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Think Different

6/1/2007

Apple Logic Pro 7.2 has features that are the envy of its competitors, but the implementation of those features is not always completely intuitive. In some cases, Logic reaches beyond the standard audio-sequencing paradigm. In others, a new process doesn't fit neatly within Logic's structure, and its implementation may be somewhat ad hoc. In this article I will attempt to demystify some of the more common stumbling blocks to mastering Logic.

Like most sequencers, Logic has settings that apply to all songs (preferences), settings that change from song to song (song settings), and user-assignable keyboard shortcuts (key commands). It's tempting to think of preferences and song settings as set-and-forget items, but you can use them interactively, and I'll mention several useful song settings as I go along.

I won't cover specific key commands except the default ones for opening the Key Commands window (Option + K) and the Preferences window (Option + P). It's a good idea to assign one to open the Record Song Settings window because you may want to change the settings on that page frequently, and you can access all other song settings from that window. You'll find key commands for just about every Logic menu item as well as for many functions not accessible in any other way. Customizing Logic's key commands is one of the best ways to improve your work flow.

The E Word

Other digital audio sequencers don't have anything resembling Logic's Environment, or better said, they keep it out of reach. You don't need to know a great deal about the Environment to use Logic, but a basic grasp is essential.

In most sequencers, a new track comes with all the attributes you need in order to use it. In Logic, a track is simply a lane in your arrangement; to make the track useful, you need to assign an object from the Environment to it (which happens automatically when you create the track). That gives you a great deal of freedom at the price of a little extra management. For example, if you want to change sounds on a virtual instrument track or change effects on an audio-playback track, you can have several Environment objects set up with alternative plug-ins and then simply switch the track assignments. That's faster and easier than loading alternative channel-strip presets, though you can take that approach in Logic as you can in other sequencers.

If you use MIDI gear outside of your computer, including MIDI instruments running on another computer, you need to know a little about the Environment's MIDI instrument objects: Instrument, Mapped Instrument, and Multi-Instrument. If you slave other applications to Logic using Propellerhead ReWire protocol, you need to know about the Internal ReWire object (MIDI out) and the Audio ReWire object (audio in). There are a variety of Audio object types, but the ones you primarily need to know about are Output, Track, Instrument, and Aux.

E for Audio

Output objects feed your audio hardware outputs and are also used for bouncing. Track objects are used to record and play back audio on arrangement tracks. Instrument objects host virtual instrument plug-ins; their arrangement tracks record and play back MIDI. Both Track and Instrument objects host effects plug-ins and have bus sends.

Aux objects take their input from send buses, Logic's external inputs, or multioutput virtual instrument plug-ins. They are primarily used to host send effects. Two other objects, Bus and Input, are not required but are useful for, respectively, isolating a single channel on a stereo bus and destructive effects processing of incoming audio.

Bear in mind that you can assign the same Environment object to several tracks — a handy feature as well as a common source of confusion in Logic. Most of the confusion is due to the Mute and Solo buttons that appear on both the object and the track. The buttons on the object mute and solo all tracks assigned to the object, whereas the buttons on the track mute and solo only that individual track.

Assigning the same Audio object to several tracks is handy for managing different takes, maintaining separate tracks for different sounds on multitimbral instruments such as drum synths, using Logic's folder hierarchy, and managing automation, among other things (see Fig. 1). Although audio regions can occupy the same time position on different tracks assigned to the same Track Audio object, only one region can play at a time, and that's the one most recently encountered by the Song Position Locator. To crossfade, put regions on the same track; to play simultaneously, put them on tracks assigned to different Track objects.

FIG. 1: Seven arrangement tracks are assigned to Logic''s Ultrabeat drum synth. The kick and snare are routed to separate outputs handled by the two Aux tracks at the bottom.

