What does the Expansion plugin do? In this tutorial, Eli Krantzberg walks you through a step by step example that will show how the Expansion plug-in can be used in Logic Pro.
X is for eXpansion
Logic Pro’s lonely old Expansion plug-in is one of the remaining “blue” plug-ins without an updated GUI. Expansion is often a misunderstood and underused process that can be very useful in a mix. We all know the textbook definition: Expansion is the opposite of compression; it expands the dynamic range rather than reducing it. Blah blah blah - but what does it do, and how can you use it musically? Using some Apple Loops, I’ll walk you through a step by step example that will hopefully stimulate your imagination as to possible scenarios the Expander plug-in can be used in.
• Start an empty Logic Pro project (an empty template is fine) and set the tempo to about 112 bpm.
• Open the Apple Loops Browser, and type in “Bailey Melody” (no quotation marks) in the search field. Drag Bailey Melody 01 from the results field at the bottom of the browser into a blank area in the Tracks Area. A new Audio Track will be automatically created. For this example, I dragged Bailey Melody 01, 02, 04, and then 02 again back to back on the same track, to make up a 16 bar phrase.
• Clear the Loop Browser’s search field and now type in “Live Edgy” (no quotation marks). Drag the loop Live Edgy Drums 03 into the Tracks Area. It will be placed on a newly created Audio Track. Loop it so it lasts the full 16 bars. Adjust the levels of the two tracks to taste. So far your arrangement should look and sound something like this.
• In the Inspector, set up a send on the vocal track. For this exercise, dial up a good healthy amount of send; to about -3 dB. Place a Tape Delay plug-in on the resulting Aux return track. Set the Delay value to 1/8th notes. In the Tape Delay’s output section, pull the dry slider all the way down. And set the Wet slider at about 75%.
You can leave the rest of the parameters as they are, although personally, I prefer setting the filter slider in the Character section to cut out a bit more of the lows than the default value. At this point, playing the track will sound something like this:
• Next, call up a Space Designer plug-in on the Aux track, right underneath the Tape Delay plug-in. Select this preset: Medium Spaces —> Halls —> 2.6s TV Studio. Pull the Dry slider all the way down. And pull the Wet slider until close to the top, at about -3 dB. Personally, I don’t like pushing the Space designer wet signal to the very top; there a harsh quality in that range I don’t like.
With the high send value feeding the Delay, and that feeding into the Reverb, the result is a little over the top as it is now.
• Next call up Logic Pro’s venerable Expander plug-in, directly beneath Space Designer. Set the Expander’s side chain input to the Audio Track the original vocal regions are playing on. By doing this, the Expander will act upon the audio on this Aux Return Channel Strip, based on the audio it is listening to from the original vocal track.
Pull the Expander’s Threshold slide down to about -40 dB, close to the bottom of its range, and set the detection mode to Peak instead of RMS. This way it will react more effectively to the peaks coming from the dry vocals.
Set the Ratio slider close to the bottom of its range. I set mine to 0.55:1, for the sake of illustrating more dramatically the effect the Expander will have on the two plug-ins placed above it.
Pull the Expander’s Attack value either all the way to the bottom, or close to the bottom. And set the Release fairly low as well. Around 12.0 ms will do fine.
Now when you play back the tracks, the Tape Delay and Reverb will be heard while the dry vocals are present, and then be automatically pulled down in the spaces between the phrases. Your tracks should now sound something like this.
Often in pop style mixing we do the opposite with side chain compression, where the effects are less prevalent during the vocal, and come up in level in the spaces between phrases. Here we are doing the opposite. The effects are present at the same time as the vocals and then pulled back (thanks to the Expander) between the phrases. It is an interesting effect that has merit and is worth experimenting with. These values are slightly exaggerated to study the effect. For a more subtle application, try pulling the send knob back on the dry vocal track back a bit. This type of signal flow works well with drums too, yielding interesting rhythmic pumping effects.