Garageband: Harmful to Musical Creativity?

by Janet Meyer Nov 07, 2006

In August I wrote about changes in the music industry inspired by iTunes. Recently I read an article from The Daily News of Newburyport questioning the impact of Apple’s Garageband on musical creativity. It’s an aspect of GarageBand that I had never considered before.

I have seen my daughter’s class make good use of Garageband in creating podcasts that have an international audience. For me, Garageband has always been associated with enhanced creativity. This article made me consider another side to the question.

On the positive side, Garageband is a great option for composers to try to put together what they’re hearing in their heads. After all, they don’t always have bandmates to help. One example given in the article was of a singer who also plays several instruments. He recently made a CD by recording each instrument separately and then layering them in the Garageband program. This shows how Garageband can help a songwriter to check out their ideas. Good songs can be lost when there’s no quick way to save them.

When Garageband is used as a tool to preserve ideas, it can be a big asset for musicians. It’s also gives them an easy way to play around with different instrumentations, further enhancing the creative process.

My concern began when I read about people marketing and selling CDs they made entirely with Garageband. Music isn’t just about the sound; it’s about connection. It seems that music made and listened to in isolation misses the point.

The article quotes Andy Edelstein, a professor at Berklee College of Music in Boston, as sharing those concerns. He questions the isolation that technology can lead to. Music is meant to be shared not only with audiences, but among performers.

Edelstein is quoted as saying that he doesn’t think that true garage rockers would be satisfied with just computerized music. I think he’s right. Musicians, those who are really passionate about what they are doing, need each other to feed off of. Jamming with friends who share your love of music is where the best ideas are inspired.

Isolation is a real concern with technology. Kids spend a lot of time in front of their computers already. For good or bad, IMs often replace phone calls and visits with friends. Music is supposed to be about increasing communications. Will Garageband and similar programs take that away?

In the end, I don’t think so. Rockport music teacher Nathan Cohen says that the magic in music comes from a bunch of people collaborating together. I would go further and say that as bands play together and mature musically together, they learn to listen and relate more and more to each other and their music. Bands that really connect make for memorable performances.

I recently witnessed this kind of magic at a Switchfoot concert. This is a group of guys that performs well together. They also enjoy the audience interaction. I don’t know if they use Garageband when creating their songs, but I do know that the connection they share as they perform is crucial to the magic that happens at their concerts.

For now, I suspect that Garageband will continue to be a good tool to enhance creativity. Yet there will always be those who miss the bigger picture of what music is and try to go it alone. With Garageband, they are no longer forced to find other musicians to play their creations. This will be an enormous loss to them, and they’ll never realize it.

Yet I could be wrong, Maybe there will be a day when bands could no longer perform well together because they rely too much on technology. Maybe the day will come when there are no more performances because we have gotten used to Garageband-made CDs and no longer care about the sound of live music. This would truly be the day the music died.

What do you think? Will Garageband lead to lesser quality music, poorer public performances, and ultimately poorer music? Will we soon see a #1 hit made purely from Garageband (and if so, how in the world is the writer going to go on tour?) Or is Garageband going to remain what it is intended to be, a starting place for creativity?

I can’t imagine a world without garage bands.


  • Ha, with a powerful machine and iChat AV you can jam together, no matter where you are! Would make for a neat band project. Everyone can hear each other playing through iChat on headphones while everyone also simultaneously records what they are playing locally in Garageband. Later send tracks around and fix them together to make a song. Of course this would never sound like a real jam-session, especially due to the different room-acoustics.

    In the end, it all comes down to creativity. If you have it, you will create amazing art, due to or despite the technology employed. If you do not have it, you will not.

    What leads to less quality is people buying low quality instead of complaining about it.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Nov 07, 2006 Posts: 371
  • I think that your article is missing some key elements.

    First, there is a big difference between performing w/ a band in front of people, and composing; creating music in privacy/wee hours of the morning type of thing.
    Playing live is a gas, fun, creative.
    But actually creating the music is mostly done solo or w/ a partner.

    Also, laying down tracks pro tools/garage band style is the method thats used for recording. It’s news when someone recordstheir album live .

    And, there is nothing more creative, enriching, fulfilling than being able to lay down ideas at any time on the mac using GB or Logic or ....

    Think of it as the 21 century equvialnt of picking a up an acoustic guitar or going to the piano to work on a song.

    stevedawn had this to say on Nov 07, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Are they using GB for sequencing?  If so, then it’s not really any different from digital sequencers that have been around for years.  It’s more accessible and less powerful, the usual trade-offs, like iMovie compared to Final Cut Pro.  The composer I use to score my films creates awesome music all from the privacy of his bedroom.

    If, however, they are using the preset music in GB to make CDs, then it’s a bit like using iWeb templates to make a website.  It’s fun and all, and you can share with your friends and family, but you’d never really be able to do it professionally.

    My sister is 16 years old and is a poster child of the communications age.  Myspace, text-messaging, IM, all that shit.  Rather than isolation her, it has simply extended the time in which she is able to communicate with her friends.  When I was a kid, I would see my friends at school, maybe hang out afterwards, then go home.  She goes home, then keeps talking to them all hours of the night.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 07, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • There are three elements to music which matter here:  the composition, the performance, and don’t overlook the reproduction of the music by other performers.

