Garageband, reviews, and my take

matthew's picture

Garageband, reviews, and my take

EDIT by matthew: Due to comments (read below), and for some reason the insane popularity of this particular page on my weblog, I just want to attach this notice. My opinion on "the day after" my first day reviewing bands on Garageband differs from my opinion today. I still think the average musical quality at Garageband is somewhere between subterranean and ridiculously low, but I still use the site -- which, despite my criticism, shows that I still think it's pretty good despite major flaws. There's nothing better out there of which I'm aware at the moment. This was my "day after" reaction to doing a lot of GB reviews in a row, and the experience really stunk.

Last night I decided to sign up for Garageband.  I'd heard a bit about it, and as a community of musicians who largely spend a lot of their time reviewing other musicians, it sounded very interesting to me.  I went into this with the mindset that I would try to write positive reviews, get exposed to a lot of really great music by artists who are as yet unknown, and upload my music for peer review.

Critical Mass

 The concept is pretty good, and it seems like GB has the "critical mass" of musicians it needs to keep sustained interest.  Heck, apparently out of the 70,000 "bands" on the site, 12 have been signed, and 1 has gone double platinum.  Yeah, the chances aren't very good if you look at the numbers, but my goal isn't to get signed and make mondo money, it is to just get some review on my songs and maybe sell rights to someone to make a bit of spare cash.

 Hey, less likely things have been known to happen :)

Garageband reviewing is like earning a Ph.D. in crap.

B.S. = Bachelor of Sh--.

M.S. = Master of Sh--.

Ph.D. = Piled Higher And Deeper.

Well, after four solid hours of doing reviews in order to qualify for my first upload, allow me to share with you a bit about the experience.  The lessons I learned were these:

  1. 90% of everything people think is good enough to get peer-reviewed is pure crap.
  2. Once again, most of it is utter, complete, and absolute drivel. And crap.
  3. It is dreck, muck, slime, useless poorly mastered nasty stuff that half the time is out of tune, and nearly half of the rest of the time is performed or mastered so poorly it's tough to find anything positive to say about it. It's crap.
  4. If it is mastered well, it tends to have no soul. And that makes it crappy.
  5. If it isn't mastered well, at the 64kbit/sec bitrate that's the max Garageband will pump out to you on a review (confirmed on a T-1 no less) makes it sound even worse. Crap on steroids.

Have bass, will travel!

Then there are performances themselves.  Ugh.  I listened to a band last night where their bassist had the low E string on his bass tuned nearly a full semitone flat.  Either that, or he was consistently hitting every note wrong on that string.  Another recording sounded as if it had been done with a portable tape recorder, high and tinny and barely-discernable.  And I listened to some kid with an acoustic guitar singing his heart out to a pretty boring tune, but I felt nostalgic listening to a fifteen-year-old pouring his soul into a crappy tune and had to smile.

That's a small sample.  Not to mention the "funk" song that really should have had the "n" replaced with a "c", because all the guy could sing about was getting it on with some chick.  He couldn't sing for beans, but he was obviously extremely enthusiastic about his subject matter.

And I hesitate to mention the beautifully mastered but completely soul-less heavy metal tune with a very talented lead guitarist and incredibly lame drum machine and formulaic background guitars.

Perhaps I shouldn't tell you about the clip where the drummer, bassist, guitarist, and vocalist seemed to all be fighting over who was the loudest and the most outrageous for the entire tune.

Or maybe I've just mentioned all of them :)

All told, out of the thirty reviews I completed in my first night on the job (and it really feels like a job), I'd absolutely panned about half of them. 40% of them I gave some pointers on what I felt they could improve about the tune, but mentioned that even with the improvements I probably wouldn't buy the album because the song just wasn't interesting.  The remaining three songs had some soul to them, generally had technical issues, but were solid tunes.

Ghetto of musicality

If you're looking to find high-quality music from unknown bands, Garageband reviewing ain't the place.  It's the ghetto of musicality, the spot where wanna-be's go to try to be heard. [Note: cruising the top-100 list by genre on Garageband is pretty fun, though. It's generally the next seven hundred or more in the genre that suck. - matthew] I understand the "70,000 to 1" ratio there now.  67,000 of those bands are awful.  So you're left with 3,000 bands or solo artists that might be pretty good.

