GarageBand (macOS) full review

Apple’s redesign for GarageBand has been getting a mixed response from dedicated users of the app and it’s easy to see why. Apple’s claim that anyone can simply pick up GarageBand and make music using this app may accurately describe the iOS version, but the Mac upgrade is a rather different beast, and some of the teething problems, as well as features that are dropped in this version, like with the FCP X update, have got regular users hot under the collar. 

First things first, the app certainly looks great with the darker sleeker look familiar from FCPX, and the flatter, more muted style that you’ll recognise from iOS 7 (read our GarageBand for iOS review here).  

The changes do go further than the look of the app however. And in spite of the pictures showing the same interface across mac and iOS devices, in practise the Mac version is not nearly as intuitive to use, in spite of its extra functionality. For example, although “quick help” labels buttons you hover over, it does nothing to help you find things that aren’t currently visible, which is annoying. 

Being a videographer, I first of all wanted to see whether anything had changed in throwing a soundtrack onto a movie. I got as far as choosing movie from my library and laying down a few Cuban beats, but before I could compare 10 with the 6.0.5 on my MacBook, the app crashed, and crashed badly and repeatedly. The crashing issue is quite widely reported, and although different users report the crash on different and quite varied commands, in my case it was sadly, "play". 

A further search on the web revealed that the problem seems to be most often reported on iMacs made in 2007, which happens to be one of the machines I am working on.

Read next: Best Mac music software: alternatives to GarageBand

GarageBand Drummer boy

New features in 10 include the Drummer “virtual session player”. You can choose from several different players, each with his or her own identifiable style in different genres, and you can customise how complex or simple the beats are, what individual drums and cymbals the kit features, and all in real-time. 

Kyle, the first of 15 fully customisable session drummers, comes free with the new version of GarageBand.

Drummer is easy to use and does add functionality, but great as this feature is, you only get one Drummer with the free app. And in fact it’s another bugbear for many that having advertised the new GarageBand as being free, new customers have then got to pay £2.99 for what are arguably still basics.

And be warned, unlike iMovie and iPhoto in which the updates are free, even if you installed them from a DVD years ago, if you got your original version of GarageBand from that same DVD, rather than from the Mac App Store, you’ll be treated as a new customer and charged for the “one-time in-app purchase” which includes the extra instruments, loops, and 14 more biddable drummers.  

As with the previous version, the advertised GarageBand Artist Lessons, which “show you how to play a hit song taught by the artist who made it famous” feature must also be bought separately from the GarageBand Lesson Store. 

Dropped features and other problems in GarageBand

Some dedicated GarageBand users are also extremely disgruntled by GarageBand X having dropped the dedicated Podcast facility and it’s easy to see why, if you’ve come to rely on such a useful feature - echoes again of FCP X users cries of “where are my favourite features?” The best you can do is to hang on to the new and old versions of GarageBand and use the old one just for podcasting.

Garage Band is now compatible with iCloud so you can easily synch all your devices, and access your exported tunes from any of your devices.

Importing projects to work on is a bit more complicated. You can import songs started on your iPhone, iPad and iPhone to your mac (as long as you’re using a later version than, 6.0.2) and continue to work on them there, but that functionality is not available the other way round. 

You can import songs started on your iPhone or iPad into GarageBand for Mac, but not the other way round.

Despite teething problems, Apple’s update to GarageBand for Mac pushes firmly ahead with the streamlining agenda for multi-level applications. If the redesign of iMovie in 2007 and more recently FCP X are anything to go by, elements of the high-end functionality missed by some users may well re-appear later, but it does seem that GarageBand 10 for Mac may be aimed at an emerging middle group of users. The deliberate creation of more distinct tiers of users may then push some of those mid level users up further towards the pro-end, and in this case towards purchasing Logic Pro. 

Although both GarageBand for Mac and for iOS are advertised with the same tag line about being able to make professional music even if you’ve never played a note, which in iOS seems quite a fair claim, it’s a bit of a stretch for the Mac where it’s much harder to find your way round the app without some prior knowledge of both GarageBand and Digital Audio Workstations.

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