Using Logic Pro X for the First Time
I write this article as a current Logic user and composer who tried to avoid all reviews of the new Logic Pro X before delving in to it; this particular observation is created as an initial reaction to the new Logic Pro X (and not as a comparison of Logic Pro X to other DAWs on the market). This article also assumes a basic understanding of Logic 9.
First Glance at the User Interface
The Arrangement view of Logic Pro X’s user interface is located off to the side a bit. In Logic 9 the default Arrangement view was the main focus of the screen. Users who prefer to work with a large portion of the Arrangement window, as I do, should minimize some and move others of the windows around (such as the Library window and Automatic Start Controls – which defaults to the left-hand side and below, respectively).
The software instruments include some new, great sounding synths and pads (particularly warm and non-gated/evolving pads, which were lacking in Logic 9). The new Arpeggiator folder for instruments has some fantastic patches, with bubbling, alternating effects that are fully customizable. By combining other instruments and effects with Arpeggiator patches, a composer can create some very cool and unique sounds. Logic Pro X has made significant improvement to the Rhodes and keyboard instruments: both sound thicker, more realistic, responsive, and warm. Unfortunately, the pianos still sound too thin to use in a full-quality production unless you have some high-end equipment to run it through. Also, some of the string patches are not considerable upgrades; however, the new “Smart Strings” has potential for out-of-the-box string samples, with mostly sustaining chords, and can create some nice accompaniments for those who don’t have more powerful libraries or who want something a little different from their third-party plug-ins.
You hear loops, grooves, and samples from Logic’s built-in library in almost every commercial on television these days, and I predict it will be even worse with Logic Pro X’s new Drummer element. While I’m not typically a fan of loops or mass-sampled stuff, especially when they are obviously used right out of the box, the new Drummer is still pretty impressive. The drums sound pretty good, and the power of altering the loop, even slightly with an extra snare ghost note or off-beat kick, allows a user to introduce plenty of variation. There may be a benefit in using Drummer to start tracks and generate ideas, and then developing your drumbeat around that beginning. Although, please (for my sake if no one else’s), try to avoid throwing more canned loops into the universe.
Drummer also gives you the ability to change the “player” – which is clever and allows the user to make subtle differences in the “performance” of the loop, creating even more options for variations. Delving even deeper in to the options and details of Drummer, there are plenty of additional tweakable bits, including: ghost notes, loud or soft; feel, push or pull the timing (super cool feature); hi-hat, closed or open; fills, more or less; swing, more or less . . . and the options keep going, providing “a million groove and fill combinations,” according to Apple’s website (see http://www.apple.com/logic-pro/whats-new/#sounds).
Having iPad control is nothing new in DAWs, however, I was surprised at how ridiculously easy it was to sync my iPad to my Mac running Logic Pro X over my wireless network. It took one click on the iPad, one click on the Mac, and I was running remotely. This feature is huge . . . and powerful. In my opinion, it is probably one of the best uses for the iPad in conjunction with software on the Mac. A user can easily create a new Audio track, control all parameters, Automation modes, plug-ins and settings, and even play virtual software MIDI instruments through the iPad (much like GarageBand for the iPad is laid out). How cool is that? You can now record that quick glockenspiel accompaniment before you forget it, during your live didgeridoo recording session, without leaving your recording booth or have someone else press “Record”. You can even utilize the new Drummer through Logic Remote: I think of it as the iPad GarageBand drummer set to Logic’s enormous library of drum samples, beats, and new looping options.
In addition, Logic Remote provides the power of key commands, another insanely powerful feature which I unfortunately don’t have the time to get into in this short introduction to Logic Pro X (but just Google the feature to get some ideas).
Writing to Video
The ease of working with video seems to be an area Apple focused on when updating its Logic program to Logic Pro X. One feature that stands out is “Create Marker set from Scene Cuts,” which analyzes your video and creates markers based on the scene cuts. This isn’t a mind-blowing, new feature for DAWs, but it is new to Logic and can be helpful (or perhaps more of a pain, depending on the number of cuts in your video). In addition, Logic now automatically asks you when you open a movie file if you want to “Extract the Audio,” which can be handy when dealing with dialogue and any other soundtrack-related elements, allowing the user to quickly mix the dialogue down so you can hear your music.
Logic Pro X also includes a built-in template titled “Music for Picture,” which begins with a SMTPE counter and basic “film score” instrument set (strings, pads, piano, etc.). Obviously, a user can build a template either from this or from scratch, but it can be a handy idea-starter to see some of the features based around this writing style.
Guitar and Bass
Apple always pushes their amp modelers in GarageBand and Logic, but they have finally made a significant improvement in the quality of these. Double-click the amp plug-in, located in the channel strip of any of the preset guitar tones, and you have quite a bit of amp modeling you can tweak with the guitar amp graphic. Logic Pro X boasts 25 different amp heads and cabinets, and you can move the microphones around to change the sound (which affects your tone quite a bit), as well as add reverbs, EQs, or any of the other built-in (or third-party) plug-ins to your channel strip. Again, for those who already have high-end guitar amp modelers, this may end up sounding too thin for your productions, but it is obvious that Apple has made improvements in the sound quality of this feature. The bass amp modelers are similar to the guitar amps – Apple has made improvements in the sound, and users can still adjust many options to change the sound. However, as with almost all modelers, nothing beats a real amp.
While I generally think Logic Pro X is a pretty big step up from Logic 9, there are a couple quirks which can be a bit annoying. First, I have to power cycle my MIDI keyboard every time I start Logic. This could be a firmware or other issue related to my keyboard, but I’ve never had this problem with Logic 9 or previous versions. Second, the dark grey background with dark grey text in the channel strip can be tough to read at times. As with previous versions, there is probably a setting to change this, but I still haven’t found it, even referencing Apple’s help docs and the web (feel free to comment if you know how to get to the setting).
There are plenty of great options for DAWs out on the market, but they can have big downsides for some, including being too pricy, having steep learning curves, and being too daunting for the average user. For $200, Logic Pro X is a steal for any amateur or professional. The easy-to-use interface and layout, impressive feature set and great sounding software instrument library make Logic Pro X a good place to start – or continue – a composition.
Chris Joye is a Denver-based film and television composer and multi-instrumentalist. A dual-major graduate of Berklee College of Music in Film Scoring and Bass Performance, he has credits in numerous feature films and documentaries, television and web commercials, and has music being licensed with companies such as Red Bull Media House UK, The New Yorker, MTV, and VH1. He just completed his fifth album geared towards commercial licensing (under the moniker Cue – http://www.facebook.com/cuefilmmusic) and is composing for a feature film in Chicago in production. Contact him through the Colorado Production Guide™ today.