Noise Gates. These are powerful tools to help you get rid of unwanted sound in your recordings. They have many other purposes too, including transient shaping and expansion, which means they’re a nice little tool to master. Great DAWs like GarageBand and Logic Pro X provide noise gates by default but it’ll take a minute to actually figure one out.
The truth is you just have to sit down one day and start using one. Test your skills with it on various types of recordings and experiment with how things need to be done. This is what I did, and I’m all the wiser for it. That said, I can teach you a few things from my experience to make things easier for you. We’ll start with the GarageBand noise gate first.
To use a noise gate in GarageBand, select your Audio Track and press ‘B’ to open the Smart Controls. Check the box that says “Noise Gate” or press the “On” button on the plugin, then drag the slider over from -35dB to -45dB approximately to attenuate or remove unwanted sounds in your recording.
This is how to use a noise gate, but you can get more surgical once you’re using one with more parameters and controls beyond the stock GarageBand gate. What I’m going to do now is show you a more detailed tutorial for using the default GarageBand noise gate. Then I’m going to show you how how to use the Bob Berry Noise Gate and finally, the Fab Filter Pro-G noise gate.
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How to Use the Default Noise Gate in GarageBand (A Full Walkthrough)
As I said in my article on removing background noise, the Garageband noise gate doesn’t have a lot of controls. Essentially, the default GarageBand noise gate is a brick-wall noise gate with a maximum ratio and super-fast attack and release time.
This means you can’t use it as a transient shaper, and you can’t use it in a way that’s more natural. In other words, you can’t control how much you’re turning down undesirable sounds. You can only cut them completely out or leave them totally in 100%,
That said, if we use the Bob Perry Noise Gate, we can do a lot more, and the same thing goes for the best noise gate I’ve used thus far, the Fab Filter Pro-G (on Plugin Boutique). I’ll show you how to use at least one of these 3rd party plugins in a moment.
1) Select Your Audio Track By Clicking On It
Go to the left of your screen, and click on the audio track you want to work on. Make sure to properly label your tracks for easy access in your mix.
2) Press ‘B’ On Your Keyboard to Bring Up the Smart Controls
You can actually pull up Smart Controls in several different ways. Although the simplest is to use the keyboard shortcut ‘B’ you can also click View/Show Smart Controls or click Smart Controls on the top right of the GarageBand screen.
3) Check the Noise Gate Box
One great thing about GarageBand is how easy it is to use. The box will say Noise Gate and you simply just drag the dial to your preferred setting. Another way of turning it on is actually clicking on the plugin and pressing the On button on it. Checking the box off will do the same thing.
4) Push the Slider to -35dB or More to Eliminate Extra Sounds
Using too little of the noise gate means you won’t get rid of your unwanted sound. However, if you use too much, you could make your audio choppy. Remember what I said earlier, you either cut your undesirable sounds out 100% or you leave them in.
There is no middle ground with the default GarageBand noise gate. Because of this, I’m going to show you the Bob Perry Noise Gate which is completely free to use. I’ll walk you through its parameters including how to use each of them in a well-explained, simplistic format, which I know is missing in the music production world.
How to Use the Bob Perry Noise Gate in GarageBand
With its easy-to-use display, this more advanced noise gate helps you take off the training wheels of the default GarageBand noise gate. While there is nothing wrong with GarageBand’s noise gate, it is very limited.
If you want to have a professional-sounding recording that’s in line with what you would hear in one of your favorite songs, you should go with the Bob Perry Noise Gate (download it from Plugins4Free).
Having a broader range of controls to work with gives you a chance to work on the minute details that can make your recording go from great to stellar.
And one of the really cool things about knowing how to use a noise gate is that in the process, you’ll also figure out how to use a compressor as well (I also have a guide on that by the way). Much of the controls are the exact same, ie, the attack, hold, release, ratio, and the threshold. Sometimes they go by different names though, so keep that in mind.
1) Download and Install the Bob Perry Noise Gate Plugin
Before downloading, make sure that your system meets the minimum system requirements so you aren’t left with a nonworking plugin. Ensuring your system is up-to-date will prevent further issues down the line.
Download the Bob Perry Noise Gate Plugin. This process is pretty straightforward and simple and then you can figure out how to install it in GarageBand using the short video above.
2) Open the Plugin in GarageBand
Really, it’s the same thing as before. Press ‘B’ on your keyboard to pull up Smart Controls. Then click on Audio Units > Bob Perry > and BPA Noise Gate.
