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Recording Guitar with Garageband

Recording Guitar with Garageband

Anyone who has ever attempted to record music in a home studio via a (simple) four track will know only too well the pain and agony that runs parallel to the process. A few years ago the humble four track was the only affordable recording system for home use and computer based recording was the domain of large expensive studio systems.

For computer based recording we are massive fans of Apple Logic (Express) yet anyone who has bought an Apple mac in the last few years will have heard if not played with the iLife application ‘Garageband’. There is a natural assumption that any application that comes with the computer isn’t going to be good enough for anything other than playing with Apple loops or creating sound effects. (That said, playing with the supplied loops is great from an education point of view, it teaches the concept of tracks, levels and processing and I know of one eight year old who can use these with great success).

Anyway, any thought that Garageband is not good enough for live or studio recording is simply wrong. The massive advantage over logic is there is little or no learning curve. Connect your instrument and you are pretty much off.

Although you can use your actual computer keyboard as a music keyboard if you are at all serious about recording music on your computer we would advise you invest in an M-Audio  keyboard (around ?60) this device doesn’t need a driver and allows you to record directly to garageband using the range of built in patches.

This tutorial will not even scratch the surface of Garageband but it will certainly get you started with the basics of multitrack home recording. We are using the (expensive GT10) as one option of linking the guitar to the computer but a range of equally good solutions range from ?20, this is not just for GT10 owners!

Recording Guitar requires the need of an interface device to convert the analogue guitar to digital out.

There are a range of options available :

The USB Guitar or the low cost  cable. I haven’t actually tried these but the cables range from ?20 to around ?80.

Dedicated USB connectivity boxes such as the M-Audio devices or the new Native Instruments Guitar Rig Session systems we mentioned a few weeks back.

More and more high end guitar systems now offer direct USB audio streaming. The latest Line9 systems all offer USB out and the relatively new Boss GT10 does the same.

In the case of the GT10 you need to download the Mac USB driver from BOSS. Install and reboot and you are ready for your digital recording session.

Connect the device to your computer. Boss (in my opinion) have skimped a little by not providing a USB cable with the GT10, the good news is the connection is the same as that to your printer. We tend to just disconnect the printer when we need to record anyway via the floor unit.

If you turn on the GT10 while Garageband is open the software will sense the device and prompt to select the unit as your audio device, click yes. The next options are personal choice as the computer will now be using the GT10 for both your audio input and your output. Personally we prefer to hear the output via the computer rather than through the guitar amp. To change this click on File, then Preferences.

Click the midi tab and make the necessary changes, setting the output to ‘system output’.

If you are using the system for personal practice firstly click on the eye icon and drag some of the Apple loops to the main work area. Start with Drums, then your main rhythm sound / sequence then the bass line.

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Once you have your tracks selected click at the end of the sound (on the main track) and a circular arrow should appear. Drag each line for the duration you want to record. If you want to loop the tracks indefinitely then it may be best to use the cycle tool (circular arrows on the main control bar).

You are now ready to record your guitar track. The real benefit of this way of practicing is you can play back your track and learn the good bits and ignore the bad.

Add anew instrument but this time we want a real instrument. Click the + at the bottom left of the Garage band interface. You will be met with a pop up asking if you want a software instrument or real. (click real).

You can tweak the instrument by selecting the type and you have full control over the levels and effects automatically applied. The great thing about Garageband is these can be adjusted at anytime even after your have finished recording.

Click on your real instrument track and then hit the red record button.

You should hear the music track through the computer and your guitar sound through your amp. Record your solo and hit space to stop recording. Personally I record a number of different guitar tracks (silencing the previously recorded) so that I can go back, listen to each through and learn from the best. With a bit of Garageband practice you will be able to edit the good bits of each solo together to create a masterpiece. When you are happy with a particular recording you can export it to iTunes by clicking the ‘Share’ menu.

The GT10 is ideal for recording guitar but if you want to record acoustic guitar, drums or vocals it is highly recommended you opt for a good mic and a good DI audio interface.

Perhaps were Garageband starts to struggle is when dealing with a large number of tracks. Asked if Garageband could be used to record a song with a professional enough outcome, well I know of at least 3 songs on iTunes and available on CD that started life just there. When you consider that Garageband comes with all Macs no one has an excuse not to exercise their musical creativity.

Note: Newer versions of Garageband don’t come with the full Apple loops, if you find your loops are greyed out double click and you should be prompted to download them (free) from Appke, although be warned it is about a gig in size.

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