Outgrowing the garage: Moving from GarageBand to Logic Pro X

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If you’re a musician who also owns a Mac, chances are that you’ve spent hours playing with (and playing into) GarageBand. And why would’t you? GarageBand 10 is free for the basic version and for a measly $5 you can expand its content to include 200 sounds, 2,000 loops, 15 drummers, and 40 guitar and piano Basic Lessons. It supports multi-instrument input (with a compatible audio interface), has a solid collection of virtual instruments, enough loops to piece together a track that grooves, amps and pedalboard effects for both guitar and bass players, and mixing tools capable enough to help you produce a great demo.

But its talents aren’t unlimited. Those seeking more professional productions may find they want a more extensive collection of tools—the ability to use multiple time-signatures within a single project, an expansive mixing console, track grouping, support for control surfaces, the opportunity to assign any effect to any track, an advanced score editor, pitch tweaking, and virtual instrument editing. Fortunately, all these features can be found in Apple’s $200 professional digital audio workstation (DAW) app, Logic Pro X.

Breaking away from 4/4

When you first create a GarageBand project, you choose its time signature—4/4, 3/4, 6/8, 5/4, and so on. The time signature you choose affects not only the feel of the song but also the metronome click you hear, how music notation is presented in the Score editor for software instrument tracks, and the kind of groove played in the Drummer track. This is fine unless your project contains multiple time signatures—4/4 for the first 16 measures, a couple of 3/4 measures, and then back to 4/4. Although you can change the meter any time you like in a GarageBand project, when you do, the meter for the entire project changes rather than for just a selected portion of it.

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Unlike with GarageBand, you can mix time signatures in Logic Pro X.

Logic Pro X allows you to pack as many time signatures as you like into a single project and it offers several ways to do it. The easiest is to move the playhead to the beginning of a measure and then adjust the time signature settings in the LCD—change it from 4/4 to 3/4, for example. The previous contents of the track will remain in the last chosen time signature but any material that appears after you’ve made the change will be in the new meter.

Get a fix on the mix

If you visit a recording studio you’ll generally see the engineer sitting in front of a large mixing console, complete with buttons, knobs, and faders. GarageBand’s mixer is nothing like this. Rather, to the left of each track you see a volume slider, pan knob, mute and solo buttons, and—if you switch on automation controls—a pop-up window for automating volume and pan and making some adjustments to GarageBand’s smart controls.

In Logic Pro X, just choose Window > Open Mixer (Command-2) and you see the almost real deal—a virtual mixing board that includes, among other things, audio and MIDI effects inserts, an EQ view, sends, a pan knob, volume slider, and mute and solo buttons. If you like, you can even add a notes field below each fader. By ganging together tracks into a folder stack you can mute, solo, and control the volume of all the ganged tracks with a single set of controls. And, as you record, you can adjust sliders and knobs to record their movements.

logic mixer

This is the way mixing's supposed to be.

And these sliders and knobs need not be confined to those on screen. While both GarageBand and Logic Pro X support Apple’s free Logic Remote iPad app, which provides iPad owners with a remote control surface, Logic Pro X also supports hardware control surfaces from a wide variety of manufacturers. (You can also map Logic’s controls to the knobs and sliders on your MIDI controller.)

Any effect, any time

With GarageBand 10, Apple introduced Smart Controls—effects and controls suited to the particular kind of instrument and track you’ve selected. For example, with an electric piano sound you’ll find Tremolo, Chorus, and Reverb knobs. In previous versions of GarageBand you instead opened an Info pane, clicked an Edit tab, clicked an empty effects slot, and you had access to all of GarageBand’s effects. Assign an effect and double-click on it and you could choose an effect preset or make adjustments manually. The flexibility to choose any effect you like is gone in GarageBand 10, though you can still work with Audio Units plug-ins.

Although Logic Pro X also includes Smart Controls it doesn’t restrict your access to the app’s effects. You find audio effects inserts in every channel strip, making it easy to assign any effect you like to any track or stack in your project.

Scoring with Logic Pro

When you double-click within one of GarageBand’s software instrument tracks, by default you’ll see the data it contains in a piano-roll style display at the bottom of the window. Click on that editor’s Score button and the track’s data will appear as musical notation. Within that view you can edit notes and, by holding down the Command key, add more notes. You can even print out an individual part when you display it in Score view.

