I remember getting my first Mac computer. It was iMac for my sixteenth birthday, and I was so excited to power it up. Of course, I opened Garageband straight away and dove on in to its sample and loop based musical playground. Before that, even, I remember getting a CD-ROM (remember those?) free in a pack of cereal that was an even more rudimentary "DAW" in that it allowed you to drop in different loops and create music. It was probably called something like Super Pro DJ Xtreme 360 Madness. Anyway....
Far from being a traditional DAW, Garageband existed as part of Apple's iLife bundle. Along with iPhoto and iMovie, which did the same for photography and video editing respectively, Garageband gave you a taste of what making music on a computer could be like. There were rudimentary features, the basics to get you started. You could play at being a music producer.
But is that still true today?
Garageband has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 2003, and it now offers a host of features that were not only absent in its original form, but now make it a viable route for those seeking to get into making music without having to pay a lump sum of money for a DAW.
So, in this article we are going to look at Garageband in its current state, we will;
- Go over the main features of Garageband
- Compare it to Logic Pro
- Explore whether it is a viable DAW
- and more!
So let's get started.
What is a real DAW anyway?
If you take the term DAW at face value, all you're looking at is a Digital Audio Workstation. A piece of software that allows you to digitally create and manipulate audio. So in that sense, yes, Garageband is a DAW. But is it a real one?
When Logic Pro 9 became Logic Pro X, there was a lot of backlash in the community because they had completely overhauled the UI. You can see below two images, the top is Logic Pro 9's interface, the bottom is Logic Pro X.
I think where this backlash in the community came from was the fact that we lived in a time where music producers had this high conception of what they did, and that in order to reflect how complex the music production process can often be, the DAW had to reflect that complexity at the cost of aesthetic pleasantness. Simply put, it can't look nice because it feels like complex computer programming!
Another reason people at first hated the new Logic UI is because it looked more like Garageband, and people associated this colourful and simpler UI with limited functionality. Logic Pro was grey and boring to look at it but you could do all this cool stuff with it, it was for the professionals! Garageband is just what kids use to make ringtones.
They must have not been able to divorce the idea in their minds that if it's colourful and pretty, this comes with a loss of functionality. That it can't do everything that Logic Pro 9 could do.
But I totally disagree with this. I loved the Logic Pro X UI and I still do. I really appreciate when something looks nice, can you imagine?!
What I think this new UI did do though is not reinforce this idea that Garageband is far below Logic Pro because it doesn't look as complicated, it actually helped bridge the gap between the two programs. Yes, you can take everything you do in Garageband and then do it more in Logic Pro. But no longer will you be lost, starting from scratch. The uniformity of the UI actually helps cement the idea that Garageband is a younger sibling of Logic Pro, and I think this helps foster the community of music learners. You can spend a long time learning in Garageband, and then when you finally move up to Logic Pro, you'll have an idea of how things work!
So, now that we've got that out of the way, let's explore what Garageband can actually do.
Garageband: a fully equipped music creation studio.
Those are Apple's words, not mine. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't agree with them.
You can see right away the striking similarity with Garageband's UI and that of Logic Pro.
We have a simplified transport bar along the top, there are both Audio and MIDI tracks. If you've read our recent articles on Logic Pro's Drummer you'll notice the yellow track at the top of that project. Which means, you can use Drummer in Garageband, too.
Already it's clear that this is far from the drag-and-drop-loops game that it was seen as for so long. But that's not to say they're gone. Garageband boasts thousands of loops from genres like EDM, Hip-Hop, Indie and more. As well as a wide array of incredible amps and effects for guitars and vocals, respectively.
There is even support for the Touch Bar that is present on the newer MacBook Pro models.
There are over 100 synth sounds, each with the Transform Pad (pictured below) and Smart Controls, so you can tweak the sound and get it just how you like it.
Garageband is clearly meant as a stepping stone. It gives you a wide range of functionality, enough to get you making music but not so much as to overwhelm you. It's perfect for beginners and people wanting to learn music production or music creation.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the built-in lessons for Piano and Guitar. There are over 40 different genre-based lessons, including classical, blues, rock and pop, with video demos and animated instruments.
