Logic Express or GarageBand?

I’m in the process of transferring posts from the GarageBand Meetup Singapore blog to here. Decided not to maintain that blog, since the group is largely defunct.

The meetup group didn’t really take off. Few people I know are interested in remixing. Or those who play/ sing/ compose aren’t really into recording their own stuff. But the blog will still be there; it just won’t be updated. The GoogleGroup is still available for people to join, though the last time anyone posted messages was back in Oct’09.

Anyway, I’m reading this post about whether to get Logic Express or GarageBand and Jam Packs. The question from Jason, in Mar’08:

I’m currently deciding between Logic Express 8 or GarageBand 4 + 1 of the Jam Packs, and am leaning towards the latter because I think I will get more loops and software instruments at a cheaper price? Do you have any advice that might tip the scale to Logic’s side?

(Incidentally, its now Logic Express 9 and GarageBand is probably two versions up)

Out of curiosity, I decided to tackle Jason’s question. To see how I would respond, given what I know today.

I’ve been using GarageBand extensively since then. Not Apple-qualified, but confident enough to do show-and-tell with ease, plus share mixing and mastering tips and tricks. I’ve tried upgraded versions of GarageBand, and I’ve bought a World Music Jam Pack. Three days ago, I bought and installed Logic Express 9 (pictured on the right, below).
GarageBand & Logic Express

Jason asks for reasons to tip the scale towards Logic Express, so I’ll give it to him.

Get Logic Express, because the difference in cost is just under SGD$40 but you’ll get more from your money’s worth in terms of the Logic Express software instruments, effects and features.

First, let’s talk about cost.

  • Logic Express would cost you only SGD$39 more, compared to buying a GarageBand upgrade and a Jam Pack.
  • GarageBand comes with the Apple iLife suite, which means you have to buy an upgrade for iLife. That’ll set you back by SGD$78. Add the cost of one Jam Pack (I’ll take the high end price of $SGD201), your total cost is $SGD279.
  • Logic Express costs SGD$318.
  • Your price difference is SGD$39.
  • Even if you decide to get only the Jam Pack (in which case you can wait till you get a new Mac, with the latest OS and iLife suite), you’ll be forking out SGD$201 already. For SGD$100 more, you’ll be getting a heck of a lot more from Logic Express.

Which brings us to features. I’ll start with the loops/ instruments and features in Logic Express. You’re getting a lot more than the default list in GarageBand. Just consider the piano instruments. GarageBand ’11 has maybe 8 or 9 (the additional ones you see are from my extra Jam Pack):
GarageBand '11 - Pianos and Keyboards

Now let’s look at Logic Express’s default list: I count 22 piano instruments alone. There’s the “Acoustic Pianos” and “Keyboards” folder, with various sub-folders:
Logic Express 9 - software instruments library Logic Express 9 - Acoustic Pianos Logic Express 9 - Electric Pianos

That’s only the pianos. Here’s a screen shot of the Logic Express Software Instrument menu, with the right pane showing the expanded list of Logic Instruments:
Logic Express - Software Instrument Library

There’s more: here’s the EXS24 Sampler interface:
Logic Express - EXS24

Here’s a video that better illustrates how the EXS24 Sampler works:

OK, with that video you’re probably thinking, “Woah woah, feature-overload!”

That’s what I felt too. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. Learning how to make the best use of Logic Express will take time too. That’s the point, right? Getting your money’s worth?

What I’ve discovered with Logic Express is that while I could get the same MIDI track editing features in GarageBand, it’s a lot more efficient in Logic Express (i.e. less repetition, get the same work done faster). Believe me, it makes a lot of difference. Plus, Logic Express has a better set of Mastering tools (I’ll save that for another post).

In summary, Jason’s question suggested that he’s looking for value-for-money. Seems to me Logic Express is a good choice in this case.

If Jason is reading this, would he be convinced? 🙂

Unboxing my new Mac

My new Mac arrived two days ago, on Tuesday.

Saved up three months for it.

The package was larger than I expected. And heavier: 19+ kilogrammes.
Unboxing the iMac

Bought it from Apple online store. After considering really hard on what and why I would want/ need a new Mac, I decided to go for the Quad-Core i7. The i7 was only available as a 27″ model. I qualified for the Apple Educator pricing. This baby costs me SGD $3,015.50 (including the 7% GST).

