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Music is Not for Insects

Friday, December 7, 2007

"Not that loop again, and again...": Using Garageband responsibly to create music for your digital projects.

Garageband is a great tool many of you are using to create license free music for your podcasts, slideshare presentations, and videos. Access to hundreds of loops allows easy creation of original soundtracks by literally dragging and dropping a guitar riff, bass line and back beat onto a track.

While the ease of using Garageband loops is appealing, it can also create tracks that are predictable and uninspired to listeners. Even if your aim is to create a transparent background track, careless use of loops can distract your audience or cause them to dismiss your project entirely.

Many of the loops in Garageband are so popular, they are immediately recognizable. With a bit of planing, even familiar loops can be used to create music that sounds original, not "canned". Here are some tips on using loops in Garageband responsibly:

1) Use basic musical forms such as ABA and Rondo (A,B,A,C,A)
This will give your musical project a basic structure on which to build your ideas. One loop extended in endless repetition gets old quick. Check out Pete Whitfield's wiki on structure and intensity for some great examples from pop music.

2) Vary a basic loop with a single percussion loop.
Does the phrase Needs more cowbell ring a bell? Adding a shaker or tambourine loop on top of a more substantial loop is like a dash of spice for your musical composition.

3) Change the original tempo of a loop.
The standard tempo for many of the most popular loops in Garageband is 120 bpm. By shifting the tempo at least 10 bpm more or less, you can breathe new life into some of the more redundant loops.

4) Combine loops to create new ideas.
It drives me crazy when I hear a single loop used exclusively for a single track. Maybe it's because I use Garageband every week with my students and familiarity breeds contempt...
Don't be lazy. Combine loops to create new ideas. Your fellow listeners will be grateful.

5) Watch your levels between transitions and listen before you post.
This last tip is not necessarily about creativity or structure. Many loops in Garageband have different volume levels. Be sure that the overall volume of all the parts of your project is an acceptable level for the listener. Be careful when you transition between musical vs. spoken sections. Nothing says delete me faster than a poorly mixed project where the volume between spoken and musical sections drastically changes, forcing the listener to madly scramble for their volume control. You've worked hard on your presentation; make sure it gets heard in its entirety with audio levels that are consistent throughout.

We all take time to plan our content before posting ideas on-line- take some time to plan the music that will be a part of your projects as well. Music teachers will thank you for the extra effort.