Make music with GarageBand

GarageBand is the latest addition to Apple’s iLife ’04 multimedia bundle and enhances the com-pany’s acquisition of Emagic (the developers of Logic Audio) to turn your Mac into a music recording studio. This column is the first of a two-part Here’s How Mac OS on GarageBand, aimed at creating a basic track and getting you ready to delve deeper on your own.

GarageBand is much more musical and flexible than Apple’s $499 Soundtrack loop and remixing software. It boasts over 1000 royalty-free loops in a range of styles, and GarageBand also has over 16 audio effects types (with combination presets), five virtual guitar amp settings and over 50 software (virtual) instrument presets including a grand piano, strings, synthesisers and various drum kits.

Compose your own music by recording digital audio (from instruments such as guitars, or microphones for vocals) or record the MIDI (note) information of the software instruments. The latter is best done with MIDI controller music keyboards (FIGURE 1 shows such a device that easily connects to the Mac using USB).

TIP: if you want to hear what GarageBand can do, see the folder entitled “GarageBand Demo Songs — Copy to your hard drive” on the installation DVD.

Inserting loops

Start GarageBand then go to File-New. Decide where to save your song and the format before setting the tempo/beats per minute (BPM), time structure and key. For this project we’ll create a simple electro hip-hop type loop, so set the BPM to 130 and click Create. It’s usually a good idea to start with the drums and bass because they lock together to form a groove that gives a track a good foundation. To find any loop, click the button with the eye icon (1) (refer to FIGURE 1) located with the other tool buttons and transport (playback) controls (2). A new area will appear at the bottom called the loop browser.

At the right of FIGURE 1 you’ll see lists of loops by name, tempo, key (if applicable) and loop length, while the area at left sorts all loops into categories. You can also search for loops or browse them in different ways. Click the far bottom-left icon to access column view then navigate to By Genres-Electronic-Beats. Find the loop called Electronic Drum Beat 02 and drag and drop it onto the track timeline (3). Do the same with Electronic Drum Beat 03.

TIP: you can add your own loops (AIFF, WAV or MP3) by simply dragging them from any OS X Finder window into GarageBand.

Now it’s time to add the bass. You could just add a bass loop from the loop browser, but this time we’ll create our own original bass line. The technique we’ll use is the same method used to create melodies for most other elements such as lead synthesisers, pad sounds/strings and single shot drums.

Recording MIDI

Double-click in Track 1 (4) on or around the Grand Piano icon and the Track Info window will appear. Select Synth Leads-Arena Run then use the red close button in the top left. If you have a MIDI music keyboard attached, you can preview as you go by hitting notes. Otherwise, press <Cmd>-K to bring up an on-screen keyboard (5).

Select Track 1’s mixer (6) and adjust its volume as required while playing out a bass line. Note that the overall master volume is located at the right of the transport controls (2). Now select the Loop button (7). An extra area at the top of the timeline will appear that you can click and drag — do so between bar numbers 1 and 3 in the timeline, as shown (8). We’ll record our bass line over these two bars.

Pull down the Control menu and select Count in. Now when you click Record you’ll hear the metronome (tempo counter) click four times to count you in. Click Record and play your bass part in. If you make any mistakes just press Play again to stop the recording, followed by <Cmd>-Z(undo), then move the playhead marker manually (9) or automatically (10) back to the start and try again.

TIP: turn the metronome on or off at any time by pressing <Cmd>-U.

When you’re finished, click the green timeline area where you’ve just recorded and drag it to the right until you can see ‘Arena Run’ written in the top left corner again. Next, re-size the recording to match our loop length by dragging its start and end points. You can also rearrange the recorded part by copying or just dragging it around in the track timeline.

We’re now ready to fine-tune the MIDI recording by editing the individual recorded notes. For this, click on the scissors (track edit) button (11). A new area appears at the bottom where your bass notes are displayed in ‘piano roll’ view (you may need to scroll up or down a bit to see the notes).

Next month we’ll look at editing these notes, recording audio, applying effects, automation, and the mix as a whole.


Pricing: iLife ’04 is bundled free with all new Macs; Existing Mac owners: $79

Minimum system requirements: G4 processor, 256MB RAM, DVD drive for installation, OS X 10.2.6 or later, 4.3GB to install iLife ’04

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