Designing Your Music Production System

Your music production system can incorporate far more than your computer and Logic Pro software.

A complete Logic Pro studio could conceivably consist of any, or all, of the following components:

Computer

This section outlines several computing factors that you should consider for your Logic Pro system. System requirements are covered in the Before You Install document, found in the Documentation folder of the Logic Pro installation discs.

Note: System requirements may change between Logic Pro releases, so you should always check the Apple website and the latest Before You Install document included with Logic Pro updates.

How Fast Should Your Computer Be?

Audio processing is complex, so the general rule is:  the more powerful your computer, the better. This involves not only the speed of the processors of your Mac, but also includes larger main memory sizes, the speed of busses, and the general efficiency of communication with connected devices.

A Portable or Fixed Studio?

You may be wavering between a desktop or portable Mac as the basis for your Logic Pro system, or perhaps considering the viability of a portable computer for on-the-road composition. The good news is that portable Mac computers are ideal for Logic Pro use. They offer excellent audio and MIDI hardware expansion capabilities in the form of FireWire and USB connectors, and are fast enough to allow extensive software instrument and effect use. Due to the power-saving nature of portable computers, slower hard disk drives are usually included, resulting in a lower track count than is possible with a desktop equivalent.

Obviously, desktop computers offer additional expansion slots, extending the range of MIDI and audio hardware possibilities available to notebook computers, and can incorporate multiple processors. CPU and hard disk speeds are generally higher, thus allowing higher track playback counts, and the simultaneous use of more software instruments and effects.

Tip: If you have both a portable and desktop Mac, you can easily transfer projects and other data between them, and take advantage of the Node functionality, which harnesses the processing power of both computers for your projects.

Hard Disk Drives and Storage Locations

Music production generates a huge number of large files. These include samples for audio instruments, loop libraries, audio recordings, video files, and more.

Consider buying a separate, large capacity hard disk drive (or several) for your audio files and sample libraries.

You should also look at a reliable, high-capacity backup system, and should automate your backup routine, preferably as a daily occurrence.

Audio and MIDI Interfaces

An audio interface is required to get sound signals into, and out of, your computer. A MIDI interface is required for MIDI input and output signals.

When using optional audio and MIDI interfaces, you should install their drivers before starting Logic Pro. This will allow Logic Pro to find and use these devices at startup.

Audio interfaces should be supported by a Core Audio driver and MIDI interfaces should be supported by a Core MIDI driver. Check with the manufacturer of your equipment for details on Mac OS X support.

Audio Interface

When an analog audio signal arrives at the inputs of your audio interface, it must be converted into digital information before the computer can deal with it. This process is called analog-to-digital conversion and is handled by the analog-to-digital converter of the audio interface.

There are countless optional audio interfaces available, and at least as many ways that they can be set up and used with Logic Pro and external audio gear. Given the differing requirements and working methods of people across the world, there is no one-size-fits-all audio interface solution. In the simplest scenario, you would use the internal audio interface of your computer to monitor and record audio.

When choosing an audio interface, make sure that it is certified to run on Mac hardware. If the device requires a driver, check that it is compatible with the Mac OS X version required by Logic Pro.

Logic Pro supports input from digital audio interfaces up to a maximum sample rate of 192 kHz, and a maximum bit depth of 24 bits.

Full details about setting up your audio interface hardware can be found in Configuring Your Audio Hardware.

MIDI Interface

Your Mac computer does not provide MIDI inputs or outputs. If you want to use MIDI devices equipped with MIDI ports, a MIDI interface is required for communication with your computer. MIDI interfaces are generally connected to your Mac USB ports. Some MIDI interfaces require the installation of driver software, and others are automatically recognized by your Mac.

Note: Many modern MIDI devices, particularly keyboards, include a USB or FireWire connection port that enables MIDI (and audio, in some cases) communication with your computer. Such devices do not require an additional MIDI (or audio) interface. Some require the installation of driver software, and others are automatically recognized by Mac OS X. Check the websites of MIDI device manufacturers for further information.

