Logic Pro X: one year on

With twelve months under my belt on Logic I decided to share experiences.

By way of introducing myself, I spent my working life (since 1958) as a pencil score and manuscript band parts kind of guy, switching to notation software in 1993. As we all know, youngsters come out of college nowadays with all these DAW skills at their fingertips.

It’s difficult to criticise something that offers such incredible value for money. Pro Tools costs around three times as much and the hugely capable Alchemy synth bundled with Logic is worth the money on its own. You get the ES2 synth as well, which is as good as they get.

The downside is that DAW programs aren’t merely difficult, they’re insanely, despairingly complex.  Printing out the Logic help guide (I don’t like studying at the computer) produces a pile of paper a foot high.

Here’s an extract:

“For Track Stacks, you can choose a layout for the main track of a summing stack, but not for the main track of a folder stack. Subtracks for both folder stacks and summing stacks can have their own Smart Control layout. When a subtrack of a summing stack is selected, an additional Main Track Smart Controls item appears in the Layout menu. Choosing this item shows the layout for the main track of the summing stack, rather than a separate layout for the subtrack. Adjusting any screen controls switches focus to the main track of the summing stack.”

Reading this kind of stuff through hundreds of pages does cause your brain to melt after a while. This is where you’ll turn to YouTube.

There are one or two minor bugs. Choosing ‘select all following’ in the piano roll editor sometimes needs two or three attempts and if you have a synth open when you close the program you have to manually open the main editor window next time around. Ditto an open floating edit window.

The orchestral software instruments included are kind of OK and with careful editing and mastering will produce tolerable results. As we all know, superior third party instruments are a second-mortgage job if you need the whole kaboodle.

It’s a bit early for me to start dishing out advice but be careful what you touch in Logic. You only have to glance at a track to knock it out of position and accidentally right-clicking something causes problems that can take all morning the sort out. Still, that’s just familiarity, I suppose.

My biggest gripe involves a swipe at the whole industry, not at Logic alone, and that’s with regard to the total mindset on rock music. There are tons of keyboard, guitar, bass and drums sounds in Logic and they sound great. But the way the saxophones are stored is a giveaway to the problem. The saxes form a section, right? but you’ll find the alto and tenor under Garageband > Woodwind and the soprano and baritone under Jampack 1 > Woodwind. The easiest way to ascribe them is via the EXS24 sampler/synth, where they all come up in a long alphabetic list found from the top of the window. You can add third party sound fonts in Logic, too. I’ve installed the Sf2 fonts. They’re not industry standard but some of the instruments are OK (and rare).

More evidence of this obsession with rock is found in the online tutorials. By far and away the best tutorials are produced by Joshua Carney who calls himself ‘MusicTechHelpGuy’. This is a monumental series of lectures representing a huge amount of work by Joshua. It’s clear from the screen capture that he often records them late in the evening, presumably after a hard day’s work.

His voice and presentation are also easy to cope with over long periods.

Here’s the link, if you don’t already know it (which means you’ve been marooned on Mars for a while):

Unfortunately, and this isn’t a criticism, Josh is also totally absorbed into rock. There are over 70 lectures, culminating in comprehensive coverage of the art of mastering.

When writing this stuff people often say ‘Let’s add an instrument’. I’m hoping they’ll add a sax or trombone but, no. It’ll be a guitar, drums, bass or keyboard, again.

There are one or two tutorials on orchestral stuff but, so far, I haven’t found anything that goes into mixing and mastering for bands and orchestras with the same amount of detailed attention that the rockers enjoy. There are important differences. With software instruments you’re not concerned with mike spill or the acoustical oddities of recording studios, for example and the combination of like-instruments into orchestral sections has no comparable process in rock.

Incidentally, Mike Senior’s excellent work  ‘Mixing Secrets For The Small Studio’ published by Focal Press, is a must-read book. Unfortunately, here again, it’s rock all the way.

Creating new Logic files

My working method is to produce a score in my favourite notation program ‘MuseScore’, which is also a freebie. This is saved as a Midi file which I right-click on to open with Logic. Most of the instruments go straight in but two of the trombones and the guitar will regularly appear as saxes. This is easily fixed and it’s unfair to blame Apple because notation programs can inflict their own take on the matter. It’s always necessary to go into the list editor and manually delete all imported references to volume and pan (etc.) otherwise you’ll find the faders have a mind of their own. Keyswitch instruments will have more than one instance of each because there are mute, staccato, pizza, tremolo etc. versions of the file.

In this respect, you can help yourself by leaving out all dynamics and other markings in the notation program score. It’s a whole new ball game. Staccato is OK and will save loads of time in the piano roll.

If I double-click on a MuseScore midi file Finale appoints itself as the default program, even though I never use it. It also prevents the Aria instruments from sounding in Logic, even though they’re bundled with Finale! I might remove Finale from my computer. It isn’t really worth the space it’s taking up.

So that’s all folks. I haven’t spent a huge amount of time sourcing advice on orchestral mixing so any advice will be welcome.

