GarageBand Part 4: Recording a Podcast

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Also in this series:

#ICYMI, I recently posted my first AppleVis podcast. Go ahead, call me a wannabe podcast star. It's unlikely that singing the praises of the Audio MIDI Setup app will recruit thousands of rabid followers, and my vocal timbre probably qualifies me to work as a mime. Nonetheless, tips for recording and editing spoken audio in GarageBand might be useful for those of you who do have a future in podcasting. In this blog, I share what I've learned, with a specific focus on recording two tracks—myself, and either VoiceOver or someone I'm interviewing.

The AppleVis Podcast Submission Guidelines make it clear that you don't need fancy recording equipment. It's true, you can record with the built-in mic on your MacBook Air or iPhone. Yet I suspect some AppleVis readers own some moderate audio equipment, are driven by a desire for quality, and have enough recording experience to be dangerous. If that describes you, then read on.

When I set out to record a podcast, I had a couple goals in mind. I knew I couldn't recite a flawless soliloquy. That meant I'd have to edit out all my dead air and stammering. I'm also a bit of an audio geek. Even if I thought AppleVis would accept a podcast recorded through a tin-can-and-string telephone, I would still want multiple tracks so I could mix, master, and EQ VoiceOver and my own voice separately.

I learned a lot by just playing around in GarageBand, but this blog would not have been possible without the generous and detailed posts from @Bojingles found in two AppleVis forum threads, one with GarageBand spelled correctly and the other containing a space. I wish these threads could be merged somehow.

This blog covers:

  • Recording two people, or one person plus VoiceOver.
  • Recording to multiple tracks.
  • Multitrack editing.

The information in this blog is accurate for GarageBand v10.3.5 running on MacOS Catalina 10.15.7.

Note: As I mentioned in previous blogs, GarageBand has many similarly named controls. If you typically use VoiceOver with Low verbosity, specify Medium verbosity in the VoiceOver utility to help differentiate these controls.

Note: I won't be repeating VoiceOver technique in this blog. See previous blogs in this series for instructions on moving regions, using hotspots, using the Item Chooser for navigation, and creating keyboard shortcuts.

An overview of Multitrack Recording in GarageBand

GarageBand makes it easy to record a single track at a time. Recording multiple tracks simultaneously is a bit trickier, but you only need to know a few secrets.

Specify your multichannel audio input device as your audio input in GarageBand's Preferences dialog. From the GarageBand menu, select Preferences, and in the toolbar, select Audio/MIDI. Finally, set the audio input by navigating to the current Input Device and treating it like a popup menu. After you set your input device in Preferences, set the device channel for each track in Smart Controls.

GarageBand only records to the selected track by default. The secret solution is to add a Record Enable button to the track header.

After recording, the next step is editing, and GarageBand doesn't make it easy to keep the two tracks synchronized while overdubbing. This blog describes the techniques that worked for me.

If I haven't scared you off, let's address all these issues.

Microphone Considerations

While the built-in microphone on the MacBook or iPhone is acceptable, you should be aware of the difference in quality obtained by even low-end professional mics. Here's a quick comparison.

Besides better sound quality, higher-end mics reduce bleed between tracks, producing a cleaner mix. Let me be clear. I'm not telling you to go buy a better mic, but I do want you to be aware of the differences.

Creating an Aggregate Mic

Previously, I mentioned GarageBand requires a multichannel USB audio input device for multitrack recording. If you have one, skip this section.

If you're still reading, I imagine you have two USB mics. Or maybe you have the built-in mic on your MacBook and one USB mic. MacOS lets you configure those two mics as a single aggregate audio input device, as described in my Audio MIDI Setup podcast. For more information, see Apple's Audio MIDI Setup documentation.

After creating your aggregate device, open GarageBand Preferences and set it as your Input Device. Then you're ready to start recording multiple tracks!

My Setup

To record that Audio MIDI Setup podcast, I used a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 with two VP10X XLR microphones. I spoke into one mic and placed the other in front of my MacBook's external speakers.

GarageBand Project Settings

Create a new empty project, but in the Choose a Project dialog, interact with the Details group and set the tempo to 240. Faster tempos provide greater granularity when adjusting the Playhead position with period and comma. In the New Track dialog, create a track with type set to Audio - Microphone & Line In. In the details group, make sure your input is set correctly.

Now you have a project with one audio track.

By default, GarageBand's Playhead is positioned with bars and beats, which makes little sense for podcasting. Navigate to the Display Mode popup button, select it, and Down Arrow to select Time. Next, VO+Left to the Playhead Position Scrubber Group. Set a VoiceOver hotspot here so you can quickly hear and change the Playhead position. See the comment from @Bojingles titled "Bars & Beats vs. Hours & Minutes, and Time Display Modes" for more information.

