Initial Thoughts on GarageBand 10.0.3 for Yosemite

Short version: It’s no WatchBand, but it’ll do.

Background

First of all, I had some good conversations with folks about GarageBand.  I’ve been very vocal about my dislike for last year’s version, and some took it as a generic “OMG I hate GarbageBand” as if I won’t stoop to using it or something.

Let’s be very clear here.  When I started teaching in 2004, GarageBand was released that year and basically no one taught Music Technology.  The software was esoteric and hard for outsiders such as typical educators like myself to understand.  I didn’t know why you’d need things like track effects or bus groups because I had no idea what any of it meant.  GarageBand represented an actual accessible starting point for those of us who wanted to make music on the computer but had no good entry point.

So fast forward 10 years and an entire career built in part due to GarageBand.  Last year, after GarageBand 10 was released I installed it and started upgrading my projects for my beginner class.  Immediately I started noticing things were missing.  My projects were going to have to change big time to keep using GarageBand.

Of course, I could have just stayed on the old version – lots of smart people I know did exactly that.  But why build a curriculum around a product I’m not excited about?  One that I’m wary of updating?  This was not an option either – I can’t passionately get kids excited about making music on a product I’m not terribly sure has a future.  Even though I have the old version, students who like the course and buy a new Mac will get stuck on the new one.  It’s Final Cut Pro X all over again (disclaimer: I liked Final Cut Pro X, but I totally understand how professional video people felt when it was released and had a huge feature set missing).

The key here is communication – Apple is great at running developer and public Beta versions for it’s important apps like OS X and iOS.  So why not just call something totally unfinished like FCPX 10.0 and GarageBand 10.0 what it is?  Unfinished!  Taking the features out without communicating that they’re coming back sends the message that “you don’t need those anymore.”  Sometimes this is necessary, but with professional tools this needs to be clear as a bell.

GarageBand +0.3

So on to yesterday’s version.  One thing is clear to me: Apple is pretty confident that their main user base for this app is Guitarists.  Podcasting support is pretty much out (including that excellent Ducking function – giving meaning to autocorrect users everywhere).  Same as last year, the look is decidedly Logic-Lite.  The wood panels are still there, but they’re much more slim.  Column panels snap out from the left side just like Logic has done since they went single-window.  As for me, I miss the animations but for people who had trouble considering GarageBand a serious-enough tool for music making, maybe these changes are welcome.  It’s not like my software of choice looks any friendlier, and kids seems to like that just fine too.

One thing that still bothers me about this new version is the perceived lag during recording.  When you hit record and speak into the microphone, the waveforms should more or less appear in real-time on the screen.  In this version (still) the waveforms redraw every couple seconds and it implies that the computer is having trouble keeping up with this simple task.  It doesn’t give me confidence that it’s not going to crash under a heavy load, and it certainly doesn’t compare well to other DAW apps in this regard.  Whether there is actual audio lag or not, this is a big concern I think – the whole argument of choosing a Mac over a PC for audio production hinges on the thesis that audio handling has less latency and more stability on Mac OS X than on Windows.   It certainly still does, but the vendor-made bundled app lagging like this out of the box might make people think other wise.

Here’s a comparison.  Notice how much smoother recording appears in the old version (top):

So here’s hoping they continue improving GarageBand.  For whatever internal reason they decided to do a ground up rewrite, I’m hoping they recognize the thousands of educators now relying on this software to be easy, foolproof and friendly.  It’s not like there is a competing product really – the competitor to having a GarageBand-based Music Tech course is simply to not have one at all.  We’re relying on you, Apple to keep this movement alive.

Okay, onto the good stuff.

3 Cool New Things about GarageBand 10.0.3:

1. Track FX are back.  Now they’re called Plugins, and they look like this:

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 8.12.47 PMScreen Shot 2014-10-17 at 8.12.54 PM

They’re located in the Smart Controls, and have to be revealed with the “i” button.  Not a terrible system, and I’m digging the inclusion of the core set of Logic effects (the old GB Track Reverb was it’s own thing, for instance).  This is a big deal – last year’s version implied that this type of detail was out of the question, and it’s nice to see them back.  On the other hand, seeing this also implies that GarageBand is on a different track than iWork – feature parity with the iOS version is apparently not a priority here.

2. Automation Drawing

With the pencil tool, the way the good Lord intended.  This pairs well with last year’s inclusion of the ability to copy and paste automation with regions.

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 8.16.05 PM

 

3. Serious Amp Designers

Just look at the new Bass Amp designer: Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 8.17.58 PM

Paired with the other Amp Designer, you’ve got serious tools for guitarists.  I’m pretty sure there was a version of Logic that charged an upgrade fee just to use these plugins.  Way cool, way pro.

In conclusion, I’m fully expecting the newly-unified Apple Inc. to continue incremental improvements to GarageBand and allowing this new version to flourish into a great reason to have a Mac lab in your music department.  Maybe someday I’ll move my beginners back to GarageBand too – the projects still work, mostly.  For most folks, GarageBand 10.0.3 will be just fine software on which build a curriculum.  For me though – I’m waiting until it’s airtight again to switch back.

 

Author: Will Kuhn

I teach music technology to high schoolers. I do some other stuff too. @willkuhn on Twitter.