I had a colleague here at my studio last week. He asked me to help him put the finishing touches on a couple of mixes that he started in Logic Pro on his own. They were due for delivery the next day, and he just wanted me to make a few quick tweaks and add some sub group processing with a few plug-ins he doesn’t’ have. He assured me he didn’t want to spend more than an hour or two on it.
Plan Ahead: Projects
I opened the first Logic Pro project and, thankfully, I had the presence of mind to do a “save as” so that I could work on it independently of his original.
Yes, yes, I know..
One day I’ll get into the habit of using them, but not right now, said the voice in my head.
In hindsight, it was probably the most important thing I did during the next two hours. When the time came for the final bounce, I asked him what he wanted me to name the file. He said just add “final” on to the end of the title. A warning bell went off in my head. I have been down this road before. I recognized the road signs and saw how a couple of wrong turns could easily put me at the end of a dead end lane with no possible U-turn.
I immediately named it with the date appended to the end of the title, as has been my habit for the last two decades of working with potentially indecisive clients here in my studio. Lesson number one that I learned early on: plan ahead. Inevitably he emailed me later that evening when he got home and requested a few small tweaks to some of the settings.
Dates and Names
You probably know where this is going.
The project was in fact not delivered the next day. Nor the day after that. And there were several incarnations of the mix that were produced over the next 48 hours, each in an independently versioned project file. They were named with the date, followed by a letter (since there were several each day), whose state could easily be recalled without doubt as to what tweaks were made when.
Had I not paid rigorous attention to file naming and bounces, this could easily have become a nightmare peppered with conversations between us like this:
Him: no, the version before the last one.
Me: this one?
Him: no, not that one, you know the one we did two mixes before that one.
Me: Oh, okay, this one.
Him: Are you sure that’s the one, the bass sounds different.
When I am doing my Groove3 video tutorials for example, I always save a unique Logic Pro project version to accompany each video in the series. So if I have to revisit one of the videos down the road, the accompanying project file is there just as I left it.
Project Notes in Note Pad
I often play and record here with a guitar player buddy. We usually do at least a dozen or so takes of whatever it is we are playing over. We listen back after every couple of takes and discuss what parts we liked or didn’t like; what’s useable if we don’t get anything better, and what’s not.
You see where this is going?
Of course, four or five takes later, we can never remember what we liked/disliked from four takes prior.
Enter Logic Pro X’s great Note Pad.
I have started keeping Project notes there about the specific takes to refer back to. It is way more efficient than my middle aged memory. When working with different clients here, I often keep Track notes about what specific mic I used at the time, what compressor and preamp settings were used, etc. Because, you guessed it, they inevitably come back three weeks later and want to either punch in or record some new takes.
The notion of planning ahead applies to mixing too.
I often have clients come here who start projects in Logic Pro on their own, and then come to me to continue working on them. The projects always look the same. A series of uncoloured tracks and regions, all built on factory Channel Strip presets that contain extraneous plug-ins that are either barely being triggered or are in a completely neutral state. There’s an army of unused Aux tracks at the end of the mixer populated with an interesting variety of different Space Designer presets; mostly either unused or redundant. And everything arrives directly at the Stereo Output.
This is not good planning.
The routing may look simple enough at first glance. But try and figure out what is and isn’t being used, what sends are going to which Aux’s, how much gain is being added/cut by which plug-in, etc.
Want to lower the backup vocals? Better hope you don’t miss one of the half dozen vocal tracks spread throughout the track list, if you can even identify them by name without having to resort to soloing everything to find out what is where.
Been there, done that.
I am a huge believer in organizing the track layout and routing as you are working.
It makes it easier to keep track of what is where, and what is going where. Often we don’t know at the beginning of a project how complex it may turn out to be. And while at first glance, setting up a bunch of Track Stacks and VCA's may seem counter-intuitive to simple organization, I believe it allows for room to expand while still keeping things under control.
I recently mixed a project that was delivered to me with a handful of vocal and guitar tracks. Many of the vocals were recorded at different times, had been quick swiped/comped/flattened/merged to death. Levels and EQ were uneven between sections, sometimes between phrases. I immediately split them all onto separate appropriately named tracks. Verse Vocal, Chorus Vocal, Bridge Vocal, Backup Vocal Verse, Backup Vocal Bridge, Harmony Chorus, Lead Vocal Double Verse, Lead Vocal Double, Chorus, etc.
Needless to say, this generated a lot of tracks each with only a few regions on them. Multiply this with several guitar tracks both acoustic and electric with different sounds and parts for the different sections, and a Drummer track that I converted to a producer kit with all its ensuing routing and sub-routing. I ended up with over fifty tracks from what started as a dozen or so.
After splitting up the sections onto separate tracks, I grouped them together into summing stacks. For example, verse guitars were one summing stack, bridge guitars another. Some were left out of a stack because they already had effects printed on them. Then I routed all of the guitar summing stacks and individual tracks to a Folder (VCA) stack.
This kind of routing and organization afforded me a great deal of flexibility and control. When zeroing in on the individual sections i could add tracks easily to their respective summing stacks. And even when automating, I could easily make changes to the overall levels with the VCA while leaving individual automation alone. The point is, I planned ahead by setting up routing that would give me flexibility as the mix and use of returns and parallel processing grew.
Same with the vocals.
I organized each section into its own summing stack and then routed them all to a Folder VCA channel strip. I ended up adding in some extra parallel processing tracks later in the mix, used some tracks with pre-fader sends only (with no direct output). All were easy to manage and fit into the efficient signal flow I had set up in advance.
I also routed everything to a Master Bus before it arrived at the main Stereo Outputs. This ended up being good planning. I ended up doing some parallel processing on the full mix. It would have been a nightmare to set up after the fact, given all the tracks stacks, sub groups, and VCAs that ended up being used.
So, the moral of the story is; plan ahead.
When you are starting a new project in Logic Pro, sometimes the best way to plan ahead is to start with an entirely empty project and build it up from scratch as your tracks begin to take shape. Other times it pays to start from a fully fleshed out template with tons of sub groups and effects returns set up in advance.
Ultimately they may both end up looking pretty similar in the final mix stages. Which way to start depends on how you work and what you’re working on.
I’m a big fan of using templates in Logic Pro. But truth be told, with the New Track With Duplicate Settings, Customized Default Patches, easy Track Stack creation and easy re-routing of multiple track functions, Logic Pro X has never been more flexible. In other words, if you don’t plan ahead, there are lots of safety nets in place.
But still, plan ahead!
The Mechanics of Mixing in Logic Pro X
If you’d like to see the project I described in this article unfold in detail, you can see and hear the detailed step by step routing and mix setup in the Groove3 video tutorial series The Mechanics of Mixing in Logic Pro X.
In it, you’ll get to see and hear the genesis of a real-world mix from start to finish, using Logic Pro X plug-ins exclusively. And you'll learn all about the new Logic 10.3 mix workflow features such as selection based processing, track alternatives, and stereo panning in action.