GarageBand For Dummies book cover

GarageBand For Dummies

By: Bob LeVitus Published: 08-25-2020

Lay down some tracks—no garage required!

GarageBand has become the default musical sketchpad for both well-known artists and hobbyists musicians who want a simple way to record, edit, and share their own tunes. GarageBand For Dummies is your go-to guide to navigating the interface and making the tweaks to create your own songs. 

Look inside to discover how to lay down a beat with the virtual drum kits, layer on sweet sounds with built-in virtual instruments, and attach simple hardware to record vocals or live instruments on a Mac, iPad, or even an iPhone. 

  • Use built-in instruments to create a song
  • Attach your guitar or mic to record live sounds
  • Export your final product or individual tracks
  • Add effects and edit your song

GarageBand is the simplest way to create basic tracks without investing in costly hardware and learning a complex digital audio workstation software package—and this book shows you how.

Articles From GarageBand For Dummies

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GarageBand For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 02-25-2022

Using keyboard shortcuts makes working with GarageBand ever so much easier on a Mac. But did you know that when using an external Bluetooth keyboard with your iDevices, you can use many Mac keyboard shortcuts! So, if you’re using GarageBand on an iDevice, give the Mac keyboard shortcuts a try. And, if you record a great take (on any device) with one or two small mistakes, here’s the easiest way to silence the boo-boos and salvage your otherwise stellar performance.

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GarageBand's 6 Preferences Panes