There are even lessons on how to play hits by the artists who made them, and there is direct feedback on your playing to help hone your skills.
It's even clear in the literature on the Garageband page, phrases like "as powerful as it is easy to use."
You can create, mix and master a track or song with up to 255 audio tracks, all within Garageband. You have automation controls, Flex Time to drag and edit timing issues, volume and pan controls (though there is no dedicated mixer view, as there is in Logic Pro) and audio effects plugins like Compression and Visual EQ. There is even vocal comping features, recording multiple takes into a multi-take region.
So, going back to the original question. Is Garageband a real DAW? Is it a viable way to make music in 2022? Absolutely.
It's clear that Apple have focused their efforts in making Garageband (and by extension, music production) accessible. It's a free software, which when you consider its features is no small thing. You have enough tools to make really good music, with lots of the more fine tuning and professional level features removed so as not to overwhelm the user.
It's totally possible to make a finished and polished track from within Garageband.
But let's talk about the best feature....
The next Logical step.
See what I did there?
The best thing Grageband has going for it is a simple one. I mentioned earlier how there used to be a big divide between Garageband and Logic Pro. Garageband was the toy, Logic Pro was the serious Music Production Studio. Then Logic Pro X happened and that gap was narrowed considerably.
The UI similarities isn't the only thing linking Logic Pro and Garageband. They share a special relationship that you don't see with any other DAWs. This isn't that one is a lite version of the other, or there's a free trial where you can't save or there are a limited number of tracks or sounds to use. Garageband is a more than capabale DAW, even for ambitious musical projects. The pathway that Apple want you to take is clear; you can spend as much time as you want making music in Garageband for free, and then when you're ready, you can make the upgrade and buy Logic Pro. And then you can open up you projects and continue right where you left off.
All projects made in Garageband can be opened and continued in Logic Pro. The synth sounds you use in Garageband will be in Logic Pro, just with more controls to fine tune your sound. Your track will sound absolutely the same. Logic will even ask you when you first start it up, whether you're an established 'pro' user or if you've only used Garageband and this is your first time in Logic Pro. This option will hold back some features -which you can toggle in the preferences- to avoid overwhelming you.
In essence, Logic Pro is there for when you've used Garageband to the point that you find yourself needing more functionality. It's a common phenomenon to want more, and as a Garageband user who genuinely finds themselves at that point, there is Logic Pro waiting to fill in the gaps.
A phrase I found that I kept coming back to when researching and writing this was essentially '...so you're not overwhelmed.'
I think this is quite a poignant consideration. Especially looking back to my previous points on Logic Pro 9, and the tendency of certain types within the music production sphere to want it to be complicated for the sake of it. For a long time, music production was inaccessible.
You had to have the money (usually put up by a major label) to hire a studio if you wanted to do serious recording. Then DAWs came along and you could now do things from a computer, but you still needed extensive training and knowledge to use these programs.
I myself had a dedicated unit for both Logic Pro 9 and Ableton Live as part of my degree, so I learned in a formal setting how to use these programs and get the most out of them. But not everybody has access to this type of education.
And that's why I think what Apple have done with the unique partnership of Garageband and Logic Pro is a really great thing. Garageband exists as a totally free DAW, with tons of features taken directly from Logic Pro, and so much functionality all packed in to a really easy to use program.
It's simple, both in its UI and its user experience, and that is a great thing. People aren't forced to pay the full price for Logic Pro and then try and learn it from scratch. They can take zero financial risk and begin making music and learning the processes in Garageband right away, and then when they're ready, make the jump up to Logic Pro.
IT's worth noting that more complicated doesn't always mean better, and indeed the opposite is true; less complicated doesn't always mean worse.
I think Garageband is a shining example of this concept, and its place as one of the best starter DAWs out there is well earned.
We hope you enjoyed this article, and hopefully it dispelled some of the myths surrounding Logic and Garageband for you, and maybe even tempted you to check out Garageband and Logic if you haven't already. I know many people who have used one DAW and one DAW only for a long time and want to try another one, luckily for you, if you're curious about Logic Pro, Garageband is a great place to start!
While you're here, make sure you check out our deal on Logic Pro project templates, if you've just made the jump to Logic Pro they can be a great way to learn some more professional production tricks!