My Take on GarageBand (was Battle Cry)

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My Take on GarageBand (was Battle Cry)

Post by ancestral »

Reese wrote:I have a question... I hope this is the appropriate place to put it (If not, I am sorry administration). Would Garageband be a decent program to use for making music? I guess I have found a few good loops, and I have a pastor that has maybe ten gigabytes of loops. Just wondering if there is another program that you would suggest.
Thanks for your time
~R~
My take on GarageBand
Clearly this is just one man's opinion, so keep that in mind.

GarageBand by default doesn't have instruments for each member in the orchestra; for example, instead of each instrument in the strings family there's simply a generic "strings ensemble," which you should avoid if you plan on making something semi-pro. (You'll need better samples, as I'll describe later.)

Can you make decent music with loops? Sure. Like this I made: Battle Cry.

(CC-BY-3.0 or GPL 3.0 — you choose)
Left your OGG player at home? Try the mpeg4.
Download the original GarageBand file (probably requires Symphony Jam Pack).



You be the critic.


Regardless, I do agree with West. It's not really orchestration. I didn't actually write all of that. Sure, it only took 5 hours to make. I arranged it, I edited it around a little, I changed some notes. But it wasn't truly original.

Is that wrong? Is that even cheating? Nope. It is what it is. (Heck, the best of us here are talking about making orchestra music by playing keyboards into synthesizers! :))

However, GarageBand is free software with free loops. And guess what? You can start to pick it out many of those loops, from everything including moments in David Pogue's tech column for the New York Times, Yeti vs. Gnome flash comics, even video intros for silicon processor companies (can't remember who now, but I've seen it).

I think what West and many of the contributors are getting at is (and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong), if you want to get really good, you should try to get an understanding of music itself, and writing music.


As far as using GarageBand as a tool for composing music, I'll go into a little about discussing loops, since that was part of the post that I'm replying to, and limitations the application has for producing music.

In the real world, a loop is literally just something that repeats. In GarageBand, with its pre-made content that comes bundled, you can choose what to do with it — you can have it repeating, you can place it in once, whatever — but all pre-made content, for simplicity's sake, are simply considered "loops." And regardless of how you use these pieces, there are two kinds: software instruments and real instruments. (The above song I created is about 95% software instruments.)

Software is malleable; you can change the notes, make them longer or shorter, re-arrange melody, even control the attack and release. However, you have to work harder using good samples and effects to achieve the same quality as real instruments. With real instruments, you don't have those same freedoms — it's much harder to work the music a certain way — but you get a more "real" sound. In some cases, like having a nice cymbal crash, it might be better to use.

Careful, as combining them when they're both the same type of instrument (e.g. a real violin and a violin midi) is where you run into trouble. It's not going to sound good at all. Imagine a director shooting a movie and the main actor suddenly dies halfway through. Would they hire another actor to finish the film, keeping the scenes already filmed? No way! They'd either cut the character short in the movie, or most likely re-shoot all the scenes from start to finish with a new actor.

Right away, with GarageBand, you're going to need better samples than what comes with the default iLife package, period. A sample is a small piece of sound that makes up the instrument. When you choose "Grand Piano" it's loading a sample of an actual Grand Piano.

For "Battle Cry," I had the luxury of utilizing Apple's Symphony Jam Pack, which, just it's mention at first I can see a lot of pros cringing at what they think is probably a basic consumer product trying to be something more, but isn't. However, if you set aside all the loops, you actually have some decent, underrated software instruments at your disposal. Maybe not as good of samples as some names of packages people have bounced back and forth on these forums. I don't know if I'm the best to judge it as I don't have a classical background and I have very little composition experience, and little-to-no experience with any other high quality samples, but of the few reviews I've read, people tend to agree that, for $99, it's not bad at all for a complete symphony orchestra sample set.

The real limitation you have with GarageBand is with the small number of studio effects and plug-ins available to use. Sure, there are reverb and dynamics controls, but not much else. For guitars it makes an awesome amp. It really does. But for orchestral music, I'm sorry, there's not a lot of control. With really good samples, you might be able to get away with something good, as hopefully I've demonstrated.

