Don’t make the mistake of dismissing Apple’s free music-making tool – GarageBand is packed with sounds and features for everyone
Perhaps you’ve always wanted to make music but had no idea where to start. Or maybe you’re a jobbing musician who’s long spurned GarageBand considering it a mere toy. The iPhone/iPad incarnation of Apple’s app in fact has something to offer both audiences, being a mobile music-creation tool that ambitiously aims to cater for everyone from entry-level users to pros. Here are some reasons why you should give it a shot.
You can learn from the pros
In July 2021, Apple added Remix Sessions and Producer Packs to Sound Library – GarageBand’s built-in repository of freely downloadable instruments, sounds and loops. Each Remix Session includes a video tutorial from an Apple expert that helps you experiment with and deconstruct songs by Lady Gaga and Dua Lipa. The Producer Packs include sounds, loops and drum kits to use in your own projects.
Renowned songwriter and producer Oak Felder provided one pack and lauds GarageBand’s versatility. “It’s entry-level material that sounds high-level,” he told GQ. “It’s amazing for someone who has never produced anything to have a programme they can pick up, that’s easy to use, where they can start tapping out ideas. And the end result is something you could build upon, that might end up being something even bigger one day.”
You can start with a tap
For newcomers to songwriting and veterans looking for inspiration, Live Loops are a boon. A grid-based player lets you trigger audio loops in a non-linear fashion rather than setting them on a timeline. With a single tap, you can set off an individual loop or an entire column (or “scene”). GarageBand comes with genre-based Live Loop sets; you can grab more (including those within Producer Packs) from the Sound Library.
It’s worth noting that Loop synths are nothing new, even on iPhone/iPad, but GarageBand’s versatility does mean you can, with ease, add diverse elements of your own. This makes the feature useful for a range of tasks, including understanding how elements of a song work together, experimenting with mixes, exploring song arrangements and just having fun making some noise.
There’s a deep synth to explore
One of GarageBand’s Keyboard track options is Alchemy Synth. You might not realise this is a big deal, but long-time music makers may recall it was once a standalone, highly regarded PC/Mac synth that cost a whopping $249. Although simplified on iPhone/iPad compared to its desktop incarnation, it remains capable and flexible. Loads of preset patches are baked in and you get an arpeggiator and X/Y pads to manipulate what you hear.
You can ‘be’ the band
Can’t convince several other people to join your jazz-disco-shoegaze-country-metal-techno outfit? Pity. Still, GarageBand has you covered. Need some drums? Tap them out live, use the Beat Sequencer drum machine, or call on Drummer, a virtual drummer that can be fine-tuned by way of a few buttons and sliders.
There are virtual amps and stomp boxes for when you hook up actual guitars. Not got your own axe? Then use on-screen touch guitar instruments or a piano roll to record riffs. In Tracks view, tap your track and select Merge to convert it to an audio region, add a new track with an amp and stomp boxes, and drag your converted audio to it. Easy.
OK, perhaps not that easy. And if that sounds like a faff, you can always drag drum and guitar loops to your timeline from the Apple Loops browser instead. Chop them up, remix them, add synths and effects and you’ll be the new Prodigy. Probably.
The app grows with you
Starting out? Use Smart Instruments to automate riffs and play chords, and Drummer/Beat Sequencer to get a beat going. When you’re ready, record live using on-screen keyboards or external controllers. Use quantisation in the Track Settings section of the Track Controls sidebar if you need to fix your timing.
For any MIDI region, you can double-tap the green audio region and select Edit to access the piano roll. There, you can drag and drop notes to adjust them. Back in Tracks view, tap “+” to access Song Sections – the beginning of arranging entire tracks.
Want to go full-on producer? Use GarageBand’s Audio Unit plug-in and Inter-App Audio support to transform the app into a mobile “hub” that draws sounds and effects from other iPhone/iPad apps. It’s like a baby Logic Pro for the road (or the sofa).
It can give everyone a lift
There are a lot of entry-level tools in GarageBand and it’s easy to consider it a throwaway toy to be avoided. Conversely, because there are many options when you first open the app, it can overwhelm. But with care, it’s genuinely feasible to record an entire album using GarageBand. And yet on that journey to superstardom, it’s fine to only use a fraction of the app’s power – you’ve got nothing to lose.
Either way, this is a quality app that can open new audio worlds to you – and where you’ll sound great trying them out. Don’t just take our word for it – mull over Felder’s final words of encouragement: “My biggest goal as a producer is to create as much competition as I possibly can. That pushes the art form forward and makes us strive to be better. I really think GarageBand is a great equaliser in that sense and is going to give new users the opportunity to be that competition.”