Chapter 15

Recording Your Hits with GarageBand


Bullet Navigating the GarageBand window

Bullet Composing a song

Bullet Building arrangements

Bullet Adding effects to instruments

Bullet Exporting your work across the globe

Do you dream of making music? I’ve always wanted to join a band, but I never devoted the time it takes to learn the guitar. You know the drill: Rock stars struggle for years to master an instrument, practice for untold hours, and memorize chords. Wait a second, I almost forgot. You don’t need to do any of that now!

Apple’s GarageBand lets a musical wannabe (like yours truly) make music anywhere with a MacBook — complete with a driving bass line, funky horns, and perfect drums that never miss a beat. In fact, the thousands of prerecorded loops on tap in this awesome application allow you to design your music to match that melody running through your head, from techno to jazz to alternative rock.

This chapter explains everything you need to know to create your first song. I also show you how to import your hit recording into Music so that you can listen to it on your iPhone with a big silly grin on your face (as I do) or add it to your next iMovie project or Photos slideshow.

Don’t be too smug when you think of all that practicing and hard work you missed out on. What a shame!

Shaking Hands with Your Band

As you can see in Figure 15-1, the GarageBand window isn’t complex, and that’s good design. In this section, I list the most important controls so that you know your Play button from your Loop Browser button.

Snapshot of the GarageBand window.

FIGURE 15-1: The GarageBand window.

Your music-making machine includes

  • Track list: In GarageBand, a track is a discrete instrument you set up to play one part of your song. A classical piece for string quartet, for example, would have four tracks, one each for violin, viola, cello, and bass. The Track list contains all the tracks in your song, arranged like the rows in a spreadsheet so you can easily see and modify them. A track begins in the list and stretches out to the right all the way to the end of the song. In the Track list shown in Figure 15-1, I already have one track defined: a Classic Electric Piano.
  • Timeline: This scrolling area holds the loops (see the next bullet) you add, compose, or record, allowing you to move and edit them easily. When a song plays, the Timeline scrolls to give you a look at your music. (Bear with me; you’ll understand that cryptic statement in a page or two.)
  • Loop: Loops — prerecorded clips of an instrument being played in a specific style and tempo — are the building blocks of your song. Most are five seconds in length, and others are even shorter. You can drag loops from the Loop Browser to a track and build a bass line or guitar solo. Loops can also be repeated within a track, which I discuss further in a page or two. (Note that loops have not been added in Figure 15-1; you’ll see them later.)
  • Playhead: This vertical line is a moving indicator that shows you the current position in your song while it scrolls by in the Timeline. You can drag the playhead to a new location at any time. The playhead also acts like the insertion cursor in a word processing application: If you insert a section of a song or a loop from the Clipboard, it appears at the playhead’s current location. (More on copying and inserting loops later, so don’t panic.)
  • New Track button: Click this button to add a new track to your song.
  • View/Hide Loop Browser button: Click the button with the loop icon to display the Loop Browser on the right side of the window (shown in Figure 15-1); click it again to close it. You can see more of your tracks’ contents at one time without scrolling by closing the Loop Browser.
  • View/Hide Media Browser button: Click this button (which bears icons of a filmstrip, camera, and musical note) to display the Media Browser on the right side of the window; click it again to close it (and see more of your tracks). Use the Media Browser to add media (in this case, digital song files or movies) to your GarageBand project for use as ringtones.
  • Go to Beginning button: Clicking this button returns the playhead to the beginning of the Timeline. (Note that this button appears only when the playhead isn’t already at the beginning of the Timeline — hence, it doesn’t appear in Figure 15-1.)
  • Rewind/Forward One Measure buttons: To move quickly through your song by jumping to the previous or next measure, click the corresponding button.
  • Play button: Hey, old friend! At last, here’s a control you’ve probably used countless times before, and it works just like the same control within Music or on your audio CD player. Click Play, and GarageBand begins playing your entire song. Notice that the Play button turns green. To pause the music, click Play again; the button loses that sexy green sheen and the playhead stops.
  • Time/Tempo display: This cool-looking LCD display shows you the current playhead position in seconds.

    Tip You can click the drop-down menu on the right side of the display to switch between a beats and time display.

  • Volume slider: Here’s another familiar face. Just drag the slider to raise or lower the volume.

