GarageBand on the Run: Play that funky music
Sure, by this point I've written lyrics and music, painstakingly recorded all kinds of musical parts, and perfected my vocals. Believe it or not, however, only now have I truly reached the hard part. It's time to mix!
Mixing in GarageBand on the iPad is one area where the app currently feels more difficult to use than its desktop cousin. It's important to note that I'm using the term "mixing" to refer to a few different things: Figuring out track panning (whether given tracks are pushed towards the left or right stereo channel, or remain centered), levels (how loud each track is), and also making sure everything gels and sounds "right."
By default, GarageBand’s timeline displays icons for your instruments on the left, and the recordings for each track on the right. By swiping to the right on any instrument icon, you can expand the view to see (and adjust) the current audio levels, as well as options to toggle Mute and Solo. Unlike GarageBand on the Mac, track panning is absent from this view; I need to tap each individual track, then the Levels icon, and finally adjust a somewhat vague panning slider. That’s not nearly as intuitive as on my Mac, where the analogous control is always visible, and shows numerical values for greater precision. Even more than that, though, I miss the desktop version’s ability to set unique panning and volume adjustments throughout an individual track (like setting the guitar to be louder and centered on the intro, and quieter and to the left on the verse). In GarageBand on the iPad, unfortunately, you're forced to keep your track’s volume and panning at the same levels for the duration of the song—there’s no room for in-track tweaks.
My preferred mixing technique is to keep the drums, the bass, and the lead vocals centered, and to spread everything else around the stereo spectrum. But since the Acoustic Guitar is the main instrument for the song, I didn't just want to pan it to one side or the other. Instead, I want to give it a fake stereo effect. To achieve that, I first select the whole track, by tapping once on the guitar icon. Then I tap on one of the selected sections within the track again, and choose Copy. Finally, I tap on the guitar icon once more to get the Duplicate option.
But wait! There is no Duplicate option—only Delete. That's because I've hit the iPad's eight track limit. This maximum, more than anything else, is the biggest limitation of the iPad edition of the app. With a heavy heart, I delete my harmony track so that I can make room for my second Acoustic track.
After I create the track, I tap inside it and choose Paste to duplicate the main guitar line. I pan the first version about 75 percent left, and the second 75 percent right. But I'm not done yet. Next, I zoom in as far as GarageBand allows by reverse-pinching. At the maximum depth level, I nudge the second Acoustic track by the smallest iota allowed. That barely discernible offset creates the stereo guitar effect I'm after.
I scatter the other guitar parts and the moo chorus Sampler around the rest of the stereo field, and tweak levels a lot until I'm a) happy with the way things sound, and b) not seeing any clipping in the audio monitor.
With all of that taken care of, I’m ready to declare my initial pass done. But I’m not quite ready to share “The Barnyard Dance” with the world, so I don’t bother exporting an AAC copy of my creation just yet. That’s because I still think that the song needs more—more mixing, more harmony, and maybe some more EQ on the vocal tracks. And I know just the software to do it: GarageBand ‘11 on my Mac.
On my iPad, I tap My Songs at the upper left, and then the Send To icon below my file. From here, I tap to send the song to iTunes—where I’ll be able to access it via iTunes File Sharing and open it up for tinkering in GarageBand ‘11. I’ve done as much as I can with the iPad. Now, it’s time to finish the job with my Mac.