Article / Updated 09-06-2020

Before you work and play with GarageBand, you should familiarize yourself with its six preferences panes and their settings. These settings are global and generally affect every project you create. You probably don’t know how you like your preferences, at least not yet. But you will soon. This article helps you adjust each item in every preferences pane. Take a quick look at each of the preferences panes so that you know what they are, where they are, and how to configure them appropriately. For many of you, I’m hoping to do this before you try to make music. General pane Using the General pane is generally painless. In this section I examine each option, starting at the top. To get to the General pane (and the other preferences panes), choose GarageBand→Preferences (or press Command+,) and click the General tab at the top of the Preferences window. The pane shown appears. Software Instrument Recordings section The first section of the General Preferences pane governs what happens when you record over an existing software instrument recording, known as a region in GarageBand parlance. To understand the Cycle Off and Cycle On pop-up menus, you first have to understand the cycle area and cycle mode, labeled. You use the cycle area to play a specific part of your project over and over. It’s handy any time you need to hear part of a song repeatedly, such as when you want to practice a challenging passage before recording it; record multiple takes without pausing; listen critically to a specific part of the project while mixing or mastering. To enable the cycle area, do one of the following: Click the cycle mode icon in the toolbar. Click and drag in the top part of the ruler. Press the C key on your keyboard. To adjust the start and end points of the cycle area, click and drag its left or right edge. To move the entire cycle area, click in the middle of the cycle area and then drag left or right. Now that you know about the cycle area, let’s dig into the pop-up menus on the General pane. The Cycle Off pop-up menu determines what happens when you record a software instrument track over an existing region with cycle mode off: Choose Replace to overwrite previously recorded regions when cycle mode is off. Choose Merge to merge your performance with previously recorded regions when cycle mode is on. The Cycle On pop-up menu determines what happens when you record a software instrument track over an existing region with cycle mode on: Choose Create Takes to record multiple takes on a single track. You can then choose which take is active by clicking the take number for the track and choosing a take from the drop-down menu, as shown. Choose Merge to merge your performance with previously recorded regions on that track. Enable the Force Touch Trackpad check box Enabling the check box labeled Enable the Force Touch Trackpad adds additional gestures you can use with your Force Touch trackpad. This check box is disabled if your Mac doesn’t have a Force Touch trackpad. (It's disabled in the figure because my MacBook Pro doesn’t have a Force Touch trackpad.) Reset Warnings button Use the Reset Warnings button to reset all warnings and alerts previously set to Do Not Show Again. Put another way, click the button if you’d like to see those warnings and alerts again. Audio/MIDI pane Many Macs have built-in microphones and speakers as well as audio input and audio output. If you have a USB or Thunderbolt audio interface, the interface has at least one audio-in and one audio-out port. The Audio/MIDI Preferences pane lets you specify which device you want to use for output (listening) and input (recording). The Audio/MIDI pane, shown, is where you select the input and output that you want GarageBand to use. It’s also where you optimize GarageBand’s performance. Last but not least, this pane tells you how many MIDI devices GarageBand recognizes at the moment. To open this pane, choose GarageBand→Preferences (or press Command+,) and click Audio/MIDI at the top of the Preferences window. The following sections explain your options. Devices section The first section in this pane is Devices, which contains the Output Device and Input Device menus. If your Mac has more than one audio input (for example, the built-in audio-in port plus a USB or Thunderbolt audio interface) or output (for example, the built-in headphone port or a USB or Thunderbolt audio interface), choose the one you want to use from these menus. That’s it. If you see only one input and output choice in either menu on your Mac, wave bye-bye. You won’t have to use them much until you add a new audio device to your setup, and you can ignore the upcoming warning. If you see two or more input or output choices, read the upcoming warning carefully. If you see two or more choices in either menu and you like to plug and unplug your audio devices with reckless abandon (like yours truly), you should read this warning even more carefully, because it’s even more likely to apply to you. When you don’t hear what you expect to hear; the sound is not coming from the speakers or headphones that you expected; or your microphone or instrument doesn’t play through, don’t panic. GarageBand has a maddening tendency to change the inputs and outputs you’ve selected for no apparent reason and without permission. So, if the music isn’t coming or going where you expect it, check these two menus first. Here’s another tidbit: If you unplug the current input or output, GarageBand, always the model of politeness, informs you of the change. I disconnected my Scarlett Solo audio interface and saw the warning dialog shown. Effects section The Effects section has a single check box that determines whether or not GarageBand will recognize third-party plug-ins known as audio units. If you have never downloaded or purchased a plug-in, feel free to leave the Enable Audio Units check box deselected. But, if you do have plug-ins, you won’t see them in GarageBand unless audio units are enabled here. MIDI section The last section in the Audio/MIDI pane is MIDI. In this section, you see the MIDI Status item, which reports how many MIDI devices GarageBand believes are connected to your Mac at the moment. So, MIDI Status isn’t a preference; it just displays a bit of information. In the preceding figure, you can see that my device (a MacBook Pro) has one MIDI device connected to it. Now wave bye-bye to this feature. You probably won’t need to look at it again. Metronome pane Before I talk about the Metronome Preferences pane, let me explain what a metronome is and why you will probably need to use it. It’s important to keep time with your song so you can play the right notes at the right time. To do that, you need to hear a steady beat. GarageBand’s built-in metronome plays that steady beat (sometimes called a click track) to help