A professional producer and mixer passes on his favourite Logic mixing methods, starting this month at the bottom, with tips for bass and drums.
One of the dilemmas faced by an engineer coming from a background in analogue mixing is how to translate that skill, which we often use without thinking on a console, into software. Using a mouse, or even a control surface, to perform a task in software is often counter‑intuitive when compared to doing the same job with a piece of dedicated hardware, and there is an ongoing debate between the 'in the box' and the 'outside the box' brigades as to which method sounds best and provides the quickest workflow. What this new way of working requires is a new way of thinking, a way of embracing rather than fighting the technology, but I have found that my background in analogue mixing has helped rather than hindered my mixing in software.
Logic Pro has evolved to a point at which it is now easy to translate most of the techniques used every day in conventional analogue mixing to the software, and the advantages, when working on several songs at once and being able to recall tracks instantly, have made mixing in software more time efficient. There are a few mixing techniques I've managed to make work very well in Logic that employ exactly the same method as in the hardware domain. There are also many I can now perform that would be impossible on a conventional console.
Before we start dealing specifically with mixing, we need to make sure a few important settings have been made. Plug‑in Delay Compensation (Preferences/ Audio/ General tab) should be set to 'All'. I also make sure that Track Mute/Solo is set to 'Fast', to prevent track status buttons acting independently of channel‑strip mute or solo buttons. In the mixer page, we should have the view set to 'Arrange', so that any track selection made in the Arrange page is reflected in the mixer. Because of the flexibility of Logic's adaptive mixer, we might also think about using Screensets to separately display just audio tracks, software instruments, aux tracks and/or outputs. This prevents the screen from becoming too cluttered: it's worth bearing in mind that an over‑complicated screen makes the job of mixing much harder! Screensets are accessed by simply selecting any number between 1 and 99 and customising what is displayed on the screen. (By holding down the Control key on the first digit, you can access numbers 10-99.) You don't need to save Screensets, as this happens automatically. It is, however, possible to lock your current work view simply by pressing Shift‑L or clicking on Lock Screenset in the global Screenset menu. To unlock, we merely toggle the command. It is important to lock Screensets, as shown in the screen above, so that settings aren't lost when we alter what is being displayed.
The use of Groups when mixing is also essential. Groups are created in the mixer page by clicking on the window just above the automation status button. By lassoing or shift‑selecting any number of tracks, you can automatically assign them to any one of 32 groups, and opening the Group Settings menu allows you to alter which parameters will affect the group. When mixing, I like to set up the group to control volume, mute, automation and sends, and usually link region selection and editing. The final point worth noting is that you can suspend the 'Group Clutch' by pressing Shift‑G if you need to alter a parameter on one track within the group.
Folders are another good way of keeping your mixer view simpler. The Pack Folder command is found in the local Region menu. By Shift‑selecting or highlighting with the mouse a number of regions and packing them into a folder, you can create a much simpler visual display of parts you want to isolate. If, for example, you place all your backing vocals in a folder, when you double‑click it only the backing vocals displayed in the Arrange page will be shown, providing you have checked the Arrange View tab in the Mixer page (see screens, left).
The final preparation I like to make is customising my I/O setup in the mixer page. Go Options/IO Labels and you can change the generic labels to those provided by the driver, or create your own.
In this two‑part feature, we'll work our way through some of the scenarios that confront us during mixing, and answer questions related to achieving a finished track. This month I'll concentrate on drums and bass, as they form such an integral part of any mix, moving on to EQ, de‑essing, phase cancellation, and more, next month.
My kick drum has loads of click, but no deep low end
As well as hearing a kick drum, we also want to feel it! I still use Yamaha NS10 monitors for mixing, as well as KRK V8s. I want to get the sensation of moving air with the NS10s and see the cones moving when I add bottom end. I could try just adding 40‑60Hz with EQ, but I've found that it's far more flexible to copy the kick track with the Test Oscillator plug‑in and a Noise Gate inserted and simply trigger the gate via a side‑chain input from the original kick. The Test Oscillator plug-in can be set to a suitable frequency (30‑50Hz works well for this job) and mixed with the original kick sound. The ability to fine‑tune the frequency of the tone signal, possibly even to the key of the song, and to control the sound's envelope with the gate is extremely useful. Just follow the steps below.
- Copy your kick to a new track. This is easily done in Logic 8 by simply selecting Duplicate Track from the local track menu and then option‑dragging the kick part to the new track.
- Insert Test Oscillator from the Utility menu, followed by Noise Gate from the Dynamics menu, on your new track.
- Change the frequency of Test Oscillator to 50Hz (or to taste) and set up Noise Gate with your original kick-drum sound selected as the side‑chain. This will open the gate only when the kick plays.
- You may have to tweak the EQ in the side‑chain (ie. the high‑cut and low‑cut filters) so that the gate only responds to a narrow frequency range, thus preventing unwanted triggers.
