Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Not that long ago, it took a good chunk of money and a professional recording studio to make high-quality recorded music — but nowadays, all you need is a modest home studio, a decent laptop or mobile device, and a handy piece of software called GarageBand. This software is essential if you’re interested in learning how to make an album.
GarageBand is a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) created by Apple that’s intended to make music recording, music production, and audio mixing available to everyone from the freshest newbie to the most experienced master. This post includes tips on getting to know GarageBand and how you can use this powerful program to elevate your music making.
What is GarageBand?
In short, GarageBand is a virtual recording studio that lives on your desktop computer, laptop, iPad, or iPhone. It’s a program that anyone can use to make great music. Here are some things that the program lets Garageband users do:
- Record vocals, guitars, and other live instruments
- Access a wide variety of realistic and versatile virtual instruments
- Add effects like reverb, compression, and distortion
- Mix your music
- Work with a large sound library of Apple-provided loops and samples
Pros and cons of using GarageBand
For many musicians and producers, GarageBand strikes the sweet spot between depth and usability. In other words, you can make powerful music using it without feeling like you have to learn a foreign language or figure out how to pilot a fighter jet. Plus, it comes free on Apple devices. But is it for everyone?
If you need the full range of capabilities that high-tech recording software can offer, then it’s a good idea to look elsewhere. Some of the most popular, full-service recording suites include:
- Apple Logic
- Avid Pro Tools
- Ableton Live
- Steinberg Cubase
Check out this list for more. Programs like these will let you delve as far as technology can take you to tweak every micro-second of your audio recording to perfection. But that’s a level of granularity many music-makers don’t need and may even find burdensome.
Going deeper into a few of GarageBand’s limitations:
- You can only use it on Apple devices. If you’re a PC or Android user, you’re out of luck.
- You can’t easily export MIDI files. If you record MIDI tracks and want to share them with friends, or use them for other purposes, unfortunately, there’s no user-friendly way to make it happen with GarageBand.
- There’s no virtual mixing board screen. Especially if your song ends up using multiple tracks and you want to be able to easily see them represented via a traditional mixing board interface, GarageBand won’t be able to help.
- Editing is limited. When it comes to basic audio and MIDI edits, you’re in great shape. But if you want to go deep into massaging your MIDI or cross-fade between edited-together audio snippets on the same track, you’re out of luck.
Are these dealbreakers? For many, not at all. I recommend getting started using GarageBand and see what happens. If you feel like you’re banging your head against a wall, look for a more in-depth DAW. If you feel your production world’s opening up to you, keep on going!
How to use GarageBand for beginners
Here’s a walk-through on how to create a basic track, from top to bottom, using GarageBand:
1. Pick your template
As soon as you open the GarageBand window, you get to pick from a variety of Project Templates, which help you hit the ground running, regardless of what type of music you’re trying to produce. These include:
- Keyboard Collection
- Amp Collection
- Hip Hop
Choose whichever template best suits your creative vision. For this walk-through, I’m going to go with Electronic.
2. Get the lay of the land
GarageBand opens in the traditional display you’ll see across many different DAWS. At far left, you’ve got a menu where you can choose the sort of drum sounds and drum style you want; next to that is your list of tracks, which include a wide variety of synths, drums, and electronic textures that are automatically populated by GarageBand.
The big window top right shows the recorded music itself, and below that is a window that lets you further tweak the vibe of your GarageBand-sourced virtual drummer. Don’t miss the tempo, key, and time-signature settings at top-center, which let you choose the overall parameters for your song.
3. Track, tweak, and repeat
This is where things get fun. Highlight a track (Classic House Organ, in this screen grab), hit the big red button at the top of the window (just left of center), and use either a plugged-in MIDI controller or the on-screen keyboard shown here to add new parts.
Like what you record? Save your work, then select another track and repeat until you’re happy. Feel like it needs work? Either select and delete the part you just recorded or edit it in the Piano Roll screen bottom right until you get it where it needs to be.
If a part of your record is smokin’ but doesn’t totally lock in rhythmically, check out the Quantize menu at the bottom of the screen, just to the left of the center. This option tells GarageBand to automatically move your notes to sync with your song’s main pulse in different resolutions — everything from whole notes to various triplets and tuplets. You can also manually drag, lengthen, and shorten different notes you’ve recorded to make them better lock in.
4. Mix it up
Choosing your notes and tracking your parts is one thing; getting them all to play together nicely on playback may be another. That’s why GarageBand gives you basic but powerful mixing capabilities. Screens like the ones below let you change the tone and sonic character of your tracks in ways that will help them weave together smoothly — not trip over each other battling for frequency space and your listener’s attention.
Is your bass track too shrill? Go into the EQ screen show and turn down the high end a little. Do you want that bass sound only to come out of the right-hand speaker or earbud? Go to the controls just below and to the right of a track’s name and pan your track however you see fit. Tweak as much or as little as you want until your song does what you want it to.
5. Bounce it down
Feel like you’re done? Go to the Share menu and pick the best option for your audio file. If you want to send the track right away to friends or fans, there are ways to do that.
What do you do after exporting your song?
Once you have a great track and a great mix, there are still a few important steps to take before sharing it with the world. Take advantage of Disc Makers’ audio mastering services to make sure your song can swim with the big kids — and then get your music on CDs to give your fans the ultimate listening experience.
Philip Kinsher is a writer, editor, and musician with a predilection for YA Sci-fi Fantasy books and rock and roll. And golf and pickleball.
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