How to add an EQ and effects master track in GarageBand for iOS

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garageband master track
Here's a cellist, who has mastered her own track, as it were.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

One of the craziest omissions in GarageBand for iPad and iPhone is the lack of a master track for mixing. A master track sits in your GarageBand window alongside your recorded instruments, and lets you apply EQ and effects — bass, treble, reverb, and so on — to the entire song. Even in the amazing new GarageBand 3.2, there’s no proper master track.

But there is a workaround that is both easy, and as good as having the real thing. Let’s check it out.

Master your tracks

According to Apple’s support documents, adding a master track to a GarageBand project on the Mac iOS just a menu click away. Once enabled, you can add effects, adjust the EQ, and fade out the volume. With our GarageBand for iOS hack, we can get most of these (although not a track fadeout, unfortunately). How? By adding an FX track.

Special FX

FX is a recent GarageBand feature that lets you add live DJ-style effects as your track plays. I has all kinds of fun gimmicks — stutter FX, faux record-scratching, and a filter to make it sound like your song just went to a nightclub bathroom.

FX lives in a separate track which sits at the bottom of your project, and affects every track above. It’s like a master mix that iOS applied after every thing else. And in addition to the gimmicky effects, the FX track also has controls for reverb, echo (delay), treble, bass, plus GarageBand’s excellent Visual EQ.

The trick is to add an FX track, then ignore the actual FX part, and tweak the EQ section instead. Because it affects the entire song, any EQ settings also affect the whole song.

Adding an empty FX track in GarageBand

You need to add some FX, then delete them. You need to add some FX, then delete them.

Step one is to open up a song. Step two is to tap the FX button, which — on the iPad — you’ll find in the top left corner of the song view. This opens up the FX panel at the bottom of the screen, but doesn’t actually add an FX track until you create some FX.

To do that, hit record, and move some of the FX controls. scrub a finger on the Filter panel, for example, or tap the Repeater. It doesn’t matter. As soon as you have recorded a second or two of effects, tap stop. You’ll see that there’s a purple Effect track now in place. Tap the purple section, and choose Delete from the black popover. That’s it. You now have a blank FX track.

Using the GarageBand for iOS master track

Now we get to the good bit. The FX track has its own EQ and effects setting panel, just like all other GarageBand tracks. It looks like this:

Here are two views from the FX track's effects panel.
Here are two views from the FX track’s effects panel.
Photo: Cult of Mac

You can even dig in and use the Visual EQ plugin:

You can get surgical with master track EQ.
You can get surgical with master track EQ.
Photo: Cult of Mac

There are a few limits compared to normal tracks. You can’t automate the volume of the FX track like you can with audio and MIDI tracks, and you can’t use any extra audio unit (AU) effects. Still, this is way, way better than no master track at all, which is what we have had before.

GarageBand for iOS

The lack of a proper master track is one of the niggles that stops GarageBand for iOS from being a real-deal alternative to the desktop version. That’s not to say you can’t make top-level music with it. It’s just that sometimes the process is harder than it should be. You should be able to fade a song out without having to fade each individual track, for example. UPDATE 02/08/18 It’s possible to fade out a song by toggling a Fade Out switch in the song settings. Or export all your tracks as individual “stems” in one go.

Still, GarageBand for iOS is pretty amazing, and this trick make it even better.