Either you might look at different software altogether, or, consider upgrading to Logic Express for $200, or better yet, Logic Studio, where for $500 you get far more powerful composing software, plus all the jam packs (symphony, world, rhythm, remix, voices) thrown in. (GarageBand projects will open in Logic, for what's it worth.)


Hopefully this helps some folks out there, and maybe other people who are unfamiliar with GarageBand to get a better sense of what it can and cannot do.

(Edit: Added a license to the song. Also added a link to the original GarageBand file. This is all about learning, so feel free to dissect this any way you like. If deriving the work, credit me by my user name, ancestral.)

(Edit: The focus on this is on GarageBand, not the song I created two years ago. It is demonstrated simply as an example. This was initially split from a resources thread, so as to not cause confusion, I am changing the title to better reflect the focus of this post.)
Last edited by ancestral on April 2nd, 2009, 5:48 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: GarageBand

Post by scienceguy8 »

ancestral wrote:
Can you make decent music with loops? Sure. Like this I made: Battle Cry.

(CC-BY-3.0 or GPL 3.0 — you choose)
Download the original GarageBand file (probably requires Symphony Jam Pack).
Wow! :shock: If it doesn't get committed, may I use it for a user-made campaign I'm working on? Yes, I know you released it under GPL, but it is still nice to ask. However, I would be greatly surprised if West let this one get away.

ancestral wrote:
However, GarageBand is free software with free loops. And guess what? You can start to pick it out many of those loops, from everything including moments in David Pogue's tech column for the New York Times, Yeti vs. Gnome flash comics, even video intros for silicon processor companies (can't remember who now, but I've seen it).
I know. I've heard GarageBand trumpet rifts all the time in the cooking show Good Eats, and a guitar loop in the feature film Serenity. Kinda boggles the mind that with all the resources at their disposal, movie and television score composers will still sometimes use some of the cheapest, humblest of instruments and tools available.
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Re: GarageBand

Post by ancestral »

scienceguy8 wrote:Wow! :shock: If it doesn't get committed, may I use it for a user-made campaign I'm working on? Yes, I know you released it under GPL, but it is still nice to ask. However, I would be greatly surprised if West let this one get away.
Actually, it has been talked of before: http://www.wesnoth.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=12335
(On a side note, what happened to TimothyP? I haven't seen him around here in forever.)

scienceguy8: Absolutely, please use my music — simply credit me in a file along with the song. I'll upload an ogg format hopefully tonight. Edit: Done.

To be honest, as far as mainline, I think "Battle Cry" is maybe a bit much on the dramatic side and to me, doesn't really feel like it fits in well. Maybe it fits in better now than it did two years ago, as I think music in Wesnoth has diversified a little bit over time. I intended it to be a proof of concept, and yeah, I think I surprised myself with how well it turned out. It's a nice piece, I still like hearing it, and I'd be honored if people use it however they like, though I think I can probably make something a little more tailored to the Wesnoth style and something truly original. Really I just wanted to re-post it because it was made in GB and people are asking if GB is really a sufficient tool to use, and hopefully people will read my entire answer.
scienceguy8 wrote:I know. I've heard GarageBand trumpet rifts all the time in the cooking show Good Eats, and a guitar loop in the feature film Serenity. Kinda boggles the mind that with all the resources at their disposal, movie and television score composers will still sometimes use some of the cheapest, humblest of instruments and tools available.
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Re: Battle Cry (split from Resources for...)

Post by West »

ancestral, that is an impressive piece, if somewhat anonymous.