More controls are scattered around the GarageBand window, of course, but these are the main controls used to compose a song — which is the next stop!

Composing Made Easy

In this section, I cover the basics of composition in GarageBand, working from the beginning. Follow along with this running example:

  1. Click the GarageBand icon on the Dock.

    It looks like an electric guitar and an amplifier.

  2. If GarageBand opens a window for a previous project, close it by clicking the Close button in each window.

    GarageBand displays the top-level New Project window, as shown in Figure 15-2.

    Snapshot of Start creating the new song here.

    FIGURE 15-2: Start creating your new song here.

  3. Click New Project in the list on the left side.
  4. Click the Empty Project icon and then click the Choose button.

    GarageBand displays the Track Type dialog (not shown).

  5. Click the Software Instrument icon.

    In this chapter, I focus on using software instrument tracks, which are the easiest for a nonmusician to use (and don’t require you to actually play any notes on an instrument).

  6. Click the Create button.

    You see the full GarageBand window shown in Figure 15-1. Now you’re ready to add tracks and continue with the tutorial.

Adding tracks

Although I’m not a musician, I am a music lover. I know that many classical composers approached a new work the same way that you approach a new song in GarageBand: by envisioning the instruments they wanted to hear. (I imagine that Mozart and Beethoven would’ve been thrilled to use GarageBand, but I think they did a decent job with pen and paper.)

If you’ve followed along to this point, you’ve noticed these things:

  • A Musical Typing keyboard in your GarageBand window: You can record the contents of a software instrument track by playing the Musical Typing keyboard layout. (As you might imagine, this solution isn’t the best one.) If you’re a musician, the best method of recording your own notes is with a MIDI instrument, which I discuss later in the chapter. You can display the Musical Typing keyboard window at any time by pressing ⌘   +K. If the keyboard window is onscreen and you don’t need it, banish it by pressing ⌘   +K or by clicking the Close button in the keyboard window.
  • The example song with only one empty track: If you want to write the next classical masterpiece for Classic Electric Piano, that’s fine. (I’m a big fan of this instrument, so I use this track later in the example.) Note that you can always delete a track, however. Click the offending track to select it and then choose Track  ⇒    Delete Track.

You can use five kinds of tracks in GarageBand:

  • Software instrument tracks: These tracks aren’t audio recordings. Rather, they’re mathematically precise algorithms that your MacBook renders (builds) to fit your needs. If you have a MIDI instrument connected to your laptop, you can create your own software instrument tracks. (More on MIDI instruments later in this chapter.)
  • Real instrument tracks: These tracks are actual audio recordings, such as your voice or a physical instrument without a MIDI connection. (Think microphone.)
  • Electric Guitar and Bass tracks: GarageBand includes a real instrument track especially made for either an electric guitar or bass. This track allows you to access different amplifiers and stompboxes (those effect pedals that electric guitarists are always poking with their feet to change the sound of their instruments).
  • Drummer track: I call this feature “Ringo in a Box” — a drum track that’s automatic, yet very configurable and easy to customize. You have presets galore, so you can quickly jump into different drum sets and playing styles.
  • Movie tracks: The video soundtrack appears if you’re scoring (adding music to) an iMovie movie. You also get a cool companion video track that shows the clips in your movie. (More on this in the “Look, I’m John Williams!” sidebar, later in this chapter.)

It’s time to add a software instrument track of your very own:

  1. Press ⌘   +Option+N (or click the New Track button).

    GarageBand displays the New Track sheet.

  2. Click the Software Instrument icon and then click Create.
  3. Click the new track (the second in the list) to select it.
  4. In the Library pane, choose the general instrument category you want by clicking the category name at the bottom of the pane.

    I chose Guitar, which prompts a second list of choices, still in the Library pane.

  5. In the second list, select your specific style of weapon, such as Classic Clean for a simple playing style.

    Figure 15-3 shows the new track that ends up in your list when you follow these steps. Now you’re ready to rock with both the original electric piano and an electric guitar! If you like, you can hide the Library pane by clicking the Show/Hide Library button in the top-left corner of the window.

Tip GarageBand includes a Songwriter project (also available in the top-level New Project window). When you choose a Songwriter project, GarageBand presents a full set of instrument tracks, plus a real instrument track for your voice. You’re ready to start adding loops and recording your own voice!