  • 2.93GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7
  • 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM – 2x2GB
  • 1TB Serial ATA Drive
  • ATI Radeon HD 5750 1GB GDDR5 SDRAM
  • 8x double-layer SuperDrive
  • Magic Mouse

Reading the label on the box, I learned the unit was assembled and packed in Shanghai, People’s Republic of China. Then shipped directly to Singapore.
Unboxing the iMac

Took out the iMac package from the corrugated paper box.
Unboxing the iMac

I wondered how the packed it to prevent contact/ damaging the iMac screen. So this was how they did it: by slotting the main unit onto the Styrofoam slots.
Unboxing the iMac

The top layer was the package containing the wireless keyboard and the mouse. Removing that revealed the top of the iMac unit.
Unboxing the iMac

I wonder how many iMac customers were like me, where the first experience of unboxing the iMac was really with the wireless keyboard and the Magic Mouse. Well, both items were pretty impressive by themselves.
Unboxing the iMac

Everything about the Mac is like a work of art. There are no wasted lines or design angles.

The wireless keyboard’s slim and practically flat profile makes it look as if it’s just a bunch of white plastic keys mounted on a basically flat aluminum rectangle, with a round edge. The round top part works as the two AA batteries housing, and as the stand to prop up the keyboard at a comfortable angle.
Unboxing the iMac

Next, the mouse. The accompanying foldout cheekily puns itself as “Finger Tips”:
Unboxing the iMac

Unboxing the iMac
Or the Magic Mouse, as it’s called. There are no buttons on the mouse. Well, the entire top surface is the “button” and a scroll pad. Man, you have to go try one of these at the Apple retailer to get a sense of why they are magic 🙂

[BTW, both wireless devices come loaded with fresh sets of batteries. “Energizer” brand’ and not some cheapo house brand.]

The instruction booklet and accompanying setup DVDs were in the same package as the wireless keyboard/ mouse. Again, the thinking and “we’re serious but know how to have fun” factor was apparent in the way they labeled the instruction booklet as “Everything Mac”, and the rest as (literally) “Everything Else”.
Unboxing the iMac

Finally I lifted the iMac unit out of the box. For the uninitiated, the iMac screen is also the CPU unit (my wife was wondering why I only put up the screen only, until I explained that part to her):
Unboxing the iMac

Unboxing the iMac

Unboxing the iMac

I also found this interesting: the license agreement sticker is at the back of the unit, overlapping the protective sheet. You tear off the label in order to remove the entire sheet, and doing so is deemed to have accepted Apple’s software license agreement. Very untypical of a Windows software, where the license sticker is on the installation discs.
Unboxing the iMac

The smooth, glassy, obsidian-looking surface of the screen was really something.
Unboxing the iMac

I placed my 5-year old 15″ Macbook Pro next to the 27″ iMac for comparison. BTW, my Macbook Pro cost just under SGD $4,500 or thereabouts. Was really paying for the portability then.
Unboxing the iMac

Even the power inlet at the back of the iMac is a work of art and design.
Unboxing the iMacUnboxing the iMacUnboxing the iMac

I set my iMac on the wooden foldable table (it was sturdy enough to take the 19kg). Placed a fan underneath the table, where it would provide circulation for the Mac and the man.
Unboxing the iMac

After a few minutes of initial setup, my iMac was ready to go.
Unboxing the iMac

I’m once again reminded of why the Mac commands a community of raving fans.

It works.

It’s simple, in that it gets you past the tedium of setting it up, right on to the actual use.

Plus, when you unbox your Mac (whether it’s your first or second or how ever many) it’s always apparent that it’s one heck of an art piece.

Remixing Lunarin: “No Sun Under The Sky”

I’ve not done a detailed GarageBand “How To” post for a while. Since I’ve just completed a remix of Singapore rock band Lunarin‘s CC-BY-NC-SA track, now’s as good a time as any.

Here’s my completed remix, titled “No Sun Under The Sky” (an obvious reference to Lunarin’s original title):

Creative Commons License
No Sun Under The Sky by Ivan Chew is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Singapore License.


You can listen to the original version of “The Sky (Algiers)” in this YouTube vid from Lunarin’s live concert on 1 Oct 2010.

In my remix, I’ve used Linda’s vocals and sampled a bit of the track’s piano, bass and clean guitar.

