When Apple released GarageBand in 2004, the music creation program aimed at consumers seemed like just another component in the iLife suite of multimedia applications. But a little more than two years after that initial release, audio software and hardware makers have come out with consumer products of their own. And few make any secret of the fact that it was GarageBand that inspired them to reach out to this new audience.
“GarageBand is bringing music to the masses in a way that is very easy,” said Chris Bristol, senior vice president & general manager of Roland’s U.S. operations. “You feel that you are in a creative mode right away. There are always people that want higher-quality recording, but the basic fundamentals need to be delivered in a simple package and that’s what GarageBand does.”
Indeed, while Roland’s Boss and Edirol brands are synonymous with gear and instruments among professional musicians, that hasn’t stopped the company from coming out with consumer products such as the UA-4FX Mobile Recording Studio or the various digital stompboxes from Boss.
“It’s a good idea for us to get our technology in a less expensive format that more people can use,” Bristol said. “We think people should be enjoying music, just like Apple is doing with GarageBand.”
And Roland is hardly the only company to take this approach, according to analysts. “I think [GarageBand] was a bit of a wake-up call for the high-end music industry,” said Mike McGuire, an analyst with technology market research firm Gartner. “I think [the music industry is] seeing a moment of inspiration, not to compete, but to make their stuff more intuitive, like Apple.”
Take Blue Microphones, a company that typically makes mics for recording and touring musicians. It recently introduced a $149 microphone called the Snowball, bringing Blue into a market it never thought it would touch.
The Snowball was conceived directly because of GarageBand, explained Skipper Wise, president of Blue Microphones. Wise’s daughter was using GarageBand and a USB mic to make music on her Mac. Noticing the lack of quality in the recording of the microphone, Wise decided to make an inexpensive mic using what he had learned making the $12,000 mics at work.
“We are really more of a higher-end company, but when you do something of a higher quality and then you trickle it down to a price point of the Snowball, you can apply all of the things you know work on the high-end products,” Wise said.
Indeed, that’s been much of the secret to GarageBand’s success. While the program is easy to use, it still delivers powerful features, thanks in large part to using the same core technologies that Apple uses for its professional-level Logic music software.
“We started from scratch and made the best application we could for the novice user,” said Xander Soren, Apple’s senior product line manger for consumer audio applications. “That’s what Apple loves to do. We are good at making it available to everybody, by having a price that makes sense and making it achievable for the average user.”
“GarageBand makes it so easy to make music with just a few clicks and some samples,” Gartner’s McGuire agreed. “Even some pros are taking advantage of these features in GarageBand to do quick things.”
And that’s why companies at the top end of the music industry are feeling GarageBand’s influence. Athan Billias, director of marketing for Tech Products Pro Audio at industry giant Yamaha, recalls that years ago, making a record cost a lot of money—so much so that amateurs were shut out of the process. That’s not the case anymore.
“That is the challenge—making the technology transparent,” Billias said. “That is what the Mac experience is all about in my mind, making technology transparent, making a great user experience.”
It is trends like these that Billias keeps in mind when Yamaha sits down to create a new product. Incorporating the company’s knowledge from its high-end products into different levels of products—like the MW10 and MW12 mixers —for all users.
“Making it simple is really hard,” Billias said.
Yamaha remains successful throughout the years because of its philosophy when creating new products. “The first thing we had to do is realize that people are not interested in Yamaha— they are interested in what the products can do for them. If you keep this in mind, you can’t go wrong,” Billias said. “Apple focuses on the customer experience: ‘Plug it in and it works.’ That’s how we do things too.”