Stefan ‘Diamondz’ Velichkov, returns for our studio series. Having touched on the basics of a recording session & what you need to have in place for a good and productive session, it’s time to get a more in-depth look at how to set up and run a Logic Pro recording session with a rapper/vocalist…
Begin by opening Logic Pro (i’m using version 10.6.3 in this example)
- Create a new project: Go to File > New
- You will be prompted to create the first channel on your empty project as most sessions go, this will be your beat track. Create an Audio channel, with no input and output selected to “Output 1 + 2” then hit create. Once the dialogue window is gone you will see the first audio channel of your project. Next, locate your beat and drag it onto that channel lining up the beginning of the file with position 1 as in the screenshot below.
*I always like to make sure that the beat track does not start with silence, so if there is any silence between position 1 and the beginning of the beat, I make sure to cut that out and bring the very beginning of the audio to be at position 1. This will be important later when editing.
3. Find the tempo of the song if you don’t know it already – There is a handy plugin in LogicPro, called BPM Counter – insert it on your audio track and play the track until it finds the BPM, after that set this as the Project Tempo in the control bar at the top of the Project. You can now get rid of the BPM counter.
4. Set the correct gain for the instrumental track – if it’s a mastered beat, as it often is, this is often too loud to compete with the level of the mic while recording. Turn it down by a few dB – I usually go for -6 to -10 dB. This will make the sound go quieter in the headphones so just turn up the headphone volume from the headphone volume control on your sound card to the desired level.
5. Create your input channel for your microphone:
Click on the “+” button and create a Record Enabled track with no output (you want to be monitoring the microphone through your sound card, not through Logic as that will introduce latency to the signal). Your Audio Input should be selected to the Input in which you have plugged in the microphone (in this case Input 1 on the Soundcard).
6. Microphone setting up:
Microphone set-up is not that complicated but very important. Before you start recording make sure that the microphone is positioned correctly in front of the artist. With condenser microphones, this distance is 6 to 12 inches from the mic element. The microphone should be picking up the sound of your voice and not other sounds from the room so try to be as close as possible. Try to direct it slightly above your lips to avoid smacking sounds.
7. Microphone Input Gain;
After you have correctly set up the microphone it’s time to set the gain on your input channel. This is crucial as if you set the levels too high the signal will distort. Set the levels too low and you might get a lot of noise in the recorded material. The easiest way to set your gain correctly is to do a test recording with the vocalist and while they are performing in front of the microphone start turning the input gain on your sound card clockwise looking at the level meter of your input channel in your DAW. You should keep turning clockwise until the loudest sections of the performance peak around -12 on the channel meter. Usually, I don’t want to go hotter than that as this setting helps me maintain a good amount of headroom. You can always peak higher but keep in mind that once you reach 0 the signal will start clipping and you will hear it distort which is something you don’t want. You can also monitor these input levels on most sound cards too using their coloured indicators which are usually green, yellow and red – to keep it simple – stay out of the red. To get a healthy level you can turn up your gain until you are green and peaking in yellow. If you want to stay loud but not clipping, turn it up until the loudest parts start going in red, then dial it back until there are longer reds but this is a bit risky for beginners.
8. Setting out the rest of the session;
Now that you’ve set up the microphone we will set up the rest of the session so we are comfortable to start recording. Create a few more audio tracks by clicking on the “+” button.
This time you want the tracks to have no input and to go to the stereo output (Output 1 + 2). You will later use these tracks to place your recorded audio.
Obvious but often neglected – name your channels – now, later or in the process of recording. BEAT, REC, LEAD, STABS, ADLIBS, INTRO, OUTRO.. anything that can give you an idea what channel is for what. You want to keep the session tidy and easy to navigate.
Highlight the recording channel and make sure the ‘R’ is flashing in red. This means that the recording function is enabled. Now you can start recording – simply place the cursor at the point you want to start recording then hit the “R” key on your keyboard. You will hear a 1 bar count in (which is the default) and then the recording will commence. If you want to toggle the count-in off – simply click on the “1234” button in the control bar.
- TIP – if you press play and then hit “R” on your keyboard you will eliminate the count in and you will start recording at the point when you press “R”, however, If you missed a line (you started recording a bit too late) you can drag back the recorded audio to the point when you actually pressed play.