you play and record in perfect time at the project tempo you’ve specified. You can turn the metronome on or off at any time — while recording, playing back, mixing, or mastering. But you’ll probably find it most useful while recording tracks. To make a choice that suits you, here are some tips to keep in mind: To play or sing in time with a song’s time signature, tempo, and other tracks, use the metronome every time that you record a track. Just remember that YMMV (your mileage may vary). Some musicians have perfect time and can play entire pieces without missing a beat. I’m such a lousy musician that I have trouble staying in time, even with the metronome clicking away. You may prefer to toggle the metronome on and off, which I do often. To do so, click the metronome icon in the toolbar (and shown in the margin) or press the K (for klick) key. You can tell whether the metronome is on (without listening) because the icon is highlighted in purple. If it's on and you click the icon (or press the K key) again, the button turns gray and the metronome shuts up. When I start a new project, I use the metronome during playback to rehearse parts without recording them and to try out different tempos for a piece. But as soon as I have drum and bass tracks — and maybe a guitar or keyboard part or two — I turn the metronome off and leave it off. By this point, the other tracks should be in time with each other, so I should be able to keep time with them when I’m playing or singing, without hearing the annoying tick of the metronome. As the song’s track count increases, it gets harder to hear the metronome anyway. That’s why you may want to record your rhythm tracks — mostly drums and bass — first. Just know that the metronome is there if you want it, during recording or playback. It can be turned on and off in a heartbeat by pressing its keyboard shortcut (K)— that is, unless that heartbeat happens to beat while you’re playing or recording. If you’re playing or recording, follow these steps to toggle the metronome on or off: Press the spacebar (to pause recording or playback). Click the metronome icon (or press the K key) to turn the metronome on or off. Press the spacebar to start playback or press R to start recording. Now, here’s the scoop on the two controls in the Metronome Preferences pane, which is shown in the following figure: Tone slider: Move this slider left or right to change the sound of the metronome. Play with various settings to determine which tone works best for you. Volume slider: Move this slider left to make the metronome quieter or to the right to make it louder. Loops pane The Loops Preferences pane has three little settings, as you can see. Keyboard Browsing setting In the first setting, the Filter for More Relevant Results check box does exactly what it says: If you deselect this check box, you see more loops, but many of them won’t sound good in your song. It may seem that finding more loops would be a good thing, but it’s not — so resist the temptation. Try it if you have the time, and you’ll see my point. I always keep this check box selected. You can deselect yours if you like, but if you do, I hope you don’t waste too much time with loops that sound lousy in your composition. Keyboard Layout setting The loop browser uses keywords to describe the sounds in loops. The keywords appear on buttons in the loop browser’s button view (shown) and can be customized by clicking and dragging a button to a different position. The Reset button in the Loops Preferences pane will set your mess back to the original layout when you decide that you hate what you’ve created. Blowing away these customizations isn’t a big deal; you don’t lose sounds or settings. Only the positions of the keywords in the loop browser’s button view are changed. Loop Browser setting Last but not least, enable the Display Original Tempo and Key check box to see the tempo and key for each loop in the loop browser. If you don’t care to see the tempo and key for every loop, leave it deselected and leave more room onscreen for the loop’s name. My Info pane You use the My Info pane, shown, to set your desired playlist, composer, and album name when you export a finished song into iTunes. As usual, you get to the pane by choosing GarageBand→Preferences (or by pressing Command+,) and clicking My Info at the top of the window. When you’re ready to export a song, GarageBand uses the information in the four text fields shown in the pane: Composer Name, Artist Name, Album Name, and Playlist. So, when I export a finished song by choosing Share→Song to Music (or iTunes on Macs running macOS Mojave or earlier), the song arrives in the Music app (or iTunes) with the information that I typed in the My Info pane already entered for me in the Share to Music (or iTunes) dialog, as shown. That’s nice, but what’s nicer is that the app also picked up the title of the song — which I never typed into the preferences pane! All the fields are editable, so you can make changes before you click the Share button and send the song to Music (or iTunes). Advanced pane The Advanced pane, shown, doesn’t contain anything advanced. My guess is that Apple is trying to keep you from changing these settings unless someone else tells you to. Audio Recording Resolution setting GarageBand can record audio at two resolutions (kind of like quality levels). The default is to record higher quality 24-bit audio, but you can disable the 24-bit check box if you want to record smaller, lower quality 16-bit files instead. In my humble opinion, you should always record at the highest resolution available. You can always compress (shrink) the file later if necessary. If you record at 16 bits, your song will sound worse than at 24 bits. Sure, you’ll save a few megabytes of disk space, but it’s usually not worth it. Record something in 24 bits, then record it again in 16 bits. If you don’t hear a difference, or the difference doesn’t bother you, disable the 24-bit check box and save some space. Auto Normalize setting The Export Projects at Full Volume check box is selected by default, so GarageBand automatically exports your project at the optimum loudness — the highest volume level at which no distortion occurs. If you’ve set your track or master levels imperfectly, Auto Normalize does a great job of making them sound better when you export them, which is why I recommend keeping this check box enabled. Unless, like yours truly, you prefer to manage final volume levels manually when you master. One last thing: This setting has no effect on the volume level of tracks playing back in GarageBand; it comes into play only when you share (export) your song. Movie Thumbnail Resolution setting If you use GarageBand to add a soundtrack to a movie, this setting governs the size and resolution of the movie thumbnails displayed as you compose.

