Making Music on the Apple Mac
For reasons I can’t quite explain, I have always had a passing interest in making music on a Mac. The one thing that has stopped me from trying it is an incredible lack of talent or sense of rhythm. As a first step in that direction, I reviewed Keep It Simple With GarageBand by Keith Gemmell for the August issue.
While working on the review of that book, I learned that Mr. Gemmell has also written Making Music on the Apple Mac. A quick perusal of the book’s description suggested that it was geared toward anyone considering setting up a home studio. I wasn’t planning on going that far, but it sounded like interesting reading so I volunteered to review this book as well.
Making Music on the Apple Mac was first published in 2005 and therefore pre-dates the GarageBand book. It has the same concise writing style and copious use of screenshots and photographs. I suppose you could argue that no one really needs to see a photograph of a MIDI keyboard, but it’s there if you would like to see it. Most of the figures in this book are much more useful than that. After all, there are some things that you just need to see to completely understand
If you are a fan of tips, tidbits, and occasional bits of trivia in the margins of your books, this book won’t disappoint. Look carefully and you will discover mixing tips, definitions of basic terms, and the occasional Web site, all in the margins. There’s even a brief history of the MIDI interface.
First Steps—Choosing the Right Hardware
This book encompasses 103 pages divided into seven chapters. The first two chapters are devoted to hardware issues. Chapter 1 begins with the obvious question: which Mac has sufficient speed for your home studio application? Mac models from eMacs to Power Mac G5s are considered as possible centerpieces of a recording studio without getting bogged down in technical jargon. You won’t find a discussion of Intel-based Macs here, though. If you just don’t have time to read 15 pages of information, it is summarized in the Appendix and condensed to just over two pages.
Some of the tips in this chapter may be obvious to long-time Mac users. The admonition to buy as much RAM as you can reasonably afford is not only appropriate for music editing, but also for other intensive tasks as well. While I expected to see a tip regarding the need for increased RAM, I did not expect to have to think about screen size. As you graduate from GarageBand to professional programs such as Logic, Cubase, or Digital Performer, the number of tool palettes and windows can increase significantly. If you tend to keep several windows and palettes open simultaneously, a small screen can be problematic.
Chapter 2 is devoted to additional hardware that one needs to get good recordings. Once you decide to go beyond the Mac’s built-in recording capabilities, there are several pieces of hardware that might prove useful. Microphones, speakers, audio interfaces, and MIDI gear are all discussed briefly in this chapter. The advice is generally practical, and the author does not assume that everyone needs professional quality gear. If you are new to making music on the Mac, there’s some good information here. Do you know the difference between a condenser mic and a dynamic mic? You will after reading this chapter. What about the microphone’s pickup pattern? If you don’t know the difference between cardoid, omni, or figure 8 patterns, you will after reading page 22.
Second Steps—Adding the Right Software
Chapters 3–5 examine the software side of a Mac-based recording studio. In such a discussion, GarageBand has to be among the first pieces of software to come to mind. Many Mac users have this program either because they purchased a computer with it preinstalled or purchased it as part of the iLife suite.
Chapter 3, which is devoted to GarageBand tips and tricks, is the longest chapter in the book. There are more than 30 pages of GarageBand goodness here including tips, tricks, suggestions, and a description of many of the included special effects. If you want to know what features were added in version 2 of GarageBand, check out chapter 4. Curiously enough, this is the shortest chapter in the book.
Even though GarageBand has a remarkable set of features, your creative urges may eventually require a little more flexibility. If that’s the case, you need to consider a software upgrade. Fortunately, as a Mac user you’ve got some viable options including Logic, Cubase, and Digital Performer. How do you know which one is best for you?
Given the cost of professional-level recording software, you don’t want to guess wrong when deciding which program to purchase. You could scour Web sites, haunt user groups, and consult friends, or you can consult chapter 5. In 18 pages, Mr. Grinnell gives a nice overview of each program and its relative strengths and weaknesses. As usual, screenshots, tips, and tricks abound. As you read this chapter, keep in mind that there won’t be information about which programs are available as universal binaries or their performance under Rosetta. Remember, from a hardware standpoint this book stops at the G4-based Mac mini and the Power Mac G5.
That’s a Wrap
Now that you have recorded your sonic masterpiece, what’s next? Well, musicians generally want their music played as often as possible for as many people as possible. This process is discussed in the book as well. Chapter 6 is devoted to the pros and cons of scoring and distributing your own music. If you have any background in this area at all, you’ll have no trouble understanding the author’s comments. This is a difficult area for me to judge since I have no experience in music composition, but the author’s discussion of these issues seems reasonable and is as concise as the rest of the book.
Chapter 7 takes a very basic look at a music distribution option that is becoming increasingly more popular. You’ve created a musical masterpiece—why not put it on the Internet for the world to hear? If you have never done this before, don’t worry about needing additional software. This chapter explains how to use iTunes and GarageBand to do the heavy lifting.
If you think the finished track is pretty good, why not get a little feedback from fans and fellow musicians. After you have reviewed 30 songs by other artists on this site, you can post your own music for review by other members.
If you are new to recording on Macs, this book is an excellent introduction. The information is well presented without a lot of jargon. If you have been recording for some time already, this is probably not the book for you. Making Music on the Apple Mac is an excellent beginner's resource as long as you realize that it does not contain information about the performance of the Intel Macs.