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Understanding Logic Pro X

With an eye toward creative production techniques, RA's Jono Buchanan digs into the overhaul of Apple's flagship digital audio workstation.

Two months have passed since Logic Pro received the significant overhaul its users had been expecting for years. Given the scale of the changes, we thought it'd be worth paying some additional attention to some of its new features, which stand to dramatically increase creativity and productivity. In this feature, we'll highlight three of Logic Pro X's key additions by placing them in the context of music creation. 


Drummer is perhaps the update's most significant new feature—it's a new track type that's treated separately from regular software instrument and audio tracks. Logic Pro X lets you enable one Drummer engine per track, but many producers—the electronic variant especially—may deem its inclusion irrelevant; after all, what use is a virtual session drummer if you have no need for acoustic drums in your mixes? While it's certainly true that by default Drummer uses the new Drum Kit Designer plug-in as its playback weapon, this relationship isn't fixed. In other words, it's easy to swap in any software instrument you like from the top of Drummer's channel strip, including third-party drum machines. Doing this produces interesting and unusual results—the nuances of a real drummer's feel applied to 808, 909, Maschine, Spark or any other drum machine's sounds can immediately yield interesting results. 

However, the ace up Drummer's sleeve is that the overview region, created in the Arrange page to give you an impression of how a drum track is being produced, can be dragged to any other software instrument for playback. Once there, it instantly changes to become a regular MIDI region. As a result, it can be processed by MIDI parameters in hugely interesting ways. 

No beats: Here's a backing track featuring just a pad, a bass and an arpeggio part. 


To that, let's add a Drummer track. 

In this example, I've selected a "drummer" named Nikki from the Alternative category, and I've turned up the amount of fills so that there's plenty of variation in the performance.


The part makes musical sense, but I don't want acoustic drums in this project. So the next move is to change Drum Kit Designer as the playback instrument for the Drummer track to see what can be achieved with electronic sound sources instead. 

This time, I've replaced Drum Kit Designer with Battery 4, and I'm using the Swedish Kit. The nuances of the performed pattern remain, but the sound set is closer to something that might work within this arrangement.


However, I'm interested in smaller, more digital-sounding drum samples. I'd also like more control over individual sounds. So I'm going to set up a new software instrument and drag the Drummer region down to it. It becomes a normal MIDI region at once. 

Into this new channel strip, I'm placing Soniccouture's Konkrete drums, using the Rig Kit. Now I'm able to finesse the MIDI—I'm turning down the velocity of the hi-hats and assigning the hits in the final snare fill to a range of other samples for variation.


Finally, I'm sending this whole channel to an auxiliary bus to pick up a collection of slowly filtering delays. Remember, the pattern started life as an acoustic drum groove from Drummer, and now that it's MIDI, I can retain as much of its feel as I like.


Smart Controls

Another new feature that should prove hugely beneficial to users frustrated by having to create multiple lines of automation data is Logic's configurable Smart Controls. These are like macros in Native Instrument's Massive, allowing you to assign one or more parameters to control dials and warp parameters in real time. Within Logic Pro X, all of Logic's native plug-ins (instruments and effects) now offer prominent dials for key parameters when you click on the Smart Controls button. So if you prefer to tweak dials rather than track down individual controls within the plug-ins' own GUIs, you can. However, the power of Smart Controls really lies in mapping multiple parameters to a single dial. Here's how it works. 

I'm going to set up an instance of the ES1 on the first track of an empty project. I'm selecting a sequence sound called Saw Sequence as a starting point and dropping the default cutoff frequency so that the sound is more naturally bassy. If I then click on the Smart Controls button, the bottom of the Arrange page expands to show the mapped parameters for this synth patch.


To this sound, I'm adding two effects plug-ins—Tape Delay and PlatinumVerb—to give the part some echoes and a sense of space. The Smart Controls panel automatically expands to give access to key parameters from all three plug-ins now being used: the ES1, Tape Delay and PlatinumVerb.


Having individual controls is fun for sound-shaping, but what I really want is to create a combination control that allows me to change a number of parameters with one dial. I'm going to make that control the cutoff dial, which is currently controlling only the ES1 Filter Frequency. If I press the "i" in the top-left corner of the Smart Controls panel, it launches the Inspector, and mapping information for the cutoff dial appears.


This shows the current assignment as "ES1 > Cutoff," but to the right of this is a pair of arrows pointing up and down. If I click these, I can select Add Mapping, which allows me to double this control, enabling it to create changes to cutoff and another parameter as well.