GarageBand ’08.
Audacity for Mac.
Macbook Pro.

It took me about 5 evenings to produce the remix. Spent about 3 to 5 hours each session, at home after work (I watch a bit of TV, more to accompany my wife — and then sneak off to work on the music!)

After downloading their GarageBand zip file (68 MB), I opened it up and saw 16 individual tracks are in AIFF format. Properly labeled too. I suspect that Lunarin was using Leopard, which was a later version of my Tiger OS X. Still, it seems that the GarageBand file is backwards compatible.
Lunarin - The Sky (Algiers)

At this stage, I wasn’t too sure how to approach the remix. The problem was that I was familiar with the original version of “The Sky”. The original tune was stuck in my head.

Coincidentally, I came across Admiral Bob’s (a fellow community member at ccMixter) pensive and sensitively played piano sample. I toyed with Lunarin’s vocal sample over that. And thought I heard magic.
ccMixter - Nobody Left to Save

It’s my habit to note the source files/ URL, credits, licenses, and other details of the song (like the Beat Per Minute, Key, and time signature). Such notes come in very handy when it comes to crediting the sources (a requirement for using CC-licensed works), as well as during the remixing process (i.e. what were the original time signatures).
credits - Lunarin & Admiral Bob

Once I decided to use AdmiralBob’s stem, I also adopted his BPM, key and time signature. I created a new GarageBand project with those settings.
Remixing Lunarin

From the Lunarin’s GarageBand file, I exported the individual track layers as I needed (used the Solo button to isolate the individual track). Then I opened them up in Audacity and made the necessary tempo conversions. This was because AdmiralBob’s piano track, which would be the backbone of the remix, was in 153 bpm (Key of Em, 3/4 signature) while Lunarin’s was 147 bpm (C Major, 5/4 signature).

For Linda’s vocals, I used a combination of the original BPM as well as the converted one (depending on the mood/ effect I was aiming for in the remix).
Change Tempo using Audacity

Put all the original and converted stems into a separate folder. BTW, the export-convert process tends to be iterative at this stage. As I explore possible musical ideas and arrangement for the remix, I’m going back and forth to get what I think would finally work.
Stems - Remixing Lunarin

Once the foundation (i.e. the arrangement) of the remix was more or less set, it was time to get down to the nitty-gritty, cutting-splicing-dicing work. Mainly on the vocals, to get the best fit to the backing piano track.
Remixing Lunarin

I’m also applying effects to individual tracks as I go along. My preference is to work in the effects along the way, rather than leave it all till the end. Yes, I know some pros advocate the latter approach but I guess my remixing method is like painting — building up the layers gradually.
Remixing Lunarin - effects

For this remix, the hardest part was getting the sound level adjustments correct, so that Linda’s vocals stand out at the right level — yet not drowning out the various backing tracks. In this case, I created three layers for the vocals — a middle stereo layer, and a Left and Right pan.

From experience, this method gives the vocals more “body”. Also, in building up the Linda’s vocal recording, there’s a very audible intact of breath. It came to be a distraction, so I slowly and carefully lowered the volume at certain points. This part of the remixing sucks up a lot of time; it’s more process-oriented and repetitive. Not exactly fun, but critical.
Sound level adjustments

When I think the track is ready, I export it as an MP3 file: stereo, at 128kbps, highest Variable Bit Rate (VBR) setting.
Exporting a GB track

It would be unusual to get the first version right. As I listen to the track as an MP3, I spot areas for improvements, e.g. parts that are too loud, too soft, vocal parts sounding a bit off in timing… and so on. It’s an iterative process of making adjustments in GarageBand, exporting the track, listening to it (and repeat). I ended up with about 9 or 10 versions before I was satisfied decided I’ve to stop!
Remixing Lunarin

At one point during the final sound/ remix check, I decided there needed to be an orchestral string part near the end. To create that grand concert hall mood. So I recorded a software instrument track. This was the only original part I created for this remix. You can listen/ download the string sample, here.
Software instrument - GarageBand

When I’ve listened to my remix for, oh I don’t know… the 10,000th time! I get to a point where I’m satisfied (but never fully happy though). I make the final sound adjustments and export as an MP3 file.