E(xceptions)

Arrangement tracks are assigned to Environment objects by clicking on the track name and selecting the Environment object from the pull-down tracklist. The bottom two choices, No Output and Folder, are not Environment objects. No Output tracks are handy for holding MIDI and audio that you want disabled but do not want to delete. They're also handy for recording “feedback” Environment processes, but that's another story.

Folders are your access to Logic's hierarchical approach to sequencing. Many sequencers allow you to group tracks and then hide the individual group elements in order to unclutter your arrangement. Logic brings a new dimension to that process by nesting whole arrangements within arrangements. Folders can hold any number of tracks along with their contents, and you can locate them anywhere on Logic's timeline. They're great for holding submixes, tracks for multitimbral instruments, and alternative arrangements. When you pack a folder, it is automatically placed on the lowest Folder track in the arrangement, and if there are no Folder tracks, a new one is created. Folder tracks are a convenient place to put folders, but a folder will actually play back on any track except one assigned to No Output.

Logic's Audio window, Sample Editor, and Project Manager all use the same Track Audio object for auditioning audio files. You can select which object is used, but the selection is global and reverts to the Track 1 Audio object whenever Logic is relaunched. So it's easiest to let the Track 1 Audio object be devoted to auditioning and to avoid using it in arrangements. Otherwise, its effects plug-ins and automation will interfere with auditioning. In a bit of particularly obscure reasoning, the highest-numbered Track Audio object rather than Track 1 is used for auditioning in the Apple Loops browser, so it's a good idea to also reserve that object for auditioning. I keep both objects assigned to arrangement tracks in order to have quick access to auditioning levels in the Arrange and Mixer windows.

Logic Does Windows

In Logic you can open multiple instances of the same window in the same Screenset. For instance, you could have several Arrange windows showing the contents of different folders, or you could have several Matrix Edit windows showing the contents of different MIDI regions.

The Link button (with the chain icon) at the top left of each window determines how the window behaves relative to the currently active (topped) open window. It has three modes: Off (no linking), Link (pink — shows objects selected in the active window), and Contents Link (gold — shows the contents of objects selected in the active window). As a simple example, if you have two Arrange windows open and both are in Contents Link mode, then whenever you select a folder in either window, the other window will reveal the contents of that folder. Linking and contents linking can seem a little counterintuitive at first, but they're a huge time-saver when using multiple windows of any kind.

The Catch button (with the running-man icon) invokes the follow-song option familiar in most sequencers. When it's used in conjunction with Contents Link mode (which is called Contents Catch mode), the contents of any region on the selected track are revealed in the contents-linked window whenever the song position passes over it (see Fig. 2). That's another big time-saver.

Logic's Arrange window and three MIDI Editor windows — Event List, Matrix Edit, and Score — are hierarchical. Clicking on the Up Level button in the upper-left corner of these windows moves you up one level in the hierarchy. For the Arrange window, that moves you up through nested folders. For the Event List window, it moves you both up through nested folders and up from showing MIDI messages to showing the regions that contain them. For the Matrix Edit and Score windows, it moves you from showing the contents of a single MIDI region to showing the contents of all MIDI regions. When viewing multiple regions in the Matrix Edit window, turn Region Colors on (in the View menu) and ensure that the regions have different colors. Then you can see which notes belong to which regions.

You can open any window as a floating window by holding the Option key when selecting it from Logic's Windows menu. Most windows have a two-dimensional Scroller to the left of the horizontal scrollbar, which you use to scroll either horizontally or vertically by dragging in the corresponding dimension. You can set up key commands to store and recall three zoom settings as well as to navigate backward and forward through recent zoom settings. Finally, you can click-and-drag an object to a new location in a window without topping that window. (Only a short click tops a window.)

Regional Differences

Unlike audio and MIDI, global data such as tempo, time signature, key signature, markers, and video is not contained in regions. Logic's primary form of automation is also not held in regions, although you can use regions for automation.

Logic gives you some useful options when doing cycled overdub recording. You can choose to have the previous pass muted when starting a new pass, and you can have Logic automatically create a new track for each new pass. The new track will use the same Environment object, but when you're done you won't have a bunch of recordings stacked on top of each other, and you can use the track Solo buttons to audition the various passes.

