EDITING & MIXING in GarageBand


The Soundscape Cube

When you approach a GarageBand song for editing, an excellent way to look at the "Soundscape" is to visualize the recording as a cube. The width represents pan, the height is frequency and the depth is distance. The following tips deal with the soundscape cube.

Panning                     Left. Right?

Use "hard panning" only for a special effect. You can create a wide stereo effect just as well by panning a little to the left or right. It also means that someone who is positioned away from the middle of two speakers still hears all the instruments. How is the stereo spread on your favorite album? A close listen, first through speakers and then through headphones may be very revealing.
Piano and guitar         Keep them separate

It is tempting to have the piano spread from left to right, bass notes coming from the left speaker and treble from the right. But when rhythm guitar is also present, this can cause lack of clarity in the mix. For a more natural stereo field, it is better to give the pianist the space slightly to the left of centre, and the guitarist just to the right (or vica versa)
You can pan to the middle of the mix for the guitar solo, but unfortunately GarageBand does not have a separate pan control track. The work around is to copy the guitar solo to a new track and pan center. You could center the piano solo as well, but not if you are after a natural soundstage: a nine foot grand is not easily shifted to and from center stage in the middle of a performance.....!
Reverb                 here and there

It is a good idea to use different amounts of reverb for different instruments. To an extent, reverb determines the distance of an instrument in the soundscape: the less reverb, the closer to you the instrument seems, and vice versa.
In other words, you can control the depth of the soundscape by applying varying amounts of reverb.

GarageBand includes an excellent, but basic reverb effect called, not surprisingly, Reverb. It allows you to change the time, color and volume of the reverberation.
Reverb has its own slider in the effect details window, controlling the overal amount of reverb. More sophisticated reverb plug-ins are available as Audio Units, but these do not respond to the reverb slider.

Frequency filtering                Roll on, roll off... To avoid a cluttered sound when you are mixing more than two instruments, try using the roll off technique. Let's take bass and guitar as an example - but it works equally well for all onther instruments.
  • There is a substantial overlap between the high notes on the bass and the lower notes of the guitar. Many guitarists like leaving the bass enough space by mostly playing on the top four strings. An example of this style is the colorful way jazz guitarists use four-string chord progressions.
  • Recording engineers use roll off to reduce the clutter in the overlapping frequency range. GarageBand provides you with four AudioUnits roll off effects:
    • AUHipass
    • AULowpass
    • AUHighShelfFilter
    • AULowShelfFilter
    Use the Hipass filter on the guitar track to let only the higher frequencies through, and the Lowpass on the bass to pass the bass range only. If the result is too radical (the bass sounds tubby and the guitar tinny), try using the High and Low ShelfFilters, that allow you to adjust the relative volume of the high and low frequencies.
For more on using Audio Units effects in GarageBand, see the GarageDoor: Audio Units Tutorial
Timeshifting (Audio track)             It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing

Often during live recording , a musician rushes the beat (sounds hurried) or lags behind (sounds sleepy, lacking energy). Of course, if played so deliberately, don't touch!!!! But otherwise, a little cut and slide in the waveform window goes a long way. Make sure the "snap to grid" setting is switched off. You may need to time-shift one note, a bar, a section or even the whole track. Show some restraint - leave a small percentage of the original error in for realism, to avoid the song sounding too mechanical. Musicians are human after all....
Timeshifting (Midi track)             Move a little closer...

On a software instrument (=Midi) track, time shifting is much more powerful, and also simpler.
The Midi term is "quantizing", but GarageBand calls it "fix timing". It is done by selecting the notes to be quantized and the quantize value (1/8 note, 1/16 note, etc.) You then click "Fix timing" and GB moves all notes to the nearest time value. As a guide, it may help to remember that simple rock and latin rhythms quantize to the nearest 1/8 note, more funky rock and latin rhythms to the nearest 1/16 note and jazz swing to 1/8 note triplets.
Send and Return            listen to the master

Echo and Reverb are send-and-return effects in GarageBand, meaning that the effect is applied at the Master level, not per track like other effects. You can of course control the amount per track, but the parameters for all tracks are set only once, in the Master track.

If you want more control over the reverb at the track level, you can add Audio Unit reverb plug-ins.
This allows you to set different types of effects for different tracks. Some examples:
  • a Cathedral reverb effect for the choir and a small room effect for the guitar in the same song
  • The (inbuilt) Track Echo effect allows you to control delay at the track level. Delay is often used as an instrument effect, for example rhythmic delay, rockabilly guitar or filmic sound effects.
sound wave
Controlled Zooming            get the picture

Making a sound recording on computer means zooming in and out a lot: sometimes you need to see the whole song at a glance, sometimes you need to make adjustments to a four bar section.

Beginners tip:

For very precise work, you may even need to zoom in all the way to the wave shape level. Experienced mechanics do not use the zoom slider for this: too slow. Instead, type
  • Zoom In: Control Right Arrow
  • Zoom Out: Control Left Arrow
It is very easy to loose your place once you zoom in a little, and GarageBand does not yet let you use markers.

Other useful navigational commands are
  • Home or Z ........... Go to the beginning
  • Right Arrow ........ Forward one measure
  • Left Arrow ........ Back one measure
For a full list of shortcuts, see GarageBand Shortcuts.

Automatic volume         finger licking The volume track does what a recording engineer's fingers used to do at the mixing desk: sliding the volume levers up and down during the running of the song for editing or mix-down.
The volume automation is very user friendly in GarageBand: A single click where there is no drag point creates one. Single-clicking a drag point selects it, and hitting the delete key removes it, snapping the volume line back into place. The standard volume level is indicated by a level line.
Volume graph         take the "A"-train When editing, use the track volume curve to balance tracks. Simply hit the "A" key to show or hide the volume graph. This way you can achieve very fine detail in transitions and you can even mute some mistakes in live tracks by spacing bullets close together and pulling the track back at the "Oops..." moment. For a full list of keyboard shortcuts, see The GarageDoor | GarageBand Shortcuts.

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