Monday, August 22, 2011

Music on the cheap

Recently an young friend of mine started asking me about Logic prices. He is a college freshman using his MacBook pro for school as well as amateur music. I started putting a reply together and decided that it might make a good blog posting.

In his case, the platform (mac) is already decided so I won't cover Windows options - that is a different topic altogether right up there with religion and politics.

My advice to him is basically to stick to GarageBand '11 along with some great free add-ons. I made the move to logic express about 6 months ago and love the tool, but there is little that I use it for that is impossible in GarageBand, just a little less convenient in places.

It is important to remember that GarageBand is at least 100 times more powerful than the software/studio equipment used in past decades. As for saving money, it is generally free with a new Mac and only $15 if you have to buy it. So what are you missing compared to Logic?

Apple documents this fairly well but mainly it is large libraries of instruments, some effects and soft synthesizers. In the interests of saving money, these short-comings can be overcome. I don't discount the value of logic express or logic studio but on a budget, there are good free or cheap alternatives.

Garageband's loop library is a bit limited but there are thousands of free samples available online. With the Apple Loop Utility you can convert many simple WAV files into pitch shifting apple loops and build up the list. It is also possible to make use of the many soundfont libraries available.

As for Synths, Logic gives you many great built-in synths. GarageBand has a number of software instruments as well. Rather than have you tweaking every oscillator and filter, GarageBand gives simpler control of just a few parameters and bundles various sounds as software instruments. A software instrument in GarageBand is somewhat analogous to a pre-set on a software synth.

If tweaking is your thing though, GarageBand supports AU plugins just like Logic does. Two very good synthesizers to get are Crystal and TAL both free and both extremely powerful and flexible.

One necessary expense, however is a midi keyboard. You can use a laptop as a midi keyboard in a pinch but to do anything much you will need a piano keyboard. If you want portability to go with the laptop, I strongly recommend the Akai MPK mini. If you want full size keys though you sacrifice portability. In any case go for a midi over USB connection for convenience. Many keyboards can be powered from the USB port.

An iPad is also a discretionary expense but if you are fortunate enough to have one, you can get tons of cheap music making software usually for $10 or less. In fact GarageBand on the iPad is an excellent addition and uploads to the mac version (as well as logic).

Those are my initial recommendations. Feel free to comment on budget crunching music tips!

EDIT: I left out another great free tool - Audacity, a terrific and free audio file editor. By all means add that to the list.

Also, when/if you go the logic route, all GarageBand projects are easily converted and all of the instruments, loops etc are compatible with both. Take advantage of student discounts on software!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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