One of the things that I was most excited about when getting the MacBook, was the software GarageBand. Having a background in music, I was eager to begin playing with this digital multitrack recorder. I pictured myself laying down tracks for a new song that Holly just wrote, or to creating a new theme song for a podcast I’m working on. In fact, the first program I fired up after booting up the MacBook was GarageBand. 🙂 As much fun as GarageBand was, after using the software for a few minutes, it was clear that I was going to need a keyboard controller if I was going to get any real work done. Trying to use just the computer keyboard was not going to work.
As you might expect, since I’m both a musician and a geek, I already have three synthesizers in the garage. However, those keyboards are from “back in the day” and don’t have a USB interface. So the only was I can get data out of them is to use a USB MIDI Interface such as the MidiMan 2×2. That was going to set me back at least $50, so I decided to dig a little deeper and see if I could find something more suited to my needs.
Goldilocks Gets A Controller
Much like Alton Brown, I like items that are multi-taskers. So buying just a MIDI interface wasn’t going to fit the bill. Knowing that it was going to cost me at least $50 for a solution to my problem, I figured that if I spent just a little bit more, I could find something with more features that served at least a dual-purpose.
The Keystation 49e is what is paired up with GarageBand most often. If you find yourself in an Apple Store, or at CompUSA, chances are the Keystation 49e is what will be connected. For my purposes though, the 49e seemed too big, not to mention the fact that it was just a controller. I was looking for something small that could fit on my desk. I’m not a very proficient keyboard player, so I tend to play one handed lead lines and that sort of thing. For that reason, I began looking at 25-key controllers.
The Oxygen 8 looked like it might fit the bill, but the feel of the keys were a little light for my taste. Of course given how compact the device is, the light touch wasn’t a surprise. Although I like the idea of being able to take the controller with me, especially in the special bag for it (OH how I’m a sucker for a custom bag), but I can’t see plopping down at a table at Caffeine and banging out a new lead line for a project I’m working on. So portability wasn’t a huge buying factor.
Looking a little deeper, I came across the Axiom 25 and it seemed to be the perfect fit. the semi-weighted action made the keys feel good, it was a good size and it did a lot of things. 8)
- It had a MIDI input, so I can plug my larger MIDI keyboards into it and use the Axiom as a MIDI interface.
- There are drum triggers built-in, which will come in handy when I’m laying down drum tracks
- There are transport controls built-in. Transport controls are the buttons that start, stop, pause, etc. I think the name comes from tape decks, when you’d press a button to do physically move the tape forward, backward, etc.
Going down to Corner Music, I sampled all the small controllers that they had and my hunch was right. The Axiom 25 was the perfect swiss army style solution I was looking for. $180 dollars lighter and I was back home with my new purchase.
Transport Controls & GarageBand
When I got it home, I unboxed my new toy and plugged in a USB cable. That’s all there was to it! No drivers and no power cables, so the install was sublime. Firing up GarageBand I tinkled the keys and it was literally music to my ears. 😉
Everything was working perfectly until I tried to use the transport controls in GarageBand. I hit the record button and nothing. Hmm… that was puzzling. M-Audio also makes the iControl GarageBand control surface, so it seemed logical to me that the buttons on the Axiom would just work. Silly me. 😐
So I did what any good geek would do — I contacted tech support via their support ticket system, searched the Apple Forums, joined the M-Audio_Enigma Yahoo Group, and then searched Google for any other resource I could find. Everywhere I turned, I was coming up with nothing. M-Audio gave me the standard company line about how it wasn’t a supported feature. No one had any suggestions in the Apple Forums and the M-Audio_Enigma group said that if I was looking to re-map controls, then I had already outgrown GarageBand. I took it as a compliment, but it was frustrating none-the-less.
Don’t you just hate it when you feel like you’re the only person in the world looking for something?
Have I Mentioned That I Have A Hard Head?
I’m not one to take no for an answer and I just knew there had to be a work around for this thing. I dug and dug looking for a solution, but couldn’t find anything. Just as I was about to give up, I stumbled upon a Mac preferences plugin called GarageRemote. The plugin interprets MIDI messages and translates them into something that GarageBand can understand. Could this be the workaround I was looking for?
I installed it, which was a quick and easy process, got it up and running and then tried pressing the control on the Axiom 25 — nothing. Shoot. Going back to the M-Audio_Enigma Yahoo Group, I threw myself on the collective knowledge of the group and was schooled in the difference between Sysex messages and Custom Sysex messages, which translated into another brick wall.
Mulling it over for a few days, the thought occurred to me that it would be great if I could just change the settings in GarageRemote to capture what the Axiom 25 was sending. That begged the question, what were the MIDI messages that the Axiom 25 was sending?
Going back to the Google trough again, I came across Midi Monitor, which is a freeware program that visualizes the MIDI messages being sent through the system. Once I had the program installed, I was able to see exactly what the keyboard controller was sending, but was surprised to see that it was nothing new. I had installed the Enigma Software from M-Audio and Midi Monitor was showing me the same information. What the deuce?
Looking closer at the GarageRemote documentation, I found that the codes that you input into it are Hexidecimal code, not in standard MIDI nomenclature. So all I had to do was figure out how to translate the MIDI messages into HEX and then I should be all set. Google yielded this gem, which gave me the background that I needed and I found that Midi Monitor could display HEX, with the right changes to the preferences for the program.
It seemed like I had all the answers, but I wasn’t holding my breath. Changing the settings in GarageRemote several times yielded no success. After all this work, I was no closer to a solution than I was when I first took the keyboard controller out of the box. Sure I have a hard head, but what good is it if I use it for is to bang it against a wall?
A Final Hail Mary
Feeling completely defeated, I posted my progress on the Yahoo Group and in a final, last ditch effort, sent an e-mail to Murat, the developer of GarageRemote, to see if he had any other suggestions. In the meantime, I continued reviewing my notes and trying to see where I went wrong. Given my approach, you’d think that I was attempting to split the freakin’ atom and my verbal mantra was “It shouldn’t be this difficult!”
A few days later, an e-mail arrived from Murat. He had a couple of suggestions of things I should try. I tried everything, but again had no luck. Looking at his suggestions again, the idea struck me that one of my HEX numbers could be off. Changing the B1’s to B0’s and restarting the service, I hit the play button for what must have been the thousandth time and much to my amazement, IT WORKED!
Ten minutes later, after I was exhausted from doing all the “happy dances” I knew and inventing several new ones, I sat back down and tested the rest of the keys. Sure enough, they all worked. Now I can completely control the transport controls of GarageBand with my beloved Axiom 25.
No one should have to go through the pain and anguish that I went through to find a solution to this problem, so I created a PDF that provides all the instructions that you need. If you have an Axiom keyboard controller and you’d like to use the control surfaces in GarageBand, simply download this PDF and it’ll walk you through the process step-by-step.
The Rest Of The Story
Once I had the transport controls working like I wanted, I began in earnest to work in GarageBand on a theme song for a new podcast I’m working on. After about 30 minutes playing in GarageBand, I started to become frustrated because I didn’t have the control over the data like I wanted. There is little or no control over attack, decay and I couldn’t seem to easily copy and paste MIDI information from one track to another.
That’s right, in 30 minutes, I had successfully stretched GarageBand to it’s limits, which meant that it was time to upgrade to Logic Express. :O