Anyway, my reviews on these tunes were heartfelt, honest, and tried to be constructive to offer some input into how the performers could improve the song.  I found something positive to comment about every tune, although normally the negatives outweighed the positives at least 2:1 for each one.  I rated every song honestly, and can truly say there wasn't a single song the entire night that I'd want to buy, and only one where I considered it "engaging" (Garageband's highest standard of listenability).  I reviewed pop, pop/rock, heavy metal, alternative, rap (that was fun, I'm not a fan of rap but it was a blast commenting on the musicality of the performers and the performance value), R&B, hip-hop, and funk.  Some songs were definitely mis-categorized.

Rate the Reviewers

An interesting thing happened as I was reviewing, though.  I began getting feedback from the performers.  See, they rate the quality of your review, so that other performers know what kind of reviewer you are.  It is on a scale from one to five, with one meaning "this guy didn't even listen to the song, cut & pasted nonsense words from other reviews, used profanity, and did not offer constructive criticism", and five basically meaning "the review quality was excellent, even if I didn't like what it said".  The vast majority of my ratings are fives now.

But the ones bug me.

In every case where I received a "one", I'm utterly certain the artist didn't rate me honestly or give me the honesty my review deserved.  The only way to get a 1 is if they think you didn't listen to the song [see comments below which qualify that this is no longer the case as of Nov 2003 - matthew], which was never the case.  30 songs took me FOUR HOURS, because I listened to most of the songs twice so I could give an accurate review on repeat listenability.
Why did I get some 1 ratings?
Well, one of the artists summed it up nicely for me.  He explained:

You don't know who you are messing with ... You're new here, remember that ... Some people here are just kids, you shouldn't be so acerbic in your reviews.

I checked it out.  His song was another one that was just awful, poor production quality, out-of-tune instruments, and a lead singer who couldn't hold a tune in a bucket.  He'd also rated my review a "1", trying to imply that it was a cut & paste review with profanity where I'd obviously not listened to the song and offered no constructive criticism.  Yet I'd explained exactly what was wrong with the tune, even so far as to include the timing of the problems I heard. He was also a bit offended that I'd listened to his tune twice when I didn't like it at all, simply so that I could offer a more constructive review of whyI didn't like it.

I have a plausible conclusion, handed me by one of the Garageband artists:

Some artists rate their reviewers down, and are willing to lie to attempt to repair their egos, when they simply don't agree with the reviewer's comments.

Fair enough. Now I understand it.  It feels like an abuse of the system from where I sit, however.

The Solution? had a similar problem years ago with moderators abusing their positions; they unfairly moderated comments down that were good comments, but didn't agree with the moderator's opinion.  This problem was so widespread that the Slashdot editors introduced the concept of "meta-mod".  A meta-moderator can moderate other people's moderations as to their accuracy, on a sliding scale between "fair" and "unfair".  The net effect of this change is very obvious.  These days, negative moderations seem to be largely performed because the opinion posted was a troll, off-topic, flamebait, or redundant -- the key indicators that a post should be modded down.  The vast majority of moderations moderate upwards or not at all, and meta-mod keeps the moderators honest.  [according to comments below, Garageband is working to rectify this problem with a less anonymous system that may work as well. I await resolution with baited breath. -matthew]

Who will watch the watchers?

Now, there's nobody keeping the meta-moderators honest, but since every citizen of the board can meta-mod almost daily, it seems to balance out (as if the bad meta-moderations get thrown out entirely).  
Garageband could benefit from a similar system.  Meta-moderation to ensure that reviewers and artists are being honest with each other, rather than just slamming one another because they disagree over a review, would be a big help to the GB community.

The Challenges

However, I think the community there suffers from another problem: Although they have nearly 300,000 subscribers, there don't appear to be enough nearly reviewers.  My guess is that people get tired of the abuse, ingratitude, and inept attempts at music they must often review, and just walk away.  I don't blame them.  Unless you want to pay $20 so you can post a song, you have to review thirty tunes to post one tune.  That's a lot of listening time, unless you're one of those people that like to write reviews based only on the first 90 seconds of the song.  I make far more per hour working than saving $20 for the amount of time I spend reviewing.

Saving money, however, is not the reason I review music on Garageband.

When I'm reviewing, I hear the mistakes others make and recognize the same mistakes in my music.  I'm improving my own abilities, while benefitting another artist with feedback so she can improve hers.

That's the fun of the whole system.

