Longtime users of Apple Logic know that the program just keeps getting better. What was once a confusing plethora of versions covering four different price points is now represented by just two versions: Logic Pro and Logic Express. This article presents ways, some new and some old, to do some sonic surgery on your recorded vocal tracks with Logic Pro 7. Veteran Logic users who have moved up the ladder to version 7 are likely to find some new things that they didn't realize they had — if you haven't upgraded, this article might just provide the convincing you need.
First and foremost, Logic Pro 7 includes a few new plug-ins that are a dream come true for vocal editing. Although Logic's traditional tool for editing pitch independent of tempo is the Time and Pitch machine (which still exists), a killer new feature in version 7 is the Pitch Correction plug-in. Functionally similar to Antares' classic Auto-Tune plug-in, Pitch Correction does a fantastic job of analyzing audio tracks in real time and correcting pitch on the fly. It has a cool little meter, visually similar to gain reduction on a compressor, that gives constant visual feedback of how much correction on flat or sharp notes has been made. It also has the capability to set a certain key and force-tune notes to that scale. However, for just fixing slightly flat or sharp notes, Pitch Correction does a great job, sounds natural and hardly taps your CPU.
The other side of that coin is featured in another handy new plug-in dubbed Vocal Transformer. This one allows users to tune a track up or down in semitone steps, as much as two octaves in either direction. If, for example, you have a great vocal take and have already tracked some good instrument takes but decided that the song's key just absolutely needs to come down, try this plug-in on for size. It should be noted that these plug-ins, though specifically good on vocals, are certainly not limited to that application. For example, Pitch Correction is also handy for slightly out-of-tune trumpets, floating synths and other poorly behaved instruments.
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
Because vocal cords are naturally such a dynamic instrument, even when there is a well-designed input chain with proper compression and limiting (and especially if there is not), during the mixing process, you are likely to find peaks and valleys in volume that are simply not acceptable with single track-wide settings — even if you add dynamics processing post-record. If you don't already know about Logic's Hyper Draw function, now is the time to learn. Rather than settling for a less-than-perfect mix or destructively editing your precious audio files, you can use Hyper Draw to automate live changes in the mix. Hyper Draw allows you to draw dot-to-dot automation maps for changes in Volume, Pan, Balance, Surround Angle and Radius, and much more.
To engage manual Hyper Draw, select a Region or a whole track in the Arrange window and choose a parameter that you want to automate from the Hyper Draw submenu under the View menu. The background of any selected Regions will turn blue; the MIDI-controller number of the chosen parameter will show up in the upper-left-hand corner; and a horizontal line will appear that represents the parameter's current value. For example, if you choose Volume, the number 7 will appear along with a line that corresponds to the current value of that track's volume level on the mixer. From there, you can click anywhere along that line and drag points up, down or side-to-side to fine-tune exactly where you want the volume to be raised or lowered.
Especially in vocal-tracking sessions, it is an important practice to do plenty of takes and not throw any of them away. Because splicing among takes in Logic is particularly easy, you never know when just a single word from one take spliced into a different track might make all the difference in a recording. To perform this simple operation rapidly, click and drag in the Song Position bar (the light-yellow area in the top of the Arrange window) over an area in a track that you want to replace. You can super-fine-tune this area by pressing Shift while clicking and dragging again. If you find that the area is snapping to a grid as you select it, you can infinitely fine-tune your selection by holding the Control key as you drag. Once you're happy with the placement, select all audio files in the Arrange window that you want to splice between; then, press Command + Y, and new Regions will be created according to your Cycle selection (the looped area). From there, you can splice individual sections from one track onto another to replace whole phrases, words or even just syllables with careful splicing.
If that is old news to you, did you know that you can make subselections even inside individual Regions in the Arrange window? Select a Region, and grab the Marquee tool (this looks like a crosshair); then, click and drag over the portion of audio you want to work on. From there, several things can happen. If you want to loop over just that selection, choose Set Locators by Region in the Region menu; then, click in the top portion of the Song Position bar, and your Cycle area will now correspond with the Region's subselection. This process does not create a new Region, but if you wish to do that, just click inside the selected area with the Scissors tool, and presto! You have a new Region.
As you are editing in the Arrange window, an often-overlooked function is Auto Track Zoom, which can be found under the View menu. It is easy to miss, as it is unchecked by default. When checked, if you click on a track, it will automatically vertically zoom in at an adjustable zoom value while adjacent tracks remain the same size. To adjust the zoom value, just position your mouse on the bottom-left corner of any selected track until the pointer arrow changes into a hand with an extended index finger; then, click and drag straight down. Any track you click on from that point will zoom to that same level. Auto Track Zoom makes editing a whole lot easier and quicker than individually zooming each track in and out as you do your edits, and it saves a lot of screen space in the process.
Unfortunately, pops and clicks in recordings can sometimes happen, especially with cheaper sound-cards, minute electricity spikes and even in the editing process itself. Often, pops are small enough to be erased seamlessly — it is definitely best to do your sonic surgery on pops and any other tiny artifacts in the Audio Editing window, as that window can zoom down to the level of individual waveform cycles (one of the great practical advantages of the DAW eye candy). Once you locate and zoom in on a spike in the Editing window, you can do several cool things. The simplest solution if the spike is small enough (let your ears be the judge of this, not your eyes) is to select it by clicking and dragging over the affected area and then choosing Silence from the Functions menu. As you make your selection, if you notice that the highlighted area suddenly becomes smaller or larger as soon as you release your mouse button, you may want to go into the Edit menu and uncheck Search Zero Crossings to disable this functionality. On the other hand, this can be a useful feature for accuracy. What it does is snap your selection on either side to the nearest corresponding points that the waveform crosses the middle at 0, or the silence point. In either case, if you are going to use the Silence command, starting and ending near or directly on silent points usually produces excellent results. Another solution if you wish to smooth over rather than totally silence the area (useful if the spike is wider than about one full wave cycle) is to choose the Pencil tool in the Edit window and freely redraw the waveform to make it more congruous with the surrounding modulation cycles.
Yet another approach is to visually estimate the length of the spike and where in the cycle it begins and ends, copy an adjacent area that closely matches what would be there if the spike wasn't and then paste it over the spike. You can then smooth over the edges with the Pencil tool. Keep in mind that when doing this, you will be slightly changing the overall length of the audio file (that is, it will begin to fall off beat as it plays), so it is important to be as accurate as possible with your length estimate as you copy the adjacent area.
PLUGGIN' AWAY AGAIN
Another new functionality that Logic Pro 7 brought to mere mortals is Channel Strip Presets. Say you are doing an album with a certain vocalist, and you find that nearly every take benefits from a certain set of plug ins. Especially if you find yourself using buses for your plug-in chains, you should be saving your channel-strip settings. You can do just that by clicking on the little triangle next to the word Inserts on the track in question (including buses). There, you will find not only the ability to save and later recall your entire effects chain with each effect's current settings intact but also a bucket-load of prefabricated, application-specific chains. There are submenus for many types of instruments and situations. Although these may or may not be exactly what you are looking for in each instance, many of them can be good starting points.