GarageBand Part 2: Mixing and Mastering

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Also in this series:

With no accessible 64-bit Audacity build available, GarageBand has become my new digital recording solution on MacOS. In this series, I hope to fully explore nearly all of GarageBand's many features. In GarageBand Part 1: The Basics, I covered creating a project, recording simple audio, GarageBand's playback controls, and exporting your recording. That blog also contains a keyboard shortcut reference and growing list of accessibility issues.

In this blog, I'll try something a little more elaborate. Mixing and mastering. Many years ago, I recorded some songs on an analog four-track cassette recorder, and later made an Audacity project file from the master tapes. I intended to eventually remaster those old recordings. Why not remaster them with GarageBand instead?

This blog covers the following.

  • Setting an approximate tempo.
  • Importing prerecorded tracks
  • Setting volume and pan on each track.
  • Adding simple effects to audio tracks
  • Duplicating tracks.
  • Splitting regions to trim dead air.

The information in this blog is accurate for GarageBand v10.3.4 running on MacOS Catalina 10.15.3.

Note: The term track has two meanings in the recording industry. In this blog, I'll use song to refer to a song, and track to refer to one track in a multi-track recording.

Setting the Tempo

Start by creating a new GarageBand project. You can set the tempo, key signature, and time signature in the Details group of the New Project dialog.

It's just as easy to take the defaults and set these values in your new empty project. After you create a new project, find the Tempo slider control using the Item Chooser (VO+I). Interact with it, then use VO+Shift+Left and Right Arrows to set the value to 68.

Some GarageBand effects require the tempo to sound correct. And if you download my audio tracks and follow along, the tempo also helps you find specific locations by bar and beat.

The audio for this project wasn't recorded with a click track. Hit the K key to disable GarageBand's metronome, which will be slightly off the beat.

Importing the Tracks

I used WAV to transfer the recording from Audacity because WAV is uncompressed. Compressed formats such as MP3 can be lossy and compromise the recording quality.

To follow along, you'll need to download a ZIP of my four audio tracks.

The download contains four WAV files, one for each audio track in my original recording. To import these files in GarageBand, copy them from Finder (Command+C) and paste them in GarageBand (Command+V). With VoiceOver enabled, VoiceOver focus must be in the Tracks group.

Pasting the WAV files in GarageBand creates four new tracks in the project, one for each WAV file. Note that VoiceOver doesn't provide an audible confirmation that the paste succeeded.

Creating a Static Mix

I hit Spacebar to play the song. It was kind of cool to hear this old recording again. After my sentimental moment, I got to work.

First, I examined each track individually and got a feel for what I was working with. I did this by using Up and Down Arrow keys to select the current track, along with the S key to play the selected track solo.

All four tracks are acoustic guitar. The first two tracks cover the duration of the song. The third track comes in after eight bars. The fourth track was a throwaway that I didn't want in the final mix, so I muted it with the M key. Overall, there's some dead air at the start and end that must be deleted.

Your new project probably contains an empty default track. Find this track and delete it with Command+Backspace. Use the S key to identify this track. It's empty, so it will play nothing. If you created a software instrument track, the S key will play a tone from the Musical Typing feature. This is an onscreen keyboard window that you can close with Command+K.

While the song played, I created a basic (or static) mix by setting volume and stereo pan for the three remaining tracks. I opened the Item Chooser (VO+I) and typed pan, which gave me instant access to the pan control for each track. The Volume control is adjacent to the Pan control. To adjust these controls, interact with them then change their values with VO+Up and Down Arrow. While you mix, the S and M keys solo or mute the current track.

Here's a short excerpt of my recording with a static mix.

While that's a fair representation of my sloppy musicianship, I'd like to liven it up a bit. Fortunately, GarageBand provides a library of effects that can turn even the most mundane recordings into quality productions.

Adding Effects

GarageBand comes with a library of effects for recorded guitar, bass, and vocal tracks. To specify an effect for a track, select the track and then select an effect from the Library.

Be aware that the Up and Down Arrow keys are context-sensitive. With focus in the Tracks Group, these keys select the current track. With focus in the Library Group, they select the current effect or category. VoiceOver gives you no audible feedback. It's up to you to know what you're changing.

With the desired track selected, I used Item Chooser to jump to the Library Browser. Effects in the Library Browser are organized in a non-standard tree control. Use VO+Arrow keys to navigate the control and select different effects.

  • VO+Up and Down arrows select entries within a level.
  • VO+Right Arrow moves down one level.
  • VO+Left Arrow moves up one level.

There's an easier way to change the effect. GarageBand has a search box adjacent to the Library Browser. Enter an exact effect name to find it quickly, or type something generic like echo to generate a list to choose from. This is much easier to use than the non-standard tree control.

I added the Cascade effect to track one, the Natural Stereo effect to track 2, and the Echo Strum effect to track three. Adding an effect to a track changes the name of the track to match the name of the effect. Mixing is an iterative process. As I added effects, I found myself going back to adjust volume and pan. Here's what I ended up with.

This sounds pretty stinking good considering it was recorded on a low-end four-track cassette recorder in my apartment living room 30 years ago. Well done, GarageBand!

Duplicating and Renaming Tracks

If you tried several effects and then tried to get back to the original track, you probably found you had to hit Command+Z a lot. There's no easy way to remove an effect after adding it. One solution is to duplicate a track and keep one unmodified while trying effects on the second.

