What's New in GarageBand 2


- Episode 34 - January 21st, 2005

As you may know, Steve Jobs and/or John Mayer demonstrated some of GarageBand 2's rockin' new capabilities at the Macworld Expo keynote last week. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, many extremely cool new features of GarageBand 2 were glossed over or ignored completely.

Figure 1: John Mayer helping Steve Jobs demonstrate GarageBand 2 at the Macworld Expo keynote last week.
Mediocre Photo by Bob LeVitus

Never fear. Your intrepid reporter (that's me) is here. Not only did I have the good fortune to spend a bit of quality time with GarageBand's product manager Xander Soren last week, but due to a shipping fluke (or perhaps because I'm such a well-respected Mac Observer columnist), my copy of iLife '05 arrived yesterday-Thursday Jan 20-though it won't officially be available for sale until tomorrow-Saturday, January 22.

I know I'm not the only one to get a copy before the official release date. I saw a couple of notes to that effect during my afternoon Web surf yesterday.

The point is, I've already seen most (if not all) of GarageBand 2's best new features and because I got my copy early, I can share them with you today.

Just remember, this is a preview of GarageBand 2's new features. Do not mistake it for a review. I've only actually used GarageBand 2 for a couple of hours so I'm not prepared to comment on its performance or usability for a while. What I am prepared to do is give you what is hopefully your first detailed look at what's new and exciting in GarageBand 2.

Pitch correction

Pitch correction could become my favorite new feature. With a single slider control, you can fix a real audio track containing single-notes-vocals or instruments playing single notes rather than chords-even if it was recorded out-of-tune. Really. Of course, this effect can't perform miracles on your tracks but it can make many recorded out-of-tune tracks sound like they were recorded in tune.

Figure 2: GarageBand 2's pitch correction feature is a single slider control, so it's easy enough for anyone to try.
(Click the image for a larger version)

I don't sing particularly well, so for years I've relied on Auto-Tune (now in Version 4), by Antares Audio Technologies. Auto-Tune 4 is a plug-in I use with GarageBand to correct the pitch of my voice. The effect is similar to GarageBand 2's pitch correction feature, but now you get the GarageBand rendition absolutely free with purchase.

Don't get me wrong. I love Auto-Tune 4 and it has worked wonders on many of my vocal tracks. But $399 is a lot to pay for a plug-in, even if it does make me sound way better than I deserve to sound.

If you don't believe me, check out my stirring rendition of James Taylor's Fire and Rain if you dare. I swear my original vocal track was nowhere near as good as the Auto-Tune 4 processed vocals on the finished MP3. (I'd offer to post the vocal track without the effect if it didn't sound so awful.)

Anyway, Auto-Tune 4 has a number of features you won't find in GarageBand 2's built-in pitch correction-which as you see in Figure 1, is a single slider control. No doubt Auto-Tune can do things the freebie can't. But I haven't tested them head-to-head yet so I'm not sure how big the difference is. Either way I have a hunch a lot of GarageBand users will be plenty happy with what the freebie can do.

Figure 3: The Auto-Tune plug-in offers a plethora of pitch correction features, but at a price ($359).
(Click the image for a larger version)

There is one more thing: you can also shift the pitch of an entire song with the new Master Pitch control, which is now an option in the Master Track.

Figure 4: Change the pitch of an entire song with the Master Pitch control located in the Master Track.

Record on up to 8 tracks at once

Another thing you'll notice about GarageBand 2 is that you are no longer limited to recording a single track-GarageBand 2 lets you record up to 8 tracks at once if you have sufficient processing power and RAM, and an appropriate audio interface.
With my M-Audio FireWire 410 interface (4-inputs and 10 outputs for around $500) I was able to record three guitars and a vocal all at the same time! Whoo ya!

Figure 5: Recording four tracks at once is a breeze if you have enough horsepower and a multi-channel audio interface; the red dots indicate the tracks are armed and ready for recording.

Notation view

In GarageBand 2 you can view software instrument tracks in musical notation, like sheet music, or the MIDI notation you know and love from GarageBand 1.1.

