Blog Music Tech

9/12/09 – 9/25/09 More Mac Thoughts

Lots of recording since I last posted. Tried GarageBand for one experiment, though the many pre-composed elements that come with GarageBand are a real turnoff for me. I still have a tentative relationship with loops to begin with, especially when they are not simply percussion or drums. Anything melodic is a cop-out from my standpoint, though occasionally they will spawn something interesting.

It may be just fine for me to arrange some loops into something cohesive for one of the background music projects I am doing. Buddha knows I have thousands of loops, though the interface to import them into GarageBand is a bit quirky. One of the oud (Arabic lute) loops in GarageBand is very recognizable to me… I either have it in another collection on the PC or got it from one of the computer music magazines that I read. But I agree, GarageBand is basically like crack from what I can tell, even for musicians who can compose their own parts. The plugins for guitar and other effects are very good.

So, I’ve had mostly good experiences since my last entry, though a couple things have puzzled me. Setting up Bluetooth was a snap, and transferring a video from my Blackberry to the MacBook was easy (even creepy). But transfer out to the Blackberry doesn’t work. I’ve got a ticket open with Apple. I don’t know if they are working on it, or if they will just walk me through a script when they call me back. We’ll see.

When I went back to catalog some of my Mac music recordings files, I noticed that the creation dates were in early 2009. That doesn’t make sense because the machine wasn’t even ordered until August. On further inspection, I noticed that my time zone had somehow been switched to Atlanta time, though the date was still correct. Other files are correct, so I am not sure what happened. This is worth watching. On a PC, we’d call this a virus.

The SD slot is handy. SD is the media that my Zoom portable recorder uses. This has allowed me to transfer/backup recordings easily, even in the car (while someone else drives), eliminating the need to do that step back home. This isn’t simply a Mac convenience, but it is a new part of my workflow made possible by having a machine dedicated to media.

For a while I was using Adobe Photoshop Elements to manage photos on my PC, but lately the import feature has been whacked. When renaming photos in a series during import, Elements puts the photos in reverse order. So you end up with image #10 being the first in the series, and image #1 being the last. This drives me &^*(^&*-ing crazy. Elements used to work fine, but despite my trolling though menus, I haven’t been able to fix it. (If any other software developers are reading this: STOP WASTING OUR TIME!)

So I decided to try iPhoto, which seems much smoother in all respects. When Lambda Pi Eta needed a flyer for an upcoming event, I took advantage of a template in the Pages program and was done in minutes. It’s not very original, particularly if a bunch of other organizations have people with Macbooks and the same software, but hey – I’m juggling quite a few things right now, and I am not ashamed to use a template if it gets the job done. In between all of this Mac exploration, I finally returned to the collection of songs that I am working on with Sonar Studio 5 on PC.

I was pleasantly surprised with my ability to navigate Sonar after being away from these songs for about six months (too long, really). It was like riding a bike again. This set of songs involves a lot more multi-track and MIDI work than previous collections, so there’s a lot to manage. For that reason, it is nearly impossible to move these songs over to the Mac platform before final mixing. As much as I have enjoyed working on the Mac so far, that was never really the plan. Transferring 12 multi-track recordings with all kinds of settings and plug-ins would honestly be a waste of my valuable time right now. Besides the fact that Sonar doesn’t run on a Mac, many PC plug-ins are irreplaceable. So, for now at least, I plan to finish this collection on PC.

One song called for some freaky vocal effects. Nothing I tried before in terms of software plugins or off-board effects was doing the trick. So I decided to use some of the effects in Garageband, and ran an output from the Macbook over to my PC audio interface. The effects that are built into Garageband are quite good. I especially liked the various vocal filters, and found a couple that worked well for the song. Later that night, I tried using the Macbook as a guitar amp simulator, and found some good tones there as well. It was a good experience using the power of both a PC and a Mac to create something.

So far I’ve had the most fun with Garageband. I doubt I’ll get into Cubase too much further. Bass player friend (also a new PC to Mac owner) Matt Homiak, says he loves Logic Express. He says it has plenty of power and features for the types of things he does. He also agreed – and my experience matched – that Cubase is just more convoluted than it needs to be. One thing that breaks the deal for me with Cubase is the lack of touchpad support. If Logic has touchpad support like Garageband, then sign me up.

I’ve come across some rare Carl Sandburg LPs, so one of my next projects will involve using the Macbook to capture audio from a turntable. This is no big deal of course, and many people sell converter boxes to make this happen. Luckily I still have my old-school Realistic mixer from my early musical experiments of the late 1980s. It has ceramic and magnetic phono connectors. Here in the current century, I decided to go the ultra-easy route and downloaded Audacity (a popular free audio editor). I know some other folks that use it, but I have never been very impressed. Maybe it’s just that feeling that “you get what you pay for.” Or maybe I’ve grown too comfortable with Sound Forge. But given my aversion to Sony since last year’s MiniDisc nonsense, it is probably time to start looking elsewhere for options.

So, more ups and downs. Discoveries and dead ends, but still worth it. One of my young cousins says he doesn’t like Macs because he thinks they are slow. Of course I’ve seen no evidence of that. He hasn’t been around long enough to know what slow really is. Slow in relation to what? At one time just about any type of computer was slow. Things improve. Right now the Macbook boots much faster than either my Quad Core desktop or our HP laptop. Granted, it has less software installed on it, and fewer peripherals configured.

As expected, this experience has just underscored that it is time for the PC nerds and the Macheads to unite to make machines that incorporate the best of both (or all) worlds.


By jjdeprisco

Sonic explorer, sound artist, guitarist in Fricknadorable, software designer.