M-Audio has a new application called Session that they’re trumpeting as a Windows-only answer to GarageBand. In a story at Digital Trends (formerly Design Technica), M-Audio’s consumer group VP Tony McCall says the new app will bring some of GarageBand’s accessibility to Windows computer music newbies:
“Apple’s GarageBand has done a wonderful job of bringing consumer music-creation to the Mac market. As a result, there’s a huge contingent of users who are hungry for a PC-friendly solution, and M-Audio’s Session software is exactly what those users have been waiting for.
Here’s the problem: from what I can see from the just-posted Session product page, the program looks like a mediocre clone at best, hacked together to vaguely resemble GarageBand but without any of the polish, a bit like the import clones labeled “IPOD” in big letters. Confusing, additional icons mar the interface. The loops browser is built into the track view, making it more difficult to navigate loops. And, at best, what Session aims to do is to simply copy the GarageBand interface, rather than think creatively about what beginning musicians might want. Ironically, GarageBand hasn’t necessarily been the runaway hit some initially predicted: while the application has been popular with newcomers, it’s proven difficult to convince new musicians to use a computer for music, even with a great app.
That said, Session does make a certain amount of sense. As a freebie, it’s a great deal: you get 2GB of loops, 260 instrument presents, effects, and a basic editing interface. All of this ships with M-Audio’s FastTrack interface, so it means a hobbyist musician can spend US$100 (street) and get some basic stuff to start working. And that’s a good thing.
But to claim beginning Windows users don’t have other choices is simply not true. They have quite a number of superb audio applications from which to choose, ranging from Cakewalk’s Home Studio, Music Creator, and just-announced Kinetic 2, plus the longtime Windows favorite FL Studio (Fruity Loops). In fact, if anything, Cakewalk has too many entry-level options; I’d really like to see them create a single, perfect version of Home Studio and market the heck out of it. But their options start at just US$30, so budget isn’t really an issue. And the equally-affordable FL Studio regularly makes Mac users jealous. (And that’s not easy to do.)
Of course, what Session really is is a simple application M-Audio can bundle with one audio interface. (And you won’t be able to buy it any other way, not even by buying other M-Audio interfaces.) But, from the standpoint of getting new people to make music with computers, I think it’s the wrong strategy. I’d rather see creative, new approaches to music making for beginners than clones. GarageBand is a nice app, and this “homage” is certainly a compliment to that, but it’s just one solution. There are other ways for beginners to get into computer music, some of which may be more compelling for some users, depending on their tastes. And with programs like Kinetic, FL Studio, and even the affordable lite versions of Reason and Live fitting the bill quite nicely, the last thing I’d say is “I wish there were a GarageBand rip-off for Windows.”