Recording music with computers is nothing new, but in just a decade it’s gone from being the pet project of the well-off home studio buff to a point where it’s pretty much replaced tape or multi-tracker solutions as a practical and cost-effective method for us all. There are, of course, options for both Mac and PC users, and we’ll be looking at the latter in another Recording Workshop soon.
Recently, Apple has been going big on its products’ suitability for the needs of guitar players, and that’s why Guitar & Bass was at a recent ‘Guitarist And The Mac’ seminar – a two-hour presentation of the Mac and various types of third-party software, all centred on recording guitars. The queue outside trendy London nightclub Cargo in arty Shoreditch went around the block, so interest was high.
Inside, the crowd was guided into a large hall with a huge screen above a stage area where a desk full of Apple equipment and two guitars sat ready to do the business. Mark Altekruse, a fine guitar player and Apple spokesman, was our host for the evening.
‘We’re used to amps and studios; that’s where we think we have to go to make recordings,’ he began, as an image of a recording studio filled the screen behind him. ‘That’s great if you have the money, but most of us don’t. Over the past 10 years that whole environment has become virtual. We’ve taken everything from the recording process – mixers, effects, instruments, amplification – and made it so that this’ – he gestured to the studio on the screen – ‘goes into this.’ The studio shrinks and fits into the image of an Apple laptop.
To prove his point Mark played along to a demo track that he created using the Apple software Garageband, with synth sounds and various types of instruments such as horns and pianos and guitar sounds that seemed full, rich and authentic – yet there wasn’t an amp to be seen anywhere on the stage. Mark took the opportunity to talk about virtual amps, and played along to more tracks using various tones that made him sound like Santana, Joe Perry, Hendrix and even Steve Cropper. At one point, while using a very convincing Fender Twin emulation on Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 2, he pointed to the screen: ‘You see that? The speaker cones on the computer display move!’ he laughs, ‘You’ve got to have a sense of humour in this industry…’
Mark then talked about music education, and how using a Mac can improve your playing. Hal Leonard has released a range of new products called ‘TrackPak’ which are versions of famous songs in various styles that can be altered or played along to. The idea is simple but clever; you can look at how a track is put together, and use that inspiration when you make your own.
Next, Iain Archer, a young Irish singer songwriter, was welcomed to the stage. He performed a song while Mark recorded it directly into the computer; the song was then played back and Iain accompanied himself with a second part to show how easy it can be to build compositions.
‘We’ve only covered a small amount of it,’ concluded Mark, ‘but remember that Apple is the only company out there that designs its own hardware, its own operating system, and makes its own applications – along with a very supportive third-party community. You get an incredible experience as a creative individual. All the stuff just works… and that’s what you want.’
For the rest of the remaining time the crowd was let loose to try out all the things they had seen at a table full of Macs with rows of fittingly white-painted Fender Teles and Strats all ready and waiting. There was enough kit for everyone to have a go, and most people would probably have been happy to go on playing all night.