3) Set Your Attack, Hold, Release, and Range to Maximum (Speed & Strength)
The reason why we’re doing this is that we want to hear and see, in real-time, what threshold is the most effective for what we’re trying to do.
Setting the attack, hold, release, and range to maximum means that the moment our threshold hits the desired point, it’s going to cut everything out as if it’s a brick-wall noise gate like the default GarageBand noise gate. This is not a permanent setting – it’s a way to figure out how to proceed next.
4) Set the Threshold between -25dB to -40dB to Find The Signal’s Volume
The second thing I do when I start using a noise gate is find out how loud the signal is by adjusting the threshold. This is going to depend on your situation, but somewhere between -25dB to -40dB will usually be where it’s at, although, -50dB is common too.
Start with your threshold so it’s completely wide open and it’s letting all the sound through. The symbol will turn into an infinity symbol to let you know that everything is passing through. Gradually move it to the right until you start hearing the noise gate turn on.
Because we set all the other parameters to maximum, it’s going to be really obvious when the threshold starts to get in the right place because it’ll totally cut out the undesirable noise once we hit it. Go too far to the right with the threshold, and we cut out the sounds we want to keep.
This should be the first big knob on the left of the screen that says ‘Threshold’ on the right of the dial. Below the dial, you will see the number of dB you are setting your threshold.
Moving your threshold dial to the right (bringing it closer to +0dB) will cut out more of the sound. If you go to the left, you are in a more conservative threshold meaning that less sound will be cut out.
5) Set the Range to Maximum If You Want to Completely Eliminate the Noise
The range on the Bob Perry Noise Gate is kind of like the Ratio on another noise gate. It controls by how much we’re decreasing the volume of undesirable sounds. If we want to totally obliterate the undesirable sounds, we’ll keep the range set to maximum (all the way to the left).
But if we want a more natural-sounding noise gate, ie, we want the undesirable sounds turned down and not cut out completely, then we’ll set the range to a more reasonable halfway point.
6) Set the Attack to 0.1ms If You Want to Remove the Sound As Fast As Possible
Your attack controls determine how fast your noise gate moves from closed to open. Increase your attack (toward 500ms starting from 0.1ms) until the gate opens smoothly and your initial sound is clean.
In simple terms, a 0.1ms Attack is as fast as possible (dialed all the way to the left). This means the noise gate attaches to the undesirable sound immediately. When done correctly, we can really cut out those nasty undesirable sounds, especially when coupled with a maximum range/ratio setting.
As you increase the attack more toward 500ms, the attack gets slower and slower. This means it’s going to take longer for it to attach to the signal. How I think of it is this: a faster attack is good if you really want to get rid of something.
But if you’re trying to keep things easy and natural, a slower attack is probably better. A fast attack can get really choppy and unnatural-sounding. I found mine was perfect right at 7.7ms, which is still very fast.
7) Set the Hold Setting to Half-Way As Default – You’ll Also Avoid “Chattering”
This is especially true with fast attack and release settings. For example, the quick succession of attacks and releases can cause “chattering” where the gate opens and closes rapidly several times. Your hold is the amount of time your gate remains open before closing again.
The Hold range given in the Bob Perry Noise Gate is from 0ms to 500ms. Remember, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach as varying musical considerations must be taken into account when mixing. However, a good rule of thumb is to allow your hold to remain open for the duration of the sound signal.
8) Make Your Release Fast (0.1ms) If You Want to Cut the Sounds Out Quick
Your release setting determines how gently or abruptly your noise gate closes. This is important based on the instrument sound.
Long decaying sounds, like that of a quieting string, need a longer release setting so the sound isn’t immediately cut off. A slow cut-off for this type of sound helps it maintain its smooth, natural quality.
But if you want your noise gate to be snappy and quick, you’ll need a fast attack and release time. If you need a more natural sound, a slower attack and release are almost always where it’s at.
So what settings did I decide on? For an acoustic guitar recording with terrible background noise, I set the noise gate threshold to -29.2dB, the Attack at 7.7ms, the Hold at 84.2ms, the Release at 178ms, and the Range at maximum (or infinity).
This was an ideal result for me because it cut out the sounds in the background without being too choppy or weird. I even set it as a preset called “Natural Noise Gate,” that way I can use it again sometime in the future.