I review; other musicians invite me to listen to them screw up. This helps me gain an ear that can distinguish the good from the bad, particularly since the bad is in such abundance. I learn from their mistakes and avoid them in my own music. I try to give constructive criticism in a helpful way, acknowledging the blood, sweat, and tears poured out into the music because I do the same myself. Sharing that part of the experience, the shared desire to better myself and others... that's totally fun. That's really the major thing that can keep me going on a long review session.

Even though I get moderated down as a reviewer for being an honest, though critical, listener. Nothing's perfect, but my hope is that my explanation of a newbie's first experience on Garageband is enlightening and leads to some improvement in the experience for future users.


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GB; a colossal waste of time!!!!

The worst part is not the rating of reviews, but the ability to find who gave you an honest critical review and slam their song in retaliation. My songs made it to the second round but apparently some didn't like my review of their music. I reviewed over 1,400 songs in the year my songs were posted. God only knows how many thin skined musicians I've offended with honest critical reviews. in hindsight, I managed to waste a considerable amount of time that could've been put into my music or earning money for new equipment. My take? it's fun to get reviews, but it's more fun to play! don't waste your time!!!!

matthew's picture

There are better forums...

I've discovered there are often better forums where you will get more insightful feedback, particularly those for the tools you are using such as Cakewalk, ProTools, etc. A single post to some of these groups on a questionable but good tune will get you better feedback than anything else I've seen. Of course, it must be done in moderation.

Garageband is cool, but definitely very wearing. I'm really not looking forward to doing another thirty reviews to get my next song up there, and I find myself wondering if it's really worth the hassle. So far, of the many "minimal" text reviews I've received, most of them barely clear the 10-word "instant karma" barrier, and most of the rest aren't very insightful or clear about what the problems are.

I wish there were more highly critical reviewers. Yeah, I'll hate the fact that my song's rating is low, but the feedback on the tune is what it's all about, not some stupid contest.

But some people may think otherwise.

Matthew P. Barnson

get your facts straight

The only way to get a 1 is if they think you didn't listen to the song, which was never the case.

Not true. Since that isn't true, it negates any of the supposed "facts" you've provided in your extremely biased opinion. Though you're welcome to your opinion, at least get your facts straight. Hope anyone who reads this will go and make up their own mind.

matthew's picture

It's not GB, it's lack of meta-moderation and stinky bands


Note that one incorrect fact does not invalidate my opinion. Welcome to MY world.

Why not provide some proof to back up what you say? In order to merit a "1" on one's review (the band's opinion of your review), if I recall correctly the band has to say that you used offensive profanity, cut and pasted from other reviews, or else had obviously not listened to the song.

So, erm, I'm right, and I think you are wrong unless you prove otherwise.

Anyway, I stand by my statements. Garageband IS the ghetto of musicality. However, I've discovered some really amazing bands there, and we've bought their albums. In that regard, it succeeded. But in wading through dozens upon dozens of songs, finding those precious tunes that even meet the standard of "halfway decent" is a painfully slow process.

Matthew P. Barnson

Matthew P. Barnson

that isn't what you said in your article though...

So, erm, I'm right, and I think you are wrong unless you prove otherwise.

Would you like ketchup with those words?

No, you originally stated in your article:

The only way to get a 1 is if they think you didn't listen to the song,

And that is completely false. And you bet your guitar strings I'm about to prove it, and anyone doubting the veracity of what I say is welcome to go see for themselves.

And in your reply here, which the passing reader would probably NOT read:

Why not provide some proof to back up what you say? In order to merit a "1" on one's review (the band's opinion of your review), if I recall correctly the band has to say that you used offensive profanity, cut and pasted from other reviews, or else had obviously not listened to the song.

... you're a little closer, however... the rate the review questions say NOTHING about if someone listened to the song or not:

  • 1. Does this review contain only nonsense text or identical comments copied from previous reviews? (Scan the list of this reviewer's previous text comments on the right). Yes No
  • 2. Does this review contain offensive profanity? Yes No
  • 3. Does the reviewer discuss one or more specific details of the song? Yes No
  • 4. Does the review provide constructive criticism or meaningful praise? Yes No

So therefore, your above biased critique of garageband doesn't reflect TRUE fact, only your erroneous perspective of it. You've confused "Rate The Review" (which affects your reviewer percentage) with the "rules of reviewing" which are:

Rules of Reviewing

    All reviews submitted at must conform to five simple rules of reviewing:
  • 1. Each song is listened to for a reasonable length of time. (At least 90 seconds).
  • 2. Each song is reviewed individually, and not criticized simply because of a particular reviewer's broader prejudice (for example, "All songs with guitar solos suck!" is not a fair review). This also means that pasting the exact same text reviews in multiple reviews is unnacceptable.
  • 3. No song is given a "bad" review in an attempt to add weight to another song's "good" review. (It's okay for fans to enthusiastically review a particular band's track, but it's not okay for them to indiscriminately slag off their chosen band's "rivals").
  • 4. No profanity or overtly abusive language is used.
  • 5. Lastly, no band member reviews his or her own song.

