I’ve never been musically inclined. In my grade school, singing in music class marked one as being uncool, and although I eventually had a few piano lessons and a small singing part in a ninth-grade production of Fiddler on the Roof, by high school, it was clear that I lacked much in the way of musical talent. Being one of those people who focuses on the things I know I’m good at, I never picked up other instruments or pursued additional musical opportunities of any sort.
My lack of musical inclination came into sharp focus during the San Francisco 2004 Macworld Expo, which brought the introduction of iLife ’04 and GarageBand, Apple’s ultra-hip software designed to let anyone make digital music. Immersed as I am in the mode of being a working mother, I hadn’t even heard of the obviously cool John Mayer (described on the iTunes Music Store as a "chart-topping wonder"), who Steve Jobs asked to demonstrate GarageBand to the keynote audience. At the time, the whole GarageBand thing made me feel old and terminally uncool.
Judging from the applause in the keynote, not everyone felt the same way, including Seattle musician and designer Jeff Tolbert. When Jeff’s not doing cutting-edge illustration or Web design (thus proving the adage that real musicians have day jobs), he has played in numerous bands with hip names like the Goat-Footed Senators. GarageBand’s introduction may have made me feel completely out of touch, but Jeff bought iLife ’04 immediately, picked up new gear to use with the GarageBand, and sent me email to see if I’d be interested in publishing a Take Control ebook about GarageBand.
Figuring that if Jeff could hook me into using GarageBand, he’d be able to do it for anyone, I asked him to draft a few pages that would help me create a decent-sounding tune. Jeff wrote the draft, I followed the directions, and, amazingly enough, I was able to combine several loops in interesting ways that sounded (at least to my ear) like a real song. Feeling ever so slightly cool, I gave Jeff a contract, connected him with one of our editors who has more musical experience than I (the estimable Caroline Rose, best known for writing and editing Inside Macintosh Volumes I through III at Apple, being the editor in chief at NeXT, and returning to Apple for a while as editor in chief of "develop, the Apple Technical Journal"), recruited TidBITS Technical Editor (and professional studio musician) Geoff Duncan to help with a technical review, and we were off.
A while later, Jeff and Caroline turned in the 68-page "Take Control of Making Music with GarageBand," which helps novices like me open the door to the world of digital music while offering sufficient depth to help those with real musical backgrounds and some GarageBand experience. It explains not just how to use GarageBand’s built-in loops, but also how some of the music theory I missed in school can be employed in GarageBand to make truly cool songs. (Note that it does not cover recording music via MIDI devices or adding vocals to your tracks; those are topics for later titles.) The part of the ebook I most enjoyed was playing with tricks like panning the sound from speaker to speaker. The tune I created sounds reminiscent of Pink Floyd, and speaking as someone who graduated from high school in 1985, if that’s not cool, I don’t know what is. Maybe I can still hope for a second career as a rock chick, though I won’t be giving up my day job publishing Take Control ebooks anytime soon.
"Take Control of Making Music in GarageBand" is now available for sale for $5, and along with the usual Take Control goodness like full-text searching, internally linked cross-references, and free updates, it includes links to clips in the iTunes Music Store that illustrate points Jeff makes, along with links to audio examples of the two songs Jeff helps you create (we tried embedding them in the PDF, but they played only in Acrobat 6.0 and caused Preview to crash on launch). Whether you’re already a hip musician or a self-admitted wannabe like me, I hope you’ll check it out.