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8 thoughts on “Logic Pro X: one year on

  1. Congrats on choosing Logic, John! I have more years under my belt than you in this regard and in some ways I might be able to push you in the right direction. Logic just yesterday updated to version 10.3 and I highly recommend you do that update. Many many things have been fixed and some new features were added. You mention selecting everything to the right and having problems with that and this is something that is mentioned as being corrected (among many other things — I almost went blind spending the day reading through the list and changes, fixes, and new features).

    Track Stacks are your friend. What I would recommend is to put each section of the band or orchestra into their own Summing Stack, all the strings in a Summing Stack, all the Brass in a Summing Stack, etc. A benefit of doing this is that you can raise or lower each section together with a single fader, and you can balance the instrument tracks individually still. Track Stacks can really lighten the visual load when collapsed because there are less things to look at and deal with when you wish to view things at a grand macro level. Also, you can add processing of things as a group (as well as on individual tracks), and this tends to “glue” things together.

    Panning is very important. The general rule is the put the lowest sounds in the center (as well as the lead — vocalist or instrument solo) and to move outward on either side with higher pitched things with, say, cymbals and fifes on the outermost edges. For orchestral works, position things left and right according to where they should be on stage from the listener’s perspective.

    Reverb should be on a separate aux send, so everything sits in the same space. It is more a matter of how much reverb each instrument or stack gets by adjusting it with a send amount. The stock Space Designer reverb is what you should likely use for this, choosing from a preset.

    Light compression can be used throughout, at various stages, like maybe about 3 dB of reduction. I might put such compression on each instrument and then again on the Summing Stack itself, and then again in the “mastering” final output stage. It evens things out.

    Automation, particularly volume automation, will bring your parts to life. Whenever I watch videos demonstrating high-end orchestral virtual instruments they are perpetually adjusting the volume as they play. This automation can be added/edited after the fact. Make sure you have a good handle on this as it is extremely important.

    That’s all I have off the top of my head. I’ll close including a link of a brief SoundCloud piece I made while taking a class, “Writing Music Like Mozart”. The assignment was basically to write a piece using a rounded binary form — A A’ B A — using a piano and solo violin. I think I fumbled more into the romantic era, but the violin part came out rather well and it’s only about a minute long. I think I used the awful Garritan piano along with the Solo Violin from East/West (SoundsOnline). Here’s that:

  2. Hi old friend. The Logic update hasn’t been notified over here via the app store yet. Never found a use for track stacks because I sometimes vary the balance with individual instruments. Although I pan orchestral stuff I’m sparing with panning big band arrangements during ensembles, especially, because it wrecks the orchestration. Big bands also sound better dry-ish. I’m OK with automating in various forms although I was initially slow to use it on other things than volume. The violin part is good as you say. There’s a Mozartian piece I wrote many years ago on SoundCloud https://soundcloud.com/john-morton-10/sonatina-in-ab

    I’ve improved the mixing/mastering since it was posted,
    regards, JM.

    • With Track Stacks you can still adjust the individual instruments inside the stack. It adds the ability to also adjust the entire section.

      Your Sonatina in Ab begs to be played at Christmas time. It also begs for reverb, particularly with the strings which are the weakest element because of the “sound font”.

      It is interesting how much more I know today as opposed to a year ago, and I hope that a year from now I will be much more capable than I am today.

      I’m going to recommend a product for you to explore which is more than it seems. It is a relatively inexpensive all-in-one orchestral instrument which can be used for separate sections if you mildly dig in to what is going on. It will improve your sound immensely for group parts. Beyond the $59 USD, any recommendations to get better would involve hundred dollars for excellent individual solo instruments and upwards of a thousand for full orchestras (which I think you already know). Price and quality of result are matched well here:

      http://indiginus.com/solidstatehome.html

      • Yes, you’d need Kontakt, which I didn’t consider. That’s much more expensive by itself. I was trying to think of something that would provide a relatively amazing sounding bed to have solo instruments play over. The full version of Kontakt might be price prohibitive by itself (I have it by virtue of a package I bought some time ago).

      • I’m not tight-fisted, Jim. I had to put twin daughters through college and university and now, aged 77, one of them went back for another year to get her masters degree. It has been financially crippling. Musical earnings bought me Logic and a memory upgrade and I’m hoping to do the same with high-end software instruments. In the meantime, Logic’s true worth is as a synth-based medium. The possibilities in Alchemy, for morphing etc., are amazing.

      • I use Logic mainly with 3rd party virtual instruments and plug-in effects. On the solo instrument orchestral end, I think I’ve settled on the following for instruments:

        http://www.chrishein.net/web/Willkommen.html

        That’s going to take some serious saving of money to get each of the four complete collections, but after much search and study I think these are the best. Oddly, I am likely to first get the Harmonica there, for blues type numbers. That will give me a feel for how their software works for me.

  3. Thanks Jim. If I want to operate on multiple tracks I just drag over their instrument strips in the editor. I hear what you say but it just doesn’t seem necessary to use stacks unless working on really complex multi-track sessions with multed out sections (etc.). I didn’t use too much reverb on Sonatina to give the intimate, chamber orchestra sound but I agree it would have helped the quality of the strings. They’re just the bog-standard strings from Logic. I’ll defo check out the link and get back, JM.

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