Can’t play, will play

Isn’t music software brilliant?

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Logic Pro recently, mixing and mastering the music we’ve been promising to release for ages. Like any decent music program it’s easy to take for granted: even relatively simple software such as Apple’s Garageband on iOS unlocks all kinds of creative possibilities that didn’t exist when I first started making music. You can do stuff on an iPhone that even recently required thousands of pounds of equipment and stacks of expertise, and of course the things you can do on the desktop are even more amazing.

To take three very different examples, my friends Squander Pilots use all kinds of electronic tomfoolery alongside live instruments and vocals, Alex Botten uses all kinds of things as instruments for his A Small Glass Ghost project, and even the comparatively straightforward pop/rock David (my brother) and I have been working on uses a number of instruments we can’t actually play. Our list includes:

  • Drums and percussion
  • Sequencers
  • Human beatboxing
  • Pedal steel guitar
  • Trumpets and trombones
  • Strings
  • Cowbell

And of course music software can do much more. It can pitch correct and quantise and sample and loop and speed up and slow down and automate and…

It’s getting cheaper, too. My favoured weapon is Logic Pro (from version 8 onwards; prior to that I used Apple’s Soundtrack Pro). If you wanted Logic Pro in 2004, you’d have paid $999; Logic Studio 8 (2007) and Logic Pro 9 (2010) were half that, and the new Logic Pro X (2013) is down to £139.99 ($199). Now, Logic Pro is a pretty heavy duty bit of software; if your needs are more modest, the excellent Garageband on iOS is just £2.99. I haven’t used Pro X just yet but if it’s as good as it looks, I won’t be able to resist upgrading for long.

This is one of the things I really love about my job: as technology improves, you can do more things for less money (hardware requirements excepted). Garageband on iOS is a great example of that: I wish I could travel back in time to meet the teenage, Fostex four-track-using me and show myself Smart Instruments and a multitracking phone. My mind, I’m sure, would have been blown.