Snapshot of the new track appears, ready to rock.

FIGURE 15-3: The new track appears, ready to rock.

Choosing loops

When you have a new, empty track, you can add loops to build your song from the Loop Browser. Apple gives you thousands of loops to choose among, in a mind-boggling variety. Click the Loop Browser button (which bears a loop symbol, somewhat like a roller coaster; refer to Figure 15-1) to display your collection, as shown in Figure 15-4.

Snapshot of the Loop Browser which is a great hangout for any musician.

FIGURE 15-4: The Loop Browser is a great hangout for any musician.

Looking for just the right loop

The running project already includes two tracks but no loops yet. (Refer to Figure 15-3.) Just for grins, add a Classic Electric Piano loop. Follow these steps to search the loop library for just the right rhythm:

  1. In the Loop Browser, click the Instrument tab and then click the button that corresponds to the instrument you’re using.

    I chose the Elec Piano button (refer to Figure 15-4).

    A list of different beats appears in the pane at the bottom of the Loop Browser window.

  2. Click one of the loops that has a green musical-note icon.

    Go ahead; this is where things get fun! GarageBand begins playing the loop nonstop, allowing you to get a feel for how that particular loop sounds.

    Remember The examples I chose for this chapter are software instruments, which are identified by a green musical-note icon. (If you have a MIDI instrument that you play, have at it with real instrument loops.)

  3. Click another entry in the list.

    The application switches to that loop.

    Now you’re beginning to understand why GarageBand is so cool for both musicians and the note-impaired. It’s like having your own band with members who never get tired, never miss a beat, and play whatever you want while you’re composing. (Mozart would’ve loved this feature.)

    Tip If you want to search for a particular instrument, click the search box near the top of the Loop Browser and type the text you want to match. GarageBand returns the search results in a list.

  4. Scroll down the search-results list and continue to sample loops until you find one that fits like a glove.

    For this reporter, it’s Upbeat Electric Piano 01 (refer to Figure 15-4).

  5. Drag the entry to your Classic Electric Piano track and drop it at the beginning of the Timeline (as indicated by the playhead).

    Your window looks like Figure 15-5.

Now, click the Loop Browser button at the right side of the toolbar to close the Loop Browser, which gives your Timeline additional elbow room. (You’ll need that space for repeating and resizing loops in the next section.)

Snapshot of a track with a loop added.

FIGURE 15-5: A track with a loop added.

Tip If you want that same beat throughout the song, you don’t need to add any more loops to that track. (More on extending that beat in the next section.) If you want the piano’s beat to change later in the song, however, you add a second loop after the first one in the same track. For now, leave this track as is.

Remember Whoops! Did you do something you regret? Don’t forget that you can undo most actions in GarageBand by pressing the old standby ⌘   +Z immediately afterward.

Second verse, same as the first

When you compose, you can add tracks for each instrument you want in your song:

  • Each track can have more than one loop.
  • Loops don’t have to start at the beginning; you can drop a loop anywhere in the Timeline.

You may prefer to start a song with just your drum kit, for example, with your bass line beginning sometime later for a funkier opening.

Technical Stuff You put loops on separate tracks so that they can play different instruments simultaneously. If all your loops in a song are added to the same track, you hear only one loop at a time, and all the loops use the same software instrument. By creating multiple tracks, you give yourself the elbow room to bring in the entire band at the same time. It’s über-convenient to compose your song when you can see each instrument’s loops and where they fall in the song.

Tip Click the Reset button in the Loop Browser (which carries an X icon) to choose another instrument or genre category.

Resizing, repeating, and moving loops

If you haven’t already tried listening to your entire song, try it now. You can click Play at any time without wreaking havoc on your carefully created tracks. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

But wait: I bet the song stopped after about five seconds, right? (You can watch the passing seconds in either the Time/Tempo display or the second rule that appears at the top of the Timeline.) I’m sure that you want your song to last more than five seconds! When the playhead moves past the end of the last loop, your song is over. Click Play again to pause the playback; then click the Go to Beginning button (shown in Figure 15-1) to move the playhead back to the beginning of the song.