Which are actually reportable offenses to be dealt with by the staff. And they do too, when they are apprised of them. They dont have a crystal ball and depend upon the membership to report offenses.

Now, you have your right to your opinion, and sorry to see that your experience was so horrendous, you felt the need to advertise it as such in search engines, but frankly I see that in only a few months, you've not really given it much of a chance, and yes in your reply you do reflect at least a little good that you'd found at the site. Several thousand people have varying perspectives of it, especially those who either know the history, or were there during it.

By the way, policy is changing, but since you're so hellbent on slamming the site, you might not want to see that concerns about childish bands giving yes answers on rate the review questions 1 and/or 2 (which render a 1 on a review, and unjustly in many cases) will now be dealt with in a hall of justice, or many of the other policy changes, nor the influx of artists from the now defunct and the now dead javamusic which will bring even more fantastic music to the site, which so many others have already discovered there. Sure, I'm not saying it's all chart topping hits by any means, but there is a lot more great music than you ever took the time to find out. Most of it downloadable for free, got Nap$ster? Reviewing certainly isn't the only way to find it.

As other sites die off, garageband is going strong, despite what someone who has barely experienced it wants to say on his own site. If everyone found it that atrocious, it would have died in it's first year. I see a glass half full, you seem to only see one half empty. It's your world, so paint the sky any color you wish. However, just get the facts straight, okay?

matthew's picture

Search engines?

I've attached a bit of a disclaimer to the bottom of the original article now so people don't assume my "day after" opinions completely reflect my opinions now after using the site for months.

Just so you know, I'm not interested in a flamewar here, really. This page was way, way below my radar on my web site until Anonymous came by and posted one day :) Garageband is, like, maybe #50 on my list of musical priorities. Please don't assume I'm "hell-bent on slamming the site". Garageband's really not something I think about very often at all. This web site is my online journal, and what others do with it is their business. I write my thoughts here because it's fun, and keeps me in touch with friends, as well as some strangers.

I have no idea why this page is so highly ranked on a Google search. I have no idea. It's not like I set out to create some Garageband slam site (I think this is the only page on about GB). I'd just had a long, hard night of reviewing and wrote down my thoughts.

If readers come away more educated about how GB works, particularly due to your well-informed comments, I'm happy. My experience posting this page doesn't reflect my experience currently with GB. I've noticed that in my more recent reviews that the overall quality seemed slightly higher. I'm not entirely sure if my first sixty reviews were just a long string of bad luck or not.

I really have no interest in trying to tear down Garageband -- I think it's the best-conceived peer-review music web site on the planet right now. There are better and worse forums (certain newsgroups or mailing lists, for instance) to review music that's in-progress before submitting it to the generally very brief and sometimes hostile reviews that comprise most of GB. However, just because I like, say, Breyer's vanilla ice cream, doesn't mean I shouldn't occasionally rant about getting vanilla beans stuck between my teeth, that I got a bad batch somewhere, or something like that. That's probably a bad example, but there it is :)

From what I read on the GB boards, many members are aware that some bands (admittedly, a small minority -- somewhere around 5-10% is my guess) will slam a reviewer's rating by making false statements in the review approval questions. Most of those that do are also "short-timers" on the site, not people that have been around (or will be around) for a long time. It's all part of the game. The night I wrote this, I'd just had three people rank my reviews a "1" in a very short time (when the rest were all 5's), when it was obvious from the reviews that I'd listened to the song withs a critical ear, and provided a great deal of constructive criticism on what the band could improve.

But the problem of bands falsely ranking reviewers low could be managed pretty easily by creating a random-sampling method of review overview by the members. Check out meta-moderation system at It's not a perfect solution to the problem, but by influencing the "karma" of logged-in users (bands, in this case), one could cause their ranking of reviewers to have less or more weight based on community opinion of the band's ranking of their reviewers. At GB, the metamod page would probably have links to Real streams of the song, plus the review, and how the band ranked the review. If the band was way off-base in their approval of a review (saying the review contained profanity when it didn't, for instance), the random metamod could say the approval was "fair", "unfair", or "neutral". This would give some accountability to bands that rank reviewers a 1 for giving them a negative review. Perhaps GB could make the metamod page be one out of ten of the reviews a band does to upload a song or something.

