Tune into just about any Top 40 radio station these days and it becomes evident that a producer has as much (or more) to do with a song’s arrangement and presentation as the recording artist. While this has long been the case with hip-hop and electronic tracks, even the music performed by such mainstream artists as Taylor Swift would have far less impact without the ministrations of the behind-the-scenes producer.
This trend has not escaped Apple’s notice as evidenced by today’s release of Logic Pro X 10.1. Although the free update includes a vast number of improvements and fixes, its target is clearly the producer and, more specifically, those working with elements of electronic music (which, again, is just about any of today’s popular artists and producers). Here are some of the highlights of the latest version.
Give the (electronic) drummer some
One of the key new features of the last release of Logic Pro X was the Drummer track. This track intelligently generates convincing acoustic drum tracks using a variety of sounds recorded by real drummers. By adjusting the puck on an XY pad you can change the loudness as well as the complexity of this track. You can additionally ask the drummer to add more fills, swing a bit more and add or subtract portions of his or her kit.
With version 10.1, Apple has added 10 new drummers – or, more accurately, beat programmers. Rather than being equipped with acoustic drums, each drummer plays a drum machine. Like the ‘real’ drummers before them, e-drummers have their own kits, though these are comprised of sounds from a wide variety of drum machines – with sounds ranging from the classic to the contemporary (as well as entirely unique sounds). As with the acoustic players, you can direct your e-drummer to play more simply or with greater complexity via the position of the XY pad’s puck, fill less or more often, swing (or not), and add instrumental elements to his or her kit. Each drummer comes equipped with eight preset patterns, but you can create and save your own. Within the track’s Smart Controls area you can choose from among a handful of patterns for each instrumental group (kick, snare and claps; hi-hat and cymbals; and percussion, for example). You can also choose one of a couple of different styles for each.
If you’d like greater control over the kit, you have it in the form of the new Drum Machine Designer plug-in. Within this plug-in you can not only change the mix of the various drums and alter their tone in the Effects section, but also tweak each individual drum sound, adjusting such elements as pitch, length, envelope, distortion, body, presence, pan and volume. (The controls you see depend on the kind of drum you’ve chosen.) And if you’d like to swap in an entirely different sound for a particular drum, just open Logic Pro’s sound library and, from the Kit Pieces category, choose the kind of drum you’re after (a kick drum, for example) and then select one of the available sounds.
It’s possible that there are people who enjoy creating drum machine parts by clicking individual notes into place on a timeline or banging them out on a MIDI keyboard, but I’m not one of them. For those like me, Logic offers new Note Repeat and Spot Erase features for more easily creating drum and software instrument parts.
The idea is simple (and familiar, if you’ve used classic drum machines). Select a software instrument track or drum track, expose the toolbar and click on the Note Repeat icon. Choose a repeat rate such as a quarter note, start recording and press C1 on your keyboard. As long as your finger holds down the C1 key, the kick drum will be recorded for each quarter note beat. Repeat the process for other notes and sounds – press F#1 to trigger the hi-hat and assign a value of an eighth note, for example. (You can also use this feature with the updated version of the free Logic Remote iPad app and with Logic’s onscreen keyboard.)
But there’s more to it. You can additionally adjust the rhythmic value in real time with a MIDI controller – a slider or wheel, for example. For instance, assign it to your controller’s modulation wheel and wheel up as you record to increase the frequency that the beats are played (from eighth notes to 64ths, for example).
Spot Erase is the other side of this coin. If you’d like to remove parts from a currently playing software instrument or drum track, enable Spot Erase and then hold down the key that triggers a particular note or sound as it plays. You might, for example, find the constant eighth note click of a hi-hat track to be too static. To put holes in that track, hold down F#1 for those notes you’d like to remove as the track plays.
Mind over MIDI
In line with expanding Logic’s drum palette, Apple’s Logic team has enhanced the MIDI tools producers and artists will use to input and edit their electronic drum parts. This takes place in Logic’s Piano Roll (read: MIDI) editor.
The editor has been expanded in a variety of ways. First, the names of electronic drums now appear in the editor rather than simply as note names (C1, D2 and so on) or piano keys. This makes it easier to find exactly the sound you’d like to edit. There’s also a new Collapse Mode, which, rather than displaying every note value across the spectrum, shows you only those notes that have data assigned to them – C1 for the kick drum and D1 for the snare, for example, but not G1 and A1 if no notes appear on those lines. If you’ve ever spent time scrolling up and down through a tall MIDI track to find just the note values you want, you’ll appreciate this feature.