Of course, presets always need to be tailored for specific circumstances though. The next step for us, now, is to talk a bit about how we can remove the sound out of a recording manually. This deserves some attention because it’s a useful tactic. Let’s dive into that.
You Can Also Skip the Noise Gate and Cut Out the Sound Manually
This involves going to the source within your track and manually snipping it out. There are various reasons you might try this, including that you may want to keep the same settings throughout your track.
Make sure that if you want to loop the sound, you need to create a new audio file to ensure the unwanted sounds do not re-appear as mentioned in my other tutorial. Zoom into the audio file using your Smart Controls and you’ll see the small unwanted sounds.
These sounds are little bugs you want to cut out. Use the Command -T function to cut out the sounds you highlighted and they’ll be gone in no time (more editing tricks in my guide).
Why Is The Noise Gate Not Working With GarageBand?
1) Your Software is Not Compatible or Recognized
If your minimum software requirements aren’t met your plugin may not work. You could also have an M1 Mac, which is Apple’s first-ever designed System On A Chip, and some plugins just don’t work with the newer computers yet.
Your plug-in, even when free is unlimited in time, according to Bob Perry Audio’s FAQ. This means that if you have an M1 Mac, you can ensure compatibility by trying out the demo version first and can use it indefinitely should it work on your M1 Mac.
Your Mac settings can also prompt the error message that says “can’t be opened because it is from an unidentified developer”. Click ‘Ok’, open ‘System Preferences,’ select ‘Security and Privacy, go to ‘General’ and press the ‘Open Anyway’ button as I showed in my guide on how to install plugins.
2) The Noise Gate Isn’t Loaded Properly
Let’s say you are having trouble clicking on the Noise Gate controls; they just don’t click and it’s driving you crazy. Check to see if you have your noise gate loaded properly.
If your noise gate isn’t loaded, it should be grayed out on your screen. A brief troubleshooting session on the Apple discussion threads prompted this solution. This issue is especially likely to happen after you have updated GarageBand.
3) Your Noise Gate Isn’t Properly Organized in the Signal Chain
I usually put a noise gate before everything else in the signal chain. It goes before the compression, channel EQ, and all the effects.
This is the best way because then your dynamics processors and effects will only affect desirable sounds that we want to improve, alter, or change in some way. This is important because you don’t want to increase undesirable sounds with compression which probably will happen.
Other Ways of Eliminating Noise in GarageBand
There are many ways of eliminating noise before you even start processing sounds in your DAW, and that involves your room, how your room is treated, and also the sounds you have in the background. For example, make sure your ceiling fan is turned off.
If you have a loud air conditioner, get rid of that too because that is going to be a nightmare for your recordings. One of the better (and cheapest ways) to treat your room is to take your recording gear into your closet.
Pad the walls and everything with acoustic foam and then it’ll be like a professional studio. Because of how cheap things are now, you don’t even need to spend that much money to get great recordings. You just have to be creative.
1) Create a Quiet Room
It might seem like common sense, but the quality of your audio does depend on the room you record in. Preparing for your recording will save you work in post-production because you’ll have fewer unwanted sounds to filter out.
Try recording your room with the microphone you plan to use. This is called recording your “room tone”. I’ve done this personally, and it’s made a huge difference.
Sound filters also help and are crucial if you are recording somewhere with a lot of outside noise. However, it’s always best to record in a building that doesn’t allow for any outside noise.
2) Ensure Proper Miking
This is especially true for guitar amps and loudness settings. Remember, you are in charge of the sound environment, and, once you’ve recorded you can’t go back (unless it’s to do it again). Save your time and plan.
Your mic plug could be causing unwanted feedback, and it is always best to be thorough when you are working hard to record the music you make. Check each cord to make sure it is going where it needs to go. A clean setup can prevent this specific issue.
There are plenty of miking options for you to choose from. It largely depends on the instrument being recorded. Remember to always listen to your mix and don’t be afraid to experiment.
3) Filter Your Sound
Before having to record, re-record, and manually cut out sounds, you could purchase a microphone booth like this one (on Amazon). That simple addition to your recording studio equipment could save you hours of time, and time is money.
Important Things to Note About Noise Gates
1) You Have to Experiment to Actually Figure Noise Gates Out
If you never start playing around with a noise gate, you’re never going to figure out how to use it. And it’s as simple as that. Take a few hours out of your day and try to use a noise gate to clean up a poorly-executed recording with a ton of background noise. You may be surprised by what’s possible in the end with a bit of skill and patience.