One of the cool things about Mac is that it comes preloaded with a lot of great utilities and programs right out of the box. No wonder artists and musicians often choose this platform, and Apple products in particular, for gigging, recording and creating music. Sure, you can always get similar software for Windows OS but then it is your job to install, configure and get it to do what you want.

Garage Band is one of the software applications that comes preinstalled with every copy of the Mac. It will often offer more than enough functionality for musicians of various skills and likes. The Disc Maker's blog entry explores just how much functionality you get with Garage Band and whether it delivers on its promise of ease of use and flexibility.

Putting Apple’s GarageBand to the Test –

GarageBand is a music creation software application that is part of Apple’s iLife suite (GarageBand, iMovie and iPhoto) and ships on all new Macintosh computers. For this column, I jumped into learning how well GarageBand might work as a musical sketchpad to rough out a basic song demo. I enlisted the help of two friends, vocalist Josh Washington and songwriter/per­cussionist Dan Faughnder, for the home sessions. In the process, we recorded live vocals and electric guitar to go along with the software-based instruments and loops found in the program’s library. We wondered just how good a song demo could be created in a couple of hours by GarageBand rookies.

As soon as you select New Track in GarageBand, this pop up window asks what type of audio track you wish to create.

As we got started with our session, Dan commented that the current version of GarageBand has some of the same functionality found in Logic Express, the “Light” version of Apple’s premiere audio workstation software, Logic Pro.

First, Dan opened a new project, gave it a name, and selected “New Track” from the Track menu. A pop up window appeared with three choices: A) Software Instrument, which draws on the library of available GarageBand instruments playable by a USB or onscreen keyboard; B) Real Instrument, which is any instrument or voice you choose to perform live into GarageBand; and C) Electric Guitar, which allows you to play your guitar into the program using the amp and stomp box combinations found in GarageBand. We decided our test drive would utilize all three methods of adding tracks to compare the various methods to create a song demo using GarageBand 5.1.

GarageBand's Loop Browser has hundreds of loops in almost any style of music you can imagine. Guitar Loops are currently displayed on the right side of the screen.

After checking out the various guitar, drum, and keyboard sounds available in the software library we started out by creating an acoustic guitar track using a pattern and sound from the Loop Browser library called “Classic Rock Steel 02.” This two-bar loop is a short guitar pattern with a descending line.

The range of choices in the Loop Browser is very broad, and one interesting feature is that you can combine an instrument, genre, and mood, and then GarageBand will find and display the loops that fit your criteria. We tried “guitar/metal/in­tense,” and “piano/country/che­erful” and found the results pretty accurate in most cases.

You’ll also note that some loops have a green icon showing a note next to them, while other have a blue icon with a waveform next to them. The green icons represent software instruments found in the library, which include MIDI data so that you can readily change the pitch, duration, velocity, etc., for any note. The blue icon denotes a real instrument recorded as a digital audio file that can be edited, but not to the same extent as a software instrument with its editable MIDI data. As we built our tracks for this song, GarageBand automatically differentiated the different types of audio files use for each new track: green for software instruments, blue for real instruments, and purple for recorded instruments including any electric guitar or bass you play live into a song.

Read more of Putting Apple’s GarageBand to the Test at the Disc Maker's blog.