Let’s say you’re a budding musician or a podcaster who would like to have some music for your show but you don’t want to run into any potential copyright issues. I had this situation pop up when I had to get some music for my new vidcast, Complicate Life. Using someone else’s work is usually asking for trouble and if you make it big, you could be looking at more trouble in the years to come. The easy way to avoid this? Simply create your own music using GarageBand. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a superstar musician to put together something that you will like.
Step 1: Musical Typing
Open up GarageBand. Go to the Window menu option and click “Musical Typing.” You will now have the ability to play a keyboard using your regular computer keyboard (no special keyboards necessary). Mess around on the keyboard until you figure something out. I highly suggest recording this brainstorming session as you could accidentally come up with something you really like.
There’s no need to know how to play the keyboard. I’m a big fan of spelling words out and hearing what they sound like. You’ll be surprised that you can put together sentences and make some pretty decent music. For my new show, I messed around and came up with a simple progression:
a k j k
a l l k
a k j k
a ; l k j k j k l ;
I have included an MP3 of the track I created; try playing along so you can get used to musical typing.
Step 2: Timing
Now that you have a basic tune, it’s time to clean it up. Select your audio track and then click the Track Editor button (it looks like a pair of scissors with a wave form behind it). Now you can see your music one of two ways. One looks like standard sheet music, the other looks like rectangular blocks on a grid. You can use either one to edit your music. I use the rectangular blocks on a grid view because it was the default. Unless your timing is excellent, you may have made a few mistakes.
GarageBand can easily fix your timing woes. Click on the grid, then select all, then click the “Align to” button. You can align to different tempos (check that word) by using the slider to the left of that “Align to” button. Take a listen to your changed music project. If you like it, you’re one step closer to finished. If not, you can tweak your music project further.
Click on one of the black rectangles. It will turn green. You can slide it up and down the octaves or you could also lengthen or shorten the duration of the note (or both). You may discover a new tune by messing with these notes.
Step 3: Layering
Surely, you are not just going to have a single piano for your song. You are the ambitious type who wants a whole orchestra to sing your praises. Well, there’s plenty more you can do with GarageBand. To thicken out or lighten up your sound, you can easily “Select All” while in the Track Editor and then paste. You will have a new set of the music you just recorded. From there, you can drag the entire copy up and down octaves depending on what sound you are going for.
If you have a nice doubled up sound (or maybe even tripled up sound), you may want more. Perhaps you want a string accompaniment. You could try to craft a new part by trying the above methods again. However, if you just want to make your sound fuller, you could just copy your entire track and paste it into a new track. I suggest creating a new track and copying your work from your original instrument to this new one. Try adding strings to your piano sound. You’ll hear that your work sounds fuller and richer. Additionally, the interplay between the echos of the strings and the piano sometimes creates welcome surprises.
Step 4: Percussion
You may want to add percussion. You could easily do this as the first step, but I prefer the metronome so I don’t get distracted by a cool beat. I suggest just using the loops provided by Apple. Just click the “Loop Browser” (the icon with the eye on it next to the Track Editor). There you will be welcomed by hundreds of options. Pick drums and then listen to the loops.
It is easy to pick just one loop, but you could layer these loops easily by dragging and dropping them into your project area. Because the timing of these loops are excellent, it is very simple to layer several loops to create your own unique loop.
Step 5: Other Music
You can do much more with GarageBand if you can play an instrument. I can play guitar (not well, but well enough to put together something if necessary) so I usually will play guitar on top of music that needs guitar.
Also, you may find that you now have an abundance of tracks. You have three types of horns, two types of synths, two of something else — do not be afraid to pare down your symphony. Selectively mute some instruments and listen to your project. Does it sound better or worse if that Zanzibar Chords track is on or off? Once again, I mention that the combination of several instruments can change the overall sound.
Step 6: Balancing
GarageBand places every track you create in the middle. You may want to shift your track pan position using knob next to your track. Shifting your tracks to the left or right can make some instruments stand out or make them fade out if you want. Remember how your audience will listen to your music. If you’re doing a mono podcast, perhaps you should have some mono music to go with it. If you are doing a full blown music track, a stereo mix may fit better.
There is probably a million other things you could do using GarageBand or any other recording software. However, I hope this gives you an idea of how to start to create music even with little to no musical knowledge. Good luck.