Logic 8's Takes functionality makes comping together several different passes of the same part quick and easy. Here's how to do it.
One of the delights of using a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is the ability to record several passes of a performance — or, as the parlance has it, takes — and choose between complete versions of these recordings, or select individual sections of different performances and edit them together into a (hopefully) seamless whole. Logic has always been able to record and compile takes, but it usually required some thought, preparation and a little lateral thinking. Logic 8 introduced a specialised Takes feature that aims to make the whole thing a lot simpler, but it does have some limitations and one or two issues, which we'll address in this article. The whole problem of recording takes and managing them takes on (ho ho) new complexity when you're dealing with multitrack recordings, such as those generated when laying down drums, so this workshop will concentrate on the best way to manage these.
It's most likely that when you're recording drums you'll be capturing multiple sources at the same time. With eight-channel interfaces being the most popular choice for this kind of work, I'll concentrate on using the Takes feature to record this number of tracks — though there is, of course, no real difference to working with less, or indeed, more tracks (for those occasional Terry Bozzio impersonations). The most common methods of working are to either play through the track and record a whole pass in one go, or do it all in sections. (The method you use often depends on the musical genre you're working in.) When I want to obtain a recording that captures the feel of a performance, I get the drummer to play through the whole track several times and capture each as a separate complete take. This allows the drummer to concentrate on the overall performance and not have to worry about jumping in at different sections.
One of the main issues you're going to have when doing multiple takes obtained from multi-input recordings is that you can easily end up with a lot of audio Regions and audio files, so it pays to be brutal in naming Takes and tracks as you go along. Sparing a few minutes in between recordings to label things and make notes will save a lot of time and grief later.
There are a few quirks in Logic 8.x's implementation of the Takes feature that you may need to be aware of. Some users have reported that after cutting and/or dragging around complete Take folders, they find that when they reload a project, all their carefully recorded audio is out of sync. I've not been able to reproduce this on any of my Logic systems, but I've seen enough reports to believe it's a real issue. The workaround is to leave your Takes folder alone and export the Comp to separate Tracks. Use these when cutting and copying to rearrange a song.
Assuming you're doing the eight-channel thing, the first thing to do is set up the required number of tracks, assign them to the relevant microphone inputs and record-arm them all. I'd also recommend you create a lot more extra tracks, as you'll probably want to drag around spare Takes and plant them temporarily on muted tracks. To make things easier, you can use a setup from a template, which can be chosen from the Main New menu, or you can save and create your own — which is especially useful if you're going to work on several songs in the same session. Next, you need to make sure that Replace mode is set to 'Off', by de-selecting the icon in the Transport bar. If you can't see the icon there, Ctrl-click or right-click on the Transport bar, select Customize Transport Bar and add the icon by clicking on the relevant tick-box.
Now record your drum pass. You'll see your eight audio tracks displayed as you record. When you've finished, if you then take the Playhead back to the start of the track and record again, you'll see that the new audio recordings don't overwrite the previous ones. Instead each track's recordings are packed inside their own Take folders (see screen at start of article). You'll also notice that a couple of arrows have appeared on the folders themselves. Clicking on the left one opens or closes the folder itself so that you can see your individual Takes packed inside (in a similar fashion to OSX's Finder folder display), while the one on the right reveals a pull-down menu that allows you to manipulate Takes in various ways (more on this later).
Takes are a neat way to manage multiple recordings, but many Logic users still want to work in the way they did under earlier versions of Logic. This was often done by recording a track or tracks, copying them to another (muted) track, recording another run-through on the original track and repeating the procedure until enough recordings had been done. It was then necessary to audition each recording in turn, by muting and unmuting the tracks and choosing the required sections. The same thing can easily be done in Logic 8, by making sure the Replace button is 'On' in the Transport. Now any recordings will erase the old ones on the track, rather than creating a Takes folder. Once you are happy with a recording, you can drag it to another track, mute it and continue recording more audio. When you have all the takes you need, you can cut them into sections, either manually, using the Marquee or Scissors tool, or automatically with Logic's Strip Silence feature (found in the Arrange page Audio menu), to generate the required Regions. (More on this at www.soundonsound.com/sos/mar08/articles/logictech_0308.htm). Once you have the takes split, you can then choose the best part of each and position these on a new playback track. If you're working by looping a section, enabling 'Create Tracks and mute in Cycle record' (found in the Recording Settings Preferences) will mean that each subsequent pass will be placed on top of the old one and then muted. You can place these passes on individual Tracks for editing using the 'New for overlapped Regions' parameter, which can be found in the Arrange page Track menu.
