Apple GarageBand is a multi-featured yet accessible digital audio workstation with powerful presets that enable anyone to make original music. GarageBand makes up for any gaps in control functions compared to its big brother Logic Pro by being super portable and flexible across devices. As well as fixing several controls and editing glitches, the latest version introduces two new packs available for both IOS and Mac.
Flexible across Apple devices
Intel Audio Unit plug-ins now load and function as expected
GarageBand for Mac still has no Live Loops view
Mixer and levels indicators need to be improved with plug-ins
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GarageBand is Apple’s stripped back version of pro-level audio editor Logic Pro. The music-making software comes with a simple interface that makes sound production easy from designing a song, through recording, editing, mixing. Exporting is easy, too, as you can then send files directly to Soundcloud or to your iTunes library.
The latest version - v10.4.7 - adds over 480 new Apple Loops music samples to the already extensive collection as well as improving stability and fixing bugs.
Apple GarageBand: Pricing & plans
- Completely free to use with optional free and paid-for plugins
Apple GarageBand is free for iPhone and iPad owners, and comes bundled with every new Mac device.
GarageBand’s simplicity could possibly give rise to some financial outlay on plug-ins that add more tools and features. There are still key features in Logic that GarageBand doesn’t have, but which it really needs because of its size and awesome capabilities. For example, it could do with a proper mixer for the massive 255 tracks available for each song.
If this seems daunting don’t worry, there are plenty of free plugins that work with GarageBand. Just remember that you'll need to visit the settings menu to make sure ‘Open Plugins in Control View by default’ is switched off to see the actual plugin on screen rather than a dry box of information that’s harder to work with.
- Pricing & plans: 5/5
Apple GarageBand: Interface
- Flexible, multi-featured, cross platform
For a free audio editor, GarageBand pays impressive attention to detail, with options for each stage of music production including AI-powered drummers. These can be standalone tracks but they can also either be set to follow along with tempo.
Alternatively, designating your drummer track (or any other track) as the 'Groove Track’, means all others will follow along with it. There are 33 virtual drummers to choose from and each one can perform over a million unique groove and fill combinations to keep you inspired.
Smart controls allow you to create original sounds from preset instruments in the sound library and there's a good mix and match selection of electric guitar amps, cabinets and pedals. A simplified Flex Time control changes audio timing and it’s also easy to transpose tracks, regions or notes by several different methods to add depth and complexity to your music.
You can control and play any instrument in GarageBand on Mac wirelessly using your iPhone or iPad using the Logic Remote app. There’s even a rudimentary mixer in there too, with basic pan and volume versions of Logic Pro’s more fleshed out features.
Some features appear in both Logic Pro and GarageBand for iOS, like the amazingly flexible Live Loops View, which sadly isn’t in GarageBand for Mac.
There are lots of learning tools in the app, including Artists Lessons, where artists show you how to play their famous songs, although some of these again are only available for iOS. The audio editing software also allows multi-take recording and exporting to your music library on iTunes or share directly to SoundCloud.
- Interface: 4.5/5
Apple GarageBand: Recording
- Plenty of useful recording tools, including cycles and simple one-click shortcuts
Once you’ve installed or updated the app, you’ll need to go to the GarageBand menu, choose Sound Library and click on ‘Download all available sounds’. If the packs don’t show up after downloading all available sounds, then reindexing all Apple Loops should solve the problem.
The cycle region feature is really helpful for recording. After the first two passes, the top left corner of the track will show the number of takes you’ve done. You can then listen to them individually and choose the best, making getting a good vocal track even easier.
Smart controls can be helpful here as C toggles the cycle region on and off, while you can override it by selecting a region and pressing shift and spacebar when the track will start playing from the beginning of that region whether its toggled on or off.
Other easy-to-remember one-click shortcuts help workflow and leave your hands free to play instruments. Track headers can be customized with icons as well as names, and tracks can easily be color-coded for visual impact, helping you organize and streamline the editing process.
Although it can take a while to become familiar with the interface, menus are easy to find. And features like plugins appearing in the order they have been applied help you build great sound from the ground up in an intuitive manner.
- Recording: 4/5
Apple GarageBand: Latest fixes
- Some great updates and fixes in v10.4.7
The latest version of Garageband fixes several issues with the DAW’s controls, like the tone slider for the metronome, and the track header volume slider, which now remains visible and works for all track header widths.
MIDI functionality is improved too. Replace Mode’s problem of removing audio from tracks you’re not using - as well as the one you’re actually working on - has thankfully been fixed. You can no longer hear breakthrough sound from the track you’re recording over, either.
When using Voiceover the Smart Controls inspector’s mono/stereo selector will now reliably show the correct value allowing you more hassle-free production.
One disappointing feature is that file transfer still works only one way. You can send GarageBand projects from your phone or tablet straight to your Mac and the project will open showing all tracks. However, if you send the other way your project will appear as a single mixed down track on your device.
Disappointment about that is somewhat offset, however, by the new (and incredibly useful) feature of dragging a file straight from Voice Memos into a new GarageBand track. It’s a much more user-friendly and efficient way of working here.
- Latest fixes: 4/5
Apple GarageBand: Royalty-free music samples
- Some good choices for creators swerving copyrighted music
If it’s that easy to make music using preset loops and packs, and with top artists sharing their riffs and tricks, you’ll need to know you won't get into trouble with the AI copyright spiders of the likes of YouTube. Apple’s agreement states that all loops are royalty free, Remix Sessions excepted. Nevertheless, some creators have reported receiving copyright notices that then have to be contested.
The best way to avoid problems is to do one of the things GarageBand is best at: chopping up preset loops and transforming them into something unique with all the tools at your disposal. You can easily change the whole sound of the preset instrument by opening a new track with a different instrument. Drag the loop to the new track (option drag to keep the original). The notes will be the same, but they will sound different, and you can tweak them from there.
Elsewhere, you’ll find the option to click and drag to make copies and move them precisely where you want, for either single or multiple regions. And, usefully, Intel Audio Unit plugins now load and function as expected.
- Royalty-free music samples: 4/5
Apple GarageBand: Scorecard
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Row 0 - Cell 1||Row 0 - Cell 2|
|Pricing & plans||Free with optional plugins||5|
|Interface||Clean, simple, easy to navigate||4.5|
|Recording||Lots of useful tools packed in||4|
|Latest fixes||Great update fixes audio editor niggles||4|
|Royalty-free music samples||ROyalty-free loops available for content creators||4|
Should I try?
Try it if...
Apple GarageBand is ideal if you want to start recording music on budget, and you are looking for attention to both detail and simplicity. Thanks to reasonably similar interfaces, you can easily start here and move on to Logic Pro
Don't try it if...
Apple’s audio editor might not be for you if you need a proper mixer, detailed level controls or just a high-end program out of the box. And, of course, it’s Mac-only, so it’s not for you if you need to work on a Windows device.
Angel has been making and composing music since she was 4. Music has always featured in the many performance styles she’s been involved in, from backing music for cabaret, through theatre, live singer song-writing and recording, and video journalism. For over 20 years she’s taken full advantage of the explosion in technical capability, flexibility of use, and expanding tools for creating content, and loves pushing software to its limits in service of creativity.