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10 Ways to Improve GarageBand’s Performance

Article / Updated 09-06-2020

GarageBand is relatively stable. For an application that does so much computing, it rarely crashes or freezes on any platform. Still, it is an app, which means it may occasionally cause you trouble. And most of that trouble involves performance, which is why this article offers 10 ways to shoot that trouble right between its beady little eyes and get your GarageBand rocking again. In general, the older your Mac or iDevice (which is to say, the slower its processor), the more likely you’ll encounter performance issues. That said, no device is truly immune. If you add enough tracks to your project and add enough effects to your tracks, you’ll bring your Mac (or iDevice) to its knees. If you 've never (or almost never) seen the ugly warning dialog box in the following figure, you're either lucky or fortunate to use a Mac booting from an SSD (and not an old-school hard disk) and with a fast multicore processor and 8GB of RAM (or preferably more). In the next few pages, I show you tips, techniques, and workarounds to help you keep making music based on my nearly 20 years of infatuation with digital recording. Start with the basics Here's a quick set of things to try before you try anything more drastic: Close every open application except GarageBand. If you have other applications open while you’re using GarageBand, they’re using up RAM and processing power that can be put to better use. It’s a good idea to close all other programs to give GarageBand more RAM and processor time to work with. Check all your cable connections. Save your file, Quit GarageBand, and then reopen it. Delete the GarageBand preference file (com.apple.garageband.plist) from your Home/Library/Preferences folder. Log out of your macOS user account and then log back in. Restart your Mac. If you’ve deleted your GarageBand preferences, every setting you modified in GarageBand Preferences has been reset to the defaults — as they were the first time you ever used GarageBand. Open GarageBand Preferences (choose GarageBand→Preferences or press Command+?) to reset the preferences to the way they were. Check on FileVault Another possible performance-robber is macOS FileVault, which can cause excessive reading and writing to your hard drive. If your startup disk is an SSD, FileVault probably isn’t a problem for you. But for those who boot from a hard disk (and not a solid-state drive), FileVault may be the cause of performance hiccups and slowdowns. To turn off FileVault (or determine if it’s enabled), follow these steps: Launch the System Preferences application. Click the Security & Privacy icon. Click the FileVault tab. Do one of the following: If the text reads, “FileVault is turned on for the disk” followed by your disk’s name, and the button to the right of the text says Turn Off FileVault, click the Lock icon in the lower left and provide your user account password, and then click the button to turn off FileVault. If the text reads, “FileVault is turned off for the disk” followed by your disk’s name, and the button to the right of the text says Turn On FileVault, you’re golden. Quit System Preferences and continue your recording session. If you can’t live without FileVault (and you’re certain FileVault is responsible for your issue), store your project files on an external disk: hard or solid-state (though an SSD will deliver better performance when recording). Okay, now let’s get serious. The following sections give you some other things to try when GarageBand goes sour. Pay attention to CPU and RAM usage Keep an eye on your Mac’s CPU load and memory usage if GarageBand is throwing up error messages or complaining it can’t do something. Chances are your processor is being swamped by requests from GarageBand, or GarageBand (or something else) is chewing up all memory (RAM). Adding tracks and effects increases the load on your Mac’s processor, and some complex effects, such as the Amp models, use more processor time than others. So, I recommend turning off effects or muting some of your tracks if you need to reduce the strain on your processor. If you don’t fix a heavy processor load or an out-of-memory condition before it happens, a dialog box or an audio dropout will likely wreck the take. So, try the techniques that follow if GarageBand is acting wonky and your processor load or memory is in the danger zone. What’s that you say? How do you determine that your Mac’s processor (CPU) load or memory (RAM) is in the danger zone? Glad you asked. Apple provides a handy tool for just such determinations. It’s called Activity Monitor and it’s in your Utilities folder (which is inside your Applications folder). If I have a project with a lot of software instruments, amp models, or effects laid onto tracks and GarageBand bogs down, the first thing I do is launch Activity Monitor and arrange its windows on my screen so I can see it alongside my project, as shown. Check out Activity Monitor’s CPU and Memory tabs With your project playing in GarageBand, take a look at Activity Monitor’s main window and its CPU tab (bottom left in the preceding figure) and Memory tab (see the following figure). The first thing you’re interested in is the % CPU column. If GarageBand is using more than 70 to 80 percent of your CPU cycles and GarageBand is stuttering or throwing up error messages, try muting some tracks and turning off effects. This is probably the quickest, easiest fix for performance problems: If you don’t need the track or effect for whatever you’re doing right now, mute tracks or disable effects or both. The same issues can arise if another app is consuming a large percentage of CPU cycles, which can leave too few cycles for GarageBand. In that case, quit the other program (or programs). Activity Monitor displays All Process by default. So, you’ll see items such as kernel_task or launchserviced, which are part of the system software and can’t be quit. I like to see them, so if anything—including system software—is chewing up a ton of my CPU, I will see which app or process is responsible. If you don’t care about such minutiae, choose View→Windowed Processes and you’ll see only applications that are currently open and can be quit in the usual fashion. To display the CPU History window and CPU Usage window above the main Activity Monitor window, choose Window→CPU History (or press Command + 3) and Window→CPU Usage (or press Command + 2). Note that my window has eight bars because my CPU has eight cores. Your mileage may vary. The other thing of interest is the Memory tab at the top of the main Activity Monitor window. The thing you're most interested in is how much of your total RAM (memory) is free. The closer the available RAM gets to 0, the more things—including GarageBand—will slow to a crawl. This time you’re not as concerned with GarageBand’s stats as you are with your Mac’s overall RAM use. You want to determine three things: How much RAM this Mac has How much of that RAM is available (or, conversely, how much of that RAM is currently in use) How much swap memory is used for virtual memory (VM) Fortunately, all three things appear on Activity Monitor’s Memory tab, as shown. The key things to watch for are 1GB or less available RAM, or