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Hanging out in the Garage

GarageBand arrived today. As I alluded to previously, I had a few problems getting iLife installed, owing to my partitioning scheme. With that all resolved, I spent some time this evening playing with GarageBand. Here’s a few thoughts and observations. (Note: I also have the JamPack installed)

  • GarageBand is alot of fun to play with. It’s also a very powerful app.
  • Mixing loops is much harder than it looks. If you watched Steve Jobs’ Keynote, you saw Steve piece together a tune in about 5 minutes that sounded pretty good. Steve already new what loops he wanted. For every loop that will sound great in your tune, there’s at least five more that don’t.
  • The categories in the “loop browser” are only partially helpful. “Relaxed” and “Intense” are a bit subjective.
  • Most of the loops have a descriptive name and a number. So while it only takes a minute to sample “Rock Steady Beat 01” through “Rock Steady Beat 04”, you’d better set aside some serious time to check out all 219 loops named “Club Dance Beat”. Again, the categories are somewhat helpful, but it can still be frustrating trying to find just the right loop. Over time, I’m sure the favorites feature will help.
  • MIDI is a complicated subject. I bought a MIDI Controller keyboard on eBay, and tried it out with GarageBand. While it worked, for a long time the volume of the software instruments was very low. I need to research the features built into the controller a bit and learn how best to use it.
  • There are two kinds of loops: samples and sequences (my terms; I don’t know if GB has names for them). The ‘sample’ loops are recordings of actual performances. Many of the Orchestral Strings loops are samples. Sequences, however, are pre-recorded MIDI instructions driving software instruments. Both kinds of loops and be transposed and tempo-adjusted.
  • Sequence loops can be changed to other instruments.
  • Multiple loops and even recordings can appear in a single track as long as they all use the same (software) instrument and the regions don’t overlap.
  • To avoid making a loop-based song too monotonous I tried to use different loops that had the same instrument. This is much easier with sequence loops. Since these loops are playing software instruments, they all sound the same. You can play “Latin Nylon Guitar 01” followed directly by “Latin Nylon Guitar 05” (both sequence loops), and it will sound as though a single musician was playing a single lick. Sampled loops, on the other hand, can vary quite a bit. “Orchestral Strings 08” sounds like a different group of instruments than “Orchestral Strings 09”. This isn’t necessarily bad; but is important to understand.
  • Between GB and JamPack, I have 529 bass loops, 352 guitar loops, and 800 drum loops.
  • There are far too many loops of things I’ve never heard of (what’s a santoor?) and far too many sythesizer loops. Not nearly enough basics, like piano blues riffs and accoustic guitar struming.
  • The software instruments selection is also a bit lopsided. Way too many synthesizers. Not enough real instruments. There are some nice combo-instruments, like full horn sections for horn-stab effects, but surprising no solo versions of alot of instruments. No trumpet, oboe, french horn, clarinet, tuba, etc. Several solo saxophones are present; they sound okay but not great.
  • It’s possible to change keys during a song, sort of, but it’s a bit of a pain. For example, in order to do a 12-bar blues progression (I I I I / IV IV I I / V IV I I) with a base line, I had to break up the base line into individual sections (called regions), one for each chord change. Then to actually accomplish the chord changes, you transpose each region by a number of half-steps. You have to repeat this for every loop in your song, although you can multi-select regions and transpose a group at a time.
  • The copy/paste feature works well, including multi-track copy/paste. However, pasting always pastes at the current insertion point. If you are listening to your song in loop mode as you edit, the insertion point is constantly on the move.
  • It’s really a lot of fun.

That’s all for now; I’m sure I’ll have more later.

I put together my first song tonight; I’m not sure that it’s finished, but I’m going to post it here. It’s called Mirage, it’s under two minutes, and around 2 meg in size. If you enjoy it, please let me know (and if you don’t, well, let me know that too).

Guess What I’ve Got?

It‘s here! More Later. Maybe.


GarageBand won’t arrive until tommorow, but the USB Midi Controller (Keyboard) I bought on eBay arrived today. It’s an M-Audio (a.k.a Midiman) USB Keystation 61. The CD contained drivers and software for OS 9, but nothing for OS X. A search of the Midiman website was not much help either; the only drivers listed for a Keystation 61 were the OS 9 drivers.

Unsatisfied, I Googled a bit. Information was scare, but I pieced together enough to believe that M-Audio/Midiman has a unified OS X driver for several of their products. It turns out I was correct.

To obtain Mac OS X drivers for the following M-Audio or Midiman products:

  • Keystation 49 or Keystation 61
  • MIDISPORT 1×1, 2×2, 2×4, 4×4, and 8×8
  • Oxygen8
  • Quattro
  • Radium, Radium49, Radium61
  • Sonica (firmware loader only)
  • Uno

Go to the M-Audio Drivers page and search for drivers for the Radium 61. Grab the drivers labeled “M-Audio USB MIDI OS X“; at the time of this writing they were version 3.1. (OS 8/9 and Windows drivers also available). The list of supported devices above is taken from the README; I just made some of the product names more explicit to help the search engines.

To get everything working, I had to install the drivers, reboot, and the run the “Audio MIDI Setup” application in Applications/Utilities. The device then appeared, and I was able to test it from within Audion MIDI Setup (choose the test icon, press a key on keyboard, the Mac beeps) and within the Trial version of Intuem.

Delivery Dates

As I previously mentioned, I pre-ordered GarageBand (and the JamPack) last week. At the time I ordered it from the Apple Store, the “Shipping Date” was listed as “Delivery by 1/16” – the same day iLife ’04 is scheduled to hit stores. I also got free 2nd day air shipping.

I checked my order status today. My order is listed as open, with an estimated shipping date of “on or before 1/15/04”. If it ships on the 15th by 2nd day air, I don’t see how it will arive by the 16th. We’ll soon see.

In related news, I ordered an extra 512M of RAM for my PowerBook from Crucial Monday. I got an excellent price ($138), and free second day air shipping. It shipped Monday, and will arrive today (Wednesday). Everyone said Crucial is the place to order memory for Mac; it seems they were correct.

I also bought a 61 key USB MIDI controller (Keyboard) on eBay; hopefully it’ll will arive by Friday as well. Can you tell I’m excited about GarageBand?

Update: As of 4:30pm Eastern, my Apple Store order is partially shipped. For a while, earlier today, it was listed as partially shipped, but both items were listed as open (i.e., unshipped). Now iLife ’04 is showing up as shipped via FedEx 2nd Day Service. What’s really interesting is that the FedEx pick-up scan is only about 80 miles from my home. So, they have two days, and 80 miles to go. Will they take both days? I certainly hope not. Now, when will my Jam Pack ship?

We’re with the Band

Contrary to my previous post, I will not be at the nearest Apple Retail Store on January 16 to purchase iLife ’04, including the brand new GarageBand. Why not? Because I just ordered it from the Apple Store, with delivery “by 1/16”. I also grabbed the Jam Pack.

This is my first time ordering from the Apple Store. I’m interested to see if they arrive by the 16th. I also got free shipping. Not sure what the cutoff is, but it’s more than $49… It wasn’t free when iLife was the only thing in my shopping cart.

I had considered buying the $99 49-key USB Keyboard that Apple is selling, but I’ve decided to wait and shop around a bit. After all, I’ve got nine days.