Types of MIDI Devices

A vast array of MIDI-equipped devices exist. These include MIDI keyboards and sound modules, control surfaces, effect processors, mixers, lighting controllers, and more.

MIDI Keyboard

The most likely candidate for inclusion in your Logic Pro system is a MIDI keyboard. MIDI keyboards are used to input note (and controller) information into Logic Pro. Some MIDI keyboards are simply input devices (often called controller keyboards) and some also include their own synthesis engines (synthesizer and sampling keyboards). Logic Pro can be used to record keyboard performances as MIDI data, and can play them back through any connected MIDI device or internal software instrument.

If you don’t have a MIDI keyboard handy, Logic Pro offers the Caps Lock Keyboard, which allows you to use the computer keyboard for MIDI note entry. See Using the Caps Lock Keyboard for MIDI Step Input.

Control Surfaces

Control surfaces are hardware devices that feature a variety of controls, which can include faders, rotary knobs, switches, and displays. These controls can be mapped to functions in Logic Pro, allowing you to change parameters with more precision and speed than you can by using your mouse and computer keyboard. You can also control multiple parameters at the same time. Detailed information on the setup and use of control surfaces can be found in the Logic Pro Control Surfaces Support manual.

Recording Light Plug-in

Logic Pro facilitates the use of a control surface plug-in, called the Recording Light, to control an external device via MIDI events. This allows you to control an external recording light or sign, warning visitors not to enter the recording studio before or during recording. Logic Pro sends a MIDI signal to turn on the external device when a track is record-enabled or when recording starts. Logic Pro sends another MIDI signal to turn off the device when tracks are made record-safe or when recording stops.

Note: This control surface plug-in requires additional hardware that is not included with Logic Pro.

Synthesizers and MIDI-Controlled Effects

Logic Pro provides plenty of software instruments and effects, and can also act as a host for Audio Units plug-ins from other manufacturers. More information on the use of plug-in instruments and effects can be found in Working with Instruments and Effects.

You can also incorporate hardware MIDI instruments and MIDI-controlled effects units to your Logic Pro music production system. These are connected via a MIDI interface, using MIDI cables. (See Connecting Your Audio and MIDI Devices.)

MIDI-controlled effects units do not process MIDI data. Rather, they are audio processors (such as reverb or multi-effect devices) that can be controlled via MIDI messages. This allows you to automate the parameters of these devices—such as delay time or Flanger speed—from Logic Pro.

Typically, you would connect all external devices, such as synthesizers and MIDI-controlled effects units to either your audio interface or a hardware mixing console. MIDI-controlled effects units would be connected in a send/return loop, using either:

  • A pair of audio ins and outs (or auxiliary in/out, if available) on your audio interface

  • An auxilliary in/out (sometimes called FX send/return) pair on your mixing console

Both methods allow the use of Logic Pro’s In/Out plug-in, allowing you to freely route audio information through the external effects unit and the MIDI connection provides control over the effects parameters. In many ways, this is much like using one of Logic Pro’s internal effect plug-ins.

Note: It is only practical to use the In/Out plug-in for external device routing when you’re using an audio interface equipped with multiple in and out ports.

Both MIDI instruments and effects allow remote patch (preset) selection from Logic Pro. This (and control) information can be stored as part of Logic Pro project files, ensuring perfect playback from your MIDI devices the next time the project is loaded.

Ancillary Audio Devices

No discussion of a Logic Pro audio system would be complete without covering a number of options that you should seriously consider, in order to make the most of the application.

Audio Playback System

Your audio interface provides inputs and outputs between the real world and your computer. When performing audio playback, the audio interface translates computer data into something you can hear and understand—sound and music.

To facilitate this, an amplifier and speakers are required. You can certainly use headphones, connected to the headphone jack of your audio interface, or the home hi-fi to monitor Logic Pro playback, but this is not recommended in the long term.

You should look at a dedicated set of reference monitors (speakers), and a matching reference amplifier. Many monitoring systems today have powered speakers, negating the need for a separate amplifier.