a huge swap file or both. The first—less than a gigabyte of free RAM—is easy. Just do the math: physical memory minus memory used equals available memory. The second—a huge swap file—is a little mushier. The Swap Used amount is how much of your SSD (or hard disk) is being used (swapped) for RAM (known as virtual memory) because not enough physical RAM is available. If your RAM isn’t all being used, the swap file will vary from 0 to a few gigabytes; the more RAM you have installed, the bigger your normal swap file. Take a look at the Memory tab occasionally and note what Swap Used looks like when things are going well on your Mac. Then, if you notice the swap file swelling beyond what is normal on your Mac, quit one or more apps to free up memory. When do you need to worry? After you know what normal looks like on your Mac, any time you see your swap file grow by 3 times or more, your Mac is likely to run sluggishly. On my MacBook Pro, with 16GB of RAM and a normal swap size of around 2GB, I start getting concerned if I see my Swap Used grow beyond 8GB. Note that the Swap Used is dynamic. If you free up some memory by quitting one or more apps, the swap size should go down (although not instantly). Finally, restarting your Mac often cleans up memory-related issues and speeds things back up without doing anything else. Alas, at certain times, most notably mixing or mastering, muting tracks, disabling effects, or reducing RAM usage isn’t possible. Keep reading for more tricks to try if things bog down. Recording: 16-bits vs. 24-bits One thing that can affect performance is the resolution you’re using for recording. GarageBand records at 16 bits by default, but you have the option of recording at 24 bits. The good news is that 24-bit recordings are higher quality because you’re capturing roughly 33 percent more data than a 16-bit recording. The bad news is that GarageBand is working with 33 percent more data, which uses more CPU cycles and memory. So, if you’re having performance issues, check the resolution at which you’re recording by choosing GarageBand→Preferences (or pressing its shortcut, Command+comma) and then clicking the Advanced icon. If the 24-bit Audio Recording Resolution check box is selected, deselect it and then close the Preferences window. With the recording resolution reduced to 16 bits, GarageBand will be more responsive and less prone to errors. Minimize the GarageBand window while playing or recording Minimizing the GarageBand window—by choosing Window→Minimize, pressing Command+M, or clicking the yellow gumdrop in the upper-left corner of the GarageBand window—provides some respite for your processor. When you minimize the window, GarageBand doesn't have to draw to the screen, reducing the demand on the processor. It is, alas, somewhat less convenient than some of the other remedies. Why is it less convenient? First, you have to remember to begin your recording (or playback) and then minimize the window. Then, before you can stop recording (or do anything else), you have to maximize the window again by clicking its icon in the dock. The Count In feature (Record→Count In) gives you four beats before recording begins, which should be plenty of time to minimize the window. The bottom line is that this solution might provide some relief if your Mac is bogging down, and it’s easy. And you don’t need to see the window while you record as long as you’ve adjusted the track level properly before you started recording. If you’re still having trouble building the kind of songs that you want to build because your processor or hard drive is too slow or you keep getting error messages, check out the following sections to find some more things that can help. Get more RAM Most Macs today ship with 8GB of RAM, which is enough to run GarageBand acceptably but may not be enough to record the kinds of songs you want to record. Even if your Mac has 8GB of RAM, GarageBand will almost certainly perform better after you add more. Some Macs have their Mac soldered in so it can’t be replaced or upgraded. Other Macs make it easy to install additional RAM— anyone can do it in 15 minutes or less. For under $100, you can buy a 16GB upgrade kit for many Mac models. (RAM prices are volatile. That was the price as of spring 2020. By the time you read this, prices might be noticeably higher or lower. I’m just sayin’.) If you bump up your RAM to 16 gigabytes or more, GarageBand will run even better — and allow you to have more tracks, instruments, effects, and notes in your songs before those dreaded warning dialog boxes start to appear. Get faster storage Your internal disk drive may not be fast enough for GarageBand, especially if it’s an old-school rotational hard drive or even a hybrid drive. When it comes to recording music, nothing comes close to using a solid-state drive. Most USB 3 external hard drives (and all external SSDs) run at higher speeds than internal hard drives or hybrid drives from Apple. If you have a USB 3 external hard drive, it’s faster than the internal disk or hybrid drive in your Mac. If your Mac has a hard or hybrid drive inside it, and you have a faster external drive available, it would behoove you to save your projects on the faster external drive instead of your slower boot disk. For years, pro audio programs recommended saving your projects on any hard drive except the boot disk (that is, the disk with macOS and GarageBand on it). If you save your projects on the fastest drive you have, you are likely to see fewer error messages. If you’re considering an external drive, look for hard drives that run at 7,200 rpm or higher rather than the cheaper — and easier to find— 5,400-rpm drives. Most drive vendors display the speed of a drive in the product description; if you don’t see it, ask about it. If your Mac has Thunderbolt, as many do today, a Thunderbolt disk drive running at 7,200 rpm moves data faster than a USB 3 drive at 7,200. But Thunderbolt drives are less common and cost significantly more than USB 3 drives. Still, Thunderbolt may be worthwhile if you record multiple tracks at once or create complex projects with dozens and dozens of tracks and effects. Finally, if your boot disk is a hard or hybrid disk, you may be able to replace it with an SSD. This option will be more expensive than buying an external SSD but may be more convenient if you have a laptop. Reset MIDI drivers I saved this tip for last because it’s only likely to cure a single symptom—a MIDI device that doesn’t become available in GarageBand when you connect it to your Mac. If this happens (and it does every so often), open GarageBand Preferences (GarageBand→Preferences), click the Audio/MIDI tab, and then click the Reset MIDI Drivers button. If that didn’t fix it, make sure the cable you’re using is good. If it is and the problem persists, try restarting your Mac. Turn off Wi-Fi before recording or performing If you’re still having performance issues after trying other suggestions in this list, you can try one more thing: Turn off Wi-Fi. Doing so will reduce the load on your processor and free up a bit of memory, which should improve GarageBand's performance. And, although I’ve mentioned it before, I'll say it again here: Don’t forget to quit all other applications before you begin recording or performing with GarageBand.