    GarageBand allows people who can’t read music, and who can’t write instrumental music, to create music.  The music produced by GarageBand doesn’t need to be any less sophisticated than music produced conventionally, by properly trained composers, but unless the composer knows about counterpoint and harmony along with other technical aspects of writing music, then it is likely to be simple, perhaps fairly simple, music.

    But then that is exactly what most popular music is.  And music composed on GarageBand can be indistinguishable from music composed by enthusiastic, but untrained, musicians anywhere.

    Music can be fun to create and perform as part of a band - but almost all our orchestral music was composed by an individual, and then performed by a group of musicians.  So there is nothing different about anyone writing a multi-track piece of music using GarageBand.

    But how can this music last?  It is not written down anywhere, and only reproducible if you can learn it by listening to it.  Musicians who compose their music on GarageBand may find it has a shorter life since it may never get into sheet music and may never be played by the next generations of musicians.

    Technology changes everything we do, and GarageBand is just technology applied to create another way to write music.  For people with a well developed musical sensibility, but perhaps not a great deal of technical skill, GarageBand provides a level of “instant feedback” that allows the composer to hear what works and what does not.

    But you are stuck with the performance you create.  Live performances or covers by other bands are made much more difficult.  Perhaps, one day, GarageBand will spawn a new type of music notation which is created automatically from GB recordings so that others can play the music for themselves?

    sydneystephen had this to say on Nov 07, 2006 Posts: 124
  • It is not written down anywhere, and only reproducible if you can learn it by listening to it. 

    Huh?  Who says?

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 07, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • I play drums. I don’t play any other instruments and I don’t know how to read or write music. GarageBand is a useful tool to sketch rough song ideas. I’d never use it for producing anything professonally.

    MacNuggets had this to say on Nov 07, 2006 Posts: 17
  • “Is Garage Band harmful to musical creativity?”

    I think that may be the wrong question… Is an Easy Bake Oven hurtful to the world of cuisine?

    Ok, perhaps the Easy Bake Oven was an extreme metaphor, but it’s still somewhat valid. Maybe a microware, bread maker or Showtime Rotisserie(TM) would have been a better example. They offer a low barrier of entry for cooks, but they’re just tools. The cooks who want to improve their art will do so in spite of the time saving tools at their disposal.

    As others have mentioned, Garage Band offers a way to quickly compose music, but composition is very different from performance. Also, (again others have noted) that serious studio work would never be done with Garage Band, but if you wanted to “prototype” a melody or play around with an idea in your head, Garage Band offers a low barrier to entry.

    Garage Band may actually increase musical creativity, because a “dabbler” musician may find that while using Garage Band, he or she wants to advance their musical art. So perhaps they take (more) lessons, or buy some instruction books, or learn to read sheet music.

    The low barrier to entry means that budding musicians are given an opportunity to do more with their music than they might have otherwise… Something they probably would not have done if only multi-hundred dollar composition software were the only thing on the market (which, before Garage Band, was basically the case).

    As for the performance aspect, I do not think Garage Band falls into the example technology creating more divides between people. Composition and performance are two very different things. Musicians who seek out bands will continue to do so because performance satisfies a whole different part of the brain than composition does.

    Oh, and in case you were wondering whether I am blowing smoke out my ass, I’ve been a guitar player for over 20 years, play bass and can “fake it” enough to occasionally get by on keyboards. I only occasionally use Garage Band mostly because I enjoy the performance side more than the composition side. It’s a whole different ball game.

    vb_baysider had this to say on Nov 08, 2006 Posts: 243
  • Hi.  As a classically trained cellist at the tender age of 18 I went in search of new musical territoy.  I found it in the realms of Music Technology, using 16 track tape machines, Atari ST’s, Mac Classics, Cubase, sound modules like the Proteus and Roland U220, Alesis SR16 etc. I was even one of the first people in the country to own a Yamaha QY10 - groundbreaking sequencer as big as two iPods..  Anyway I digress.  My point is that it enabled a huge level of creativity that had previously been out of reach before.  The same happened for me again with garageband, new textures, drum loops that don’t sound stale. I dont rely on the loops on their own, that would be pointless for me, but to use them to support my own ideas…. now theres the benefit.  I am lucky.  I can play quite a few instruments, many cannot and thats where GarageBand has started to play another supporting role in my life as a classroom teacher.  From minimalism to trance in a matter of minutes all using students own material.  GB isnt the best software in the world, but it has so much to offer and is so easy to use that many would be writers will not have to give up throught the frustration of learning how to use it successfully.

    Can I breathe now?

    Thanks for reading.

    (I’m now 34)

    Long live a long living Mac!

    musiqueunique had this to say on Nov 26, 2006 Posts: 1
  • I’m obivously too old for this crowd, but hasn’t anyone here (including your"professor” from Boston) ever head of the BAND called, “Boston?” This “Band” ruled the radio waves for years.
    What most people do not know is that the first album by this"band” was almost entirly written, produced, played, recorded and mixed by ONE GUY.
    That kind of creativity I can live with.

    thatguy77 had this to say on Dec 30, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Page 1 of 1 pages
You need log in, or register, in order to comment