GarageBand: Mixing

One Man Band         cloning

How do I take a single instrument and make it sound like an entire section of that instrument playing at once?

Don't add multiple copies of the same track -- you'll just be pushing the audio engine hard produce a sound no richer than that of the original track.

Instead, just use one single track as your basis. Make several copies of this track. Then slightly change one track's position in time or alter its tone, or slightly detune a few. This is what happens in an ensemble: everyone plays with a slightly different tone, and not always perfectly in time and tune. Moving its position in the stereo field after making these kinds of adjustments will help distinguish each track.

How to off-set timing:
Pan one track all the way to the left and the others all the way to the right. Double-click on the name of a track to bring up the Track Info window. Click on the Details triangle to reveal the track's effects.
From the first pop-up menu, which reads None, select AUDelay and click on its Edit button. In the resulting AUDelay window, push the Dry/Wet Mix slider all the way to the right for a setting of 100 -- this ensures that you'll hear nothing but the affected sound. Change the Delay Time to 0.0576 seconds to delay that instrument slightly. Set the Feedback slider to 0%, and move the Lowpass Cutoff Frequency slider all the way to the right, to 22050 Hz. You'll now hear a distinct instrument coming from the mix's left channel.

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Volume curves

An important part of the mix down process is balancing the volume of the tracks. In GarageBand this is fully automated thanks to volume curves, which pop up below the track when you click on the little triangle in the track header or hit Command-A. Learn to use them well, especially for live recording.
How to do it? First, adjust the overall level by grabbing the control bullet at the start of the track and moving it up or down. Now boost or reduce a section by clicking on the curve at the start and end of it - which creates control points - and dragging these up or down. You can bypass the curve by unchecking the Track Volume checkbox, which is useful for before-and-after comparisons.
Here are a few examples of when to use them:
  • To highlight a solo. The soloist must usually stand out from the mix, whether it is the vocal melody or a guitar, bass or sax solo.
  • To create a fade-in or fade-out . Experiment to find the right length of a fade.
  • To boost quieter notes. Instruments, and singers, often have parts of their register that are noticeably quieter or louder than others. Or a few notes may not have been played clearly enough. Compression is a great tool in these situations, but if there are only a few instances or if they are severe, it is best to use the volume curve. (moderate to hard compression distorts the sound and, by definition, reduces dynamic range).
  • To remove or reduce a noise. Sometimes you cannot select-delete (in the Track Editor) an unwanted sound altogether without it sounding obvious in the mix. In that case, adjusting the volume curve can at least minimize the distraction. length
  • To create a crossfade.
    Very useful for fusing two takes.
    When the join between two similar regions is noticeable, a cross fade is the answer. It is a bit like rubbing your finger over a pencil drawing, smudging the boundaries.
    You do it by placing the two regions on two separate tracks, and fading the first region out while simultaneously fading the second region in. Studio engineers have clever mathematical curves to do this, but you can achieve a good result using your ear and eye only
Volume curve belong to a track, not a region. When you copy or move a region, the curve gets left behind. Hangtime has written a BackStage Quickie to show you how to move the curve.
GB's preset effects         minor tweaking

GarageBand has a wealth of preset effect levels, with helpful and sometimes colorful names. They can be very useful as a guide to getting familiar with the different effects.
Some GarageBand users will never use any custom effects, but the more experienced will want to reach for the precision and flexibility that custom effect settings can provide. GarageBand comes with many custom effects (under Details: Audio Unit Effects) or you can buy a huge range of original effects from SFX machine and others.
Pros will still often use presets as a basis for minor tweaking and save a lot of time in the garage.

Effects are not recorded

As we have seen, it is helpful to add reverb to the singers voice when you record a vocal track. There are a lot of vocal pre-sets to choose from; double-click the track to bring up the Track Info window and choose a pre-set like Pop Vocals or Female Basic. The right reverb type and amount will help the singer to get comfortable.
Make sure monitoring is on (set this also in the track Info window) and switch to small buffer size if there is a noticeable delay.

The same goes for other instruments - a guitarist playing a screaming distorted guitar solo must have that effect coming through the monitors or headphones. Give it to them: GarageBand provides the amp sound.

The important thing to remember is that GarageBand does not record the reverb or effect with the audio signal: the recorded signal is clean, as you can hear when you play back the recording with no effects selected. It allows you the flexibility to experiment with different reverb or effect variations during the mixing stage.

Because GarageBand uses processing power to add these effects, it may hinder performance if you have several effect-heavy tracks. You can record the effect as part of the audio track - thereby saving resources - by bouncing the track, including chosen effect, to iTunes. Locate it, drag it back to the main Tracks Window and there it is...
Over-processing         it's transparent

Don't go overboard with the use of effects. Many people, especially those who have just started recording and who don't have a lot of confidence in their music tend to to try to cover up for shortcomings in the recorded tracks by over processing with reverb, delay, and other effects. It can result in a very muddled sound that loses the original energy of the recording. The same goes for loops: it is usually best to preserve transparency in the track - the feeling that you can "see trough" the instrument parts - that there is empty space between them. Effects, especially reverb and delay, can easily cloud the picture.

mix down
Mixdown edit         all mixed up...

Mixdown step by step. Break the mixdown into separate steps for best results. There are a a lot of things to focus on, so it helps to have a structured approach.
  1. Make the general settings. Get out a big note pad and a sharp pencil. Now sit back and isten to the song at normal volume through your monitors and compare it to the mental image you have of how you think it should sound. Compare the levels and sound characteristics to your ideal. (go back to a favourite recording in a similar style at this point to compare your track to the work of a great sound engineer). Now take notes - there will be a lot of details to tweak.

  2. Highlight a track. Do this by boosting its volume relative to all other tracks. It helps to hear them softly in the background for reference, but make sure you can hear details of the foreground track in great details. Look for all flaws: noises (a passing car, a squeaking chair, unwanted instrument noises, coughing, etc.) and musical mistakes : timing and pitch errors, uneven sound, etc.)
    Make notes.
  3. Fix the mistakes above.

  4. Now play all tracks at normal volume. Experiment with boosting the volume of different tracks until you find a good balance. Important: To make tracks stand out in relation to each other, it is often best not to use the volume control but instead give tracks their own space by placing them
    • in the frequency range, using Equalizing, and
    • in the stereo field, by Panning.

  5. Just like in a band, we often try to fix volume balance problems by turning the instrument up. Try instead to slightly reduce the volume of all other tracks. This goes for EQ as well: instead of boosting one frequency band, reducing the others will very often give better results.

  6. It is now time for the last phase - listening to the song as a whole at full mix volume. Sit back and focus on different aspects of your work for each run through. Focus on rhythm for one hearing, tonal aspects the next, then panning & reverb, etc. You will lose the edge of your critical judgement as the ear gets tired - so take frequent breaks and return to the track later. Many people have made what they thought was a great final master, only to find flaws with it on a later hearing.

  7. Export to iTunes and burn a CD, and load the song into your iPod. You can now find out what it sounds like on different stereo systems. If you find that you need to go back for some more editing, repeat the process until you have the perfect mix.


Solo and Mute         S&M

Solo and mute are essential tools in editing your tracks. Use them frequently to check sound, level, effects and the balance of instruments and loops in the mix. Don't click the buttons - - it is much faster to hit S or M on the keyboard.

For a full list of keyboard shortcuts, see The GarageDoor | GarageBand Shortcuts.


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