However I am adamant: I will allow no major usage* of loops in Wesnoth music, and therefore I can't consider your tune for mainline. Sorry.
ancestral wrote:I think what West and many of the contributors are getting at is (and feel free to correct me if I'm wrong), if you want to get really good, you should try to get an understanding of music itself, and writing music.
<rant>

Well, yes. Stringing together chunks of pre-recorded music does not make you become a good musician. Same as frankensteining sprites does not make you become a good pixel artist. To be a good musician you need an understanding of all the little parts that make up music and how they fit together, whether we're talking about instruments in an arrangement, notes in a chord, or beats in a rhythm. Without that understanding it is impossible to write music. Yes, you might still be able to create music that sounds passable by relying on prefabs like loops and one-off samples. But it's not your talent that makes it sound good, it's the talent of those who performed and recorded the prefabs in the first place.

Many people claim that apps that easily let you create music with loops (eJay etc) are good starter's tools. Personally I think they're a scourge, and if you want to get into music you should avoid them at all costs. Why? Well, 1) because they wrongly give people the idea that making pro-sounding music is easy as pie, which will likely turn people off from music making once they attempt writing something of their own, 2) because they teach people that it's okay to not be able to play an instrument and still make music, and 3) because they help foster an attidude that, in the long run, will subject us to even more soulless, brainless, overproduced mainstream music full of stolen riffs. And worst of all, they cause budding musicians to disregard fundamentals of music, things that can only be learned by actually playing and writing and learning about how all the dots should be connected.

Music is a language much like any other. For a language to work we need a set of rules like grammar, spelling, pronounciation etc, and everyone who wants to use the langage must agree to learn and follow its rules. If you don't, people who are fluent in the language will instantly hear that you're doing something wrong. Depending on how bad your grasp of the rules is, it will be more or less noticeable. At worst, no one will understand what you're saying. For example, I'm not a native English speaker and I can't do a really convincing American accent no matter how hard I try. That doesn't mean I don't know what American accents sound like, and I can easily spot when someone else is trying to fake one.

Music works pretty much the same way. Not everyone knows music theory or even the basics of playing an instrument, but living in a world where we're surrounded by music 24/7 from cradle to grave, almost everyone has a subconscious but well-developed understanding of musical rules and conventions. And not just the basic major=happy, minor=sad thing; our ears can pick up very subtle nuances which evoke this or that emotion in us. Because of this, it is necessary to know music to write music. You can't just go "bah, most people won't notice that I don't know what I'm doing anyway!", because they will. Maybe not consciously, but they will.

Using loops is the musical equivalent of retelling a story with a voice message service. Once. Upon. A. Time! There... was. A...

</rant>

From a more Wesnoth-oriented standpoint, loop-based music is bad in a number of ways.

Lack of flexibility, for example. You can only do so much with a loop. You can't change the instruments playing, you can't change the key or tempo (well technically you can, but pith shifting and time stretching are limited technologies). If we deem that a piece is too fast or would benefit from a different instrumentation, the "composer" will not be able to do anything about it.

Another problem is uniqueness. We're aiming for a soundtrack with 100% original music. As has been mentioned in this very thread, Garage Band stuff is widely used and we don't want the Stairway to Heaven of orchestral loops showing up in our mainline tunes.

Thirdly, if we allow the usage of loops, we will be flooded with bad music that we'll have to listen to and decline. Once we open the floodgates there's no telling what horrid mutated fishies might come swimming in. So it's a practical consideration as well. We want to keep the requirements for contributing high enough so the totally clueless people are discouraged.

As for Garage Band, I have no issue with the program in itself. If it can run VST instruments I see no reason why it can't be used for making good orchestral music. Whatever floats people's boats, as long as it sounds good in the end.

ancestral, I'm sorry if I haven't responded more directly to your posts but I got lost in my rant and now I need to go back and check what you wrote. Stay tuned :)



* By 'no major usage' I mean that sure, tasteful usage of percussion loops are allowed. Tasteful being the operative word.
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Re: Battle Cry (split from Resources for...)

Post by ancestral »

Someone split the thread, which I'm okay with I guess. Perhaps I should re-title it to be about GarageBand rather than the piece I created with it.
West wrote:ancestral, that is an impressive piece, if somewhat anonymous.