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How to Choose a Microphone for GarageBand

Article / Updated 09-06-2020

If you're just starting with GarageBand, begin by using any available microphone. I’ve made many GarageBand recordings using an old Andrea USB NC-7100, a cheap USB mic that was bundled with speech-recognition software I reviewed more than a decade ago. A microphone may be the most critical component that you buy. If you’re a singer or want to record almost any acoustic instrument (guitar, piano, flute, and so on), you need a microphone, and the quality of your recording will be greatly influenced by your choice of mic. My Webster’s Concise Electronic Dictionary defines a microphone as “an instrument for transmitting or recording sound by changing sound waves into variations of an electric current.” Technically, that’s not a bad definition, but I prefer a simpler one: “A device that captures incoming sound and saves it (as a tape recorder or GarageBand does) or transmits it (as a telephone or walkie-talkie does).” Musicians and audio enthusiasts often refer to a microphone as a mic, (pronounced “mike”). If your Mac has a built-in microphone or an audio-input jack or both, you can use the built-in mic or connect a cheap mic to the audio-in jack and make some recordings. If they sound good to you, you just saved yourself a lot of money; if they don’t sound good, buy or borrow a better microphone and re-record the material. Now compare the two recordings and decide whether the better mic is worth the money. Microphones vary greatly in price and quality. You can pay as little as $10–$20 for an inexpensive, consumer-quality mic on Amazon.com or at your local Best Buy, or you can spend thousands of dollars for a pro-quality mic at your local or virtual pro audio dealer. When it comes to microphones, price and sound quality don’t necessarily correlate directly. You can find inexpensive microphones that sound as good as (or better than) other microphones that cost even ten times as much. However, you generally get what you pay for, and more expensive microphones usually sound better. The main things to consider when choosing microphones follow: Type of mic (dynamic, condenser, or ribbon) Polarity pattern (cardioid, omni-directional, figure-8, and so on) Connection to your device (usually USB, XLR, or both) Preamps Price (of course) In the following sections, I explain these basic considerations and discuss what you need to know about connecting a mic to your computer so that you can start recording. Dynamic and condenser microphones Many types of microphones are available, and they use different mechanisms and electronic components. The two types that you’re most likely to encounter, though, are dynamic and condenser microphones. The technical differences in the way that each type works aren’t important (at least not in this article), but you should know the following nontechnical differences between the two before you consider choosing one kind (or both): Dynamic mics are generally less expensive than condenser types. Condenser mics generally reproduce vocals and acoustic instruments more accurately and with more warmth. (Warmth is a desirable tonal characteristic that might best be described as mellow or not bright. It refers to a pleasant decrease in mid and mid-to-high frequencies that make a voice or instrument sound smoother when recorded.) Dynamic mics can be placed closer to loud bursts of sound — such as drums or a guitar amp — than condenser mics, so dynamic mics may achieve a sound that you just can’t get with a condenser mic. Furthermore, a condenser mic is more likely to be damaged by extremely loud sounds than a dynamic mic. Many dynamic mics are built for rough use — they better withstand being dropped on the floor or being knocked over with a mic stand. If you’re rough on your gear or plan to use it in a live stage setting, a dynamic mic will probably last longer. Condenser mics require a power source (known as phantom power), so they must contain an internal battery or have the phantom power supplied through the cable by your audio interface or mixer. Not all audio interfaces and mixers supply phantom power to condenser mics. If you plan to use one of these mics, make sure that the device you’re going to connect it to — for example, an audio interface, a mixer, or a sound card — provides phantom power for it. A third type of microphone — the ribbon mic — is fragile and expensive ($1,000 and up). And although ribbon mics are prized for a silky response, they don’t sound that different from condenser mics. You probably want to avoid ribbon mics unless you’re a purist and have deep pockets. I recorded with a ribbon mic in a studio many years ago, and it did indeed sound silky. So does the Neumann U87 (around $3,600), still the gold standard for condenser mics. If you buy only one microphone, you can’t go wrong with a dynamic mic such as the Shure SM57 or SM58. These are two of the most popular dynamic mics around @@md and have been ubiquitous standards for modern live vocals since their releases nearly half a century ago. The SM57 and SM58 are similar, but the SM57 has “contoured frequency response for clean sound reproduction of amplified and acoustic instruments,” whereas the SM58 is “tuned to accentuate the warmth and clarity of lead and back-up vocals.” The SM58 is the ball-shaped mic you see all the time on stage and in videos. The differences between the SM57 and SM58 are small and you may not even be able to hear them. Either is fine for both vocals and instruments. If you’re buying only one, decide whether recording vocals or recording instruments is more important, and choose accordingly. You can buy either one from online music vendors such as Sweetwater Sound and Musician’s Friend for under $100. Microphone polarity patterns Each microphone is designed with a specific polarity pattern, which means they pick up sound from certain locations better than others. The three polarity patterns you’re most likely to encounter follow: Cardioid (directional): Cardioid mics, as you can see in the following figure, reject sound from the rear and sides, making them excellent for recording an instrument or a vocal with little or no extraneous sound leakage. Omni-directional: Omni-directional mics pick up sound from all directions equally, as you can see in the following figure. That feature makes them a fine choice for recording a large ensemble or orchestra but not the best choice for recording individual voices and instruments, which is what you do in GarageBand most of the time. Figure-8 (bi-directional): Figure-8, or bi-directional, mics pick up sound from the front and back equally while rejecting sound coming from either side, as shown. The preceding figures are polar graphs that show how well the mic picks up sound from the front, rear, and sides. The specification sheets for most microphones will include a polar graph of its polarity pattern. The three flavors of cardioid are so similar that you won’t notice much (if any) difference between them for the kind of recording you’re likely to do when working with GarageBand. I merely include this information so you won’t be confused when you start seeing these terms in brochures and reviews. Finally, my favorite mic at the time of this writing is a Blue Yeti Pro, a great sounding condenser mic with both USB and XLR connectors as well as four polarity patterns. It’s not cheap, at around $250, but it has been superb for almost everything I’ve recorded with it. Microphone preamps You have one last thing to consider if you’re buying a microphone: Your mic preamps have a tremendous effect on how your mic will sound. A mic preamp amplifies the sound coming out of the microphone to the higher voltage known as line level. Mixers, tape recorders, GarageBand, and almost anything else you might use a decent microphone with require line level input for recording. If your microphone plugs directly into the Mac’s audio-in port or your iDevice’s Lightning port, you’re using built-in audio preamps, which are lower quality than most outboard gear but good enough for GarageBand work in a pinch. If you purchase an external audio interface, chances are it will tout its own preamp circuits; all of these will provide a cleaner signal than your Mac or iDevice’s built-in audio-in subsystem. Usually (but not always), more expensive interfaces offer higher-quality preamps. Set up your microphone Many Macs and older iDevices have a built-in microphone or an audio-input jack or both. A built-in mic requires no extra work on your part. If you have just an audio-in jack, you may be able to simply connect a cheap mic to it and make some recordings. However, most quality microphones (dynamic and condenser) as well as many other pieces of audio gear you’re likely to encounter use cables with XLR connectors. Because no Mac or iDevice has built-in XLR ports, you can’t plug an XLR cable directly into a Mac or an iDevice. If you choose a microphone with an XLR connector, you also need an audio interface (or an internal sound card), a mixer, or another device that has XLR inputs. This device sends its output to your Mac through one of its built-in ports, such as USB, PCI (Power Macs only), or Lightning.

