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GarageBand Ideal for Podcast Production

by Glen Emerson Morris
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Anyone doubting whether podcasting has become a major force in communications should consider this statistic. A recent Google search on the term "podcast" returned 295,000,000 results. If that's not enough, consider that the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary declared "podcasting" the 2005 word of the year.

Not surprisingly, consumers adopted podcasting long before advertisers did. Initially, creating a professional quality podcast was a real challenge since most music production software lacked several key features podcast production requires. The complexity of many recording applications was another problem. It was easy to produce an amateurish sounding podcast, but hard to make a professional sounding podcast.

Now that podcasting is two years old the market for podcast production software is booming. There are dozens of applications specifically designed to make podcasts now. One of the most recent is GarageBand 3 from Apple, whose iPod is at the heart of the podcast revolution.

Originally designed as a home recording studio application, GarageBand has been reborn as a professional podcast production application. It still has all the features that made one of the best home studio applications, but now it has a set of extra features that make it ideal for podcast production.

GarageBand's interface is elegant and highly intuitive. The main GarageBand window has three columns, one for track information, one for mix information and one that displays the track's audio content as a graphic image. Each row represents one of several kinds of stereo or mono tracks. Additional information, like the loop browser, can be displayed at the bottom, or at the right of the window.

Opening a new project in GarageBand offers the options of creating a music project, podcast episode, or movie score. The default template for podcasts has five tracks, which includes Podcast Track (primarily for images), Male Voice, Female Voice, Jingles and Radio Sounds.

One of the features needed in a podcast application that's completely missing in many top end recording applications is the ability to import CD tracks. To add a music bed to a podcast you just click on the CD track and drag it to the jingle track (you can also add it as a new track if you'd like).

If you don't have a music bed library handy, you're not out of luck. GarageBand ships with over one hundred broadcast quality, royalty free, music beds (aka jingles) in long, medium and short versions. Also included are 52 stingers, and 219 sound effects.

Mixing sound effects is easy. Both volume and pan settings can be automated, so changes you make to a tracks volume and pan position can be automatically repeated each time you play the track. To do this, GarageBand gives each track the option of having a volume and a pan curve added which appear as a horizontal line under the track. You click on the line to add a control point and then drag the point up or down to change the volume or pan position. It couldn't be simpler.

Each track in GarageBand can be individually processed with a built in noise gate, compressor, equalizer, echo and reverb effect. Two additional processors for each channel can be selected from a list of 16 different effects, including high pass filter, low pass filter, band pass filter, multiband compressor, and parametric equalizer, among others.

Audio tracks in GarageBand can be recorded directly from Apple's iChat, which is a VOIP (voice on the Internet protocol) application. Since podcasts sometimes need to feature interviews with several people in different locations, this makes recording far easier and cheaper than using standard phone lines.

GarageBand also features a track just for adding pictures and other graphics. GarageBand can be set to automatically display a photo of whoever is speaking at the time. This track could also be used to display whatever product is being talked about at the time.

Since GarageBand began as an application to help musicians create and record songs, it has features that enable music beds to be created from scratch in two different ways, using loops and using digital instruments. The loops approach lets you combine short selections of prerecorded music into complete songs. For instance, several short drum solos can be combined to create a full 16 measure drum track. The digital instrument approach is a variation of midi technology. You can write a melody in standard music notation and then play it back with a variety of digital instruments.

GarageBand is compatible with a number of music recording applications based on either the loop or digital instrument format, or both, so there are many add-on packages of loops and digital instruments available. GarageBand can import files in MP3, AIFF, WAV, ACID, ACC and Apple Lossless formats.

Apple offers four add-on packs for GarageBand, called Jam Packs, which include both additional instruments and loops. These are World Music, Remix Tools, Rhythm Section (mainly drums and bass), and Symphony Orchestra. Each goes for $99. Both the Rhythm Section and Symphony Orchestra packs are particularly useful for commercial podcasts.

Adding a microphone to GarageBand is easy if your Mac has a microphone input (which the first Mac minis didn't), or you have an audio to digital converter. If you don't have either, another option is a USB microphone. The microphone included with our review copy of GarageBand was a Blue Snowball USB, available from Amazon for about $139.00. It's billed as world's first professional USB microphone, and it did a fine job of living up to the claim.

Over the past year we've tried making podcasts with many music studio applications, including GigaStudio, Pro Tracks, Audition, and Magix Music Studio. For podcast production GarageBand's feature set is as good or better than any of them, and GarageBand beats all of them in ease of use.

GarageBand is part of Apple's iLife 2006 package which lists for about $80. iLife is included free with all current Macs, which makes GarageBand quite a bargain. GarageBand is far better able to produce podcasts than many recording applications costing five to six hundred dollars, so buying a new Mac with GarageBand is getting an even better recording application for the money, and with a free Mac/PC computer to boot.

If you're considering producing a podcast, GarageBand should be at the top of the list.

Glen Emerson Morris has worked as a technology consultant for Network Associates, Yahoo!, Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Adobe, Apple and Radius, and is the developer of the Advertising & Marketing Review Data CD.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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