FIG. 2: In Contents Catch mode, the Matrix Edit window reveals the contents of the MIDI region currently being played.

For MIDI recording, you have a couple of additional options. You can choose to have each new pass merged with the previous passes, leaving you with a single MIDI file containing all the data. If you're recording from several different MIDI controllers on different MIDI channels, you can have Logic automatically split out the separate MIDI channels when you stop recording. All those choices are found in the Record Song Settings window, which is why it's handy to have a key command to open it.

Here are several things to know when you do wind up with overlapping regions in the Arrange window, whether as a result of recording or of dragging regions around. If you click on some location outside of the overlapping regions, they will be redrawn with regions later in time shown on top. You can simultaneously create new tracks for all overlapped regions from the Arrange window's Track menu. You can choose Remove Overlaps from the Region menu to have Logic automatically truncate all selected regions to remove any overlaps. (Drag-select from right to left to select all overlapped regions on a track.)

Two pull-down menus at the top right of the Arrange window affect dragging regions. The Snap menu determines how dragging is quantized, and the Smart option at the top of the menu invokes zoom-dependent snapping (zoom in for more-precise dragging). Keep in mind that what is quantized is the size of the drag steps, not the absolute position. For example, if the snap is set to Bar, dragged regions will jump one bar at a time, not snap to the next bar line. To override the snap settings, hold the Control key (quantize to Logic's display format) or hold the Control and Shift keys (no quantize — move in ticks).

When you drag regions over each other, the behavior is set by the Drag menu: Overlap is the normal behavior; No Overlap truncates the region that is dragged over; X-Fade introduces an automatic crossfade the length of the overlap; and the Shuffle options shuffle the regions' positions while keeping them butted up (try it, you'll like it).

Loops, Aliases, and Real Copies

You can, of course, make copies of regions by the usual methods, but for MIDI regions you also have the option of creating aliases. As in the Mac Finder, they are references to the original region. (There are no aliases for audio because any audio region is already a reference to the original audio clip.) To create an alias by dragging, hold down the Option and Shift keys. The advantage to an alias is that it reflects any changes you make to the original. The disadvantage is also that it reflects any changes you make to the original, but you can convert any alias to a real copy when you want to edit it individually (MIDI menu).

You can loop any audio or MIDI region by clicking-and-dragging on its upper-right corner. Loops are always contiguous, but you can convert them to aliases or real copies when you want to separate them (Region/Parameters menu). That's especially handy, for instance, when you want aliases or copies at regular intervals such as every other instance of a loop (see Fig. 3).

FIG. 3: To create alternating loops of a region, turn looping on, convert the loops to real copies, and delete the unwanted copies.

Freeze, Bounce, or Export?

Logic offers three ways to render audio and virtual instrument tracks to audio files: freezing, bouncing, and exporting. Freezing is the fastest but the least flexible. It applies to individual tracks, and it greatly reduces the CPU load by eliminating effects and virtual instrument processing. To freeze a track, click on the track's snowflake-icon Freeze button. (If you don't see Freeze buttons, use the View menu to make them visible.) Freeze files are 32 bit and can't be imported into other Logic songs.

Bouncing applies to all audio that is directed to a specific output, and it is accomplished by clicking on the Bounce button on any Output Audio object. Bouncing supports a variety of file formats (AIFF, SDII, WAV, MP3, AAC, and so on) and supports mono, stereo, and surround. Real-time bouncing renders external audio sources routed through Input Audio objects, whereas the faster, offline bouncing renders only internal audio.

