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Page 2: Podcasting In GarageBand

A Beginner's Guide By Paul White
Published June 2020

Level Automation

And now for something very useful and important — Level Automation. Go to Mix at the very top of the screen and from the menu that appears, select Show Automation. Alternatively, click the Automation icon at the top of the track header section so that it turns blue — it's the one that looks like three lines joined by two dots. You can automate just about anything, but for now let's stick with automating volume, as it's something you'll need to use if you are to prepare a professionally balanced podcast. Note that when you turn automation on, a similar icon appears in the track header. This allows the automation to be turned on or off for individual tracks. When active it is highlighted in blue.

GarageBand's automation tool lets you fade music in and out between sections.GarageBand's automation tool lets you fade music in and out between sections.

With Show Automation on and the Track Automation button showing blue, you'll see a thin horizontal line passing through the audio waveform on the track. Click on the line and a handle or point will appear and the line will turn yellow. You can add as many handles as you like and drag any of them up or down in level. Click on a handle again to remove it. On the voice track, this can be used to even out obvious level changes, but for the intro music track in our example, I just used it to add a fade to the music. When moving or editing tracks you'll want to turn the automation view off again or you'll find yourself making unwanted changes to the automation.

Use the return-to-zero button in the transport section then hit play and you'll hear your music play from the start, then it will gradually fade out, ready for you to start your dissertation on broccoli farming in the Andes. As the project records or plays, the playhead moves across the screen. If you don't want to start from zero every time, you can grab the handle at the top of the playhead cursor and drag it to any time position you like.

Start Recording

Now we're ready to start recording! Select your vocal track and check the Recording Settings panel next to the plug‑in window to make sure that your audio device is selected as the source.

Setting your track level.To record your voice, set the mic level on the interface (or on the microphone if it has a record level control) so that during normal speech the green level meter in the track header peaks at around three quarters of the way up — that should leave enough of a safety margin, or 'headroom', that you never hit the top of the meter, which could result in audible distortion. If the mic doesn't have a record level control, just check that you're getting at least half a bar of level showing on GarageBand's meters and adjust your mic distance accordingly if the level isn't right.

You can't change the recording level with any of GarageBand's own controls, but most USB mics put out a sensible level with normal speech. If you want to hear your voice in your headphones as you speak when setting up, click the Input Monitoring button — the one that looks like an upside-down Wi-Fi symbol — in the track header so that it turns orange. The headphone icon to its left lets you solo a track to hear it in isolation, and the button on the left mutes the track.

Make sure the song position cursor is positioned to the left of where you want to start recording your voice, then press the Record button in the transport section and the selected track will record. If, after recording your voice, it seems to be too quiet compared with the music, you can insert a Gain plug‑in from the Utilities plug‑in sub-menu to boost it.

After you've recorded yourself speaking, you may find your voice is much quieter than your music. You can give your vocal level a boost using the Gain plug‑in, which you'll find in the Utility menu.After you've recorded yourself speaking, you may find your voice is much quieter than your music. You can give your vocal level a boost using the Gain plug‑in, which you'll find in the Utility menu.

Tidying Up

If you're anything like me, there will be odd fluffs in the vocal take that need sorting out, and the easiest way I've found is just to keep recording and speak the line again. Completely unusable takes can be deleted using the same backspace key you'd normally use to delete text. A handclap will put a visible spike in the waveform display to act as a navigational aid — a useful technique for finding your way back to those repeated sections. To trim out unwanted sections, select the audio region in the track area (its top colour band will get brighter), position the playhead line where you'd like to make a cut and then use Command+T on your keyboard to make the cut. Clicking and holding inside the region lets you drag it left or right, while placing the cursor in the bottom half of the region at either end will allow you to shorten or lengthen it. As long as you make your cuts during silences between words and take care not to cut mid breath, the joins should be inaudible.

I often end up with dozens of regions that I have to trim and slide about before I'm happy that the voice flows correctly. Be very careful to select only the region you want to move though, otherwise you could end up undoing previous edits. As a rule, start at the beginning and then work through to the end, one region at a time, making sure each edit sounds right before going on to the next one. Once you have it as you want it, select all the regions in the track, then use Command+J to join them back into a single continuous region.