The proverbial icing on the cake is to key in the metadata (e.g. title, artist name, credits, album cover). I use iTunes for this (there’s also Windows Media Player, if you’re using a Windows-based computer). I’ll make it a point to indicate the CC-licensed sources in the Comments metadata section (that’s where the earlier notes come in).
No Sun Under the Sky (ft. Lunarin & AdmiralBob)

That’s it. Phew!

You can check out the upload and page details at this ccMixter page. I’ve provided the dry stems for the orchestral strings at that site.

Hope you liked this remix. I know I had fun remixing this. From my favourite S’porean band, no less.

Feel free to leave a comment.

Lunarin is Linda Ong (Bass, Vocals), Ho Kah Wye (Guitars), and Loo Eng Teck (Drums, Vocals). Among them, two of them are practicing lawyers and one is an engineer 🙂
Lunarin | Home

My new album: Sound Out Singapore 2010

The 4th self-produced Creative Commons music album from my band, Starfish Stories. The back story, here.

If you like the music, feel free to leave a comment.

For Track 01 “Open the Door (Smile Again)”, please credit as:

Album cover - Sound Out Singapore 2010

Creative Commons License2010 Sound Out Singapore by Starfish Stories : The Band is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Singapore License. As long as you ATTRIBUTE the music by stating this: “Starfish Stories :: The Band – StarfishStories.wordpress.com”* in your audio, video, website, printed materials etc., you are FREE to USE, COPY, SHARE, MODIFY, or SELL (yes sell!) any of the songs from this album.

Minimising the frequency of OS X crashes

A few nights ago my MBP acted up again. Or rather, my OS X crashed. Again. When I booted up my Mac, it only showed the desktop and nothing else. No status bar, no desktop icons. Just the wallpaper and the rolling beachball.

Recovering from the crash it was simple.

  1. I booted up my Mac with the installation DVD.
  2. Chose to reinstall OS X with the “Archive and Install” option (see this and this from Apple Support). The “Archive and Install” option would keep my existing files and settings intact.
  3. After that, I did several sounds of Software Updates to get my Mac up to speed.
  4. Once I confirmed the Mac is running OK, I went to the HDD/ System folder and deleted the “Recovered” folders. Apparently when you do an “Archive and Install”, all the system files will be copied here. Deleting those files freed up my much needed HDD space.

Actually — if I’d read this Apple Support article first, I would have tried using Disk Utility (available from the boot DVD) to verify and repair the volume:

Start up from your Mac OS X Install Disc 1 or Install DVD. If you have different versions of Mac OS X Installer discs (for example, if your computer came with version 10.3 and you later purchased and installed version 10.4), start from the disc that most closely matches the installed Mac OS X version. Usually, that’s the latest (newer) version.

Usually, you can start from the disc by putting it in your computer, restarting, and holding the C key. Or, put it in the computer and click the Install or Restore icon you see in the disc’s main window (after which the computer will start from the disc without you needing to hold C.)


Anyway, I managed to reinstall OS X. It didn’t take too long, and I took the chance to clean up my HDD. I was also curious why the crash seemed to happen with increasing frequency. It was the 2nd time in a year I’ve had to perform a reinstall (previous was in May ’09thereabouts). I’ve had my Mac for almost 4 years and previous 3 years have been problem free. Now it seemed to act up.

I wrote to the folks at ME@N. Said it didn’t seem like a hardware problem and wondered if it had anything to do with HDD space. When the crashed happened this time, my HDD space was about 8GB left.

I asked if there was anything I could do to minimise such disruptions? Or if reinstalls are unavoidable, did the group have tips to make things smoother, e.g. What installation files or software update packages to keep on hand etc.

RESPONSES (thanks to Adrian Tan, Hanx and Siva):

  • “do a clone backup of your bootup drive. This would make it faster to get you up to speed simce then you would only need to clone the backup from the backup to your main drive. And plus you can still use your computer. I personally use superduper.” [Adrian Tan]
  • “there probably are some file/folder permissions being messed up. Next time it happens (seems likely given your description :), do a repair permissions in Disk Utility. If you can’t even log in, you can use the Disk Utility on the Install DVD to do it. Probably some rogue application not setting things properly after it quits. Also possible if you had been force quitting applications thereby not allowing them to “clean things up”. [hanx]
  • “There is Onyx – try its ‘Display of Folders Content: Rebuild’. You may need to free up disk space to 15%.” [Siva]

There was a general agreement that my crash could be due to my Force Quitting the apps. I recall having to Force Quit GarageBand several times before each crash, so that reinforces that train of thought. Siva added that having to Force Quit the app could also be a sign of a full HDD.

