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Mixing Live Recordings In Logic

Logic Tips & Techniques
By Paul White

Mixing Live Recordings In Logic

Mixing live band recordings within Logic presents a unique set of challenges, so we show you how to get great results with the minimum hassle.

Whenever I record live gigs of any complexity, I try to use my Alesis HD24 hard disk recorder, then transfer the files into Logic for editing and mixing. This is simply a personal preference, as hardware always feels more solid at the crucial recording stage, where you simply can't afford to have an 'Unexpectedly Quit' incident during a one-off performance. Invariably this means having long files to deal with, and if you're importing these via Firewire rather than playing them across in real time, there's no simple way to shorten the files prior to import. However, if you can stop and start the recorder between songs and switch to a new song file, it can help break the performance up into more manageable chunks — it all depends on how much time you get between songs.

As you may have already noticed, Logic imposes a limit on the length of each Song file, expressed in terms of bars and beats, so if your files won't fit, your only recourse is to reduce Logic 's tempo until they do — this doesn't affect the way the audio plays back, of course. If you're going to adjust the tempo after importing, that does mean that all your files need to be continuous and to start at the same time — which is the case when importing from an HD24 via Fireport. If they're not, set your tempo first and check that the Song end point is at a time greater than the length of the audio you're about to import — then leave the tempo alone.

Recording Gigs Into Logic

Should you decide to record entirely within Logic, which is perfectly practical given a large enough audio interface, it is important to set the tempo low enough that the whole set will fit, so that the recording won't grind to a halt prematurely. However, it is equally important not to set the tempo any lower than it needs to be, otherwise page scrolling may not be as smooth as you'd like, given that scrolling takes place after whole bars, and if half a verse of music fits into a single low-tempo Logic bar, navigation is going to be rather coarse.

If a player switches instrument partway through a track — for example here the flute player switches to tambourine — it's worth keeping the two sections of audio on separate tracks, feeding separate Audio objects, so that you can process them independently.If a player switches instrument partway through a track — for example here the flute player switches to tambourine — it's worth keeping the two sections of audio on separate tracks, feeding separate Audio objects, so that you can process them independently.Editing files of up to an hour in length is clearly very cumbersome, so my first task is usually to cut the raw recording into song-length chunks, saving each chunk as a new Logic Song and setting suitable start and end bar locations. It is important that you do cut up the file, rather than simply dialling in the required start and end points, as Logic will otherwise save the entire length of the audio file for each project, even though you're only using a small part of it. If you wish to retain the live feel, it's also important to retain the audience ambience and (hopefully) applause between songs. It's generally easy to crossfade audience ambience if you need to shorten the gaps.

Ideally, everything will always be on the same track for every song, but this isn't always the case. For example, the same track may have an acoustic guitar on one song and a flute on another if the player switched instruments, so the simplest way to proceed is to create a track layout that can be used for all the songs, with just one instrument per track. You can then drag the files between tracks if they don't line up when you first import them. This invariably means some tracks will be empty, but it doesn't matter as long as the same instrument is on the same track all the way through the mixing project.

Mix Processing

Hopefully, most of the Songs will require similar treatments, so my usual strategy is to first set up a mix in just one Song as best I can, with all the necessary plug-ins in place. If additional overall plug-ins, such as a limiter, are needed on the main stereo mix, I add those here too. I usually have a couple of reverb sends, plus compression and EQ for those instrument and voice tracks that need it. In the case of DI'd acoustic guitar and similar instruments I have occasionally had the player come into the studio to record a short sample of the instrument using a microphone, so that I can use the Match EQ plug-in to make the DI'd sound closer to the miked sound.

Where sounds have become indistinct through compromised miking, the Exciter plug-in can add a useful amount of definition, but you need to use it sparingly to avoid harshness. Rolling off unnecessary low end using an 18dB/octave low-cut filter may also be beneficial in improving separation. If you have a TC Electronic Powercore system, the included Character plug-in can also be very useful in adding focus and definition to instruments in a rather more wide-ranging way that can simple high-end enhancement.

The Character plug-in available for TC Electronic Powercore is very useful at the mixdown stage for improving the overall definition of individual instruments.The Character plug-in available for TC Electronic Powercore is very useful at the mixdown stage for improving the overall definition of individual instruments.

Gates are rarely of much use in mixing the miked portions of live recordings given the amount of spill that tends to occur, but there are still some useful plug-ins that can help clean things up. For example, hums and lighting buzzes can be much improved by tuning a series of very narrow parametric cut filters to multiples of the fundamental hum frequency (50Hz or 60Hz depending on your location). Automating high-cut filters can also be a useful way of cleaning up decaying notes before pauses, as most acoustic instrument sounds naturally lose high end more quickly than low end as the notes decay. By getting the filter frequency to fall to, say, 700Hz over the duration of the final note, you'll lose any high-frequency noise or spill, but without compromising the natural sound of the instrument.