While the compressor preset that came pre-loaded in the audio track will work well on voice, it may still need adjusting, as presets have no way of knowing what your recording level will be. The more gain-reduction LEDs you see, the more your voice is being compressed. In most cases you'll just need to adjust the Compression control so that three or four LEDs light up on the louder sections, but you should ultimately let your ears decide.

If you have stings to add during the programme, you can either drop them into the music track and then use automation to balance their levels, or put them on a track of their own. Then, at the end, as the chat comes to a close you can fade the music back in and then either let it end naturally or fade it out. You don't have to re-import the audio if using the same tune for the outro, as you can simply use Alt–drag to copy the music to a new location.

Finishing Up

To balance your voice against the music background, use the horizontal faders in the track header region. Note, though, that if automation is switched on, the faders will jump to the levels set by the automation line. Once you've got your balance right, go to the Track menu and select Show Master Track. A new track with a mixer icon will appear below the tracks you have already recorded. Select the new track, use the Smart Controls button at the top of the window to open up the plug‑in window at the bottom of the screen, and you'll find you have three tabs at the top of that window offering Effects, Output and EQ. I'd recommend you just use the Output one, which brings up some simple controls for adding compression and EQ to your finished mix. The various sections have their own switches with blue LEDs that show when that section is active. A little more compression might help at this stage but the main thing is to ensure that the meter in the Master Track shows a peak level close to, but not hitting, the top of the meter. If you've played very safe with your levels, you can turn on the Limiter and use its control to increase the overall level. This will also prevent audible clipping if you push the levels a bit too far.

When you are happy with the overall sound and level, go to the Share menu from the top of the screen and from the various options, select Export Song To Disk, which will open a window giving you the option to save the file as AAC, MP3, AIFF or WAV with the choice of 16- or 24-bit options for the WAV format. For uploading to the internet, the MP3 option is probably the most common. The Export menu also includes the option to export directly to SoundCloud or iTunes. You can also select a folder to which you'll save your podcast project, or you can simply export it to a file on your desktop. Click Export and your project will be mixed to a new file running from the first region in the project to the last. If you prefer to set your own mixed file length, you can either select the first and last regions that you want to include or click and then drag (a yellow band appears) in the Cycle Area at the top of the 'ruler' below the transport bar at the top of the screen. This will determine the length of your mixed recording.

And there you are — a finished podcast ready to share with the world!

One completed podcast, with music and speech, plus a little master processing, ready for export.One completed podcast, with music and speech, plus a little master processing, ready for export.

Zooming Around

If you want to see your waveforms in more detail, you can zoom in or out horizontally using the small slider at the top right of the tracks area, or you can use the Command+left–arrow or Command+right–arrow shortcuts on your keyboard. There's no vertical zoom unless you create more tracks than can fit on the screen, then one obligingly appears.

Catching Up

The icon immediately to the right of the Automation button is called the Catch button. Turning this on will force the GarageBand window to follow the playhead — so if you're zoomed into part of a track and the position cursor moves off the screen, this button will help you find your way again.

GarageBand's Catch button.The Catch button.

Pushing The Right Buttons

Top-left buttons.Top-left buttons.

That little row of four icon buttons at the top left of the screen is very useful for navigating some of the key aspects of GarageBand. The Library icon on the left (that looks like a filing cabinet drawer) opens a browser where you can pick channel presets that will populate the plug‑in slots accordingly. If you were to create an Instrument Track, this Library panel would show you which instruments are available, while a Drummer Track (believe it or not, GarageBand includes an intelligent software drummer!) brings up drum sounds and styles.

The next ? button along is the Help button, which brings up yellow tool-tip notes whenever you hover the mouse over a control or relevant area — very useful for getting up to speed quickly. Just remember to click it off again once you're done otherwise the flashing yellow message flags will drive you mad as you move the cursor around the screen.

The icon that looks like a dial is the Smart Controls button, which brings up the plug‑in window and the inspector panels, where you can access a channel's recording settings.

Finally, the Scissors icon on the right brings up the waveform display for an Audio Track or note display for an Instrument Track. You're probably not going to need most of these for podcasting as their functions are mostly music-related, but if you get into composing music you'll find a wealth of seriously cool stuff in GarageBand to help you.