Create, recall and control complex effects chains and routings with Logic’s Smart Controls and Track Stacks.
In November’s Logic workshop we looked at using Track Stacks to create complex and layered instruments with a simplified user interface. This month, we follow up that article by looking at how you can use Track Stacks with audio tracks to create complex effects chains with multiple parallel paths. We’ll then look at how to assign key parameters from those chains to Smart Controls so that you can quickly try out different effect combinations.
Let’s begin by applying the technique to a vocal track. Create a new Logic project with a single audio track and add a lead vocal recording to it. Let’s now create a simple vocal chain. Go the Lead Vocal channel strip and add the following insert effects: Channel EQ, DeEsser, Compressor, Compressor, Channel EQ, Space Designer, Space Designer. The reason for having two compressors and two reverbs is to give us different sonic options. Open the Smart Control panel and press the ‘i’ to reveal the Inspector. From the top of the Inspector choose the General Audio 8 Smart Control layout. For more on assigning Smart Controls, see November 2017’s Logic workshop.
Now configure the individual plug-ins and Smart Controls as follows:
- In the first Channel EQ plug-in turn the Low Cut filter on and assign the Low Cut Frequency to Smart Control knob 1. In the Inspector set the Range Min to 80Hz and the Max to 500Hz so the Low Cut has a sensible range for processing a vocal. Label the knob ‘Low Cut Frequency’, if it is not already so.
- In the DeEsser load the Female Voice Strong DeEsser preset and assign the Strength parameter to Smart Control knob 2. Label the knob ‘DeEsser’.
- In the first Compressor, load the FET Vocal 01 preset and assign the Input/Output Mix parameter to Smart Control knob 3. This compressor will be used for parallel compression. Set an appropriate Threshold value, then label the knob ‘Para Compression’.
- In the second Compressor load the FET Vocal 01 but this time map the Ratio parameter to Smart Control knob 4. Set the same Threshold value as in the previous Compressor plug-in. This will be used for regular compression duties so label the knob ‘Compression’.
- In the second Channel EQ plug-in set the Low Shelf Frequency to 250Hz and assign the Gain to knob 5. Set the Range Min for the control to 0 so it can only apply a boost then Label the knob ‘Add Body’.
- In the second Channel EQ plug-in set the High Shelf Frequency to 2.5kHz and map the Gain to knob 6. Set the Range Min for the control to 0 and label it ‘Presence’.
- In the first Space Designer load the Small Spaces / Rooms / ‘1.0s Live Stage’ preset. Assign the Reverb Output to knob 7 and label it ‘Ambience’.
- In the second Space Designer load the Medium Spaces / Plate Reverbs / ‘1.7s Blue Plate’ preset. Assign the Reverb Output to knob 8 and label it ‘Plate’.
Now try out your Smart Control layout. Once you have tweaked the effects chain to taste, go to the Channel Strip drop-down menu and choose ‘Save Channel Strip Setting as...’ so that you can easily recall your vocal chain in any future projects (see Screen 1, above).
Now let’s move on to a more complicated vocal processing example that makes use of Track Stacks. The beauty of Track Stacks is that within them you can configure an audio track along with a series of effects chains on different buses as parallel processing paths. This can then be saved as a patch to be recalled in any session.
Start with a new project with a single audio track named Lead Vocal. Next, Ctrl-Click on the audio track and from the drop-down menu choose Create Track Stack. From the pop-up menu choose the Summing Stack option and name it Vocal Sum. Next, let’s add two parallel processing chains so that we can compress or distort the vocal. This will give us the freedom to blend in any amount of these effects with the original vocal track. From the Lead Vocals channel strip create two busses and set them as pre-fader sends. Set the send amount of each bus to 0.0dB. In the Mixer select the two buses, then Ctrl-Click on them and choose the Create Track option. The buses should now be inside the Track Stack on the Arrange page. If not, simply drag and drop them into the Track Stack. Label the first bus Parallel Comp and the second bus Parallel Drive.
On the Parallel Comp let’s set up a unique compression tone that focuses on lifting the body of the vocal. To do this, add a Channel EQ plug-in to the Parallel Comp track with a low-cut filter set to roll off everything under 100Hz. — we don’t want any low-frequency noise triggering compression. Then add a Noise Gate and, using the Backing Vocal Gate preset as a starting point, set it to remove all of the breaths and subtle noises of the vocal track. Now remove all of the sibilant parts of the vocal by adding Logic’s DeEsser. Use the Female Voice Strong DeEsser preset as a starting point and set the Strength to its maximum value. Lastly, add an instance of Logic’s Compressor plug-in and set it to the preset ‘FET Vocal 01’. Tweak the Threshold and Ratio so that it applies heavy compression. Now use the volume slider of the Parallel Comp track to blend it in with your original vocal.
Let’s now set up our Parallel Distortion chain to focus on distorting the mid-range of the vocal to reinforce that area. First, name the track, then add a Channel EQ plug-in with a low-cut filter set to gently roll off the bottom end from 530Hz. Next add an instance of Logic’s Overdrive plug-in and set the Drive between 6-12dB so that it applies a subtle amount of distortion. You can experiment with adding more distortion by turning up the Drive parameter or by simply duplicating the Overdrive plug-in.
Now that we have created our parallel busses to thicken our vocal, let’s move on to how we might incorporate normal vocal send effects into a Track Stack. Go to the Lead Vocal channel strip, create three more busses (leaving them as normal post-fader sends) and use the Create Track function to add them into the Track Stack. Label the busses Stereo Widener, Chorus and Reverb. On the respective buses add your favourite stereo widener, chorus and reverb plug-in chains. To finish off the effects layout put an EQ and Compressor on the Vocal Sum Track.
Now we can turn our focus to designing how we will interact with our effects using Smart Controls. One of the great features about Track Stacks is that you can configure the Smart Controls to control any automation parameter from any track within the stack. Select the Vocal Sum track, open the Smart Control area and once again choose the General Audio 8 Smart Control layout. Set the knobs up as follows :
- Assign knob 1 to the Parallel Comp / Volume parameter and label the knob ‘Compression’.
- Assign knob 2 to Parallel Drive / Volume and label the knob ‘Distortion’.
- Assign knobs 3, 4 and 8 to Lead Vocal / Chorus Send, Lead Vocal / Stereo Width Send, and Lead Vocal / Reverb Send. Label the knobs ‘Chorus’, ‘Stereo Width’ and ‘Reverb’, respectively.
- Repeat the steps from the first example to create Body and Presence bands in the Channel EQ on the Vocal Sum track. Assign band gains to knobs 5 and 6.
- Lastly, to knob 7, assign the Vocal Sum Compressor ratio parameter and label this ‘Bus Comp’.
To save this entire Track Stack with all of its effects and Smart Control assignments go to the Media Browser and from the bottom right-hand corner click the Save button. In a new session, when you want to recall this Track Stack, be careful to go to the User Patches section rather than User Channel Strip Settings; you should find your preset in there. It is absolutely awesome to be able to recall such complex chains of processing with a single click. The examples above are just a jumping off point, so get stuck in and have fun designing your own world of parallel and series processing chains!