How-to Do Basic Audio Recording On Your Mac Using GarageBand ’08

GB ScreenI wrote an article a few years back on basic audio recording on the Mac, While much of that info is still valid, a lot of it is out of date. So I thought I would update that article and I also plan to make a video tutorial as well, In the meantime here is the article.

We are going to assume that we are recording a simple mono or single channel microphone for the purpose of this tutorial, But the tutorial works just as well for any stereo audio source such as a turntable or a mixer.

First off, we need to get audio into the computer. There are several ways to get audio into your mac: You can use the analog inputs if your Mac is so equipped or you can use either the Optical Digital(SPDIF) input, or the Firewire or USB inputs via a Digital Audio Interface.

Lets look at the analog inputs first. Most newer Macs have 1/8″ stereo analog Line in and Line out Jacks, older iBooks being the exception. Often using these inputs is the simplest and most expedient way to get audio into your Mac  you can hook-up most audio devices using a male stereo mini to dual male RCA adaptor cable. This is great if you want to use a turntable or mixer as an audio source. When you use the analog inputs on your Mac you are using the Macs own internal analog to digital convertors, while these are actually pretty good nowadays using an external audio interface is usually preferable.

Audio interfaces range from the $40 iMic interface, to various USB mics and headsets with built-in convertors, to high end interfaces such as the $500 Apogee Duet interface or Multi channel interfaces like the $700 Prosonus Firestudio. Depending on the interface, these can have USB, Firewire or even optical connections to hook-up to your Mac. The advantages that these interfaces offer are things like higher quality sampling rates and bit depths than the Mac’s built-in audio and they can also offer such features as direct monitoring and digital effects. For the purposes of this tutorial we’ll look at a USB Headset and a iMic USB interface.

Once you have an audio source hooked up to your Mac, the first stop in the recording process is the sound control panel. To go to the sound control panel, go to system preferences under the Apple menu and click on Sound. Click on the input tab and you will see a list of connected audio devices on your Mac Our list has the Internal Microphone, Line-in audio (the Built-in audio), iMic USB audio system, and C-Media USB Headphone Set . We’ll select the C-media USB Headset. Next we want to set our initial Audio levels, to avoid distorting our audio recording later on. Speak or sing into your microphone at a loud level, or start playback of your audio device. Adjust the input levels using the input volume slider so that the input levels are at about 80% of the sound input indicator bar.
While we are in the Sound control panel. We’ll want to set an output device. Click on the Output tab. And we’ll choose Internal speakers as an output device. Click on the red close button to close the Sound control panel and save your settings.

Next, we’ll need to open an audio recording application. GarageBand comes with all new Macs as part of the iLife suite and even if it didn’t come with your Mac, you should purchase the iLife suite just for GarageBand even if you’re going to do occasional audio recording on your Mac. We’ll note that there are many free and inexpensive audio recording applications available for you Mac including the open source application Audacity available at But for the purposes of this tutorial we’ll just address using GarageBand ’08.

To do an audio recording using GarageBand, launch GarageBand. Again for the purposes of this tutorial, we’ll chose Create New Music Project and we’ll name our project “Recording test” and click on the Create button. In the GarageBand Window we’ll close the Keyboard window if it appears, since we don’t need that at the moment. Goto the GarageBand menu and select Preferences to open GarageBands’s preferences. Click on the Audio/MIDI tab. We’ll make sure that Built-in Output is selected under the Audio Output Selector, and that C-Media USB Headphone Set is selected under Audio Input. We could have selected from any of the devices that are connected our Mac or could have just used the system stings to use whichever device is selected in the sound control panel. While still in the Preferences window, we want to check our recording quality settings. Click on the Advanced tab. Notice the Audio Resolution selector. The selector has three options Good, Better and Best. We’ll choose Better to record in 24-bit resolution but export at 16-bit resolution for standard CD resolution files. Click on the red close button to exit the preferences panel and save our settings.

Next we’ll select New Basic Track from the Track menu. With our new track highlighted we’ll click on the “I” or track info button in the lower right hand corner of the GarageBand window. In the bottom of the Track Info pane You’ll notice an Input source selector: Ours is showing Stereo 1/2 (C-media USB Headphone Set) and since there is no need to make a stereo Recording of a Mono voice, we are going to select Mono 1 (C-media USB Headphone Set.) We’ll also leave the Monitor selector to Off to avoid any chance of feedback. Next, we want to check our recording levels again. Although they should be good from our system settings it never hurts to double check levels. Make sure that the Automatic Level Control checkbox is NOT checked. Speak or sing into your microphone at a loud level, or start playback of your audio device. Adjust the input levels using the Recording Level slider so that the input levels are at about 80% of the track’s level volume meter. Once your level is set, you can click the “I” button to close the Track Info Window.

Now we are ready to record. Make sure that our new track is record enabled. This is indicated by the red record enable button. When you’re ready to record, click on the record button in the transport controls. To stop recording, click the play button to stop the recording and playback or click the record button to stop recording but continue playback. This is convenient if you only need to record vocals in certain parts of a song, for example. But in most case you’ll want to click the play button to stop recording. You can now click the Goto Beginning button to go to the beginning of the track and click the Play button to hear the playback of your recording.
We’ll address editing your audio in a future tutorial, but for now we want to show you some of the saving and exporting options in GarageBand. First off, save your project often to make sure you don’t lose any of your recordings or the changes you’ve made to your project. To save your project, click on Save under the File menu or use the Command and S key shortcut.

To export your recording you have several options under GarageBand’s Share menu. We can; Send song to iTunes, Send your song as a Ringtone, Send Podcast to iWeb, Export song to disk and Burn song to CD. Lots of options. The simplest is to save your recording (or song) to disk. With the Compress checkbox unchecked simply click Export to save your recording as a standard 16-bit AIF file to disk. If you check the Compress check box and it will bring up the audio compression options including the ability to export as an AAC (Apple Proprietary) file or as a MP3 file for playback on many devices.

In addition to the export to disk option, you may find the Send song to iTunes option useful. By using the send to iTunes option you have the same options to save your file either compressed or not but you also have the option to add meta data to the file and the file will automatically be added to your iTunes music library. After you’ve exported you audio file and Saved your project you can close GarageBand.

That’s how to do basic audio recording on your Mac using GarageBand ’08.