(from Guest writer Imogen (Polly Jackson)
Why is this relatively cheap iPad/ iPhone getting top billing, and what is all the fuss about? It is featured in the new iPad 3 launch advert and other than the fact that it shows groups of people all using their iPads together at the same time there must be some reason that it has managed to claw to the front of the race in front of the other 100,000 apps that Apple could have chosen from.
What makes garage band so popular?
From the members of the womens wellness panel to the local choirmaster, everyone seems to have a copy. There is no doubt that its popularity since its first incarnation on the Mac OS has shown a meteoric rise. This has in some part been helped by the interface on the first two generations of the iPad. So what are the features that make it so intriguing? Well in the first place you don’t need to be a musician. This automatically includes a whole raft of people who might otherwise have said, “not for me, thanks.” In the same way as games like ‘Rock Star’ have taken off this app allows you to live out the fantasy of being in a band without having to shell out X amount of dollars on a Pearl Export Drum Kit or put up with your neighbours furiously banging the wall.
The app has also many well developed features which do allow you to piece together music almost as expertly as if you were in a recording studio.
The touch instrument feature
The setups for the instruments on the iPad and iPhone are simple, accurately sensitive and effective. You can set up a drum kit and tap the graphic on your screen using either a real kit or drum pad. The sounds are fed back in realistic times so you do need to have some sense of rhythm, but these can be augmented with a pre-layered track to help guide you along the way. The keyboard can be set up and split into a dual screen set up. This is not the place for a virtuoso soloist, but you can use the guides to record some chord progressions and riffs. Again touch the instrument and the response if fairly immediate and the string section gives you a great range of choice from double bass to the ever popular electric guitar.
This is the feature which has probably won the majority of people over and the reason the app is so popular. It is like having a bionic music ability. This feature is the proverbial leg up as far as playing the songs is concerned. You can set up your instrument; keyboard, guitar drums to play chords or riffs with a single tap. It saves on all the intricate finger-work and really is the lazy man’s solution to becoming Jimmy Page. For smart drums you can simply drag in the pieces and they will beat away to give your rhythm section the heartbeat it needs.
Into the studio
The thoughts of all this genius creativity going to waste and the inbuilt recording section ensures that all of your jamming can be laid down and mixed to within an inch of its life. The studio consists of an 8 track recording suite which for the average jammer is plenty. You can record your efforts in bars (sections) or as a whole piece. Once you have recorded your different individual sections then you can begin mixing them in an interface which is delightfully simple and responsive to the touch. The functionality here is fairly basic with little more than the usual cut, trim, copy and paste style options. The effects menu is also fairly limited with only ‘echo’ and’ reverb’ as your options. There is no opportunity to auto tune and if you are going to fix a section it is by deleting the unwanted piece and recording that section again.
So this app is not going to project anyone into super stardom. It is fun though and it will allow an escape and the pretence that you have got some musical ability. I know serious musicians will struggle with the basic functionality of it, but if you are aiming for something to create serious music there are plenty of suitable software packs for your PC, this is just a game, a really fun, slightly addictive and really pretentious (in a good way!) enjoyable feature for your iPhone and iPad. For under $5 it is no surprises that it is on the top of the pile.