There are some exceptional situations where gates can come in useful, typically for loud close-miked sounds that don't suffer from much spill. Electric guitars and basses are good cases in point, because, although spill is rarely an issue, amplifier noise can be obtrusive and responds well to gating, though the sound will be more natural if you set the gate to attenuate by a few decibels rather than shutting off the signal altogether.

Gates tend to be less suitable where delay and reverb effects are being used, and even extending the gate's release time is unlikely to be entirely successful, as the gate is bound to compromise the effect tail to some extent. You can always add a little more reverb when you mix to help disguise the effect of gating, but there's little you can do about delay, so using denoising software is probably a better solution. At the time of writing, Logic doesn't have an effective denoiser, but there are several third-party options available, most of which work from a noise-only fingerprint. Alternatively, if you have any say in the way the gig's set up, you can suggest that the guitar player use a gate before his delay and reverb effects, as this tends to sound far more natural than trying to gate afterwards.

Copying Mix Settings & Automating

Once you've gone to all the trouble of setting up everything for the first Song, you have the option of saving a copy of that Song as a template for later use. However, rather than importing all the audio files from the individual Song folders into an empty version of your template, you can simply go to the Audio Configuration page, Select All, Copy, then Paste the configuration into the Audio Configuration page of the next Song. What this does is copy over all the plug-ins and settings just as they were in the first Song, which saves a lot of messing around. This is why I feel it is so important to keep all the instruments on the same tracks throughout — this way you can be sure that the plug-ins you copy over will be applied to the correct tracks without any further juggling on your behalf.

The Audio Configuration window shows all the audio objects available to your current Song. One extremely useful feature of this window is that you can copy and paste entire audio setups between different Songs — an invaluable time-saving measure if you're working on a number of Songs with the same instrumentation.The Audio Configuration window shows all the audio objects available to your current Song. One extremely useful feature of this window is that you can copy and paste entire audio setups between different Songs — an invaluable time-saving measure if you're working on a number of Songs with the same instrumentation.

One thing you can't set up for all your Songs, however, is automation, but level automation is a huge help when mixing live material, as it allows you to turn down tracks when they're not in use, or tweak the levels of odd notes that are too loud or too quiet. It also helps you ensure that each track starts cleanly and ends smoothly. Of course audience ambience will also be affected on those tracks you need to automate, which is why it helps to have separate audience mics. Where this isn't possible, you can often copy and paste audience noise from other locations in the recording and then layer it over the song transitions in a natural way so as to disguise any underlying ambience fluctuations caused by level automation.

Finishing Off

Once you've got the tracks as clean as possible, the mixdown stage is really no different to that of any other project, though it is sometimes necessary to cheat a little with live recordings to get them to sound tighter and better than they were originally played. Endings are particularly important, and I've often had to cut and slide the last drum hit or bass note of a song to get it to line up with the other instruments. How far you go with this is up to you and the artists involved.

As you've probably gathered, the secret to hassle-free mixing of live material comes in establishing a system that avoids you having to do the same thing many times. Copying configurations to carry over plug-in allocations and settings is extremely useful, as is setting up a default Song with consistent track allocations and suitable send effects already configured. Inevitably some treatments will have to be devised on a Song-by-Song basis, but you'll be surprised how much stays the same once you have the plug-ins set up for the first Song. 

Logic News

Apple have released a free Logic 7.1.1 update, which addresses a variety of long-standing complaints from Logic users. OMF2 is now supported, which will please many Pro Tools users, and the annoying limit of 25 minutes per audio file when exporting XML has been removed. A widely reported problem was that a CD burned directly from Logic would, in some circumstances, end up full of static noise. Although my record collection contains a few albums that sound like this intentionally, for most users it's been an annoying problem which I can confirm is now fixed. The TDM usage meter (which was broken in Tiger) now works again, and DAE users can also, finally, bounce files in WAV format. Global tracks were a really neat addition to Logic 7, and it's nice to see that the Global Tempo track now properly displays time-signatures other than four/four. This will be welcomed by those of us who revel in using odd time-signatures, as will the fact that Apple Loops now work with compound times.

The update also contains several plug-in bug-fixes, and Ultrabeat and Sculpture parameters now display correctly in the automation pull-down menu. There's a personal 'hurrah' from me, as Apple have fixed the automation feature whereby you can highlight an area on a track while holding down the Shift, Alt, and Apple keys to create four automation nodes — in earlier versions only three nodes were created. Last, but not least, some of you may be relieved to know that EXS24 now supports more than 32767 sampler instruments... Both Logic Pro and Logic Express have been updated, and more details can be found at www.apple.com/support/downloads.

A week or so before the Logic update, Apple also released a welcome bug-fix for Waveburner. One of the biggest problems for me was the handling of plug-in presets, and this now seems to have been fixed. I'm getting fewer coasters too, but I still don't feel confident enough to send out a Waveburner CD-R without a good critical listening first. Unfortunately, one of the features that wasn't added to Waveburner v1.1.1 is plug-in delay compensation, which means that the Song Position Line is still out of sync with the audio playback and waveform display. Stephen Bennett

Published December 2005