Our project needs a second audio track. We could simply create it, but we want both to have a Record Enable button. It makes more sense to add that button to the track header, then duplicate the track.

Navigate to Track 1 Audio 1 and configure it with Option+T (or open the context menu and select Configure Track Header). In the Configure Header dialog, navigate to the Record Enable button and check the checkbox. Navigate back up to the Close button and select it to close the dialog. After this step, your track header has a Record Enable button. Selecting this button allows you to record on multiple tracks.

Vocal Effects

There's one more step before we duplicate that audio track. Configure the existing audio track with effects settings for vocal narration. We added effects to individual tracks in GarageBand Part 2. Do the same thing now. Bright Vocal, Compressed Vocal, and Narration Vocal all produce acceptable results.

GarageBand makes it easy to add a noise gate. It won't remove the sound of a demolition crew next door, but it might eliminate the hum of your refrigerator. To enable it, press B to open Smart Controls, navigate to Noise Gate, and select the checkbox next to it.

It's worth noting that GarageBand effects are simply a pre-configured arrangement of plugins. I could dedicate an entire blog to configuring plugins. For my podcast, I started with one of GarageBand's vocal effects and tweaked the Send, Ambient, and Reverb settings in Smart Controls. If you can't hold your breath waiting for my GarageBand plugin blog, see the comment from @Bojingles titled Understanding Smart Controls and Plug-ins in GarageBand

Create the Second Track

We now have a single audio track with a Record Enable button and a GarageBand effect for vocal narration. Duplicate the track as we did in GarageBand Part 2 with Command+D. The new audio track will have the same Record Enable button and vocal effects.

Rename both tracks by pressing Command+Enter. I named my first track Vocal and my second track VoiceOver.

Currently, both tracks are set to record from the same channel of our multi-channel input device. Here's how to set the Vocal and VoiceOver tracks to record from different channels.

  • Press B to open the Smart Controls for the current track.
  • Navigate to the Input label. To the right of this label, you'll find a button to select mono or stereo. Leave this set to mono.
  • To the right of that button is a popup menu to select the input source. The contents of the menu will vary according to your hardware, but it should be easy to identify the different channels of your input device. Set the input channel for both the Vocal and VoiceOver tracks.

As a final step, enable recording for both tracks. Navigate to the record Enable button for each track and select it.

Recording

Before I record spoken audio, I go through a vocal warm-up. My dog often accompanies me with a mournful howl. If your vocal warm-up sounds as horrendous as mine, you might want to shut the doors and windows so your neighbors don't call the police.

When you're ready, press R to record.

Your first take will be a simple test. Speak clearly, and do something to cause VoiceOver to speak. Stop recording and listen to the results. You might need to reposition microphones, turn off the click track, or adjust the volume and pan settings. If nothing recorded, make sure you selected the Record Enable buttons. Make sure your tracks aren't muted when playing back.

If nothing went wrong and you had a successful test, mute each track in turn as you listen to the playback to check the quality of both tracks. This is a good time to set a static mix as we did in Part 2 of this series.

Then do your next take. And your next.

If you make a mistake, don't stop recording. Simply restate the sentence or phrase correctly. You can edit out the mistake later. Focus on the order and content of your podcast. You might need to do several takes to obtain something you can edit.

The Editing process

For my podcast, the editing consisted almost entirely of deleting muddled sentences and phrases. I only had to record two overdubs to state my points more clearly.

In a comment titled Podcast Setup and Essential Audio Track Editing Techniques, @Bojingles describes strategies for removing mistakes. I obtained good results with the Delete and Move technique, which deletes a segment of audio and relocates later regions to eliminate the gap.

Deleting mistakes creates possibly dozens of individual regions. I found it easiest—and actually convenient in some cases—to leave these separate rather than join them. But it's much easier to make room for a large overdub when tracks have only a single region. For this reason, I identified and added my overdubs first, then went back and deleted my mistakes later.

Editing Multiple Tracks

GarageBand lets you split and delete on multiple tracks, but there's no way to move regions on multiple tracks that I know of.

To split multiple tracks, use Command+A to select all regions. Place the playhead where you'd like to split, and press Command+T. If you don't press Command+A first, you will split only the current selected region. You might want to do one or the other, as we'll see below.

