For today’s production tip I want to talk to you guys a bit about how to manage a big session in Logic and some techniques I personally have found very helpful regarding signal flow and routing. Although I use Logic, this is really applicable to just about any DAW that has busses and flexible routing.
One thing that you’ll find as you progress in your production, and you’ve probably had this happen already, is that your sessions in your DAW become increasingly complex. More advanced productions that use things like parallel compression, parallel processing, vocal production, and so on, will complicate your projects. One of the necessary skills for being a really great producer is being comfortable in a complex project, and really having a good grasp of signal flow and some basic good practices. Since I plan to cover some of those topics like parallel compression soon, I figure this is a good place to start with some basics.
Click here to download a screenshot of my basic template setup in Logic so you can see what I’m talking about.
The first thing you’ll see to the right of the basic audio/instrument tracks are some effect busses - 3 delays, and 3 reverbs. In my experience I find this to be a good starting point for just about any project. Generally you’ll find that something in your project will need a long delay, other elements will do better with a shorter delay, and sometimes you’d like to use a mono-compatible delay. The same goes for reverbs - I typically use one short, medium, and long, for various elements in the mix. These are of course just starting points, and a lot of times I’ll change things up during a project, but I just find it helpful to have this all sorted out from the get go.
A very important thing you should make note of- notice how there is a high pass EQ (logic’s built in EQ is fine for this job) on all effect return channels. This is really important!! Reverbs and delays do not need low end frequencies to benefit a mix, and in fact, delays and reverbs in the low frequencies will really cloud up your bass and drum mix. I typically cut the low end of all these effects below 200hz or so, sometimes adjusting that number just based on sound.
Next you’ll see 4 channels dedicated to parallel processing. Since I end up doing parallel processing of some sort in every session, again I just find it useful to get this out of the way with my template.
Moving along to the right, you can see that then I have three busses dedicated to drums - one for kicks, one for snares/claps, and one for loops, hihats, percussion, etc. I find this to be extremely important as you typically have to layer multiple sounds (for example, layering several snare samples) to get a really snappy, big sound thats appropriate for a good production. The problem with using multiple samples without routing them to a bus is that they tend to lack some cohesion. By routing all of your snares, for example, to a common bus, you can eq and compress them together a bit before sending them to your drum bus, and it will make for a better final mix. This also gives you more freedom to apply effects to certain parts of your drums - like a stereo spreader to hi hats or snares - which would not be appropriate for a full drum mix, as stereo effects will mess up your low end and kick.
The same applies to bass. Notice how I have two bass busses- one for low bass, like sub bass, and one for high bass sounds. Again, by routing my high bass sounds to a separate buss, I can do a lot of extra processing and stereo trickery that is not good for a full bass mix. For those of you interested in producing electro house, this is really important, as your typical electro bass is made up of a couple of layers, typically one low that really carries the weight of the sound, and some high layers that have lots of effects and processing applied.
From there, you can see that I separate the entire project into stems - these are labeled with the dash in front and behind the track name - for exporting for mastering. This is another thing I can’t stress enough - never try to do a final mix in the same session where you composed the track. You will be amazed how much cleaner and better your mixes come out when you export stems to a new, clean session, and just chop things up and process them from there. By sending everything to stems from the beginning, its very easy to do this when it comes time for a final mix, and it’s also very easy to solo certain parts of a mix very quickly. If you have 7 synth channels and everything is just routed to the master output, it takes you much longer to solo your synth section than it does if you’re working with stem busses.
Also, note that I have a stem bus called “-DNB-” where both my full drum mix and full bass mix are routed to. The idea is just to route your drums and bass - which in dance basically are the whole track, or at least the most important part of it - to one bus where they can be compressed, limited, and sculpted together. It’s hard to explain this beyond saying that you should just try it, but what you’ll find is that when you compress and limit your drums and bass together, they just work together better than when processed separately. Groove is a little better, punch is increased, and the whole low end just glues nicely if you mix it well.
The final thing to notice is that everything in the session is routed to Bus 64, or a “submix” bus in Logic, which is then routed to the master channel. In my experience I find it to be very helpful to have a submix bus in dance music, particularly for filter effects. As an example, let’s say as you’re working on your track you want to use a high pass filter to sweep up just as a break or transition in the track is coming to an end. Although you could just put a filter on the master channel, the problem is this forces you to filter everything in the track - sometimes a filter effect will sound better if it just is applied to certain elements, like maybe vocals and synths, and a few elements remain normal in the mix. Using a submix allows you to do this without needing to put a filter on every channel you want the effect applied to. In practice, to follow along with this example, you could simply route anything you want filtered (synths, vocals, and fx let’s say) to the submix, and have all the other busses routed to the master output. Now you can apply effects for transitions or whatever just to certain busses, without needing to duplicate plugins over and over and re-draw automation.
I hope this template and these ideas at least give you a few things to try out with regard to keeping your sessions clean and manageable. You should use a template that suits exactly how you like to work, and there’s no need to view anything I do as the “right” or only way to do things. As always you can keep up with all my news and updates on my Facebook or Twitter.