GarageBand Two-Track Recording Setup Diagram

My old, pre-Logic, two-track mixer/GarageBand recording setup. Click for larger view.

This is more of an example of an informational graphic than an explanation of my audio recording setup (I've since upgraded), but it really works as both.

I started recording with GarageBand around 2005, when version 2.0 came out. At first I used a crappy USB mic, just plugged directly in the the computer, but the results there weren't really worthy of using a professional multi-track recording program, so I bought a small, cheap two-track mixer and worked out a simple set up.

GarageBand can record up to eight simultaneous tracks - but to do that, you need a real mixer with a Firewire interface - if you're only going into the 1/8" audio jack, as I was with this setup, you can only get two separate tracks into the computer at once (using kind of a trick that I'll explain below) - and as I started to ask questions on audio recording forums, I got a lot of non-helpful answers (and that's being kind) - because anyone with an 8- or more channel mixing board is not using GarageBand - they're using Logic, Reason, ProTools or other more high-end multi-track recorders at that level, so they couldn't really help me out with my setup.

What I eventually learned was that, using a two-channel mixer like I had, you could pan one track to the extreme left, the other to the extreme right, and they would then come into GarageBand as two separate tracks, recorded at the same time, that I could then mix as I pleased. So I could record a simple drum/cymbal setup with brushes using two mics in different positions, or two guitars, or bass and guitar, or vocals and guitar - all using two tracks. That's all I wanted, and it worked well.

The image above is actually the second version of my setup - eventually I figured out a bit more in terms of monitoring the recording (either with headphones or a small amp - or both) and how I could could control the output, and add in MIDI instruments. It got pretty elaborate, though I hope it's easy enough to follow - especially for anyone looking to emulate it. I used FreeHand for all the elements and layout, keeping it simple with only black and white outlines - very "technical drawing"-style.

I posted the link on a few audio forums, where some people found it helpful, and others were surprised at the level of detail I went into - but I wanted it to be totally clear, especially when dealing with audio, where the lack of a single adapter can throw everything off and cause confusion, a trip to a store, and delays. I did receive a couple "thank you"'s from people just getting into recording, who wanted to create a similar setup who couldn't find much help elsewhere. That made me happy.

When my wife and I bought a house in 2006, the basement became mine, and I started setting up a recording studio, which is far from complete - I'll have to detail that in a future post. When I started in on the basement studio, I wanted to be able to record a few instruments and my full drum set at once, so I got lots of mics mics and cables, an 8-channel Mackie mixing board, MOTU Firewire interfaces, and I started using Logic, Apple's high-end multi-track recording software.

It's a much more elaborate setup, and the software had a huge learning curve (I'm definitely still learning, even after reading three books on the subject) but it paid off nicely - I can do much more than I could with the original GarageBand setup. But that original arrangement still comes in handy - I have a very similar setup in my office now, which I use for more limited voiceover or simple recording situations. It's nice to have the flexibility to whichever setup is appropriate - though my neighbors are definitely partial to the smaller one.

Control room setup - small 8-channel control surface at left, MIDI
keyboard, MIDI drum surface, two 20" Apple Cinema Displays, small
mixer and mic for playback (control room talking into external
headphones while recording is in progress), reference monitors and
my old Mac G5 holding it all together below.

Main instrument recording area. Eight cables lead from the channels
in the mixing board into the Firewire interface, which goes into the
control room via a single Firewire cable.

Drum recording setup - there are seven mics total - one for snare and
hihat, one for the kick drum, three for the toms (one between each set
of two), and two overhead condensers.

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