However I am adamant: I will allow no major usage* of loops in Wesnoth music, and therefore I can't consider your tune for mainline. Sorry.
No objections! I never intended this for submission! I only re-posted it (original is here, and me being a bit naïve and ambitious: http://www.wesnoth.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=12335) only since people are asking if GarageBand is a suitable tool.

Again, I had the symphony orchestra jam pack; you couldn't do this without it or another library of instruments/samples.
West wrote:From a more Wesnoth-oriented standpoint, loop-based music is bad in a number of ways.

Lack of flexibility, for example. You can only do so much with a loop. You can't change the instruments playing, you can't change the key or tempo (well technically you can, but pith shifting and time stretching are limited technologies). If we deem that a piece is too fast or would benefit from a different instrumentation, the "composer" will not be able to do anything about it.
Absolutely, I agree, when it comes to pre-recorded loops.

Interesting, upon looking at the project file again (keep in mind, this was two years ago), none of it was recorded, except:
  • At 2:10 there is a pre-recorded cymbal crash (or maybe you'd call it a sample, then?).
  • At 2:20 there is a rendered software instrument (perhaps I did this by mistake) of the cellos playing a sustained low note. I can find the original "loop" which is a MIDI software loop, so I'm certain I rendered it (in low memory environments it can put less strain on the system instead of having to render all your instruments on the fly).
Everything else is MIDI in the sense that, it's un-rendered content — you can edit any of it. However, it is pre-written. I did change notes and deleted and created some things, but it's based on pre-written work.

However, I think you're right in that most people who use GarageBand likely will just use pre-recorded loops. Guitar, with its wide amp support, and electronic music is probably where the app is most used, where you could say loops are even part of the genre.
West wrote:Another problem is uniqueness. We're aiming for a soundtrack with 100% original music. As has been mentioned in this very thread, Garage Band stuff is widely used and we don't want the Stairway to Heaven of orchestral loops showing up in our mainline tunes.
This is correct! It's very un-original. It wasn't pre-recorded, but it was pre-written. I certainly made some changes, but I can't claim it as mine. (I guess technically I can since it's royalty-free, but I admit, I worked with pre-written stuff.)
West wrote:Thirdly, if we allow the usage of loops, we will be flooded with bad music that we'll have to listen to and decline. Once we open the floodgates there's no telling what horrid mutated fishies might come swimming in. So it's a practical consideration as well. We want to keep the requirements for contributing high enough so the totally clueless people are discouraged.
I agree with that.
West wrote:As for Garage Band, I have no issue with the program in itself. If it can run VST instruments I see no reason why it can't be used for making good orchestral music. Whatever floats people's boats, as long as it sounds good in the end.
That's what this thread, or originally, before it was split, was all about. This was never about the piece, but more about what you can and cannot do with GarageBand.

So we're absolutely on the same page, West. :)

Will I use loops with any possible submissions to Wesnoth? No way :)
West wrote:ancestral, I'm sorry if I haven't responded more directly to your posts but I got lost in my rant and now I need to go back and check what you wrote. Stay tuned :)
Yay!

Bad news is I think my web host is having issues :( I've sent trouble tickets already. I'll see if I can at least post the "Besieged" work on my MobileMe or some other kind of web hosting until my providers get this resolved. ($50 for annual hosting isn't bad, except 5% of the time things like this seem to happen. It also doesn't help I have one company who does the domain and one who does the hosting, so they get to point fingers at each other now.)


Thanks again, West. I appreciate your comments. I look forward to making some nice music, should I make the time available, whether or not it gets submitted.
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Re: My Take on GarageBand (was Battle Cry)

Post by gmlion »

Well, I've listened to the music and i find it very good. I don't know how much was pre-composed, tough, since I've never used GarageBand.
Anyway, I think the wise use of loops can lend to some good results without considering it a complete "cheat".
For example:
http://www.taxi.com/leone_gianmarco
here the music "African Chase" (quite a simple one, i admit) uses a drum loop but I feel it as mine since the other orchestral parts were composed directly.
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Re: My Take on GarageBand (was Battle Cry)

Post by Spi »