Unlike Audacity, duplicating a GarageBand track doesn't duplicate the audio region. Perform the following steps to duplicate a track with one audio region.

  1. Select the track you'd like to copy.
  2. Copy the single audio region with Command+C.
  3. Hit Command+D to duplicate the track. The new track is selected, but contains no audio.
  4. Hit Enter to move the Playhead position to bar one beat one.
  5. Paste the region you copied in step 2 with Command+V.

With two duplicate tracks, you can mute one while you experiment with Effects on the other, and add either or both to the final mix.

Change your track's name to avoid confusion. Use the Item Chooser to find the Tracks Header and interact with it. You'll find a group of controls for each track. The first control within that group is a track name text field that you can edit.

Trimming Dead Air

The song sounds great except for the dead air at the start and end of the track. If you record in GarageBand, this won't be an issue because the song will start at bar one beat one. But this analog recording contains the noises I made from positioning my guitar, scratching my nose, and counting in.

The audio on each track is called a region. To eliminate the dead air, you must split the region on each track just before the start of the song. This produces two regions for each track. Then you must delete the dead air regions, and move the remaining regions to bar one beat one.

Start by positioning the playhead. With the tempo set at 68, you'll need to set the playhead at bar four beat three, just before the first note. The Period and Comma keys move by bar, but we need finer granularity. Use the Item Chooser to jump to the Playhead Position Scrubber Group. Two sliders within that group control the bar and beat. Interact with these controls and use VO+Shift+Left and Right arrow to move by one bar or one beat.

Verify you've set the Playhead at bar four beat three by hitting the Spacebar. The song should start almost immediately. Reposition it back to bar four beat three before splitting the regions. Split all regions without playing or otherwise moving the Playhead position.

To split the regions, use the Item Chooser to jump to the Tracks Content group. Interact with it. It contains four tracks. Interact with the first track and hit Command+T to split the track's region at the Playhead position. Repeat this for each track.

Next, delete the dead air region and relocate the remaining region to bar one beat one. Here are the steps for the first track.

  1. Interact with the first track, which VoiceOver announces as Track One Cascade, Track Background. As you move focus between the two regions in this track, VoiceOver announces their names as 01-AudioTrack One and 01-Audio Track Two.
  2. Place VoiceOver focus on the lower-numbered region.
  3. From the menus, select Edit > delete and Move.

Repeat these steps for Track 2 Natural Stereo, Track 3 Echo Strum, and the last muted track. Then press Enter to move the Playhead to the beginning and Spacebar to play. The song should start immediately, with almost no dead air.

Use essentially the same process to trim dead air at the end of each track. I found that bar 52 beat two was the approximate location of the end of the song. After you split the region, the lower-numbered region will contain the song and the higher-numbered region will contain the dead air to delete. Use the Delete key rather than the Delete and Move menu option.

Conclusion

Congratulations! You're done mixing and remastering this song. Export it to MP3 or directly to your Music library.

I was pleased with the result of this remastering project. GarageBand transformed my amateur recording into a polished, professional song. I'm looking forward to remastering my other old four-track recordings.

There's a lot for me to learn about GarageBand. I've been playing with MIDI, the massive loop library, creating my own loops, and options for remote collaboration. As long as I keep discovering new things, you can expect this blog series to continue.

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Comments

Submitted by Chris Gilland on Wednesday, February 5, 2020

How do I know when new sections of this tutorial are available? This is absolutely fantastic! I know we'll get there eventually, but I'm really really hoping you'll be covering how to edit audio both in a single track, and a multi track project. I'd like to see in a multi project how to edit audio on just one individual track, as well as how to do so across all tracks. I've not totally looked at this series yet, so forgive me if you have already covered these things, or plan to eventually. I'd also like to have some guidance somewhere in here on how to work with already created midi files. You can't begin, as an audio engineer, to know what it means to me, you doing this tutorial for all of us. Thank you immensely! I wonder how much of this stuff I could apply to Logic? I have access to both.

Submitted by PaulMartz on Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

In reply to by Chris Gilland

Thanks for the feedback. I've been trying to find an accessible way to edit an audio track. This is a must if I'm going to ever use GarageBand to record a podcast. I'm still working on it.

Like you, I'm especially interested in finding a way to edit multiple audio tracks. Audacity allowed me to edit all tracks simultaneously. I could also tie two tracks together as a stereo pair, edit them, then split them back out to mono. I haven't found any equivalent capability in GarageBand yet. But I'm very determined. I'll keep looking.

Submitted by Bobette on Wednesday, February 5, 2020

What a fantastic job you did on this blog entry. Wow! I’m most impressed.Great musician too. Loved the little sound bites

Submitted by Joaquin on Friday, April 3, 2020

Thank you for taking the time to do these tutorials. I am running garage band version 10.3.4. Command plus T does not work for me. Is there another way to split a track?
I set my play head where I wish for the split to happen. Then I press command plus T, but nothing happens. when I press command T there is no voice over announcement of what’s happening. I arrow around and there is still only one region.
I have done this in the tracks content group as well as the track headers group. What am I doing wrong?

Submitted by PaulMartz on Friday, April 3, 2020

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

In reply to by Joaquin

Sorry, the text in the blog was not complete. There might be other ways, but one way that works is to move focus to Tracks Content, interact with it, move focus to the track you wish to manipulate, then interact with that track. Assuming it contains only one region, Command+T will split that region.

I'll make a note to update the text in this blog to reflect that you need to interact with the track.

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