Posted by: kubiakl | January 24, 2011

Steppin’ Up

I finally bit the bullet and bought a Mac.  I’ve posted before about how easy Garageband is to use, and decided it was finally time to play with it myself.

The main thing I wanted to do was have the ability to record my guitar parts at home, instead of having to do it on the spot at Drummer Guy’s house.  By the time we would get around to recording something my fingers would be killing me and I’m not the greatest improvisational player (despite how much I would love to be).

So the idea is that we can trade projects back and forth, and I can work on my guitar parts at home once the main idea is there.  Married Man (formerly Bachelor Guy in the post about Vegas) got a Mac around the same time and he and I have been learning the ins and outs of Garageband together.

It’s pretty neat.

You can pick different styles of drums (the only thing I couldn’t find was a good shuffle rhythm), and modify the tempo to whatever song you are writing.  Then record your other parts on top of that.  You can even have different sections of drum loops for style changes – the first idea I recorded alternated soft, quiet sections with harder sections, then had a breakdown for the solo.  And it was a fairly intuitive visual interface.

Recording guitars and vocals is pretty simple as well – you can use the audio port as a line in (you just need a cheap mono adapter that goes from a 1/4″ female to a 1/8″ male for your guitar cable) and monitor the sound from the computer speakers.  Or you can use a USB microphone and monitor the sound through headphones.  There is also a third option that DG uses and I’ll probably eventually explore, which is a USB interface.

For now I have a Blue Snowball USB mic.  It required no configuration and captures my sounds just fine.  MM ordered a Nady USB mic when he got his Mac, and we compared the sounds – his captures a little more of the nuances but didn’t easily fit a mic stand.  I have a boom stand to easily position the mic wherever I need (in front of my amps, near the soundhole of my acoustic, or above my mouth for vocals) and the Blue Snowball threaded right onto it.  It came with a small tripod stand as well, which may come in handy for setting it closer to the amps.

If you use a direct line-in signal, you can also access a variety of amp and stomp box simulations, as well as some preset sounds (like the Dublin Delay I raved about).  It has models of many famous amps – Fender Tweeds and Silverfaces, Marshall stacks, Hiwatt stacks, Gibson combos, Vox AC30s, and boutique models.  The stombox selection is pretty varied as well – overdrive, fuzz, delay, chorus, compressor, phaser, flanger, auto-wah, and some others I’m sure I’m forgetting.  You can tweak the settings on both the amp and the stomboxes to suit your taste.  For some reason all of the amp simulations are set to automatically use a noise gate and a compressor, which bothers me.  I have to remember to click both off when doing recording because I don’t like the sound – there’s too much compression in music and it doesn’t leave room for dynamics.

Now the downside: it sounds modeled.  I’m finding it really hard to get a good overdriven sound that doesn’t hit the digital cheese state, but I guess that’s the price you pay for ease of use.  And let’s face it: you’re not using Garageband for studio quality final productions, it’s a way to capture and flesh out ideas for songs.  There are probably people who can make it sound better but for your average Joe (me) it will always sound just a little too stale.

Using the mic yields better results, and I’m discovering that you can add effects after you record that signal.  The only problem there is that it will be using your already overdriven sound from the amp for the effects, so results may become a little strange at times.

An audio USB interface opens up more possibilities for microphones, since any XLR mic (which is the standard connection for most microphones) can be used.  Most include phantom power for condenser mics.  Most also have 1/4″ inputs as well so you’re bypassing the built-in Mac soundcard and using the interface’s, which is tailored for music work.

DG has the Presonus Audiobox.  It’s easy to use and sounds pretty good.  He originally bought it when we blew out the sound card on his Mac by plugging an amplified signal for his digital drum kit into it (DO NOT PLUG AN AMPLIFIED SIGNAL INTO YOUR COMPUTER).  You can control the input level and it converts the analog signal to USB.  We’ve also used my Shure SM58 to capture guitar sounds and it sounds much better than using a direct in.  I don’t know how to upload songs on here (WordPress won’t let me upload an MP3 file), but when I do I’ll show you guys an example.

So far I’m really loving the expanded capabilities this gives me to record ideas.  Layering guitars is really easy (the other day I came up with a song that used a choir of guitars, playing the same notes at different octaves) and adding vocals is a breeze.  It also lets you use vocal effects, which is great for us non-singers.

I recommend it as a tool for songwriting and demo recording.  And hell, maybe you can get better quality results than I have for full-on home studio work.  Keep pickin’.



  1. I always use USB microphones because they are very convenient and have so many features. ,

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