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Are you just getting started as a producer? Then chances are you’ve already been given a few recommendations in terms of Digital Audio Workstations (also known as DAWs). Soundtrap and GarageBand, specifically, are popular, powerful, and beginner-friendly options to get started with.
But which one is best for beginners? Should you use one or the other?
In this hands-on review, we offer tips on the best way to get started in music production.
Workflow & Working Environment
Soundtrap makes it easy for you to get started, no matter what type of project you’re looking to create – a MIDI driven composition or pop song, a jam with your bandmates, a mix of the two (layers of MIDI and audio tracks), or otherwise.
You can create a drumbeat (and drum loops) using their built-in Beatmaker, which is easy and fun to use. You can drop in virtual instruments like guitars and basses, keyboards, synths, strings, brass and woodwinds, and more, and play your parts on your computer keyboard, plug in your MIDI controller, or MIDI sequence via the convenient piano roll.
You can record audio tracks by connecting your audio interface, and there are even built-in guitar and bass amps to help you color your tone the way you like to hear it.
Soundtrap even makes child play out of the often-complex science and art of mixing, because effects are often added to new tracks by default, outfitted with presets that make the virtual instruments virtually mix ready. Make quick tweaks if you so desire. Your project is even automatically mastered the moment you save it.
All this is quite easy to do within Soundtrap, especially if you already know your way around DAWs.
GarageBand is also quite friendly to beginners. It was my first DAW, and I loved it because of its straightforward workflow. At the time, my wont was to find a drum loop, and add guitars, bass, and vocals on top (all audio tracks) to create fun, home-based demos.
Upon starting a new project, you are presented with multiple templates to help you get set up fast – Ringtone, Songwriter, Voice, Electronic, Amp Collection, Keyboard Collection, Hip Hop, and Empty Project. Plus, there are dialog boxes within GarageBand that guide you to creating your first track fast.
Setting up your drum track or beat is considerably easier in GarageBand than it is in Soundtrap. You can choose from multiple virtual drummers depending on the style you want, select from multiple presets, tell the drummer how often you want fills, whether to swing the beat, which drums and cymbals to play, and more. The virtual drummer will go ahead and lay down a beat automatically, even without your input.
As with Soundtrap, in GarageBand, you can lay down a keyboard part using your computer keyboard, MIDI controller, or the built-in piano roll.
Audio tracks in GarageBand work just as they do in Soundtrap as well, and of course there are built-in amps. Additionally, the loops library is easy to access and is highly searchable with the filters.
Editing and mixing is where GarageBand might prove a little more cumbersome. It did for me, at least. Once you figure out the workflow, it’s not too bad, but you can’t add any effect to any track, it seems.
There are some built-in controls and EQ for each virtual instrument type, which is nice, but who’s to say I wouldn’t want to add a chorus to my synth, or a flanger to my drums? There are a few parameters you can control, so for instance, you can easily compress your drums or add reverb to your electric piano. But you can’t add effects that aren’t built into the track type, and that could prove limiting in some instances.
There are a lot of factors to consider here, but overall, I feel the workflow for Soundtrap is a little more intuitive and user friendly. GarageBand has more visual appeal, and it does have a sleeker design by comparison, but that doesn’t make it easier to use. I found myself fumbling around for controls in GarageBand more compared to Soundtrap, even though I use DAWs on a near daily basis.
That is the thing about DAWs in general, though, that they each differ in terms of workflow, sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small ways. The good news is that neither Soundtrap nor GarageBand have a steep learning curve.
One thing about GarageBand that will surely appeal to beginners is the virtual drummer. This saves you the guesswork of making your own beat from scratch. For those who are just looking to have fun and aren’t trying to compose their next epic, it’s nice to be able to give your virtual drummer basic instructions and have them go crazy.
Both Soundtrap and GarageBand have great interfaces and workflows. But I deem Soundtrap’s just a little easier to use.
For a DAW working environment to be suitable to a beginner, it needs to be user friendly. And that’s the great thing about Soundtrap and GarageBand. They are both quite friendly to the beginner! Admittedly, they will both take some getting used to, especially if you’ve never used a DAW before. And if that’s the case, be patient with yourself.
But if you have a bit of an idea of how DAW software works, then you will be able to pick up either working environment relatively quickly.
That said, I do think Soundtrap is easier to pick up. It’s not that GarageBand is bad. But there are some idiosyncrasies to the workflow that just don’t feel quite as intuitive. For instance, you wouldn’t necessarily know off the bat that you need to keep the Library open to select instrument types and presets.
I do like that GarageBand has dialog boxes to guide you, though, and beginners will find this invaluable. Soundtrap doesn’t have this, but they do have video tutorials, and these should be more than enough to help you get started.
Virtual Instruments & Effects
This is another area where the two DAWs are equally matched. Both DAWs feature a bevy of great sounding virtual instruments and effects. Even upon launch, GarageBand had great sounding virtual instruments. And that can only mean one thing, that Soundtrap had to rise to the occasion to be competitive. And they did!
As I pointed out earlier, though, you’re a little limited in the effects department with GarageBand. On the one hand, you could make the point that their setup – which puts a few tweakable parameters and EQ at your fingertips – is, for all intents and purposes, quite streamlined. But it is going to limit your ability to customize each track at the mixing phase.
After all, an effects chain for just an acoustic guitar could include multiple EQs, compression, range allocation, chorus, and reverb.
Adding effects to your tracks in Soundtrap is quite easy, and there are no major limitations either. Most effects are also quite natural and transparent sounding, so you’re less likely to unintentionally muddy up your mixes.
So, all in all, Soundtrap reigns supreme in this category.
