Music Studio: What GarageBand should have been

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One of the “big” news that Apple had to share with us during the iPad 2 announcement was two new apps, iMovie and Garageband. Both apps are priced at $4.99 and have received a lot of praise, but in both cases now I’ve found serious missing capabilities that have left me looking for third part software. Like ReelDirector is the better version of iMovie, Music Studio is the better version of Garageband.

Apple claims that Garageband is great for people who can’t play an instrument. Well, I fit into that category rather well. I do like messing around with stuff though, and one of the things (read: the only thing) I’ve ever used my physical Yamaha synthesizer for is to transfer MIDI files and learn to play songs that way. MIDI files are basically notes and instrument info in a file format that is both small and very “customizable” as there’s no recording of actual music, just the “recipe” for how to do it which various devices can then read. I figured that MIDI support was given in Garageband as it would be a rather useless app without it, but Apple apparently disagrees. No MIDI support in any ways, and you can’t even import projects from the Mac version of Garageband so no way of doing it that way either. I’m not the only one who’s frustrated with this online, but luckily I found a solution.

Music Studio for the iPad is basically what Garageband should have been. It has the same basic capabilities but does so much more. One of which is import MIDI files, as you might have gathered. I dug up my old MIDI folder from 5+ years ago where I stored various MIDI files for use on my Nokia cellphone, back when “polyphonic ringtones” (MIDI files) were the only form of music you could play on a cellphone. Instead of going through them to find any good ones I just copied all 150 of them to Music Studio, which you can do by using the “open in” feature (from mail, Dropbox etc), via iTunes fileshare or via Wifi transfer.

Playing with MIDI files is about the only thing I find fun about music apps like these, though real musicians will also find tons of settings and features you won’t find in Garageband. I’ll leave it to them to figure it out though as I don’t understand much of it. What I do understand is how to mess with the before-mentioned MIDI files. After you open one up, the track list will be populated by however many instrument tracks the MIDI file contains. Some have only a few, some have dozens. The app will use instruments that are as similar to the ones the MIDI file describes as possible, just like any MIDI player- which is why a MIDI file can sound very different from one device to the next.

The possibilities are endless for what you can do when messing around with MIDI files like this. Switching out instruments is about the most basic “edit”; have you for instance ever wondered how Stairway to Heaven would sound like if played on an accordion and backed by a bagpipe? Spoiler: I’ve heard better. How about the theme from Pokemon played with a church organ at double the speed? Or Dragostea Din Tei played using an Ocarina. You can cut, move, add, delete whatever tracks you want, creating complete remixes of songs that you can find MIDI files for (which isn’t hard).

Again, this is probably not what professional musicians use the app for, but I’d rather state my ignorance rather than pretend it’s not there. I love messing around with songs like this and I lost about 3-4 hours today when I sat down and played around then lost track of time. I don’t think I’m alone in finding this kind of entertainment…eh…entertaining, so that’s why I’m writing this.

The price is about the only thing Garageband has over Music Studio. At $15 it’s not the cheapest app, but it is powerful. There’s a free version which is limited in many ways, including MIDI import and export. You also have to pay an additional $15 (via an in-app purchase) if you want all the instruments, or buy smaller packs for $5 which has some in each. That puts the total up to $30 for the complete app, although I should point out that Garageband doesn’t even begin to have as many instruments and no way of getting more at all. Some of the additional instruments are the most fun, such as the Ocarina and the 8-bit sound generator.

All in all a great app for those who like things like this, but at the current price it certainly isn’t something you buy on impulse.


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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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