Once you finish recording a take, place it on one of the audio tracks you created below to listen back. If you want to record again, mute the channel with the stem you just recorded and make the next dub. Put the next recorded file below. Later on you can go between these takes and choose the one you want to keep – you can delete the rest or keep them in the project if it makes sense.
10. Rough mix;
Once you have recorded all your vocals it is time to mix the tracks together so you can listen back to them later. This will be easier to navigate in the mixer view which you can access by pressing X on your keyboard. Make sure to give names to all your channels so you don’t get lost.
First thing that you want to do is to balance the volume of the different vocal parts (gain staging) and place them in the stereo field accordingly.
You can do this using the volume faders and the pan pots on each channel. As a rule of thumb keep all your lead vocals in the centre. Pan your stabs/doubles to the left/right of the stereo image using the pan knob and adjust the volume to taste. Any ad libs that you might have in between phrases – keep in the middle at a lower volume. Besides keeping the lead in the center there are no hard rules for this – do it to your liking and according to how you vision the song.
To get a consistent level for all vocals, add a compressor to your vocal track(s). Without getting into too many technicalities – the compressor’s purpose is to reduce the difference between the loud and quiet parts of your vocal by turning down the louder parts. The amount of compression is indicated by the moving arm on the meter.
As this is a beginners’ guide, we will keep it very simple – add a compressor from the plugins menu and choose a preset that works well with your vocal. For the purpose of this example, lets choose “Rap Vocal”.
Threshold – The level at which the compressor will begin compressing. If you set the level at -10 dB only sounds above -10 dB will trigger the compressor.
Ratio – The ratio determines how aggressively the compressor squashes the sound after it passes the threshold. Lower ratios have a more transparent sound, with less control over the dynamics of the vocal. Higher ratio is the opposite – more control over the dynamics, and more compression. The higher the ratio is the more you will lose dynamics and the sound will become more artificial and distorted.
Make up: The gain applied to the signal after the compression takes place. Makeup gain is typically used to bring the peaks of the compressed signal up to the same level as the peaks pre-compression, thereby maintaining the same peak level while raising the overall level.
Limiter: This prevents the sound from going above the Limiter Threshold.
Distortion: This Lets you choose between different methods of clipping above 0 dB
Mix: Balance between the original (dry) and the compressed signal (wet)
To begin adjusting the compressor for your vocal dial the Threshold and the Make Up back to 0 and play the track. While the vocal is playing, start dialing the threshold counter-clockwise until you start seeing a consistent gain reduction of about -5 dB on the VU meter. The arm could still be peaking near -10 dB from time to time and this is ok. You will notice that the more compression you apply the less audible your vocal becomes – this is because you are “turning down” the peaks of your audio. At this point start turning the Make Up gain clockwise until you reach back a healthy level.
Once you are happy with the result copy the compressor across the rest of your vocal tracks.
EQ – vocals usually would benefit from some basic equalisation to make them sit better in this rough mix. Add an EQ after the compressor and apply some low cut to roll off any unwanted low end rumble under 100 hz and a boost in the top end with a shelf, to get a bit more clarity. Your equaliser should look something like this.
You can also experiment with the different presets that come with the EQ.
Creative effects – Reverbs and delays are effects aimed at complimenting your vocals and making them sit better in the mix by creating a space around them. Adding reverb and delay is usually done through a send where you can choose how much of the signal to route to the effect unit. To set up a send, click in the send field of your channel, go to Bus and select Bus 1. Logic has now created a Bus for your effect. By default the channel mode would be mono; as these are normally stereo effects you will have to switch the channel to stereo:
Send some of the signal to that bus by dialing up the knob next to the blue bus button. Add a Reverb or a Delay plugin to your bus, choose a preset to work with then start playback and listen to the sound of the effect. Once you are happy with the created effect you can control the amount from the send knob.
TIP: A lot of these functions will be easier to navigate while in mixer mode. To open up the project mixer simply press “X” on your keyboard and you will get the mixer view. Now you will be able to see all your audio and bus channels in front of you, with easy access to each strip.
11. Finalising your rough mix
To finalise your rough mix, add a limiter on your master channel so you can get the track to a good playback level. There is no need to bother with the settings too much. Once you add the Limiter to your master channel go to the loudest section of the song – typically the hook – and start turning the Gain knob clockwise until you start getting a few dBs of reduction.
Words: Stefan ‘Diamondz’ Velichkov