One of the big draws to GarageBand upon its release was the abundance of loops available. Even people who were musically illiterate, or didn’t really know their way around making music, could quickly and easily combine and layer various loops to create sketches, demos, and jam tracks. GarageBand brought the fun factor back to the forefront.
Apple does not reveal exactly how many loops are included in GarageBand these days, but we do know that it’s in the thousands, and they are all organized by category.
Here’s the lowdown with Soundtrap’s loops library:
If you subscribe to Soundtrap’s Music Makers Premium plan, you get access to 16,580+ loops. If you subscribe to the Music Makers Premium or Soundtrap Complete plan, you get access to 19,460+ loops. So, in terms of the sheer number of loops available, Soundtrap comes out on top.
Their loop library is also searchable via keywords, and it’s not hard to find what you’re looking for.
While more loops aren’t always better, in the loops category, Soundtrap emerges victorious.
This is where it starts to become clear that SoundTrap and GarageBand are two very different things.
Soundtrap was designed specifically as an online music collaboration app. Meanwhile, GarageBand was created more so as standalone DAW software, localized to your own device.
With Soundtrap, you can collaborate with friends, bandmates, and other musicians online. It’s a great solution for collaborating remotely, in real-time, or even across different time zones asynchronously. Soundtraps also lets you keep your project related messages native to the platform without adding to your various other inboxes. And you can store your projects in the cloud.
GarageBand is also a great app for working from anywhere. You can save your work to iCloud and continue to make progress on your projects as you move about from one device to another – iPad, iPhone, and so forth.
Naturally, you can also collaborate with other GarageBand users – share project files and so forth. But GarageBand is not set up to be an online collaboration app, because it was not originally designed with these options in mind.
The app that offers a more seamless collaborative experience is clearly Soundtrap. In this category, Soundtrap is the winner.
Compatibility & Mobility
Soundtrap and GarageBand both have mobile apps. They both work quite nicely on any device – desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone, or otherwise.
But the main constraint with GarageBand is that it was designed for Mac OS. There are no Windows based alternatives, even if other beginner-oriented DAWs offer a similar feature set and functionality.
Soundtrap tends to work better on certain OS-browser combinations than others, but for the most part, if you have an internet connection and a browser, it works without issue. As I found out, the developers did not design Soundtrap to work on Firefox (my main browser), but even on Firefox, the app did not glitch out on me and seemed to work without issue.
Both DAWs are quite competitive in this regard, but here the cross-platform compatible Soundtrap must be given the golden star.
Spotify acquired Soundtrap as they obviously thought of it as a natural extension of their involvement in the domain of music. If they can appeal to listeners, why can’t they also appeal to the creator? As a podcaster on Soundtrap, you can easily launch your projects to Spotify, and that should hardly come as a surprise.
But what may come as a surprise is that Soundtrap doesn’t offer much else by way of distribution. There are no options, at present, to distribute your music to Spotify or anywhere else, for that matter. Integration with Spotify is likely part of their plan, but aside from their DAW, Soundtrap is still a relatively minimal product. So, for the time being, you’ll still need to go through a music distributor like CD Baby or TuneCore if you want to get your music out to a wider audience.
GarageBand doesn’t offer anything fancy in terms of distribution, either. But your completed works can be easily shared to your favorite social networks (like SoundCloud) directly from the DAW. You can also save your songs as custom ringtones or add them to your Music app library.
While distribution might not be the reason you chose Soundtrap or GarageBand to begin with, or the reason you’re comparing the two, but in this regard, GarageBand takes the cake.
The ability to distribute one’s music doesn’t factor too heavily into our verdict, because beginner producers will probably find themselves spending time practicing up before worrying about getting their music out there, but it is worth pointing out.
GarageBand is free, but it’s only available on Mac devices. If you have laptop or desktop computer, or even a tablet, GarageBand comes installed on your device. In all other instances, or devices, you should still be able to download and install it for free. There are some GarageBand alternatives for Windows, but none are exactly like GarageBand.
You can use Soundtrap for free, but you do not get access to all the features under the free plan. Their business model works on a subscription model with plans beginning at $9.99 per month. That said, even the free version of Soundtrap is surprisingly competent.
The price of admission for GarageBand is a Mac device. Meanwhile, Soundtrap costs a low monthly fee at any level of subscription. To be honest, it’s hard to make an honest comparison of the two in terms of price. If you have a Mac, then it’s nice to know that GarageBand is free to use, and if you’re planning to record across a variety of devices and platforms and collaborate remotely, Soundtrap is still a better option.
Soundtrap Vs Garageband, The Verdict
If you’re a beginner producer, then both Soundtrap and GarageBand are viable options. They are both user-friendly, full of features, and scale relatively well to various project types. Both platforms have their limitations in terms of how far they can take you, but you can create near professional-quality recordings on both, if you know what you’re doing (it’s still recommended that you upgrade at some point if you want to take the craft of music production seriously).
Soundtrap is your best bet if you’re planning to collaborate online, remotely, with guest musicians, session musicians, or otherwise. There is a monthly cost to it, but these days popular DAWs like Pro Tools also have subscription plans. So, all things considered, it’s a minimal investment.
If most of your collaborations will be taking place at home, in your bedroom, basement, or home studio, then GarageBand is likely a better option. It’s free if you own a Mac, and there are no monthly payments for ongoing use.
If you plan to record in a lot of different places on different devices, Soundtrap is probably your best bet. All you need is an internet connection and browser to use it, and while it’s not an equal opportunity on all OS-browser or app combinations, it’s well-suited to capturing song ideas on the fly.
In most other ways, Soundtrap and GarageBand are equals. There are situations where Soundtrap will serve you better, and there are some scenarios where GarageBand will offer better performance. But a close evaluation of your habits should give you a good sense of which to choose, and there are also no rules against trying both!
If you need additional information, you'll want to see our review of Soundtrap.