Trying to beat GarageBand () at its own game, Sequel 1.0.1 seeks to appeal to both entry-level musicians and pros frustrated by the daunting interfaces found in most high-end music software.
Sequel encourages a loop-based style of composition that lets you drag and drop audio and MIDI loops into a single window-everything is automatically adjusted for key and time signature. The program includes more than 4,500 loops (plus another 500 when you register the software) and more than 600 instruments covering a variety of musical genres, including dance, metal, electronic, and world music. You don’t have to be a musician to make professional-sounding music with Sequel. In fact, DJs will find that it excels at creating the kind of dance music you’d hear in a Berlin club.
Everything-recording, arranging, editing, and mixing-takes place in a single window. The layout is logical and follows typical sequencer conventions. Most functions are available by clicking on icons rather than scrolling through lengthy menus. At the top is the Pilot Zone, which includes transport controls like those found on a tape recorder, along with a display indicating tempo, key, and song position. Below this is the Arrange Zone, Sequel’s track view, which shows linear tracks along a timeline. Tracks have basic volume and pan controls, and each track can be easily muted or soloed.
Sequel excels at streamlining common sequencer functions. For example, the SmartTool cursor, which changes its function depending on where you place it, provides access to most common editing functions (mute, repeat, resize, split) without requiring a trip to the menus.
Creating a song is as easy as dragging in audio and MIDI files from the Media Bay browser in the Multi-Zone (more on that later) or by directly recording audio or MIDI into tracks. The Media Bay lets you search and filter loops by instrument, genre, and musical attributes, making it easy to zero in on the one you want. Steinberg has even gone to the trouble of organizing them for you. You can filter by family to find loops that are practically guaranteed to sound good together.
At the bottom of the window is the Multi-Zone, which provides basic sample and MIDI editing, along with the ability to apply high-quality effects such as reverb, delay, chorus, and EQ on either a track or global basis.
Your finished mix can be uploaded to iTunes as AAC files or exported as uncompressed WAV or AIFF files at up to 44.1kHz, 24-bit stereo.
Sequel so closely follows GarageBand’s look and workflow that comparisons are in order. GarageBand handles video and has features designed for producing podcasts, whereas Sequel is more of a dedicated music program. But GarageBand’s ability to incorporate plug-ins and work with other programs gives it the edge when it comes to professional music production.
Much of the power of GarageBand comes from its support for third-party VST (Virtual Studio Technology) and AU (Audio Units) plug-ins, which allow additional virtual instruments and effects to be used with the sequencer. GarageBand also supports ReWire, a means of linking to another program so the two can be used in tandem. Additionally, GarageBand’s use of the Apple Loops format, an established standard also used by Logic, allows extra loop libraries to be added. In addition to lacking support for these plug-ins and formats, Sequel also lacks GarageBand’s standard notation view and is limited to MIDI and audio editing.
However, GarageBand doesn’t have anything like Sequel’s Arrange Mode. This mode breaks out of the linear workflow of most sequencers, allowing you to assign sections of songs to pads (collections of sounds grouped into one button) that can be triggered in whatever order you wish and even played in real time. Live performers and DJs can use this to add a sense of spontaneity that you don’t usually get from loops. Back in the studio, the pad sequence can also be automated, which is a great way of experimenting with different arrangements.
Macworld’s buying advice
Sequel 1.0.1 may look like a clone of GarageBand, but it’s really aimed at a more specific kind of user. Club DJs will find its superior audio stretching and live performance tools to be fantastic for producing groove-oriented club music-no musical knowledge required. It’s worth its price just for the large, well-categorized loop library. Even jaded musicians might be surprised at how quickly they can throw a song together-and how much fun they’ll have doing it.
[Lee Sherman is a San Francisco-based technology writer and musician.]