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Do all the recording features we have now *really* make better recordings? Discuss...

Tue Dec 15, 2020 1:44 pm

I've been writing and recording for over 35 years, with the first 10 years or so of recordings done on a Fostex X26 four track portastudio with TDK AD90 cassettes. The songs were recorded using a Squier Jazz bass, an ancient Ibanez guitar, a few Boss effects pedals, a Casio keyboard and a Boss DR220A drum machine. The four music tracks were mixed to a stereo master on a second AD90 cassette in an external stereo cassette recorder. That was then put in the Fostex to add two tracks of vocals and mixed to a third, final master cassette. Mixing and monitoring was done on a £15 set of open-backed headphones. No mastering with multiband compressors, limiters, sidechaining or any of that stuff. Just two bands of EQ on the Fostex and job done.

I started using Logic in 1996 but, for various life-related reasons, I've gone from being fairly prolific to having not recorded anything for two years. So when I was setting a new Logic system up last week, to get back into it I took all my old four track cassettes and recorded them into Logic, with the idea of remastering them for a bit of fun.

What really struck me was, listening to them through a decent pair of monitors for the first time, how good those old recordings actually were. The sound quality is far better than I expected and the sounds themselves - even with what many would now think of as very primitive equipment - were spot on for the songs. Even the quality of the final stereo mixes was much better than I thought it would be.

Which got me thinking... with the phenomenal power that hobby recordists have at our fingertips now... with Logic, virtual instruments, plug-ins and all the rest of it... do we actually have too much choice? And, if we're really honest with ourselves, is that choice becoming a distraction from the true creativity of recording?

For example, are we adding processing at the mastering stage because the recording really needs it, or because we think "it's what the pros do" and so we think we should?

Are we using 50 tracks and 125 plug-ins on a song because it's really necessary? Or just because we can? Do we waste an hour of our lives scrolling through the sounds on a virtual vintage synth trying to find that sound because the song would really be that dreadful with a different one?

I've done all these and I'm interested in what others think about it?

The last project I did in Logic (before the two year break) used a huge number of tracks, groups and busses for days, and it took me months to mix and master. Having had this experience with transferring those old Fostex four track recordings, my next Logic projects are going to be far simpler. And I strongly suspect the end result won't be any 'worse' than the previous, gargantuan one!

Using Logic since Version 2 in 1996.
Posts: 1098
Joined: Thu Nov 05, 2015 3:42 pm
Location: Just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA.

Re: Do all the recording features we have now *really* make better recordings? Discuss...

Wed Dec 16, 2020 9:13 am

I'm certainly no pro, but I used Logic for several years on a computer that really wasn't powerful enough to handle the more-modern versions. (Only two cores, etc.)

So – I became very familiar with freezing and bouncing. And that meant that I was working with pure-audio tracks. Also that I had to pre-plan the steps so ... like "the lineman for the county," I wasn't "lookin' at the key-board for an-o-ther ov-er-load." :) Even today I find myself still doing that. Maybe the key word is: "pre-plan."

When you "simply toss in a bunch of library patches," you might never think to look at the Mixer panel to see what Logic actually did to add that patch. They're all designed to be easy to independently add and remove, and of course to make each one of them sound good by themselves. But the mixer layout can become a tangled and redundant mess, with many filters and things that might not add any measurable-to-your-ear difference to the sound. Once you've finalized the set of instruments and such that you intend to use, you can simplify the signal paths and thereby recover a lot of computer resources. (Even if you have them to spare.) You can also make your sound "sound a bit more 'together.'"

("Reverse engineering" any Library patch is also a great exercise! You can see exactly how each trick was done.)

Logic, like the now-grown-up GarageBand, is designed to be impressive and easy. But there's a depth to it that's worth seriously exploring, even though modern versions of the software don't require you to encounter them.
Mike Robinson
"I wanna quit being a computer consultant and become a composer and arranger at age fifty-nevermind."
Logic Pro X, MacBook Pro, 88-key MIDI controller.
Just south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA