Watch in horror as Roland and Yamaha use GarageBand as an excuse to push their products:

GarageBand changing the face of music creation []

Of course, GarageBand has had a legitimate impact on the market, and we’ve seen plenty of consumer-geared products. If it’s glossy white plastic, blame Apple. If it’s a rip-off of GarageBand’s interface (hello, M-Audio Session), then it’s definitely GarageBand-inspired.

But here you get to see surreal moments like Roland crediting the creation of consumer-level Edirol recording studios and stompboxes to GarageBand, despite the fact that stompbox hardware has nothing to do with GarageBand, and Edirol’s UA line predates GarageBand’s release by several years, not to mention that Roland has made consumer products since the 1970s.

Of course, this is the myth of music products that I hit again and again: that this a “high-end” industry. That to me simply isn’t true; the business has tried again and again to get more average consumers because they mean high volume. Now, as for actual ease of use, well, that’s another matter. Let’s skip ahead to my favorite part. From Athan Billias, director of marketing for Tech Products Pro Audio at Yamaha:

“It is trends like these that Billias keeps in mind when Yamaha sits down to create a new product. Incorporating the company’s knowledge from its high-end products into different levels of productsâ€â€?like the MW10 and MW12 mixers â€â€? for all users.

â€Å“Making it simple is really hard,â€Â? Billias said.”

Okay, I grew up using Yamaha products, so don’t take this badly — but that’s hilarious. (Oh, do I have warm memories of hideously counterintuitive Yamaha menus over the years.)

Anyway, if Roland (founded 1972), and Yamaha (founded 1887 making reed organs) want to credit Apple with marketing to consumers, so be it. But I think the credit for popularizing music software and changing how people work goes elsewhere. Here’s who would make my list:

  1. Steinberg: Cubase is far from my favorite DAW, but by popularizing their VST format, Steinberg unleashed the plug-in instrument and effect world we live in today.
  2. ACID: Someone has already pointed out in comments at Macworld that the real revolutionary program was Sound Forge (now Sony) ACID, the software that originally inspired GarageBand. Loop-based music making can be traced to hardware samplers originally, but it was looping software that brought it to the computer and the average consumer. And while plenty of other applications, from Cakewalk to FL Studio, directly targetted beginners, ACID really popularized the idea of “entry-level” music production.
  3. Reason: The one program that got people using instruments and effects on computers, more than any other? Propellerhead Reason (and before it, ReBirth). It wasn’t the first, but by bringing a lot of instruments together and combining them with beatbox-style programming, it was the package that cleared the way for the popularity of the rest.

  4. Ableton: All the above examples out of the way, over the last five years the one product that’s had the biggest influence on competitors’ thinking is Ableton Live. I’ve heard that directly from the system engineers working on software development at a variety of companies. Live’s approach to interface, in terms of putting everything on one screen and radically reducing the eye candy and extra controls that were weighing down other programs (and still do) is truly unique. And while you won’t see direct Live rip-offs, what you do see is people changing how they thing about computer music making and software design. My sincere hope, too, is that Live’s performance approach will have more staying power than the studio-based approach of GarageBand and everything else, because it brings music back to performance. Obviously, you’ll always want to record things (and Live does that, too), but live performance is the area that has been the weakest when it comes to computer tech.

This is not to say that GarageBand is not an important product; it absolutely is. It’s changed the way the Mac community thinks about music production, from perceiving it as a pro production process to being something anyone can use, which is fantastic. And Apple’s marketing is also revolutionary: who else would bundle a music production app with every computer, or make the connections Apple has between their pro Logic line and the consumer product. (GarageBand isn’t just file-compatible with Logic; the underlying engine, effects, instruments, and loop features are all shared with Logic.) But if you’re a music manufacturer and you have to look at GarageBand to see that things should be easy, you’re already a lost cause. And, unfortunately, instead of learning underlying lessons here, too many makers try to copy surface details, like the interface or the Apple’s use of certain plastic colors.

So here’s my plea to the music industry: Yes, beginners are important, as are more advanced users. The truth is, we could all use better design when it comes to UI and function. Don’t look to Apple for that answer; look directly to your customers. We’ll be more than happy to tell you how we work, and how your designs often get in the way of how we work. And while GarageBand is included on every Mac, I’ll bet a lot of us would pay a premium for products that help us express ourselves musically.

  • Mies van der Robot

    look directly to your customers. We’ll be more than happy to tell you how we work, and how your designs often get in the way of how we work

    Amen to that! I've seen so many pieces of software that look like they never consulted a single actual musician on how it would be used. Even some of the otherwise-excellent plug-ins in Logic Pro fall prey to that.

    You don't have to read forums for long to know most musicians are very opinionated about their gear and how it fits (or doesn't fit) their workflow. Please, music industry, for the love of all that is melodic and harmonic, focus group us!

    We won't hold back, we promise.

  • The reason other companies are looking to Apple for the answers is because Apple found the answers by looking at their customers.

    Other companies are letting Apple do the hard work for them. Apple has a little war chest to experiment on things like that. Many of these plugins and software companies are one-trick ponies and don't necessarily have the resources to do the kind of consumer analysis that Apple can.

    That being said … simply making your products white or with similar buttons is ridiculous. On the other hand – Apple has helped many companies by providing insight into consumer quality recording.

    Just my $.02


  • Adrian Anders

    I can't believe you didn't at least mention Fruity Loops/FL Studio! Almost half of the PC-based producers out there either got started on a Fruity product, or had a bootleg copy a friend gave to them at some point (before buying it of course ;-))

    C'mon, all those push-button step sequencer hosts and plug-ins (Orion, GURU, Phrazor, etc.) are at least influenced by the original Fruity Loops virtual drum machine.

    If you're going to make a list of products that changed the game for consumers, FL HAS to be there, period.

    Another contender should be Mixman Studio, which although it wasn't a "Pro" live music program like Live, it predated Ableton by at least 5 years. Plus it worked fairly well on REALLY old PCs (talking Pentium I here), with consumer-grade (SO not ASIO) sound-cards. Many PC users who later moved on to Ableton got started doing live sets using some Mixman variant. Not to mention that they brought us the DM2, which popularized the DJ software controller through the DM2MIDI hack.


  • I did mention FL Studio. But if the measure is influence, I think ReBirth (which came out in 1997 at the same time as Fruity Loops) and reason after it ultimately had a bigger impact. ReBirth/Reason influenced a broad section of music on the charts, and while Fruity Loops was widely used, it'd be fair to say that Propellerheads had an influence on how music sounds. But, fair enough, FL Studio is certainly a contender for the same title, as far as integrated synth studios go.

    Mixman absolutely went for the consumer market, but I think ultimately tried a little too hard to do it. It's not an app that can scale into serious work the way even GarageBand and ACID can.

    Anyway, this is just my list. 😉

  • Pete Fletcher

    How can the Atari ST be forgotten in this equation? 20 years ago Atari made it easy and inexpensive to hook midi devices to a computer.

  • Slow down. We're going to wind up going back to the invention of the piano. The whole idea is what influenced this particular generation of music software, which I would say is the combination of plug-ins, an emphasis on looped audio, integrated soft synths and effects, and a single-app workflow. And there is a certain effort to reduce the number of controls to a single-screen view that resembles hardware, but (in Ableton's case), rethought as a software interface.

    Of course, the Atari platform and its sequencers, and the C64 before it, and many other things are important, too. To say that Apple brought the home studio to consumers is absurd. GarageBand can stand on its own merits.


  • charles

    Lovely article. I just started using Garageband for an art project, and it's basically an entree into a whole new world. Bravo to Apple and to all those companies who make such amazing sound products.

  • After doing four CDs and using Garage Band for significant portions of their creation, I have to say, unequivocably, that Apple's software has had democratizing effect on the CREATION of music. And it is important that it comes for free with every new Mac sold.

    It delivers a surprisingly effective interface for the creation of music, it isn't a high-end studio tool, but is capable of delivering high quality results. And in the right hands, it can even be used in performance.

    My $0.05 (I've raised my rates)

  • I agree…the fact that Roland and Yamaha are crediting Garageband for things that they have been perfecting for years is silly and very sad. Acid (on an AMD K-6 that was fairly new at the time) is the way I got into computer music, so (although I am sure that Garage Band is a great product)I have trouble seeing what all the fuss is about (oh but wait I forgot! It probably has something to do with Apple inventing the MP3 player…they did do that did'nt they?).

    Perhaps they should call it the "Garage Band-Wagon"…

  • arendownie

    The Exec from Roland said: “GarageBand is bringing music to the masses in a way that is very easy." I don't know how Roland and Yamaha have been "perfecting" this… The point is that garage band is free, easy to use, and can be used to make decent music. Oh right, the MC-303 was really incredible for bring music creation to the masses. Let's not forget the versatile Yamaha DJX.

    I think the fuss is that Garage band opens up a huge market of folks who normally would spend 400.00 for ACID. Apple didn't invent the mp3 player… they perfected it at a time when nearly all mp3 players were crap. Parallel port mp3 players when 4 years after usb and 1394? Crap.

  • Adrian Anders

    Well, a better comparison would be between GB and Cakewalk's entry level home recording line (typically well under $100), and not Acid Pro, which does looping better than GB (or anything else for that matter) but sucks at audio recording (and pretty much everything else).

    But I'll give it to Apple for giving away a host sequencer for "free" with the purchase of an Apple system. It's good exposure for folks who may only have a passing interest in home recording, because it gives all Apple users a chance to try it before dropping any money on a third-party solution. Microsoft would be wise to follow suit at some point, like what they did with Movie Maker. Since MS is so cozy with Cakewalk, I would expect that should such a product be bundled with a future MS OS, that it would most likely be made in cooperation with Cakewalk. This really should have been included in the Vista strategy. I'm really disappointed in MS for not realizing the opportunity they were presented by taking this Apple idea, and bringing it to the larger PC community. After all, they've done pretty well off the strategy so far. 😉


  • richardl

    > Acid Pro, which does looping better than GB (or anything else for that matter) but sucks at audio recording (and pretty much everything else).

    Have you looked at the latest version of ACID Pro? "Sucks" has not been my experience.

  • richardl

    Apologies, I may have misunderstood your post. You were talking about Cakewalk. I thought you were saying ACID Pro sucks for recording, which it no longer does with 6.0. Sorry.

  • Lokkison

    You all seem to forget about one major impact of Garage Band to these guys.


    Joe Blogs and family are finding content creation to be easy and are buying other odds and ends to further enrich their projects. That market was nigh unapproachable prior.

  • Stream723

    Sorry to be a nit picker but Sound Forge is software.Sonic Foundry was the company that made it (and Acid) until bought by Sony.

  • Darn, typo; thanks Stream.

    Anyway, yes, GarageBand has brought all kinds of new users (and thus potential customers). We just haven't seen very different products or attitude from the manufacturers that cater to them, certainly not from makers like Roland and Yamaha. Mostly what we've seen is some new and slightly-improved entry-level controller and interface hardware. That sounds like a missed opportunity.

  • Adrian Anders

    @ Richard, etc.

    For real? I guess I might as well upgrade Acid. I skipped 5.0 because they did nothing to improve the crappy faults of 4.0.

    Maybe Sony finally got it right for a change…


  • Leland

    Lokkison got it — it's the new customers. That's the important part.

    I'm a musician myself, but I spend most of my performance time in a large ensemble. I never felt like spending the cash on a music program that I might or might not enjoy using, and — this is also important — I didn't have an obvious need for a loop- and sequencer-based music creation system.

    Apple came along and created the need (perceived or real) with its DVD, movie, photo, and presentation applications. From there, users began to think that it would be nice to be able to make their own background music tracks. Then, right on cue, Apple brought out GarageBand.

  • Dave

    I'm a guitarist and I'm trying to record background tracks for my live performances. I have Pro Tools 7. I also have Reason 3.04 which does not appear to be compatible as a plug-in with my Pro Tools 7. I want software that is quick and easy for my background tracks. They are too numerous to spend a lot of time. I have a PC, so GarageBand is out. What about Acid Pro 6 or M-Audio Sessions?