My bass has plenty of bottom end, but certain notes seem to disappear or are much quieter than others.
As well as limiting the bass to control level fluctuations, I find that re‑amping the bass in some way tends to reinforce note definition. The low and high end from the DI'd signal are complemented by the mid‑range of re‑amped sound. We don't literally have to use an amplifier (although this is preferable) but instead copy the audio track and treat the DI and 're‑amp' signals separately. Logic's Bass Amp Pro is extremely good for adding the mid‑range, and even more versatility can be attained using Guitar Amp Pro instead. Try the following:
- Follow the first step in the kick-drum example above, but this time duplicate the bass track.
- Insert Bass Amp or Guitar Amp Pro (Amp Modelling menu) on the new track.
- Adjust the plug‑in setting so that it brings out the mid‑range and then fine‑tune the sound with Logic's EQ. I find sometimes that just using a high‑ and/or low‑pass filter is enough to take out the unwanted frequencies.
- Blend the two tracks together, paying particular attention to the phase of the two when they are played together.
My bass and kick sound great when solo'ed but lose punch and definition when combined.
Try ducking the bass slightly when the kick sounds, by side‑chaining a compressor placed on the bass track and triggering it from the kick. This creates some extra space for the kick drum and also gives the bass more punch. The same technique can also be used to good effect on a whole mix. You could try experimenting with different patterns on the side‑chain trigger. (The Eric Prydz track 'Call on Me', in which an offbeat trigger pattern is used to give the impression of pumping, illustrates this idea perfectly.)
- Insert a compressor on the bass track (this can be any compressor as long as it has a side‑chain input. I really like the URS 1970 plug‑in for this!)
- In the top right‑hand corner of the plug‑in window, select the track with the kick as the side‑chain source
- Adjust the threshold of the compressor so that the kick gently increases the gain reduction. You may also want to play around with the threshold setting for more extreme effects.
- If the plug‑in has suitable parameters (namely, filtering), adjusting the EQ of the side‑chain can sometimes help to fine‑tune the trigger source for the compressor.
Achieving a good balance between bass and drums (especially bass and kick) is perhaps the most difficult task faced by the mix engineer, which is why we often spend the greatest amount of time trying to get it right. A mix will often stand or fall on the strength of the relationship between these two elements, and if the relationship works, it really helps the song to sound big and punchy. As I hope you've seen from this first article, Logic's ability to cope with the most demanding bass and drum tasks is in no way compromised by the fact that it's working 'in the box'. There are obviously other techniques we could use, but I consider the ones I've outlined here to be the most important in achieving a solid and defined bottom end.
Next month we'll look at further mix scenarios, but in the meantime I'll leave you with a Benny Faccone quote about building a mix, taken from Bob Owsinski's excellent book, The Mixing Engineer's Handbook. "It really is like building a house. You've got to get the foundation of bass and drums right or all of the other elements will come tumbling down.”
Gary Bromham's long career in production and songwriting covers artists as diverse as George Michael, Sheryl Crow and Dannii Minogue, and he has collaborated with top songwriter Pam Sheyne on projects for artists including Delta Goodrem. An Apple Distinguished Professional, he is also a guest lecturer at several British universities.
Automation in Logic has come on in leaps and bounds since the introduction of Logic Pro 8. On-line and off-line methods are equally versatile at achieving good results, and the use of the marquee tool for automation has gone some way towards silencing the Pro Tools users! It is very easy to just drag over a section with the marquee tool and automatically create automation nodes in order to simply change a parameter. It is equally easy to select a region from Options/Track Automation, insert four nodes and turn the selected parameter for the region up or down.
I want to copy all the automation data from one chorus to another.
Copying automation data from one track to another is as simple as shift‑dragging a loop around a collection of nodes, copying them and pasting them to a new destination, as shown in the screen to the right. Here I've copied the delay feedback on a selected line from verse one to verse two.
I have 10 tracks of drums and want to automate them all but then fine‑tune only the overheads in the bridge.
To automate drums, I group them, go to Group Settings and make sure I have 'Automation Mode' ticked. Then when I move the level on the channel‑strip fader or adjust a parameter, this will change all the tracks contained in the group. To individually adjust the level of, say, the overheads, I merely turn off Group Clutch, by pressing Command‑G, make the alteration and switch the group back on again.
I need to automate my aux returns
Automating aux returns is made easier if you view the channels in the Arrange area and make adjustments from there. To do this, you need to first open the mixer. Now highlight the aux channel and choose 'Create Arrange tracks for selected channel strips' from the Local Options menu. You can now see the aux channel in the Arrange page and adjust the volume automation in the same way that you would any other track.
I'm happy with the level automation changes I have on a track but want to adjust the overall level a bit.
Just Command‑click in the meter bar to the right of the track display and literally drag the yellow bar up or down.