Note: Reference monitors are specially designed speakers that offer a flat frequency response across a wide range (usually 20 Hz to 20 kHz). These are not your average home hi-fi speakers, and are usually only available from professional music and studio equipment dealers.

This type of system is recommended due to the precision it offers. Logic Pro is capable of delivering CD- or higher-quality audio, and creating your mixes on a home hi-fi will generally result in music that is not properly balanced.

Put another way, most home hi-fi speakers tend to enhance particular areas of the frequency spectrum, resulting in mixes that have too much bass, mid, or treble frequency when played back on other systems. Reference monitors and amplifiers are designed to provide a flat frequency response, avoiding emphasis of particular areas of your mix. This translates to a final product that will sound good (or at least, passable) on most monitoring systems—car stereos, home hi-fi, portable players, and so on.

Headphones

A good set of studio headphones is handy for particular tasks, such as precise EQing and sample editing. Given the design of most headphones, and the fact that they’re used so close to the ears, most people find that headphone mixes tend to be too bright or too bass-heavy.

As such, they are not recommended for general monitoring duties, but they are useful tools nonetheless. If you are recording groups of people, you will probably need several pairs of headphones, a headphone distribution amplifier, and a mixing console.

Tip: You should not use headphones for longer than ten or twenty minutes at a time, as they can cause listening fatigue, resulting in you making poor choices for your mix.

Audio Mixing Consoles

The inclusion of an audio mixer—analog or digital—is based on your typical studio use. It also depends on the number of inputs and outputs provided by your audio interface and your working preferences.

For example, if you are most likely to record bands, several MIDI synthesizers, or drum kits in your studio, you will need numerous microphone and line-level inputs to simultaneously record the performances of the musicians and vocalists in the group.

Microphone inputs differ from line-level inputs in that they provide power (known as phantom power), which is used to amplify the incoming signal from condenser microphones.

Multiple mixer outputs and a headphone distribution amplifier are also beneficial in group recording situations, as different signals can be sent to each performer; for example, a click track to the drummer, a light drum mix and click track to the bass player, a composite mix to the vocalist and guitarist, with a touch of reverb for the singer, and so on. This different strokes approach is commonly used as it facilitates the best performances from each group member.

Mixers can also include several auxilliary or bus channels that can be used to simplify a number of jobs; for example, sending different signals (or mixes, if you like) to multiple locations such as a front-of-house P.A. and a multitrack recorder, adding individual effects to multiple channels, rerouting processed audio back to a different position in the signal path, and much more.

Many of these mixing tasks can be performed with a multi input/output audio interface—using Logic Pro (and the interface control software, if applicable) to adjust levels and routings. The catch-22 with this is twofold:  it is not as immediate as physically moving a slider or knob on a mixing console, and your computer generally needs to be turned on, to allow control. To balance the equation, you can add a control surface to your Logic Pro system, enabling hands-on operation. On the latter point, a number of current audio interfaces can be used in standalone mode, but the problem of level control remains unless the computer is turned on.

Microphones

If you are recording acoustic performances—spoken, sung, or played—into Logic Pro, you need one or more microphones. The array of microphones available these days is mind-boggling, but to simplify things, they basically fall into two categories:  condenser and dynamic.

  • In general terms, condenser microphones are more sensitive, and are commonly used for vocal recording. They are also used for ambience recording, and for instruments such as guitars and woodwinds.

  • Dynamic microphones are often used for recordings with high sound pressure levels (loud signals, in other words), such as drums and percussion.

Ultimately, either microphone type can be used for any recording job, but each will offer a distinct advantage—sonically—in different recording situations. To further clarify, both condenser and dynamic microphones come in a variety of forms, with many specifically designed for the recording of certain instruments. As such, there’s no one-size-fits-all microphone for every recording you will make, so purchasing or hiring several microphones for different projects is advisable.

Note: Condenser microphones require power to function. This can be provided by a separate pre-amplifier or a phantom powered mixing console.