With Logic Pro X, you have a score editor that can do all of this but also, in some cases, serve as an alternative to a dedicated notation app. Not only can you edit notes in a MIDI track, but you can also add text (titles and lyrics, for example), change clefs and keys, add guitar tabs, include dynamic markings, and split and print parts.

logic score

Logic Pro's Score editor allows you to create more professional looking parts.

Pitching your song

In GarageBand you can broadly correct pitches that drift away from their intended pitch. It’s a nice feature but doesn’t allow you to tweak minute pitch parameters.

Logic Pro X includes a new features called Flex Pitch that offers these features and a whole lot more. When you switch on a track’s Flex Pitch setting you have the option to treat it very much like a MIDI track in that you can take a note and change its pitch by dragging its Flex Pitch box up or down. So, if you’ve played a D on your guitar when you intended a C, just locate the note in the waveform display and drag its Flex Pitch unit down a whole step. Using Flex Pitch you can additionally change a pitch’s gain, the amount of vibrato within it, and adjust pitch in very fine increments.

logic flex pitch

With Flex Pitch you can easily alter pitches within digital audio files.

Digging into Drummer

GarageBand has inherited Logic’s Drummer track—one where real drummers have been sampled playing a variety of kits and styles. Through a nearly magical process you can alter the patterns they play by dragging a dot over an X-Y controller and make patterns more or less complex as well as louder or softer. Using the track’s smart controls you can also change the mix between the drums—increase the volume on the kick drum and decrease that of the snare (or turn it off altogether).

logic edit drums

Don't care for the tone of one of your kit's drums? You can easily change it.

Logic Pro gives you more control over the sounds your drummer makes. To begin with you can edit each kit to use different kinds of drums. For example, swap in a kick drum that rings a bit more when hit. You can also adjust the tuning, dampening, and gain for each drum. If you venture into the Drum Kit Designer window you’ll find an even greater number of ways to control these settings (as well as some additional options). And within the Drum editing pane you can click a Details button and adjust the drummer’s feel, ghost notes, and the amount of closed versus open hi-hat he or she plays.

Fine-tuning other instruments

GarageBand 10 carries a subset of instruments sounds derived from the Logic Pro X library, and many of them sound great. But they’re fully realized sounds—a Fender Rhodes-like piano, acoustic guitar, or analog synth sound. You can modify them with the app’s Smart Controls, but you can't play with their fundamental parameters.

Logic Pro X not only provides you with these (and many more) sounds, but you’re given access to the tools used to create them. Click on the Instrument control within a channel strip and you see a long list of virtual synthesizers, drum machines, and vintage instruments. Select one and the interface to that instrument appears, ready for you to tweak the currently selected sound, choose a different sound, or create a completely new sound using the instrument’s controls.

logic retro

You too can experience the dubious joy of creating and tweaking patches on an FM synthesizer. 

In the case of something like the Vintage Electric Piano instrument you can work with a keyboard that owes more to the classic Wurlitzer instrument rather than the Rhodes. Pull up the Retro Synth instrument and you can do things the way they did in the 80s by creating patches for your analog, wavetable, or FM synthesizer.

Bringing logic to Logic

Long before Apple acquired Emagic (the company originally responsible for Logic) the app had a reputation for not only being one of the most powerful DAWs around but also one of the most confounding thanks to the many features buried in submenus, windows, and preferences. In addition to adding even more features to Logic, Apple’s music team has set about making the app approachable, particularly for those moving up from GarageBand.

Although Logic’s still plenty powerful, the app is now configured in such a way that its most necessary features are front and center—its instrument library, tracks, and editing panes. When you need to dig into the app's more esoteric features—you want to work with surround-sound, enable full score editing, or work with historic tuning scales, for instance—it’s a simple matter to go into Logic’s preferences and switch on sets of its advanced tools.

And so much more

I could devote countless paragraphs to the power of Logic Pro X but perhaps it’s best if I sum it up this way: If you can imagine doing something in a musical vein, there’s every chance that Logic will provide a path for getting there. And should you need more convincing, consider that we once paid upwards of $600 for this kind of app (and for some apps you still do). Logic’s $200 price tag is a remarkable bargain. If you find that you've pushed GarageBand about as far as you can, you could do far worse than look to Logic.

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