5 Reasons to Graduate from GarageBand

For Mac users, GarageBand may be the best bargain in the music production world.

Already preinstalled on your computer, GarageBand offers multitrack recording and editing of audio and MIDI. It also provides numerous virtual instruments, a loop collection, pitch and time correction, and plenty more useful and engaging features. For many hobbyists, this is enough to learn the basics and get started recording at home.

That said, GarageBand is an entry-level DAW. The more serious you become about music production, the faster you’ll begin to run up against its limitations. Here’s a look at a few red flags signalling that it’s time to upgrade your DAW software.

1. GarageBand's Limited Virtual Instruments

GarageBand has a sufficiently varied collection of synths and VIs in terms of instrument type. However, you only get a small selection of patches in many of the categories, paired with very little sonic control. The synths only have a small subset of editable parameters available – a lot fewer than you’d get on a professional synth plugin, such as those included with most pro DAW software. Additionally, GarageBand doesn’t offer users the ability to program sounds from scratch using their synths.

It is worth noting, however, that GarageBand does host Audio Unit plugins. This allows users to supplement GarageBand’s existing collection with third-party instruments. In most cases, you’re still better off upgrading to Logic Pro X or another DAW with a similarly expansive instrument collection despite this capability.

The GUI for Logic Pro X’s ES2 synth (top) and for one of GarageBand’s synths (bottom). Guess which one gives you more control?

2. GarageBand’s Mixing (In)Capabilities

Yes, you can mix from GarageBand. But to say its mixing features are limited would be a massive understatement. GarageBand doesn’t have a dedicated mixing-console screen and is missing a lot of features that are pretty standard in most pro DAWs because of that.

Do you want to add aux effects? Sorry, you can’t. Want to create subgroups? Nope. Track groups? Not in GarageBand.

Moreover, even though many of the effects plugins that come with GarageBand have the same names and algorithms as those in Logic Pro X, they have much simpler GUIs. Just like with the virtual instruments, you get less control than you’d have in Logic or other pro-level DAWs.

The Reason 9 mixer (top) and the GarageBand mixer (bottom), which is the same as its tracks screen. Key mixing features like aux tracks and subgroups are impossible in GB.

3. GarageBand’s Frustrating Pitch Correction

If you want vocal tracks to sound like they do on professional productions, you need good pitch-editing features. GarageBand’s pitch correction is rudimentary at best, lacking the capabilities you need to really clean up a singer’s performance. Successful pitch editing requires more than just selecting all of the notes and hitting the “correct” button. You need the option to edit notes individually and to be able to adjust the amount of pitch modulation (i.e. vibrato) on each note.

For example, if a singer scoops a note (starts flat and slides into the correct pitch), or sustains a note unsteadily, it’s important to be able to adjust the amount of wavering on the note. This ensures that the note stays on pitch when you apply correction to it.

If you were to use Logic Pro X’s Flex Pitch, or the pitch correction features in Digital Performer 9 or Reason 9, you’d have those capabilities. With GarageBand, you don’t. If your pitch editing is leaving something to be desired, perhaps it’s time for a more powerful DAW.

This comparison of the Space Designer GUI between Logic Pro X (top) and GarageBand (bottom) is typical of the difference between the two programs in terms of editable parameters for effects.

4. GarageBand Doesn’t Support Songs with Multiple Time Signatures

Even if you don’t play in a mathcore band, you might have some songs that change time signatures. Unfortunately, GarageBand doesn’t support that.

The meter you specify at the beginning of the song is what you get throughout. So if you have, for example, a bar of 3/4 in the middle of a 4/4 song, you’ll have subsequent measures starting at places other than beat one in GarageBand’s counter. Essentially, your song could become a confused mess.

Above the MIDI notes in this Digital Performer screen, you’ll see time-signature changes entered in the Conductor Track. You don’t get that luxury in GarageBand, which supports only one time signature per song.

5. GarageBand’s Editing Limitations

The more audio and MIDI editing you do, the more you’ll notice GarageBand’s restrictions when compared to pro DAWs. Crossfading audio is a major example. It’s very important to be able to crossfade at edit points in order to keep clicks and pops from getting into your productions. Most DAWs let you adjust the size and placement of crossfades. Some DAWs even let you adjust the shape. GarageBand does not include any such crossfading feature. It also lacks edit grouping and shuffle editing.

GarageBand is also quite limited on the MIDI-editing side. It handles the basics, like quantizing, changing velocity, and changing length, pitch, and the start time of notes. But there’s nothing akin to the MIDI Transform window in Logic Pro X, which lets users add crescendos, reverse the data in a track or region, randomize velocity, apply fix note length, and much more.

DAWs such as Cubase, Digital Performer and Sonar all give you much deeper MIDI editing features than GarageBand.

Pro Tools’ MIDI-editing features aren’t as deep those in Sonar, Logic or Cubase, but they’re still way more powerful than GarageBand’s.

Bottom Line

GarageBand is a great tool for beginners just getting into recording, and you can’t beat the price. But it just doesn’t give you the kind of control over the recording and production process that you get with most other professional DAWs. And as you get more serious and more invested in the craft of music production, you will eventually outgrow GarageBand and find yourself in the market for an upgraded DAW.


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