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GarageBand for Vocalists

Following the recent release of Apple’s iLife Suite ’11, Chris Kennedy guides singers through Garageband’s key features…

For vocalists wanting to record their music on a budget, GarageBand offers a great selection of tools to get you on your way.

Although it is not (or designed to be) any real competition to professional software such as Logic, Pro Tools or Cubase, it can still produce pretty decent results and offers many of the same functions.

Its interface is designed to make making music a simple and fun process and singer-songwriters who want to record demos of their songs will find the drum and bass loops very useful for adding an extra dimension to their music.

Although it’s unlikely that singers will be making the next top 40 hit with GarageBand instead of going to a professional studio, GarageBand offers a cheap and easy way of achieving multi-track recording at home and is a great tool for creating arrangements and trying out ideas.

Getting Started

You’ve performed your song with a backing band, but now you’re at home and you want to record your piece without having to call everyone over to your house.

Or maybe you’re a singer-songwriter and want to produce full band demos of your songs and haven’t got the musicians to record with.

GarageBand offers a wealth of tools to help you on your way.

To use GarageBand you will need a Mac and Apple’s iLife Suite. (iLife ’11 is bundled with most new machines, or is available for $49)

What you do is to simply select “New Project” and browse though the selection of presets and select one that is most suitable to your song.

This then brings up the main project window where you can add what tracks you want in your mix such as vocals, guitar, drums, bass and keyboards.

Usefully, there is a library of drum and bass loops that you can use to start building up your song.

Select the tempo and browse through the loops and kits until you find one that perfectly matches your track, which you can then import into your main project and loop as many times as you like.

A microphone can be attached to your computer for recording vocals or acoustic guitar and a line-in can be used for electric guitar straight into the sequencer.

Creating Your Track

GarageBand includes many of the usual tools to help you edit and mix your track that you would find in any DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).

You can copy, move, split and loop sections easily around your project enabling you to quickly build up your arrangement.

By using the arrange region function, you can name each section of your song and even move or duplicate that entire section with a couple of clicks.

Included in the latest release of GarageBand is Apple’s Flex Time and Groove Matching functions – enabling you to easily correct any timing issues by simply dragging a note to the correct position in the bar, or let the software auto-sync the performance of one track to the timing of another (e.g. syncing a guitar part to the drum track).

There is also a mixer section that allows you to adjust the relative levels and pan of each track you have laid down and input monitoring to make sure you are not clipping the input on your microphone.

If you want to add some electric guitar to your track, included in the latest version of GarageBand is a revamped amp modelling plug-in which comes with a range of virtual stomp-boxes.

You can add a selection of the fifteen stomp-box effects to any of the twelve amp and speaker models and adjust all of the settings to your liking. Again there are several preset sounds to help you on your way.

Finally, for keyboard players, GarageBand also includes a selection of over 100 software instruments, which can be played via either a MIDI keyboard or using the computer keyboard.

What’s Next?

So far we have started our new project, laid down some recordings, and tidied up our arrangement.

You’ve also tweaked this and that…and now things are sounding pretty good.

Next week we’ll look at some basic effects and then pushing your music out there in a variety of ways.

Chris Kennedy is a singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist from Canterbury, UK. His music fuses intimate lyrics with a rich sound-palate telling tales of lovers, wanderers and misfits, set against the backdrop of 21st century Britain. Chris mostly performs his songs with his group The New Inventions. His 6th solo album, Until the Stars Start Falling is due for release in December.

Useful Links

Technology 101 for Vocalists

More about Chris Kennedy

The New Inventions

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  • Thanks, I keep reading and wondering about garage band.. I hear good things but always wonder if it is really up to the work load, or whether just biting the bullet for costs and invest in a heavy duty pc and audio software is the better way to run.

  • Chris

    I would say that it is fine for demos and fleshing out ideas, but if you wanted to do more professional recordings and have more artistic freedom it would be worth investing in a higher-end setup.