The Takes feature allows you to quickly select different sections of these individual performances and combine them into a continuous recording. The topmost track of each Take is always the playback track, and also features a handy display that shows how you've actually cut up your individual recordings. Let's see how this works in practice. The screen on the left shows the Takes folder that contains the bass drum recordings. In this example, the performance of the third Take is the best for the first four bass-drum hits, but the drummer has gone awry with the last four. So I've decided to select two of the drum hits from Take 1 and two from Take 2 to replace the ones in Take 3. Takes are selected by by clicking and dragging the mouse over the required section and highlighting the desired audio. These different sections will now define the recording that will play back on the topmost track. Logic swaps seamlessly between the Takes by applying a crossfade to prevent clicks, and you can define the crossfade parameters in the General section of the Audio Preferences box. If you have defined an area like this on one of the individual Takes, you can audition this same area on subsequent Takes by just clicking on them at the same temporal location. This will force Logic to highlight and play back that particular part on the new Take, making it easy to audition several versions of the same part. Apple call it 'Quickswipe'. I call it genius! You can cut, copy and drag the Take Folders around as if they were 'normal' Logic Regions or Folders, but some users have reported issues after doing this (see 'That Sync'ing Feeling' box). Once you've defined the Takes you want to keep for each of your eight tracks, you can collapse the Takes folder using the arrow on the left and add effects and automation to folder-containing tracks just as if they were single recordings. It pays to get into the habit of giving Takes useful descriptions, using the menu accessed by the right-hand arrow on each Take folder. You can delete unwanted Takes from here too. (See the middle screen on the previous page.)
When you define Takes in this fashion, Logic calls them Comps. You can create several Comps and swap between them at will, allowing you to easily audition different performances. So far, so good — but what if you need to slip a part in time or move a section of a Take to another part of the song or another track? You may feel that your drummer's snare fills were better in the second chorus than the first, so you want to copy just the snare drum to the first chorus but leave the rest of the kit recordings alone, say. As it stands, you can't do this directly using the Take folders; you need to further explore the features in the menu hidden underneath the right-hand arrow. The Flatten option creates audio Regions that represent each section of the Take you've defined, while Flatten and Merge generates a new Audio file exactly the length of the Take (see screens below). You could, of course, use this latter feature and manually cut up the Region and then drag and copy parts around, but Export to new Track is probably the best answer. This basically does the same thing as the Flatten feature, but instead of replacing the Take Folder, it creates a completely new track, allowing you to mute your original Takes and easily redo any editing if you make a mistake (see the screen on the right). Once you have done this, it's a pretty simple task to drag and copy regions around to create a new Arrangement. Packing these new tracks into a Folder using the Arrange page Region menu will allow you to cut and manipulate the groups of compiled drum recordings as if they were a single Region. You just need to be aware that drums generally don't end neatly on the beat, so you may have to contend with some crossover issues!
DAWs allow you to record an unlimited number of Takes — but does that mean that every session should contain hundreds of run-throughs? Like many things in life, a law of diminishing returns applies to a performance. If you're finding that you've done a dozen takes and still none of them have the desired feel, no matter which sections you select from each, it's probably best to call it a day, move on to something else and come back to it fresh. Having too many Takes is probably as bad as having too few, as it can lead to listening fatigue and confusion. Only you know exactly how many takes you need to capture an ideal performance, but I find that with most musicians three or four takes should be sufficient and give you all the performance options you need. Many more than that and perhaps it's a better idea to look at changing the part, or even the player!!
Apple have released another interim update, v8.0.2, for Logic — and it's a doozy. The extensive list of bug-fixes is usefully detailed at http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1086, but whether this has you punching the air with glee or sadly gazing at your shoes depends upon whether your particular bête noire is on the list. As I've just started using a Mackie Control, I was pleased to see that a couple of the irritations Logic 8 brought to the table seem to have been banished, along with a few others that occasionally had me tearing out my hair. It's not all repair work, though: there have also been some additions and improvements, such as Undo for channel strips in the mixer and various Leopard-related optimisations. Though the list of bug-fixes is extensive, even a brief glance at the Internet fora will show that not everyone's wishes have been met. Several long-term issues are still bugging users, and in one case a 'fix' has created new problems for those who were happily using the previous 'broken' version. A bug in the Tab to Transient feature enabled you to use just the transients in a snare track, for example, as a template when cutting up other grouped drum tracks. In Logic 8.0.2, the feature has been 'fixed' and it now detects transients in all of the tracks assigned to a group, making drum editing a rather more tedious task. You can't please all of the people all of the time — and Logic users are particularly hard to please!
There's no mention in the update notes of the CPU spikes outlined in July's column, but the latest Leopard update, 10.5.3, seems to have helped some Logic users. I'm often asked whether Apple properly beta-test Logic updates before they are released. Software is particularly hard to debug; you need to have a significant number of 'power' users spread across a range of setups who have the time to submit detailed reports on any bugs or user-related issues they come across. The problem is is that these users are usually the ones who don't have the time to submit that type of report! Realistically, bugs in software are a fact of life and it may be better for your mental well-being to accept this. Most of Logic's quirks can be worked around, and they haven't stopped thousands of people from making music with the program. I sometimes wonder what delights might be produced if people expended more of their energy and time on creating music rather than complaining about Logic on Internet fora!