Quite frankly, I completely agree with you West EXCEPT for one thing, call it small or big:
I do not think that it is necessary to have played a real instrument in order to read/write/play music. If you want to call it an instrument, I would even stretch my point to the fact that you can learn music with just a computer and some basic tools, all depending on your will to learn and the time that you pour into it. I've noticed beginners in an artistic field, with absolutely no tuition on the matter become great artists with time and practice, having nearly only their mice and keyboard to create. Having a decent soundcard and a decent pair of speakers is like having a decent instrument in the first place. Hearing high quality undistorted sound will allow the listener to widen his knowledge of music either intuitively/by self-teaching and with time being able to instantly dissociate what sounds right and wrong.
Just like we learn how to read and write by reading and experiencing stories, we can learn how to read and write music by playing it, no matter the nature of the instrument we use, be it a bow, piano keys or a simple computer keyboard.

Feel free to correct me if I'm saying an enormity, but in all honestly I do believe in what I've just said. Give the poor blokes a chance to get better!
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Re: My Take on GarageBand (was Battle Cry)

Post by West »

Spi wrote:Quite frankly, I completely agree with you West EXCEPT for one thing, call it small or big:
I do not think that it is necessary to have played a real instrument in order to read/write/play music. If you want to call it an instrument, I would even stretch my point to the fact that you can learn music with just a computer and some basic tools, all depending on your will to learn and the time that you pour into it. I've noticed beginners in an artistic field, with absolutely no tuition on the matter become great artists with time and practice, having nearly only their mice and keyboard to create. Having a decent soundcard and a decent pair of speakers is like having a decent instrument in the first place. Hearing high quality undistorted sound will allow the listener to widen his knowledge of music either intuitively/by self-teaching and with time being able to instantly dissociate what sounds right and wrong.
Just like we learn how to read and write by reading and experiencing stories, we can learn how to read and write music by playing it, no matter the nature of the instrument we use, be it a bow, piano keys or a simple computer keyboard.

Feel free to correct me if I'm saying an enormity, but in all honestly I do believe in what I've just said. Give the poor blokes a chance to get better!
You're quite right. A computer can be considered an instrument I suppose, as it has all that one needs to get started with music (input, for entering notes, output, for hearing the notes, plus tons of software for modifying said notes). Actually it wouldn't surprise me if there's people out there who are computer keyboard virtuosos :)

Seriously though, my firm opinion is that mouse and keyboard will never give you a good understanding of how "real" instruments work. Beating on pots and pans with tablespoons will possibly give you a sense of rhythm and timing (not to mention tinnitus) if you keep at it long enough, but it will teach you absolutely nothing about playing drums. Blowing into a rolled up garden hose for six months will improve your lung capacity but it won't make you a horn player. I can keep making silly examples all day long, but my point is: how can you hope to truthfully emulate real instruments on a computer if you've never even touched an instrument of any kind? By this I don't mean that everyone should be able to play all instruments that they use in their compositions -- that is obviously not realistic -- but a familiarity with one or two instruments, no matter how small, will give you a deeper understanding of musicianship in general. First and foremost it will teach you that producing sound on virtually any instrument is a lot more involved than pressing keys on a keyboard. Secondly, it will give you a sense of pride and accomplishment, which means you will have more faith in yourself. If nothing else, it will earn you a lot more respect from other musicians. This might sound unimportant to some people ("I don't care what others think, I'm doing my own thing here"), but believe me, you're going to end up in a music discussion sooner or later and no one will take you seriously if you confess that you really don't play anything, you just enter notes with the mouse and keyboard.

At the bare minumum I think someone who wants to get into computer-based music making should get himself a keyboard (as in midi keyboard, not qwerty keyboard), because it's easy to get started with and it's very versatile. Aside from that I also recommend a guitar -- even the cheapest piece of junk you can find at your neighbor's garage sale will do. Guitar basics is also easy to learn and it will give you a broader perspective, as guitars and keyboards are two entirely different beasts.

So yeah, for learning the absolute basics of music, a computer might do. Anything beyond that, you're gonna have to broaden your horizons.
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