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10 Ways to Take Your GarageBand Recordings to the Next Level

Article / Updated 09-06-2020

Here are some ways that you can make your GarageBand recorded songs even better. Alas, most of these suggestions cost money, but each one will contribute to making your GarageBand compositions sound even better than before. Get a better microphone If you record acoustic instruments or vocals, an easy way to make your recordings sound better is to use a better microphone. Audio magazines and websites are also good sources of more detailed information about mics; these sources review recording equipment all the time, and they may be your best bet for learning more about specific mics and models. That said, here are a few general tips about microphones: You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a decent mic. Don’t spend more than $200 on a mic unless you're extremely serious about recording. Many excellent microphones are available for $200 or less. AKG, Audio-Technica, Blue, Rode, Sennheiser, and Shure have been in the microphone business for as long as I’ve been recording. And all of them have products at a wide variety of prices. Wind screens and pop filters can make a big difference in your vocals. If you don’t own one of these screens, consider buying one or both of them. Good recordings require proper microphone placement, which is hard to do without good mic stands. Boom-style stands are more flexible than the pole-type units, but the boom types are inherently less stable — particularly cheap ones. If you use boom mic stands, be careful not to knock them over to avoid damage to the microphone, stand, or both. Making sure your speakers reproduce sound decently Nothing compares to hearing music that’s reproduced accurately. Unfortunately, the speakers built into computers are mostly junk — they don’t even come close to producing sound accurately. Most multimedia computer speakers—especially ones with subwoofers— will work in a pinch, but if you’re serious about hearing every little nuance, you should buy a set of good desktop speakers. Such speaker systems, called reference monitors, can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars a set to thousands of dollars per speaker. I have two pairs of speakers on my desk with an A/B switch, so when I’m mixing or mastering, I can listen on consumer speakers or reference monitors with a flick of the A/B switch. The consumer speakers are Audioengine A2+ speakers. For around $250 a pair, they sound great. They're crisp and crystal clear with a surprisingly tight and punchy bottom end for such small speakers. I recommended them highly. Better still, spend a bit more for some reference monitors such as the (now discontinued) Tapco’s S-5 Active Studio Monitors. One last thing: If you’re going to get only one pair of speakers, think long and hard about whether you’d be happier with speakers that sound great or that reproduce sound accurately. Reference monitors generally reproduce music more accurately than regular speakers, but that doesn’t mean they sound better for everyday listening. I prefer the smaller Audioengine A2+ speakers for almost everything I do at my Mac except mixing and mastering. On the other hand, switching between two sets of speakers — even if neither pair are reference monitors — almost always highlights a flaw I might not have noticed with one set of speakers. As always, your mileage may vary. You need to listen to your almost-finished songs on as many different devices and through as many types of speakers as possible. I consider this step one of the most important in creating great-sounding songs. After you’re happy with what you’re hearing at your desk, export (share) the song and listen to it in your car, on your home stereo, on a boom box, in the shower, on Bluetooth speakers, on an iDevice — with and without earphones — and on every other device you can find. I always carry a notebook to write down anything that sounds funky as well as the audio system I was listening to. After listening to a semi-finished track on five or six different sound systems, I go back to GarageBand and try to fix the funkiness. Then I export a new version and listen on five or six different devices again. If I still hear flaws, I repeat the process until all the funkiness has been removed and I don’t have notes from any of the sound systems. When that happens, the last version I exported becomes the golden master and is the version I share with the world. Get better headphones You should use sealed headphones — ones that leak as little sound as possible — when you record. If you’re using cheap headphones with porous foam ear cups when you sing, some of the music you’re hearing in the headphones is likely to bleed onto your track. Good sealed headphones not only prevent such noises from leaking onto your track but also reproduce sound more accurately than cheaper models. Don’t underestimate the importance of a good set of cans. You’ll almost certainly improve your vocal and acoustic instrument tracks when you can hear the other instruments and voices clearly. And you’ll have fewer takes spoiled by sound leaking from your cans. Fine-tune mic placement The location of your microphone makes all the difference when you’re recording. I’ve heard many recording engineers tell me that setting up mics correctly can take longer than the actual recording. Don’t be afraid to experiment. If that acoustic guitar isn’t sounding quite right, move the mic to the left or the right, or point it up or down a bit, or move it farther from the sound hole. Each small move changes the sound that ends up on your track. If you take the time to discover the mic placement that sounds best to you, the resulting tracks will sound that much better. Improve room acoustics Also consider the room you’re recording in. Hard surfaces and parallel walls in your studio can resonate, reflect, and reverberate sounds; these issues are undesirable when you’re recording. The more hard surfaces (and parallel walls) in the room, the more reflected yuck you hear on the track. If you’re not getting the sound you want from a mic, try throwing some blankets or pillows over hard surfaces, or moving the mic to a different part of the room (or a different room) with fewer reflective surfaces. I’ve been known to make a tent out of old quilts and record hand-held percussion instruments by holding the instrument (usually a tambourine or maracas) and the mic under the quilt tent. It may not be pretty, but it's cheap and it works. Use quality cables Most computer peripherals and audio devices include a cable or two. Isn’t that nice? The problem is, many manufacturers throw in the cheapest, crummiest cable they can buy. As a result, the quality may be lacking, and the cable may become nonfunctional sooner than you expect. I’m not suggesting that you replace your existing cables with high-end cables, but if you’re buying cables, it’s best to avoid the cheapest ones. They won’t last as long, and because they use the cheapest available components, they may introduce unwanted noise and interference. I get most of my cables at Amazon.com and Monoprice.com, reading the reviews and ratings before I click Buy. For what it's worth, I like Monoprice a lot. It specializes in cables, and engineers and manufactures most of its offerings. Monoprice often has cables in more lengths, colors, thicknesses, and qualities than Amazon. Monoprice is often a little more expensive than Amazon, but I know I’m getting the exact cable I need, and it’s likely to last longer than a cheapie on Amazon. Add an audio interface (and, optionally, a mixing board) Sometimes you’ll need to record more than one track at a time. For example, a standard drum set needs as many as seven microphones to be recorded well. This requirement is a no-brainer for big-time audio recordings. Simply set up the microphones and then record each one on a different track. But unless you have an audio interface with at least seven microphone inputs, you’re out of luck. Another example: You’re recording a large vocal group, and the group is too large to all sing into a single microphone. In these cases, the answer is a multi-input audio interface or a small mixing board (which includes an audio interface). Like an audio interface, mixing boards have inputs and outputs so you can connect as many mics as the board has inputs. Then you can adjust their level, equalization, tone, pan, effects, and so on from a physical device with knobs and faders, all before it’s passed to GarageBand and recorded on its own track. You know the big sound board you see in the middle of the floor at a rock concert? That’s a big, expensive mixing board that obtains input from all the microphones on stage and then sends the output to the giant speakers facing the audience. Guitar Center and Sweetwater sell a wide variety of mixing boards compatible with GarageBand. Search for USB mixer for GarageBand and you’ll find mixers ranging from 4-channel mixers under $100 to 24-channel mixers that cost thousands. I don’t have any room for a mixing board, so I bought a Korg nanoKONTROL2 ($75), as shown. With nanoKontrol2, I can tap a physical button to start or stop recording, slide a physical fader to raise or lower levels, or press physical buttons to solo, mute, or record. Switch to more powerful software If the preceding section sounded good to you — and you’re interested in recording multiple instruments or vocals on multiple tracks, all at the same time — you might be happier with more powerful software than GarageBand. Pro audio-recording applications include GarageBand’s sibling from Apple, Logic Pro ($299), and DigiDesign Pro Tools. The software expense will be the least of your worries if you decide to assemble a semipro or pro-quality home studio. For starters, you’ll need a multichannel audio interface or mixing board. Then you’ll want at least one microphone for each channel on your interface or board. You’ll also need a very fast Mac with very fast drives used only for recording. Logic Pro In addition to GarageBand, Apple makes an excellent professional-quality music creation program called Logic Pro. When I got it, it cost $999, but it is now available for a much more reasonable $199. Logic Pro has two big advantages over other professional audio editors. One, it will open GarageBand files. Sadly, it’s one-way, and you can’t (easily) open a Logic Pro file in GarageBand. The second advantage is that unlike most other DAW (digital audio workstations) such as Pro Tools, Logic Pro includes free upgrades for life. The interfaces are quite similar, as shown. And most of GarageBand’s features work the same way in Logic Pro. Because you already know how to use GarageBand, it won’t be long before you’re comfortable with Logic Pro. There are many reasons why you might want (or need) to use Logic Pro to finish a project you started in GarageBand, such as the following: Your project has more tracks than GarageBand can handle. Logic Pro is more efficient and uses less of the processor and memory than GarageBand. Because Logic Pro is designed for pros, it supports projects with track and effects counts that would bring GarageBand to its knees. You want to use a Logic Pro instrument or effect not included in GarageBand. Logic Pro has more of almost everything GarageBand has, including more instruments (1,000+), more instrument and effect patches (2,800+), more drummers (28), as well as more guitar and bass amps, stompboxes, custom pedalboards, and more. You want to create a project in the 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound format. GarageBand does not support either surround sound format. The truth is that either program will produce radio-quality music. Still, unless you absolutely know you need a feature that’s exclusive to Logic Pro, I recommend you stick to GarageBand, since it’s less complicated and you know how to use it. Pro Tools Pro Tools from Avid is worthy of consideration, primarily because there are so many different versions of it at a bewildering array of price points, as shown. The good news is that all versions are compatible with each other and you can work on the same file with any version. Pro Tools is the most common software you’ll find in commercial recording studios. That point is worth considering if you intend to record in a studio. With Pro Tools, you can take the project file you recorded with a $100,000+ Pro Tools hardware/software system and later work on that file with the $299 version of Pro Tools on your MacBook Pro. One last thing: Pro Tools is more difficult to learn and master than either GarageBand or Logic Pro. If you decide Pro Tools is the right tool for you, block out a big chunk of time before your first session to become familiar with the software.

