I use Logic Pro and have done for a while. I think it’s great and I’m constantly learning new ways of doing things quicker and better. Cubase, Ableton, Digital Performer etc. users will no doubt feel the same and these are all excellent platforms. However social media and various forums suggest to me that many folk are only using a small fraction of their DAWs capability. Worse than that they’re unaware that their musical lives would run far more smoothly if they knew a bit more about what these complex tools can do. It’s hard enough writing and realising music, particularly when there’s a client breathing down your neck. In this regard your DAW must absolutely be a help not a hindrance.
I’ve always been someone who wasn’t afraid to ‘RTFM’ and David Nahmani’s excellent Logic training guide really kick started my ability to use Logic creatively and confidently when I started out using it. There are some excellent web resources too, MusicTechHelpGuy comes to mind. Logic is particularly guilty to having many functions only available through shortcuts and the several hours I spent learning and documenting those shortcuts has saved me so much time and heartache. The lists I created are still taped to the sides of my main monitor should I need a memory jog. This post, however, looks at a few ideas to help with mixes and track treatments that might not at first seem that obvious. I use Logic for my examples because that’s what I know but all good DAWs will have something similar.
Like many who rely on their DAWs I have invested in a variety of plugins but I still use Logic’s own built-in plugins, in fact I use them a hell of a lot, because they are good and they tend not to hit the CPU too badly. Logic’s Overdrive plugin is a case in point. It lives with the other in-built distortion plugins and an unholy row you can easily get out of it. However, turned right down, even to .5% or .25% it will impart a rather pleasant, almost analog, lift to the sound. I use in on synth lines and pads, but I’ll even use it on sampled strings or percussion if they need a bit of a lift in the mix. Similarly Logic’s tape delay can be used to good effect. This is an unfussy, not particularly sophisticated, delay with tape emulation. Remove, or radically reduce, the delay part and you’ve got just the tape emulation, and it sounds ok.
I find Logic’s equalisers good, solid tools; versatile, easy to use and they don’t colour things up too much if used sensibly. They work really well in a mid/sides arrangement, usually with the Linear Phase EQ. In my output channel or when mastering I’ll have one instance set to mid, so that will only address the centre part of the stereo image. I’ll usually roll off the subs, so anything below 25-30 Hz and then shave a bit of the high above 7 or 8 kHz. Next in the chain I’ll have another instance set to sides, again rolling off the bass, perhaps adjusting the mids (usually that’s a mild cut) and perhaps a gentle lift in the high end. This generally works well to control the focus in the centre whilst providing a good, clear stereo spread. Note: I am not a massive fan of Logic’s in-built stereo imager.
The other thing I’m becoming more a fan of is effects on effects. For example pitch shifting on a very dense reverb gives a good shimmer approximation. A slow rate sync-ed low pass filter on the output of a ping pong delay can really add an extra something. A reverse delay applied to a forward delay can really mess things around. Tremolo applied to a long reverb won’t work in all applications but sometimes it fits the bill. Depending on what effect I’m after I’ll have these in line or on a separate send. You are limited only by your imagination and CPU power of course.
Logic’s own Sample Delay allows you to take a mono source and turn it into pseudo stereo one by splitting and then fractionally (or not so fractionally depending on taste) delaying one or both resultant channels. It doesn’t work on everything but it can be effective on mono sources that need a little air and a bit more presence.
I’m a hardened user of hardware synths, some of which are a bit old and a bit cranky. When incorporating into my DAW projects they usually come through my main sound interface or through my Elektron Analog Keys which effectively has its own sound interface. Note: I love my Analog Keys, I use it whenever I can get away with it. However I don’t use the standard external midi track because I can’t then use any of Logic’s own midi processors, the arpeggiator and the like. I head off the Utility folder in software instruments and choose a mono instance of external instrument and hey presto all the Logic midi processors are available. So for example my elderly Roland Alpha Juno 2, which has no in-built arpeggiator, can be arpeggiating away like a crazed thing courtesy of the one built into Logic.
The above are a few random examples of how the realise the power of the DAW. Getting the basics learnt first of course is the way to go.