Level Up! Intermediate Techniques for Soundtrap, Bandlab, and GarageBand Creation

Gillian Desmarais • March 2024TechnologyUpClose • March 30, 2024

As beginner digital audio workstations (DAWs) start to mimic the look and feel of professional DAWs, and it’s both exciting and daunting to dive into all the new features. Thanks to the influence of viral social media, kids are highly motivated to produce professional mixes. Assuming your students have a basic knowledge of how to create loop-based music, it’s time to advance their skill set with three techniques to give students the edge in their composition building and songwriting.

What is automation? In music production, automation is a way of automatically making changes to an effect over time. When you select the icon to automate a track, a horizontal line appears, in which you plot points based where you want the effect to change in the timeline. A common use of automation would be changing the volume of a track to be louder in the verse and quieter in the chorus. Instead of duplicating the same track and keeping each one at fixed levels, it’s better to automate one track with all your volume changes. Though volume (loudness) is one of the most common parameters to change, other useful effects include filtering (cut or boost certain frequency ranges) or panning (placing a sound left or right in the stereo field). Taking a closer look at Soundtrap, we can see automation in action on a drum track. Here are the steps to take in order.

1. Select the automation icon inside the track channel

2. Click on “+ Automation”

3. Select volume

4. Plot points on the horizontal line as to where the sound should get louder (plot high point) or softer (plot low point).

Click a similar icon in BandLab to open automation features.

For GarageBand, press the “A” key or go to “mix” in the top tool bar and click “show automation”

Utilizing fades or crossfades can add a quick professional touch to improve transitions between recordings. Used constantly in video media, the concept of the audio fade is to slowly decrease the volume of one track and slowly increase the volume of another. In Soundtrap, this can easily be done by dragging the white dots in the top left and right corners of a track, as well as through the loops “edit” menu. Here is a visual for adding fades to a podcast vocal.

1. Use the dots in the top left and right corners to quickly add fades
2. Or select “edit” within the loop and select from “fade in” or “fade out” feature

In Bandlab, double click the loop region or click once and select the “editor” tab at the bottom left corner.

Hover over the white dots in the top corners of the loop, wait for the cursor to become a hand symbol, and drag.

Fades in Garageband can only be created using volume automation. To access press the “A” key or go to “mix” in the top tool bar and click “show automation”.

Staircase Effect
This is less a technical and more a compositional technique. Most loop-based projects by novice students are two-dimensional sounding. I say this with love, as most beginners are unaware of how long the timeline really is. To get them started creating structure, I introduce a concept I call the “Staircase Effect”. It’s a technique which creates interest by staggering loops. Have students begin by picking four or so loops and dragging each loop back a short distance from each other to create a staircase shape (as shown below). It’s great for teaching an “intro section” without defining it yet. It also allows students to practice deep listening skills as they comb through loops, sifting out timbres or sounds that match together. Here is a visual below of the staircase effect in use.

As more features continue to become available for web-based and software DAWs, it’s important to stay up to date on their practical applications in the classroom. Feel free to check out more tips, tools, and lessons at Sound Tech Ed. Enjoy and happy music making!

Gillian Desmarais has been selected as the 2024 Mike Kovins Teacher of the Year by TI:ME (Technology in Music Education). She teaches music production and engineering at Harmony Learning Center, a K-12 program that serves special education students with behavioral and mental health concerns.

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