The editor now includes a Brush tool that, when selected, lets you ‘paint’ in notes much like you’d splatter drops of paint on a canvas. This could easily result in chaos except for the tool’s ability to constrain notes by scale. You can, for example, brush in just those notes that make up a C minor blues scale. You can then select a group of notes, define them as a brush pattern and then brush in that same pattern elsewhere. This can be an easy way to create rudimentary harmonies when brushing over a group you’ve already created – say by starting the second brushed pattern from a note a third above the original. Then just edit out or adjust the pitches that don’t harmonise well.
Making it Mello(tron)
The latest Logic isn’t entirely about drums and beats. For those from the Old School (or who simply want to emulate it) there are the new Mellotron instruments. Popular in the late ’60s and early ’70s (Paul McCartney opened ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ with a Mellotron part), this was a keyboard instrument that played short tape loops of flutes, strings, brass instruments and voices. It’s a distinctive (and, for some of us, familiar) sound that’s now part of Logic Pro X. With this instrument you can blend two different Mellotron sounds – Boys Choir and Flute, for example.
There are over 200 new synth instrument sounds in this release as well. Many of them use MIDI plug-ins and track stacks to create rich (and sometimes rhythmic) sounds. You’ll find them largely within the Synthesizer and Arpeggiator groups.
And then there are the ‘I wish it did…’ features that not every musician or producer absolutely requires, but make for less tedious work. For example, there’s region-based automation. You’ve always been able to automate an entire track – record a track’s volume change over time or record the motion of a modulation wheel to increase the speed of a Leslie effect to an organ part, for example. But you can now embed automation into individual regions within a track. If you move that region to a different part of your track, the embedded automation moves with it. And you can do this for multiple regions throughout a track. This doesn’t preclude you from also adding automation to the entire track, as that feature remains.
Logic Pro also includes a new Time Handles feature that affects MIDI notes. With it you can select a group of notes in the Piano Roll editor and expand or compress them to take up more or less time, respectively. You might, for example, have a percussion pattern that takes up one measure. On second thought you decide that you’d like it to run at half that speed for two measures. Rather than rerecord it, you can instead switch on Time Handles, select the notes within the pattern and then drag a handle that appears on the right border of the selection to drag it to the end of the next measure. The pattern expands and slows to half its original speed, but the relative rhythmic relationship between the notes doesn’t change. The second note will still be half the duration of the first, for example.
While it’s not something that everyone will care about, I’m personally pleased to see the new Smart Quantize feature. I’m a keyboard player and I occasionally add a flourish of notes as I play. But, like just about every other musician on earth, I sometimes like to correct my timing by quantising a part (which forces notes to a rhythmic grid so they play more in time). The problem is, if you quantise to something like a 16th note grid, 128th note flourishes are turned into unmusical blocks of notes. MIDI drummers can have the same problem with rolls and paradiddles. With Smart Quantize switched on, Logic recognises these note-rich passages and improves their timing while maintaining the intended roll or other flourish. Also, the length of notes in-between quantised notes are compressed and expanded proportionally to retain the relative legato of the phrase. In short: quantisation that feels human.
And so much more: the ability to have more than one drummer track in a project, realtime fade rendering, a redesigned compressor plug-in with Retina-ready interface, the ability to create custom plug-in menus, Command-click to un-mute or un-solo all channels and improved stability.
A worthy upgrade
The Logic Pro X 10.1 update weighs in at around 1.1GB and is completely free for existing users. If you create electronic music, this is a must-have update. And even if you’re a musician or producer less interested in electronic enhancements, it’s worth it for the many improvements and fixes that aren’t marquee features of this release.
GarageBand users who are starting to feel a little restricted with the tools that app provides will find this as good a time as any to drop the $249.99 necessary to own a copy of Logic Pro X. Thanks to the similar interface between the two apps (and the ability to hide advanced features so you don’t feel overwhelmed) you’ll feel right at home in no time. And if you’re entirely new to Logic Pro, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better bargain among existing professional digital audio workstation apps.