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iLife '11: How to Mix Tracks in GarageBand

6 of 8 in Series: The Essentials of Mixing and Editing in GarageBand

Creating a mix of a song with iLife's GarageBand '11 isn’t always complicated. You may simply need to raise or lower the volume of the individual tracks by using the track volume sliders. If it sounds good after doing so, you’re well on your way to finishing the mix. However, you may need to refine the volume for each track to create a good mix by setting the pan position for each track and setting automation curves for settings.

Setting the volume and pan position when mixing tracks in GarageBand '11

The volume for each track can be raised or lowered so that you can achieve a balance of sound across all tracks. You can drag the track’s Volume slider in the track header to the left to lower the track’s volume, and to the right to raise it.

In addition, you can place the sound for each track in the stereo field with the pan wheel in the track header. Drag counterclockwise to pan to the left channel, or clockwise to pan to the right — the wheel’s white dot indicates the position. Option-click the pan wheel to return it to the center position.

Drum and bass tracks are typically set to the middle (balanced between the left and right stereo fields), and vocals, lead instruments, and supporting instruments and vocals can be put in either channel.

Setting automation curves for settings when mixing tracks in GarageBand '11

Sound is fluid, and by controlling the ebb and flow of the volume and other settings for a track, you can work wonders to improve a song. GarageBand '11 provides an automation curve for controlling the track volume, track pan, and automated mixing settings over the duration of a song. You can raise or lower the volume of a track at specific points to simulate a crescendo or decrescendo, to make specific tracks fade in or out, or even to hide a bad note by lowering the volume in the track at that moment.

To set an automation curve for Track Volume, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Curves (triangle) button in the track header, and choose Track Volume from the pop-up menu.

  2. Click the rectangle next to Track Volume to turn it on or off.

  3. Click the line to create several points, and then drag each point to define a curve.

    A setting of 0 indicates even volume, dragging up into positive numbers increases volume, and dragging down into negative numbers decreases volume. The volume changes evenly between points on the volume curve, providing smoother volume control for the track.

    Click and then drag a point on the automation curve for Track Volume.
    Click and then drag a point on the automation curve for Track Volume.

Setting an automation curve for Track Pan works in the same way as the Track Volume curve works. Just choose Track Pan from the pop-up menu. As you drag the curve, the 0 setting is the middle, dragging up into positive numbers pans to the right channel, and dragging down into negative numbers pans to the left channel. The pan changes evenly between points on the curve, providing smoother pan control for the track.

Choose Add Automation from the pop-up menu to add automation curves for Visual EQ and Echo & Reverb settings.

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