Now, I’ll make it a point to run Disk Utility to repair file permissions regularly. And I’ve also freed up 20GB worth of space by transferred files to external drives (those video and music files were just sitting in my HDD). I’ll make sure whatever is on my HDD is mainly working files.

Macintosh HD - Disk Utility

Using GarageBand to transpose music tracks

My fellow liblogarian, Von Totanes, aka Filipino Librarian emailed me to ask if I knew how to use GarageBand to transpose an imported MP3 from F key to E key. He’s new to GarageBand and said he tried searching for help but couldn’t “make heads or tails of what’s being said”.

I’m curious what were the instructions that he has referred to 🙂

Von, I know of two ways to do it in GarageBand: using the “AUPitch” effect or the “Vocal Transformer” effect.

My GB version is iLife ’08. If you’re using a later version, the user interface may be slightly different but the effects should be the same.

BTW, I presume you’ve already imported the MP3 to GarageBand. Once that’s done, select that track and apply either one (but not both) of these effects:

#1 – Using the “AUPitch” effect
GarageBand Effects menu

AU Pitch

[I don’t think the numbers represent the pitch, because how much you adjust depends on your original pitch. So you’ll have to experiment. Like, play a note on the piano or a song with a known pitch.]

#2- Using the “Vocal Transformer” effect
Vocal Transformer effect

Vocal Transformer

Let me know if this helps, Von.

[28 Aug 09] Update: To access the above panels, open up your Track Info panel, i.e. TRACK > SHOW TRACK INFO. Then click on the Details.
Track Info panel

Reinstalling Mac OS X

Have been using my Mac for almost 2 years now, straight from the box. Somehow I perceive more “spinning beachballs” each time I start my Mac. Decided to try a reinstall (I’m not sure if it’ll improve things but since I’ve never done a reinstall before, might as well learn how).

From docs.info.apple.com:

  1. Insert the Mac OS X Install Disc and double-click the Install Mac OS X icon.
  2. Follow the onscreen instructions. In the panel where you select the destination disk, select your current Mac OS X disk (in most cases, it will be the only one available).
  3. Click Options. If you want to save your existing files, users, and network settings, select “Archive and Install,” then select “Preserve Users and Network Settings.” If you want to erase everything on your computer and reinstall Mac OS X, select “Erase and Install.” You can’t recover erased data.
  4. Click Continue.
  5. Click Customize to select which parts of Mac OS X you’d like to install, or click Install to perform a basic installation (recommended).

[Screenshot from Mac Help]

And from support.apple.com “How to back up and restore your files“:

Regardless of which method(s) you choose, you should store at least one copy of your backup outside the computer to guard against common risks such as theft or power issues, including lightning. You may also wish to store a copy of important data at a second site to guard against property destruction, such as fire and natural disasters.

OK, I bought an external drive and copied all the important files. For some “ultra-important” files (like my GarageBand songs!) I’ve even burned to a DVD.

Links to plug-ins and apps (to download first, so that they can be reinstallation right away):

Related How To guides:

How to convert CD/ MP4 audio files to MP3 using iTunes 8

As an update to this post, here’s how you convert your audio files to MP3 format using iTunes version 8 (hat-tip to Fiona for sharing the info!):

For a PC, it’s:

  • Preferences> General> Import Settings.
  • Choose “MP3” (or your desired format)
  • Then go to your song, right-click and choose “Create MP3 Version” (if you’ve specified MP3 in the earlier step).

For Macs, it’s:

  • Preferences> General> Import Settings
  • Select “Import using MP3 encoder” (or your desired format)
  • Then go to your song, right-click and choose “Create MP3 Version” (if you’ve specified MP3 in the earlier step).

If you’re using iTunes version 7, check out this earlier post.


Specifying Bluetooth file sharing/ exchange preferences

I’d forgotten how to do this for my new phone. I wanted to specify a default folder for all the files transferred, via Bluetooth, from my phone to my Mac. Finally managed to figure it out after a while. Am posting this for future reference:

#1: System Preferences –> Bluetooth
System Preferences - Bluetooth

#2: Sharing –> Bluetooth File Exchange –> “Folder for accepted items”
Bluetooth - File Sharing set-up

Piece of cake.