Here's a tip. Splitting a region selects the region to the right of the split. To remove a mistake, always split at the end of the mistake first, then split at the beginning, leaving the region containing the mistake selected. Then you can delete it with Delete (or Delete and Move).

Just to be clear: If you select all then split, the new regions immediately to the right of the Playhead will be selected on all tracks. The Delete key (or the Delete and Move command) deletes all of them.

To move regions on different tracks to the same new start time, move one of the regions first. Next, position the Playhead at the region start with Control+Home. Finally, cut and paste the corresponding region on the other track.

With this in mind, let's do our overdubs first.

Overdubbing

Inevitably, you'll record what you think is a pretty good take, only to discover that one line where you mis-stated something and didn't immediately record a correction. What's worse, the corrected sentence will likely be shorter or longer than the original mistake. That means you need to move later audio, usually on both tracks.

Here's how I did it.

  • I duplicated my vocal track, giving me three tracks total. I renamed the new track Overdub.
  • I deleted the mistake on the Vocal track as follows:
    • I selected all regions, then split at the end of the mistake. Splitting all tracks here makes it easier to move and sync the audio following the mistake.
    • Next, I split at the beginning of the mistake, but only on the Vocal track.
    • That left the mistake in a region by itself on the vocal track, and that region was selected.. I pressed Delete to remove it and leave a gap.
  • Where's the Playhead? I hadn't move it since splitting at the start of the mistake. Coincidentally, that's exactly where I wanted to start recording. I selected the Overdub track and recorded the correction.
  • My overdub wasn't an exact fit for the original. I repositioned the later region in the Vocal track. As a tip, use the cycle feature to repeatedly play the overdub as you position the later region.
  • I pressed Control+Home to position the Playhead at the start of the region I just moved.
  • I moved the corresponding region on the VoiceOver track by selecting it, cutting it, and pasting it, which placed the region at the Playhead position, perfectly aligned with the region on the Vocal track.
  • If you leave the overdub on a separate track, you must be careful to maintain identical volume, pan, and plugin settings. I avoided this headache by cutting and pasting the overdub region to the Vocal track.

Repeat these steps for as many overdubs as necessary. But if you have to do this more than a few times, you're probably better off recording another take.

A Keyboard Shortcut for Delete and Move

With overdubbing complete, it's time to remove the mistakes that have corrections in the original recording. This means cutting the incorrect audio without leaving a gap by using the Delete and Move command. I had to perform this step a lot, and Delete and Move doesn't have a keyboard shortcut. I created one in System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts. I used Control+Command+Shift+D, but you're welcome to use the key combination of your choice.

Delete and Move on Multiple Tracks

Now that you're armed with a shortcut for Delete and Move, it's time to get rid of all those stammers and mumbled sentences. Here are the steps.

  • Place the Playhead at the end of the audio you'd like to remove, select all regions, and split them.
  • Move the playhead to the beginning of the audio to remove, select all regions, and split again.
  • Because our last split was at the beginning of the region we want to remove, the region to remove is currently selected on all tracks. Use our custom keyboard shortcut, Control+Command+Shift+D, to remove them with the Delete and Move command.

That removes the mistake without leaving a gap.

Whenever the mic goes on, my brain turns off, which means I make a lot of mistakes. But correcting them as I recorded meant I could use the above simple steps to delete them.

Getting Comfortable

It might require several edit sessions for you to become comfortable with these techniques. While writing this blog, I did several test recordings and botched the edits on most of them. Sometimes that's the best way to learn. I can't tell you how many times I got the tracks out of sync until I mastered the procedure for overdubbing.

My Audio MIDI Setup podcast ended up being a Frankenstein's monster of an intro from one recording session and app interaction from another. This is always a bad idea, and you can tell the difference in my voice. Too much coffee one day, too little the next. Nonetheless, Once I had mastered editing, GarageBand made it easy to stitch them together.

In that podcast, you'll also hear a couple places where I added effects on short audio segments. I cut a region from one track, pasted it to a duplicate track, and added an Effect from the Library. Once you know how to edit, GarageBand makes this easy.

Final Words

In this blog, I've told you about some great microphones, how to record your voice to one track and VoiceOver to another, and how to edit the audio to clean up mistakes and add overdubs.

Now, here's the dirty truth: If you know a cool Apple trick you want to share in a podcast, start recording with your iPhone and lay it next to your MacBook. You'll get a recording of yourself using your computer that's probably good enough, even without editing, mixing, and effects. It's always more important to focus on your content than your recording technique.

But if the audio geek in you can not be denied, then play around with GarageBand. I'm sure you'll have as much fun as I did. Now if I could just get my dog to stop howling.

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