The technology in use there at GB could definitely improve. Heck, it could definitely improve here on my little weblog, too :) But I'm not a believer in the "he who is without sin, let him cast the first stone" stuff. Sure, I wrote this column shortly after first logging onto the site. My understanding of "the way things work" there has improved since then. Maybe one day I'll update this page with links to other pages on my site that include my more recent experiences -- or maybe not.

Anyway, remember I like Garageband. But the overall quality of music there is pretty abysmal. If you're a casual listener, you can just listen to the top 100 songs in a genre, and have pretty good experience. However, 90% of what one gets to review just sucks. Some of it is downright painful to hear; much of it is exceedingly dull; what remains varies somewhere between "listenable" and "holy crap that's really good!" There are a lot of underpaid musicians in the world, and for most of them, there are very good reasons why they aren't "making it big".

Then again, I've found a few bands I really like based on my random reviews, and I've bought their albums. And my family really loves their songs, too.

Matthew P. Barnson

Matthew P. Barnson

Much better!

I'm relieved to read your last reply. I'll also say that you seem downright perceptive, and you probably dont even realize just how much so. Next time you're there at garageband, click on "help" at either the top or bottom of the page. Find the document entitled "2003 December Update, Garageband year in review" in the "CONTESTS" section, and see just how perceptive you were. The idea though of "metamod" puts power in one person's hands however, and I think you'll understand better what I'm getting at after you read the December Update from the CEO himself.

Some food for thought: garageband was once a site that awarded $250,000 recording contracts to the top band every two months, and had wonderful reviewer incentives. They had live chats with advisory board members often. (Check the forum entitled "Blast From the chat" to see transcripts which are still very informational) They ran out of funding and were offline for three months in early 2002. During this time, a group of loyal staff members pooled their money and bought the site. Loyal members standing by this site through thick and thin showed them this could work, even on a shoestring. At times, the staff even went without pay to ensure the site stayed online. Everything that had been, up to that point about the contest and incentives had to be left behind, and the site rose like a phoenix and went back to it's original concept. As anyone in a business knows, this is never an overnight success story, but it takes several years of careful management to build a business.

Also, something you'll find at garageband, that you probably didn't find much at, IUMA or insert other OMD here: _________ is people who truly do care, and will go to great lengths to help. (aside from what you experienced anyway) You'll find a site that is full of features that were originally suggested by members, because the staff listened and did their best to implement those features. I sure never saw that kind of model in any other OMD. You'll even find a CEO and other staff who will reply back to you and who truly care what you think. You'll also find many great songs, and one easy way is clicking on screen names and checking out their playlists.

I'm not here to start a flame war either, nor to argue about your opinion, I feel you have your right to it. Notice, I've not said much about opinion at all. Just the facts. I'm saddened that you had cause to garner such an opinion at any time, be that the first night, month or quarter, but so many others have found a multitude of good features and people there and enough to balance out the bad.

Thank you for your time, and your clarification.

matthew's picture

Flame thread nuked...

Not being interested in flamewars on my blog, I nuked a thread that was turning into one here.

Matthew P. Barnson

Matthew P. Barnson

word, i'll reply to this 2003

word, i'll reply to this 2003 thread in 2005, yessss! is a good way to post music and get a 'flash' opinion worldwide. the bummer is when you get some kid/dumbass who wants to simply get through 30 reviews to post their own music, and their review is terrible and has no point to it. or people who consider the reviewing process as a "this sucks", "i hate this kind of music", blah-blah type of thing, or think that the musicians are making music only to be on the radio or something. lots (lots) of artists on there are posting songs that are meant for instumental or media use, and want to get feedback on things like production and common uses for the sounds. reviewers who consider themselves as 'having a good ear' usually don't, because they usually don't come close to seeing the big picture of how music is used. they think only radio and records, and really have no true perspective. the deal with garageband is reciprocity. you claim 90% of what you hear is crap, I claim 90% of reviewers don't know crap. the best thing to do as a musician is build your own website, and use garageband as a 'wading pool' to get an idea of what people think (people who are not your friends).