The music stops so soon because your loops are only so long. As mentioned earlier, most loops are five seconds long, and others are even shorter. To keep the groove going, you must do one of three things:

  • Resize the loop. Hover the cursor over the left or right edge of most loops, and an interesting thing happens: The cursor changes to an icon representing the left or right edge of the loop, with arrows pointing both ways. That’s your cue to click and drag. As you drag, some loops expand to fill the space you’re making, repeating the beats in perfect time. By resizing a loop, you can drag the loop’s edge as far as you like.
  • Repeat the loop. Depending on which loop you chose, you might find that resizing it doesn’t repeat the measure. Instead, the new part of the loop is simply dead air. In fact, the length of many loops is limited to anywhere from one to five seconds. But if you move the cursor over the top-right corner of a loop you want to extend, it turns into a vertical line with a circular arrow, which tells you that you can click and repeat the loop. GarageBand adds multiple copies of the same loop automatically for as far as you drag the loop. In Figure 15-6, you see that I repeated the Upbeat Electric Piano 01 loop.
  • Add a new loop. You can switch to a different loop to change the music’s flow. Naturally, the instrument stays the same, but there’s no reason that you can’t use a horn-riff loop in your violin track (as long as it sounds good played by a violin)! To GarageBand, a software instrument track is compatible with any software instrument loop you add from the Loop Browser, as long as that loop is marked with your old friend the green musical note.
Snapshot of keeping the notes flowing, by repeating a loop.

FIGURE 15-6: By repeating a loop, you can keep the notes flowing.

Tip You can also use the familiar Cut (⌘   +X), Copy (⌘   +C), and Paste (⌘   +V) keyboard shortcuts to cut, copy, and paste loops both on the Timeline and from track to track. And you can click a loop and drag it anywhere.

Remember A track doesn’t have to be filled for every second with one loop or another. Most of my songs have repeating loops with empty space between them as different instruments perform solo.

Each track can be adjusted so that you can listen to the interplay between two or more tracks or hear how your song sounds without a specific track:

  • Mute a track. Click the tiny speaker button below the track name in the list, and the button turns blue to indicate that the track is muted. To unmute, click the speaker icon again.
  • Change the volume or balance of a track. Use the volume slider and balance knob that appear next to the track name. These controls come in handy if you want an instrument to sound louder or to confine that instrument to the left or right speaker.

Using the Arrangement track

GarageBand includes another method you can use to monkey with your music: Use the Arrangement track to define (or mark) specific sections of a song, which allows you to reorganize things by selecting, moving, and copying entire sections. You’re probably familiar with a song’s chorus (or refrain), for example, and how often it appears during the tune. With the Arrangement track, you can reposition the entire chorus, carrying all the loops and settings within the chorus along with it. If you need another chorus, just copy that arrangement.

To use the Arrangement track, display it by choosing Track  ⇒    Show Arrangement Track. The Arrangement track appears as a thin strip at the top of the Track list. Click the Add Marker button (the circular button bearing a plus sign) at the right end of the Arrangement track, and you see a new marker, as shown in Figure 15-7. You can drag the right side of the Arrangement marker to the left or right to resize it or drag it to move it anywhere in the song.

Tip To rename an Arrangement marker, click the current name to display the menu of existing marker names, click Rename, type a new name for the marker in the text box, and press Return. (You can also choose one of the existing names from the menu.) In Figure 15-7, you can see that the first marker is named Intro.

Now, here’s where Arrangement markers get cool:

  • To move an entire Arrangement marker: Click anywhere on the marker’s title bar (except the title itself) and drag it anywhere you like in the song. (You can hold down Shift while clicking multiple contiguous markers to select more than one.)
  • To copy an Arrangement marker: Hold down the Option key and drag the desired marker’s title to the spot where you want the copy to appear.
  • To empty the regions in an Arrangement marker: Select it and press Delete. To delete the marker, press Delete a second time.
Snapshot of adding a new marker in song’s Arrangement track.

FIGURE 15-7: I just added a new marker in my song’s Arrangement track.

Tweaking the settings for a track

You don’t think that Rush and U2 just play and walk away, do you? No. They spend hours after their recording sessions are over, tweaking their music in the studio and on the mixing board until every note sounds just as it should. You can adjust the settings for a track, too. The tweaks you can perform include adding effects (pull a Hendrix by adding echo and reverb to your electric guitar track) and kicking in an equalizer (for fine-tuning the sound of your background horns).

