GarageBand is a piece of underrated software. You can’t deny that it has many limitations, especially if you compare it to professional digital audio workstations. Still, it is one of the best, most complete, and not to mention “free” DAWs that beginner music producers can use to create electronic dance music, among other genres. If you have an Apple computer, you can download GarageBand for Mac on the App Store for free and start creating music, including EDM.
The Elements of an EDM Song
Before we start making an EDM track with GarageBand, let’s discuss the anatomy of an EDM song first.
Most EDM songs are 128 BPM, but it is not mandatory. You can explore different tempos as long as people can dance to them.
An EDM song’s beat is usually a 4-beat measure that consists of a heavy kick, a snare, hi-hats, clap tracks, and other percussive instruments. When mixing an EDM song, you want the kick to be on every measure, especially during the hook, to give it a good bounce. You can also mix it up a little by adding an off-beat element to some sections and add percussion to make the beat sound more complex.
GarageBand might have limited functions, but the virtual instruments sound incredible. You will find all the necessary synth instruments to create an EDM track, such as synth bass, pads, leads, and more. The synth tracks will put the “E” in EDM.
The Build Up
Besides the drop, one of the most vital elements of an EDM song is the buildup. These sections will gradually put the listener into a trance or keep them hanging in suspension before the anticipated drop.
Fillers and Risers
You can add various sound effects during the buildup, such as risers, to indicate that the beat is about to drop. Most popular EDM songs have these filler tracks for additional suspense.
The most essential element of an EDM song is the drop. The main riff or hook is where all hell breaks loose on the dance floor. The drop is usually the loudest and busiest part of an EDM song, where layers of tracks mix together to make an ultimate danceable hook! It is called electronic dance music, after all.
Most mainstream EDM or pop tracks have vocals, but it isn’t always necessary. If you aren’t much of a singer, you can ask a friend or hire someone to add vocals to your track. You can also use the Apple Loop Library in GarageBand to add some vocal lines to emphasise the different sections, but it is not required.
8 Steps for Creating EDM Using GarageBand
In this step-by-step guide, we will limit ourselves by only using GarageBand’s essential sound pack, so you don’t need to download the entire sound library or download any external plugins to get started.
Now, let’s get to it!
Step 1: Open GarageBand and Start with an Empty Project
Starting from scratch is an excellent way to make a new song. GarageBand has some templates you can start with, but sometimes, it is better to start from a blank project and build something from there. You are the artist, and the empty song timeline is your blank canvass.
Step 2: Set the Tempo to 128 BPM
On the top of the screen, use the mouse or trackpad to adjust the BPM to 128. For this example, we will stay in the key of C Major, which is the default key for every new GarageBand Project.
Step 3: Create the Hook or Drop
Moving forward, let’s go straight into making the hook. You can start with the intro or verse. HOWEVER, for EDM songs, it is always better to make the drop first so that you know what you are heading into when creating the buildup.
You can start by creating a drum beat. Click the (+) icon on the top left of the main menu to add a new software instrument track. You can do this step every time you want to add an audio or software instrument track.
As an alternative, you can also go into your Apple Loop Library on the top right of the screen to search for high-quality drum samples for your song. In this example, I will build the drum beat using Apple Loops, which is easier if you don’t know how to program drums using the piano roll
As you can see, I took some loops from the Loop Library and dragged them down to the timeline to create our song’s main beat. For this example, I added a kick, a snare, a hi-hat, and a topper track to make the main beat.
The next step is to add some instruments. You can add more software instrument tracks and choose the instruments you want from the sound library. In this example, I added a bass line, synth pads, synth keys, synth leads, and plucks to add texture.
I did not use a MIDI keyboard for recording the instruments. Instead, I used the musical typing feature in GarageBand. To bring out this menu, press command + K on your keyboard. This feature will allow you to record virtual instruments if you are not familiar with MIDI programming.
Step 4: Create the Sections Leading Up to the Drop
Now that the hook is done, it’s time to create the intro, verse, and pre-chorus sections that build up to the drop. You can choose different drum loops and mix them up. You can also strip down your hook and remove layers to make the sections quieter, so it will create more impact when the beat drops.
For the intro, I only left two tracks for the first 4 bars. The beat and the bass line will come in as soon as the verse starts on the fifth bar.
As soon as the 17th bar starts, I took out the kick, added a snare buildup and a riser effect from the Loop Library to build up to the drop—which is the first section you did earlier.
Step 5: Add Vocals
If you have a condenser mic and audio interface at home, you can add vocals to the track. However, adding vocals is optional at this point.
Step 6: Mixing and Arrangement
Now that you have all the elements of an EDM song, including the buildup and drop, you can now arrange the song’s structure. You can introduce new instruments for the second verse, add a bridge, or simply copy and paste the sections to make a simple song structure.
After arranging the song, adjust the volume of each track, so you get a clean mix. You can even add EQ and pan the tracks. At this point, you can experiment with what sounds the best, and usually, the mixing and post-production will take the most time to finish.
Step 7: Save your Project
Mixing may take a while to master, so it is better to save your project and work on improving it from time to time. To save your project, just click “file” and “save as” on the upper menu.
If you want to render the song and convert the project into WAV or Mp3 format, you can do that by clicking on the share button on the upper menu.
Can you use a MIDI controller with GarageBand?
Yes, you can use a MIDI controller with GarageBand. However, unlike other professional DAWs, you cannot map the controls. Still, using a MIDI controller with GarageBand can help you record virtual instruments easier than using the MIDI editor.
Can you use external plugins and VSTs with GarageBand?
Yes, you can use external plugins and VSTs made by other developers with GarageBand. Although the selection of compatible VSTs is minimal compared to other DAWs.