you can add up to four ef­fects to any track, such as cho­rus, over­drive, and bitcrusher. And rather than a sin­gle slider, you get gran­u­lar con­trol: re­verb, for ex­am­ple, has sep­a­rate slid­ers for pre­de­lay, spread, re­verb time, high cut and wet/dry mix. Vis­ual EQ has also ar­rived from GarageBand’s Mac in­car­na­tion, and pro­vides an in­tu­itive, tac­tile way to ad­just bass, mid, tre­ble and gain set­tings on any track. If any­thing, it works bet­ter on iOS than Mac, due to you in­ter­act­ing with the equaliser set­tings us­ing the touch­screen.

Else­where, there are new ef­fects when record­ing au­dio in­stru­ments. Pre­vi­ously, you were stuck with eight, most of which were aw­ful. These are now rel­e­gated to a ‘fun’ tab, and a new ‘stu­dio’ sec­tion houses ad­vanced ef­fects set­ups for a wide range of in­put, from drums to vo­cals. These can be im­me­di­ately tweaked us­ing on-screen di­als, but you can also make finer ad­just­ments to each setup’s com­po­nent parts us­ing the afore­men­tioned sec­tion within the Track Con­trols panel.

Au­dio Units sup­port

Au­dio Units (AU) plug-ins process au­dio and are com­mon on the Mac for in­te­grat­ing ex­ter­nal in­stru­ments and ef­fects into Logic and GarageBand. Now, GarageBand for iOS has added sup­port – and that’s a big deal.

There had al­ready been some in­te­gra­tion of au­dio apps on iOS, with Ap­ple’s In­ter-App Au­dio and the third-party Au­diobus en­abling a cer­tain amount of vir­tual wiring. But with GarageBand, this es­sen­tially re­sulted in record­ing ex­ter­nal in­stru­ments as au­dio wave­forms. With AU sup­port, you can in­stead load such things in­side the app.

This means apps like Poi­son-202, Phase­maker and Trou­ble­maker be­have like any other GarageBand in­stru­ment, aside from us­ing their

own in­ter­faces for things like se­lect­ing pre­sets. Add them as AU tracks, hit record, and you end up with MIDI data rather than a wave­form, which can be edited on a per-note ba­sis, and then fur­ther en­hanced by way of GarageBand’s ef­fects.

AU sup­port has the po­ten­tial to trans­form the iOS mu­sic-mak­ing land­scape, al­though it’s early days. There are few AU iOS apps, and so we very much hope the likes of Moog and Korg get on board soon. We also suf­fered some prob­lems dur­ing test­ing. Ad­just­ing pre­sets in an at­tached AU ef­fect was cum­ber­some and re­quired re­mov­ing and re-adding the ef­fect in Track Con­trols. And al­though we got projects with sev­eral AU in­stru­ments hap­pily run­ning on an iPad Pro, some re­fused to open on an iPhone when said tracks were down­loaded from iCloud. It’s pos­si­ble this was due to mem­ory lim­i­ta­tions, with Au­dio Units push­ing the host hard­ware too hard.

Chord Strips and multi-take record­ing

When it comes to record­ing au­dio, the new GarageBand has in­no­va­tions be­yond AU sup­port. Chord Strips re­place the stan­dard pi­ano-style key­board with strips that en­able you to play chords with a sin­gle tap, notes that are al­ways in key, or just stab au­to­play and let GarageBand out­put pre­de­fined loop­ing riffs. These have been in GarageBand for a while, as part of the Smart Key­board track type, but are now ac­ces­si­ble from any key­board in­stru­ment. This boosts ac­ces­si­bil­ity for begin­ners, but is also a po­ten­tial boon for song­writ­ers – af­ter all, the Chord Strip’s chords can be edited.

Else­where, GarageBand also fi­nally gets mul­ti­take record­ing. For some rea­son, it’s buried deep in Track Con­trols - tap that but­ton, then Track Set­tings > Record­ing > Multi-Take Record­ing. Once you do so, you can loop a live record­ing, preview your takes, and ditch all but the one you want to keep (or re­tain sev­eral vari­ants on a riff, un­til you de­cide on the one you want.)

This is par­tic­u­larly wel­come when record­ing live in­stru­ments: MIDI data can later be edited, but it’s tougher to mess around on iOS with recorded wave­forms (such as gui­tars and vo­cals). It’s great to be able to loop a vo­cal line or gui­tar riff, know­ing that you don’t have to nail it the sec­ond you hit record.

The new notepad and some clever Logic in­te­gra­tion

Two other new fea­tures war­rant men­tion­ing. GarageBand now in­cludes a built-in notepad, which Ap­ple sug­gests can be used to add com­ments or lyric ideas to your songs. It’s hid­den away in the Set­tings menu and feels un­der-baked. On iPad – and es­pe­cially iPad Pro – it’s lu­di­crous such po­ten­tially use­ful con­tent can’t be dis­played on-screen along­side what­ever else you’re do­ing. And since GarageBand doesn’t sup­port Split View, the notepad is some­thing that could have been hugely use­ful. Right now, it just isn’t.

Much bet­ter is new round-trip­ping with Logic. Us­ing the pro app, you can mix down a song to iCloud, fling it at GarageBand for iOS, lis­ten on the move, and add new parts. When you send all that back to Logic, new tracks show up in the

project along­side ex­ist­ing ones, ready for fur­ther work. For mu­si­cians deeply im­mersed in Ap­ple’s ecosys­tem, this is one of those ‘and an­other thing…’ fea­tures that could turn out to be huge; it frees up au­di­tion­ing, ba­sic edit­ing, and up­dat­ing Logic projects from the desk­top, en­abling you to do all those things right from an iOS de­vice.


GarageBand is an app most peo­ple have prob­a­bly played with at some point. For a great many iOS de­vice own­ers, it’s free, and even for those who’ve not ac­ti­vated a de­vice af­ter Septem­ber 2014, it only costs five quid. But GarageBand on iOS has also for much of its his­tory sat in an awk­ward space, try­ing to be all things to all users.

With this lat­est up­date, there’s a dan­ger of com­plex­ity due to the app’s grow­ing range of fea­tures, but the in­ter­face de­sign con­tin­ues to be strong, ‘hid­ing’ ad­vanced con­trols from those who won’t nec­es­sar­ily need them, and re­tain­ing the im­pres­sion of an app that re­mains ap­proach­able and straight­for­ward. And with the new Chord Strips and sound browser in par­tic­u­lar, GarageBand fur­ther ce­ments it­self as an es­sen­tial app for any­one keen to get started in mak­ing mu­sic on iOS.

But where GarageBand has made the big­gest gains is in the pro space. It’s now packed full of con­tem­po­rary synth sounds, has hugely im­proved track con­trols and ef­fects, some highly use­ful round-trip­ping to Logic, and the po­ten­tial for great things with AU sup­port. There are still short­com­ings – song ar­range­ment re­mains a weak spot, and we’d kill for an ‘un­mute/un­solo all’ but­ton – but with this up­date we can con­fi­dently say GarageBand for iOS is now an es­sen­tial app for job­bing mu­si­cians, too.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.