The Amazing GarageBandOke
(or, "How to Turn Your Mac Into A Rockin' Karaoke Machine Without Spending A Dime ")

by - Episode 18 - May 21st, 2004

Today we'll be looking at do-it-yourself Karaoke with GarageBand. Now, according to the dictionary built into Microsoft Word, karaoke is:

kar·a·o·ke (n)

A form of entertainment in which amateur singers sing popular songs accompanied by prerecorded music from a machine that may also display the words on a video screen

Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Bet you didn't know your Mac could do that. It can.

I know… it's dorky. I know you might find it embarrassing, and your Mac may never forgive you, but turning your Mac into a high-tech karaoke machine can be great fun. So try it -- it won't cost you a dime (assuming you have iLife '04, of course… you do have iLife '04, don't you? If not, you should; iLife '04 is one of the greatest software values going (US$49 from Apple, or US$40.99 from Amazon).

NOTE: Although it won't cost you a dime, the GarageBandOke technique I'm about to describe uses MIDI song files. Alas, GarageBand doesn't (yet) import (or export) MIDI files, so if you want to follow along, you will need a copy of Dent du Midi, a fantabulous freeware program that translates songs from the MIDI format to a format GarageBand can import. Created by Bery Rinaldo, you'll find Dent du Midi at this .Mac page.

OK. Fire up GarageBand, Dent du Midi, and your favorite Web browser and let's go for it.

The first thing we need to do is choose a song (or songs) to sing (or play) along with. I've been itching to sing Neil Young's After the Goldrush (US$10.99 - Amazon) so that's the song I'll use for this example.

If you don't have a MIDI rendition of the song (I didn't), you can probably find one on the Internet. I used a MIDI search site (try: MIDI Database, FindMIDIs, or MIDI Explorer) and found several renditions of After the Goldrush. I downloaded and listened to them all (in QuickTime Player, which is their default application) and selected the one I liked best to karaoke-ize.

Tip: Don't worry too much if the vocal part is being played by a saxophone or trumpet or worse when you listen to the MIDI file. You can change or delete that track easily enough in GarageBand, so listen carefully to the drums instead because they're the hardest thing to fix if they're not just right.

OK, now drag the MIDI song file onto the little picture in the Dent du Midi window like this:

Dent du Midi
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

A few seconds later a new folder with the same name as the MIDI song file appears with a multitude of what appear to be .aif files, like this:

Note: They are not really AIF files; if you double-click one it will open QuickTime Player, but nothing will play. They're fake AIF files, which is how Dent du Midi tricks GarageBand into importing them.

So create a new GarageBand project and drag the contents of that folder onto the GarageBand timeline, like this:

Drag the MIDI files to GarageBand
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

Which will cause GarageBand to create four tracks that look like this:

Imported MIDI
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

If you were to play the song right now it would sound like After the Goldrush, but not really like it. That's because when the tracks were imported, GarageBand made the unilateral decision that all four tracks were grand pianos. So the notes are right, but the instruments, at least for the first two tracks, are wrong. If you look closely at the green regions in the picture above, you'll see the names of the instruments that are supposed to be assigned to each track. I used the Track Info window to change each track to a more appropriate instrument (trial and error) and listened again:

Better names for the tracks
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

It's almost perfect but still a bit fast. So I changed the tempo to 100 and it was as good as it was going to get.

I know what you're thinking… what about the lyrics? I could use a weasel-out here and say I already know them by heart, but that would be cheating. There's a way to add the lyrics but it's a bit convoluted and kind of dorky. Here's how to do it: Record a short bit of music on the Grand Piano track. Click the region to select it, open the Track Editor, and rename that region with the song lyric. Copy and paste the region to create additional lyrics like this:

Hacked lyrics
(Click the thumbnail for a larger image)

It's a pain in the butt but if you want lyrics, you can make this scheme work. It takes some trial and error and diddling the zoom in and out control for the timeline, but you can make it work if you don't mind working at it.

Now, add a track for your vocals, slap on the headphones, and sing into the microphone. HOO YA!

Go have some fun with it now; I'll be back in a couple of weeks.