Eight GarageBand Tips for Better Recordings

Garageband is free and powerful. While it may not have some of the really fancy features that professional level applications like Cubase, Logic, ProTools or Digital Performer have, Garageband is enough that you can produce quality recordings with it. Here are eight tips to improve the quality of your Garageband recordings and make it more than just a loop pasting program.

Creating your own loops:

Garageband can take a recording you created and turn it into a loop for use in other projects. This will add your own personal creative touch to projects. Just trim your recording to make it loop properly and drag it into the loop browser. Input the appropriate information for indexing and give the loop a name. Then click Create.

Locking (Freezing) Tracks for better CPU usage:

Professional quality tracks usually contain layers upon layers of software instruments. Usually this pushes the CPU to it’s limits. To allow more software instruments than the CPU can handle, professional software developers created a feature called Freezing which temporarily exports the instrument as a sound file, which is less demanding on your system. Garageband also has this feature, only Apple calls it Locking. To take advantage of this, click on the tiny padlock icon to lock the track. If you need to edit it again, click on the padlock again to unlock the track.

Using effects to enhance tracks:

Many times a track sounds thin and weak. You can make it sound much better by adding slight effects like Chorus, Delay, Reverb or Overdrive. The key here is slight – you want to enhance what was recorded, not change. Which effect to use depends on taste, however some guidelines are:

- Reverb will push the track back in the mix.
- Chorus is good for thickening tracks.
- Delay can do the same as reverb or chorus without pushing the track back or muddying the mix.
- Overdrive adds warmth and overtones.

Manually playing instruments with the built-in keyboard:

It’s always better sounding if you play your software instruments by hand rather than drawing them in with the mouse. While an external MIDI keyboard is recommended, if you don’t have one or are without it when inspiration strikes – use the built-in keyboard.

- Click on Window from Garageband’s Menu Bar and choose Musical Typing.
- The keyboard will pop up, showing you which keys are which notes.
- Play these keys like a piano.

Tune your loops:

Often loops are recorded in different keys than your master track. If a drum loop is out of tune with the bass line, it won’t sound as tight. In Garageband, all you need to do is double click on the loop within your project and slide the pitch slider to move the loop’s tuning up or down. You can also enhance the tuning which is similar to the pitch control except it auto-tunes the loop to the key of your project. Underneath that slider, you can enhance the rhythm timing as well.

Use Keyboard Shortcuts:

An easy way to save time and work more efficiently is to use Keyboard Shortcuts rather than poking through menus for commands. Apple has a great list posted on their website. It’s a large list so get to know the shortcuts for commonly used commands instead of all of them.

Watch your levels to prevent clipping:

When recording, you’ll want your levels to be strong but don’t push them into the red. In the analog world, it’s alright to push the meters into the red. This results in an overdrive which sounds good depending on your taste and the song. In the digital world, like Garageband, pushing the meters into the red results in clipping. Clipping sounds really bad and will ruin a take. If you want to push the levels, do so after recording.

Warm up your tracks:

Here’s a tip from the pro’s. Add an ever so slight amount of overdrive (or distortion) to your final mix to warm it up when you bounce it down. I’d also recommend using it to warm up individual tracks. The amount you use and settings depends on your taste. The key is using it in moderation – just enough where you can’t really detect it’s there, but when you hit the bypass button you notice it’s gone.

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