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What Is GarageBand?

Article / Updated 09-06-2020

GarageBand for the Mac is a complete recording studio that includes hundreds of realistic-sounding instruments, effects, and presets configured by experienced recording engineers. GarageBand for the iPad and iPhone is also a complete recording studio, but the iOS and iPadOS versions are designed for the touchscreen and include realistic-sounding Touch Instruments you “play” onscreen. In a nutshell, GarageBand — on either platform — combines everything you need to record, mix, master, and share music with others. GarageBand’s default settings and templates are a big part of the reason why GarageBand is so great, especially for beginners. The instruments and audio effects sound great right out of the box, and they rarely require much (if any) tweaking. It’s kind of like having a crew of professional recording engineers inside your Mac or iDevice. There has never been a program quite like GarageBand; it's the perfect introduction to multitrack audio recording on Apple devices. GarageBand is easy, friendly, forgiving, and fun on all platforms, and you can’t beat the price. Multitrack recording means recording instruments or vocals with each instrumental or vocal performance recorded on its own track. The sound contained on each track can be adjusted independently of other tracks. Ultimately, the tracks are combined (that is, mixed) in a pleasing manner to create the final product. If you’re new to this audio thing, nothing else even comes close to GarageBand. You’re gonna love it. What can you do with GarageBand? GarageBand does things that used to require hours in an expensive recording studio. The following is a fairly comprehensive list of what you can do with GarageBand: Record vocals. Record acoustic instruments. Record software instruments via MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface). Record electric guitars and basses with GarageBand’s virtual amplifier models, so that you can get just the sound you want. “Punch in” to a section of an otherwise excellent track to re-record over your mistakes. Adjust the sonic (sound) characteristics — volume, equalization, echo, reverb, and so on — for each track individually (all these elements are part of mixing a song) and for the song as a whole (in other words, mastering). Make music using prerecorded loops. Combine (mix) multiple tracks of music or loops or both into a two-track (stereo) song file. Record a track while listening to (monitoring) one or more other tracks. This list doesn’t cover everything you can do with GarageBand, but it at least gives you the gist of the cool stuff you can do. What can’t you do with GarageBand? Well, there’s not much GarageBand can’t do. GarageBand's biggest shortcoming (versus more sophisticated recording-studio-type software or an analog recording studio) used to be that it allowed you to record only one track at a time. That shortcoming is long gone. Today’s GarageBand supports recording on as many tracks at once as your hardware interface and Mac support. Today, its fewer remaining shortcomings are less troubling. Although you can change the time signature anywhere in a song without missing a beat (pun intended), it’s not easy. So, if you tend to write songs with multiple time changes, GarageBand may not be the best tool for you. Moving right along, some other things you can’t do with GarageBand include typesetting a book, removing red eye from a digital photograph, and sending your mom an e-mail message. But you knew that already. Finally, it’s possible to create a song that has too many instruments, effects, or tracks for your Mac or iDevice to handle. The older your device (and the less RAM it has), the more likely you'll encounter this issue sooner rather than later. Although this problem can happen when you use higher-end audio software, it happens sooner and with fewer tracks, effects, or instruments in GarageBand. Suffice it to say that newer Macs and iDevices run GarageBand more efficiently than older ones.

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