Figure 6: Musical notation (top) is now an option for software instrument tracks in addition to the familiar MIDI notation (bottom).
(Click the image for a larger version)

Use your QWERTY keyboard to play software instruments (rather than the obnoxious miniature piano keyboard)

If you're stuck without a MIDI keyboard, you can now use your Mac keyboard instead by choosing Musical Typing from the Window menu. If you've ever tried to use the teeny-tiny one-note-at-a-time-if-you-can-click-it-in-time on-screen keyboard in GarageBand 1, you're going to love this feature. A lot.

Figure 7: GarageBand 2 lets you use your Mac keyboard to play software instruments instead of the dorky little keyboard you had to use in Version 1.
(Click the image for a larger version)

And yes, you can play chords this way, and quite easily I might add.

There is one more thing here, too: The dorky little keyboard can now be resized.

Figure 8: The dorky little keyboard can now be resized into a dorky big keyboard.
(Click the image for a larger version)

It's better when it's bigger, but still not anywhere near as useful or usable as the new Musical Typing keyboard.

Lock tracks

GarageBand 2 lets you lock real or software instrument tracks. Of course, locking protects the track from unintended changes. But more importantly, it renders the track to your hard disk, which reduces the amount of processing power and RAM you'll need to play the track. This feature alone should make GarageBand much more usable, especially on machines with lesser processors and/or insufficient RAM (G4 and 512MB or less; GarageBand runs best on a G5 with a gigabyte or more of RAM).

Figure 9: The lock icon tells you that the Orchestra Kit track (top) is locked and the Orchestral Cello track (bottom) is not.

You can change a track's pan settings within the song

In GarageBand 1 you set a track's pan (placement in the left or right speaker) and that was it for that track. If you wanted the sound on a track to move from left to right (or vice versa) during the song, you could either be very clever (e.g. double the track and use the volume curves to crossfade between them and fake it), or you could do without.

Not any more. GarageBand 2 gives you a rubber band control, just like the track volume control. Merely slide the rubber band up to pan left, and slide it down to pan right.

Figure 10: The Cello Section will start out in the right speaker, cross over to the left speaker, back to the right speaker, and back to the left speaker again.

Automation-what the track pan and track volume controls provide-is a very good thing and something I pined for in version 1. Since I want to produce songs that sound like Todd Rundgren or Brian Wilson productions, this feature looks sweet to me.

Built-in instrument tuner

Another feature I've always thought GarageBand should have is a built-in instrument tuner. I've got standalone guitar tuners and Audio Units plug-in guitar tuners, and they work well. But it's much more convenient with the tuner in the main GarageBand window.

Figure 11: Click the tuning fork to the left of the time display and the new built-in instrument tuner appears.

In Figure 11 I'm plucking an in-tune E string on my guitar (top), and somewhat flat D string (bottom).

And much more...

And that is not all, oh no, that is not all. GarageBand 2 also includes new instruments, new guitar amp simulations, and new effects including the most bizarre vocal transformer effect I've ever heard. This puppy lets you do things like change a female vocalist so she sound like a dude singing, or vice versa. But it can also create interesting vocal harmonies without you having to sing on a second (third, fourth) track.

Very interesting if you ask me…

Figure 12: The vocal transformer effect offers interesting possibilities.

And if your MIDI keyboard isn't responsive enough, or is too responsive, you can use a new preference to adjust your MIDI keyboard's sensitivity.

Finally, GarageBand 2 is supposed to be able to import MIDI files directly, something that required third-party software such as Dent du Midi or GB Midi Import in version 1. Alas, in three times I've yet to be successful. It seems to work-I see the green arrow cursor and can drag and drop a MIDI file onto GarageBand 2, as the Help page instructs. I even see the progress bar that says, “MIDI File Import,” and an instrument track appears behind it temporarily as shown in Figure 13.

Figure 13: I'm trying to import a MIDI file but nothing happens.
(Click the image for a ginormous version)

I expect I'll figure it out, or Software Update will straighten it out, soon.

There are probably more new features I haven't discovered yet, but that's all I can think of for now. Give me a few weeks and I'll be back with a real hands-on review of GarageBand 2.

Until then, I hope my little preview has piqued your appetite. My first-blush opinion: If you enjoy using GarageBand, you're going to enjoy using GarageBand 2 a whole lot more.

And that's all he wrote.