To make adjustments in a track, follow these steps:

  1. Click the desired track in the Track list to select it.
  2. Click the Smart Controls button in the top-left corner of the GarageBand window (refer to Figure 15-1).

    You can also press B to hide or display the Smart Controls pane.

  3. Click the Controls tab to show the settings shown in Figure 15-8.

    Note that the settings you see will vary according to the type of instrument track you’ve selected.

    Snapshot of Finesse the tune by tweaking the sound of a specific track.

    FIGURE 15-8: Finesse your tune by tweaking the sound of a specific track.

  4. Click the knob control or slider for a specific effect to change the sound.

    Tip GarageBand offers a Visual Equalizer window you can use to create a custom equalizer setting for each track. In the Smart Controls pane, click the EQ tab. To change the Bass, Low Mid, High Mid, or Treble setting for a track, click and drag the equalizer waveform in the desired direction. And yep, you can do this while your song is playing, so you can use both your eyes and ears to define the perfect settings!

  5. Click the Smart Controls button (or press B) to return to GarageBand.

Time for a Mark’s Maxim:

Marksmaxim Save your work often in GarageBand. One power blackout and you’ll never forgive yourself. When you’re pleased with the progress you’ve made in your project, press ⌘   +S and enjoy the peace of mind. (Use Time Machine with an external backup drive for good measure.)™

Tip If your MacBook is equipped with a Touch Bar, you can conveniently control several features of GarageBand. The shortcuts include standard controls (such as Play and Record), quick movement throughout your project, and editing with Smart Controls. You can even use the Touch Bar as a simple musical keyboard or a set of drum pads! The GarageBand Help system contains all the specifics on Touch Bar operation; simply click Help on the GarageBand menu bar and type Touch Bar in the search box.

Sharing Your Songs

When you finish your song, you can play it whenever you like through GarageBand. But then again, that isn’t really what you want, is it? You want to share your music with others on an audio CD or download it to your iPod touch so that you can enjoy it yourself while walking through the mall.

Music to the rescue! As with the other digital lifestyle applications I cover in this book, GarageBand can share the music you make through the digital hub that is your MacBook. (You can become a Music power user in Chapter 12.)

Creating song files in Music

You can create an AAC song file (or even a ringtone) from any project in just a few simple steps:

  1. Open the project you want to share.
  2. Choose Share  ⇒    Song to Music.
  3. In each of the text boxes, type the title, artist name, composer name, album name, and Music playlist for the tracks you create.

    You can leave the defaults as they are if you prefer. Each track you export is named after the song’s name in GarageBand.

  4. From the Quality pop-up menu, choose the proper audio quality for the finished file.

    Remember The higher the quality, the larger the file.

  5. Click the Share button.

    After a second or two of hard work, your MacBook opens the Music window and highlights the new (or existing) playlist that contains your new audio.

Exporting a project

Sometimes, you’d like to create an audio file from a GarageBand project, but you’d rather not add that song or ringtone to your Music library automatically. (Perhaps you now have audio proof that a family member does indeed snore.) In that case, you can always export a song straight to your MacBook’s internal drive as a standalone audio track by following these steps:

  1. Open the project you want to export.
  2. Choose Share  ⇒    Export Song to Disk.
  3. Type a name for the audio file.

    Click the button next to the Save As text box to select a specific location where the file should be created, or choose a preset from the Where pop-up menu.

  4. From the Quality pop-up menu, choose the desired audio quality.

    As with sharing a song to Music, the higher the quality, the larger the file.

  5. Click Export.

Burning an audio CD

Ready to create a demo CD with your latest GarageBand creation? If your MacBook has an external optical drive, follow these steps to burn an audio disc from within GarageBand:

  1. Open the song you want to record to disc.
  2. Load a blank disc into your optical drive.

    If you see a dialog requesting that you choose an action, click the Ignore button.

  3. Choose Share  ⇒    Burn Song to CD.

Note that the CD you create has only one track. To include more tracks on the CD, share the song to your Music library (as described earlier), create a playlist containing the desired songs and burn that playlist within the Music application.

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