Making the switch from GarageBand to Logic Pro X

I’m going to start this review with a little confession: I’ve never used Logic until very recently. GarageBand was working OK for me for what I was doing musically at the time. I had looked at Logic at a friend’s studio, but decided the learning curve was too great for me. But about a month ago I was starting to hit a ceiling in GarageBand. It wasn’t any specific thing that was causing me problems; it was just a growing realization that I had enough recording experience and was time to graduate to Logic. A few weeks ago, Apple released Logic Pro X. So with a review copy of Logic Pro X ($199), I decided to give it a try.

Transitioning from GarageBand

Even after getting some coaching from Apple on how to use Logic Pro X, I was still a little scared about the learning curve. Fortunately, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. If you’re a GarageBand veteran, you’re still going to have a “OK, how do I do this?” moment or ten. For example, it took me a while to figure out how to use Amplitube as my amp for a guitar track (you add it via the Mixer, not the track itself). Such a learning curve is to be expected and after a few days of working with Logic, I was starting to feel more comfortable.
The biggest transition issue I ran into is getting acclimated with the mixer.  In GarageBand, you make most of your edits and mixes in the track view. In Logic, you’ll be assigning effects and doing your mixing in the Mixer view. I actually prefer it this way, since you can easily adjust your levels while the song is playing.

Different drummers

For me, the best new feature in Logic Pro X is the new drummer module. As a guitarist I’ve struggled with drum tracks when recording. I usually use the BetaMonkey drum loops. When I just need a simple beat I can make adjustments to, it’s a lengthier process that takes me out of the songwriting moment.
In Logic Pro X, there is a section where you can choose between a handful of drummers, and edit the drum tracks in real time. Jim Dalrymple has a great little demo of the drummer here, but here’s how I used it: I chose the drummer I wanted (these are top session drummers recorded in a studio, too). By default, it lays down a fairly simple backbeat. For the intro to the song, I wanted an even simpler beat, just a bass drum kicking. I was able to go into the editor for the drum set and simply uncheck all the drum components except for the kick drum.
For the verse I wanted a beat more complex than the basic one. There’s a quadrant in the drum track where you can choose between soft and loud, and simple and complex. There’s a little knob where you can position it any where on this quadrant to fine-tune the beat. Each drummer also has multiple drum kits and you can swap out individual pieces via the drum kit designer.
The drummer module is so slick and useful; I think it’s worth almost all the upgrade price alone.

Smart Controls

Apple introduced Smart Controls with Logic Pro X, a way to group multiple effects, plug-ins and the like into a single control. So, if there’s a guitar sound you like that uses, say, an AmpliTube amp and a Logic effect, you can create a Smart Control that uses all of these inputs. This saves you from having to go to multiple interfaces to adjust your sound. You can also right-click on a Smart Control to bring up the interface, so if you want that advanced view, it’s easy to get to.
Smart Controls are something I’m still getting the hang of, but I expect over the next few months I’ll be creating quite a few of them.

Logic’s Amp Plug-ins

Finally, bass players can have their amps and play them too. Apple has introduced Bass Amp Designer in addition to Guitar Amp Designer.
I’ve never been a fan of Apple’s guitar modeling and that continues to be the case with Logic. I found Logic’s amps to be sonically anemic. Maybe it’s my affinity for the licensed amps in AmpliTube or the amps in GuitarRig, but I struggled to get a good sound out of  the Logic amps. I was able to get a great sound out of the amp software that I do prefer using.
What I’d love to see is for Apple to partner with a company like AmpliTube or Line 6 to really beef up its amp sounds.

Take Management

While takes were introduced in Logic 9, Apple has improved the grouping for takes. How takes work is pretty neat: after I’ve laid down a lead track, if I’m not 100 percent happy with it (and really, what guitarist is ever 100 percent happy with a solo, but I digress), I just record over that track and Logic is smart enough to keep both takes. So, I can keep recording solos until I find one I’m happy with and then choose which one to keep.
This is really handy. I could keep ripping off solos without breaking out of the zone and getting distracted.

iPad Logic Remote

Apple has a free iPad app called Logic Remote that lets you control a lot of the features of Logic Pro X directly from your iPad. It’s important to note that this is not Logic Pro X for the iPad; it’s simply a controller for Logic Pro X running on your Mac. While you can control the software instruments and tap out drum beats using the Remote, the most value I found with the app was in mixing. You can control most of the mixing components with the app, so it was nice to step away from the monitor and tweak a lot of the settings.crump-logic-ipadremote

Final thoughts

At first, I thought the jump from GarageBand to Logic would be too daunting. While there is still a significant learning curve, it seems to have gotten a lot better. After about a week I was very comfortable using the app, even though I can tell I’m still scratching the surface. What I really like is that between the new drummer module and the improved take management, I can work on the important parts of writing and recording a song — the actual creation of the work — and feel like the app is working with me, and not against me.
If, like me, you’ve been wondering if the learning curve from GarageBand to Logic is too daunting, it’s not. Logic Pro X is an easy-to-use app that still keeps the pro-level features you will be growing into. You also get a lot of pro-level features for relatively short money.