The first extra parameter I want to add is the feedback amount from the tape delay, so that as the cutoff frequency opens, so do the number of delay taps. On selecting Add Mapping, a new assignment appears below cutoff. Initially this is unassigned, but by clicking it I can see the plug-ins associated with this track, so it's easy to dive into the available parameters for tape delay and select feedback. Now, when I push the cutoff Smart Control, both parameters increase in value.


There's another parameter I want to add to this dial, too: the wet mix of the reverb. This way, as the sound gets brighter and its delay taps increase, it also becomes saturated with more reverb. Again, I can add a mapping to the current assignment and choose the relevant parameter.


Now, my cutoff dial controls three parameters, so it's best to rename it—after all, "cutoff" only represents one-third of the parameters it's now controlling. So above the assignments, I can click on the name "cutoff" and choose something more relevant. I'm choosing "cutoff, delay and space," which is automatically abbreviated around the dial.


However, I don't want the dial to control all three parameters across their full range. I want the delay feedback to increase, but above about 55%, the feedback will begin to regenerate, which I want to avoid. Similarly, I'd like the reverb's mix to climb to around 40% but no higher. The Smart Controls editor allows me to scale the range of each parameter's operation individually. This is done most easily by clicking the Open button, next to Scaling and just below my list of assignments. This launches a pop-up window showing the minimum and maximum range for each parameter. By clicking on each individual assignment, I can set the minimum and maximum range over which the parameters will change as I push my combined Smart Control.


Now, I can select Latch as the automation mode and push my new Smart Control to bring the recorded sequence to life.


There's one final neat touch I can apply. At the bottom of the assignments list, there's an option for an external assignment, with a Learn button next to it. If I press this, with my combined dial selected, and move a MIDI controller, Logic will pick up this movement and assign it to the Smart Control. So if I move the mod wheel on my keyboard controller, instantly I can control these three parameters in real-time from my keyboard.


That way, rather than having to record changes via Automation after the event, I can incorporate such parameter changes into a sequence as I record it. 

Flex Pitch

The third new feature to explore is Logic's Flex Pitch function, which expands Flex Editing (as was introduced in Logic 9) beyond rhythm to provide control over an audio file's pitch. Anyone who's worked with Melodyne will understand Flex Pitch's capabilities quickly, but integration of these features directly into Logic comes with advantages—most importantly, there is no need to bounce audio files, post-editing, as Melodyne tends to require.

To demonstrate Flex Pitch's capabilities, I've prepared a simple four-part track. At the top of this is a vocal loop imported from Logic's loop library, and you can hear there are a couple of tuning problems. Aside from some vibrato wobbles, the "sic" in the word music drops from a G to an F each time, which, as our track is in C minor, is harmonically awkward.


To enable Flex Pitch, switch on the Flex Editor and select Flex Pitch from the drop-down list of Flex algorithms; make sure the Flex button is enabled on your chosen track, too. You'll see the waveform display change within the Arrange page, showing you blocks on each note that denote Logic has detected each note's pitch. However, to see these more clearly, and to make changes, click the Track Editor button, which will launch the audio file—with those pitch indicators—at the bottom of the Arrange page.


Click and hold on the first block within this editor and, like Melodyne, Logic will produce a blast of sound indicating the pitch of that note. Also, the block will show little dots in each corner and at the top and bottom, each of which allows you to access a specific parameter relevant to that individual note. Hover over one of these to access its function, then click and drag up or down to increase or decrease the effect of that parameter on the note. For example, if a note features too much vibrato, hover over the dot in the middle, underneath the note, before applying your change.


You can select a group of notes at the same time or use Command-A to select -all and apply a global parameter offset to all notes. Selecting all notes is also worthwhile if you simply want Logic to move each note to its nearest semitone and thus adjust everything to perfect pitch. You can access perfect pitch by control-clicking any note. Otherwise, simply drag notes up and down to the pitches you choose, or use the Scissors tool to chop a note into pieces for more radical melody re-shaping.


One of the most useful features is the individual gain control, which lets you turn up or down the volume of notes. Listen again to the audio clip above and you'll hear how the volume of the words "come on and" at the end of the first phrase are appreciably quieter than the rest of the vocal line. They sound a little lost, so applying a Gain boost to these helps integrate them better with the rest of the melody line.


Within my track, I've dropped the pitch of "music" to an E-flat each time, which stops the melody from clashing with the harmony. I've also tweaked a few notes' vibrato settings, and as a special effect I've chopped the last note to create a downward scale-run, dragged to an octave lower than the rest of the melody line. By itself, this is what the new vocal part sounds like.


In context with the rest of the track, it sounds like this.


System UK
'Be Part Of The System'
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