Exporting individual tracks and regions as audio files is the most flexible option, and it's the quickest way to create stems. But be aware that when exporting or bouncing tracks with plug-ins that introduce latency, such as look-ahead limiters, the beginning of the track will have a bit of silence corresponding to the latency. After that, the tracks will be in sync, so you can avoid the problem by having a short, empty lead-in. (Special thanks to Logic Certified Trainer Jay Asher for this tip.) You can export selected regions, the selected track, or all tracks at once. You choose a PCM file format (AIFF, WAV, or SDII) and a bit depth (8, 16, or 24) in the Export dialog box. Volume and pan automation are not rendered when exporting tracks and regions; for that, you need to bounce.

Global Concerns

All of Logic's time-based windows — Arrange, Matrix Edit, Score, and Hyper Edit — have an optional display at the top for seven Global Tracks: Marker, Chord, Transposition, Signature (Key and Time), Tempo, Beat Mapping, and Video. The Chord, Transposition, and Key Signature tracks work together to determine the automatic transposition of Apple Loops and MIDI regions, although you can turn off MIDI region transposition in the track's instrument parameters.

You can use the Beat Mapping track in conjunction with the Video track or selected audio or MIDI regions to align hitpoints to meter grid lines. Logic accomplishes that by automatically adding tempo changes to the Tempo track (see Fig. 4). You can, of course, add tempo changes manually, and two special windows — Tempo List and Tempo Operations — allow numerical and graphical tempo editing. Although there is only one Tempo track, you can maintain ten alternative tempo lists and switch between them freely.

The Marker track is for both taking notes and marking song positions. You can place markers manually or have Logic do it automatically by marking selected regions or scenes detected in the movie on the Video track. You can assign key commands for jumping between markers. Use the Marker List and Text windows to manage and edit markers.

Automation

Logic's track automation is powerful yet extremely easy to use. Each track can have as many automation lanes as needed. You can create automation graphically with the mouse, or you can use a control surface to record automation on the fly. You can automate any track or plug-in parameter. Track automation is not contained within regions, but you can set a preference to have it automatically moved with overlying regions.

FIG. 4: Global Tracks at the top of the Arrange winodw manage markers, video thumbnails, chord names, Apple Loop and MIDI file transpositions, tempo changes, and beat mapping.

You can freely move track automation to regions and vice versa. If you move automation to an audio region, you need to open it in the Event List editor to view the automation. You can view and edit track automation directly in its own list-style editor, but you need to assign a key command to open that editor.

Two kinds of events are used for automation in Logic: MIDI Control Change messages and Logic's special Fader messages. MIDI messages are used for standard parameters such as volume, pan, sustain pedal, and so on. Fader messages are used for plug-in-specific parameters, although if you have a MIDI controller mapped to a plug-in parameter, you can use that as well. You cannot use MIDI CC 7 (Volume) and CC 10 (Pan) for plug-ins, because Logic always intercepts those messages to use for channel strip volume and pan. You can view and edit Fader messages in both the Event List and Hyper Edit windows.

Owing to Logic's excellent graphical tools for editing automation, track automation is usually preferable to region automation. But region automation has its uses, and one of them is automation looping. To loop a chunk of track automation, create an empty MIDI region the length of the desired loop and move it under the track automation. (You can move the MIDI region to any automation lane.) Move the track automation to the region and loop the MIDI region as needed. If you want to convert it to looping track automation, turn the loops to real copies and move the automation back to the track (see Fig. 5).

FIG. 5: Five steps to looping automation: ?create one loop of automation, place an empty MIDI region under it and transfer the automation to the MIDI region, loop the MIDI region, turn the loops to real copies, and transfer the automation back to the track.

The Details

I've tried to point to processes and features that differentiate Logic Pro 7.2 from other digital audio sequencers. Needless to say, the devil is in the details, most of which I've glossed over. Logic Pro 7 Reference Manual is an excellent source. A quick search of the PDF version of that tome will almost always get you close enough to figure out the rest for yourself. When that's not enough, the various second-source books and the users forums that the Apple Web site links to are great resources. The answer is out there somewhere.


Len Sasso is an associate editor of EM. For an earful, visit his Web site at www.swiftkick.com.

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