Software I’ve Used To Compose & Arrange

I would always get a good laugh when my musician friends from our church orchestra would talk about their harrowing tales of what they would have to go through in order to piece together a living as a working musician. For those of us who have decided not to teach in the school system, this is a very common reality.

I played in a string trio for a few years as one of my side jobs. As we started to build up a following, we also started getting a lot of requests to play music from contemporary artists such as Cold Play, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Foo Fighters, etc. There was one instance where I booked us a last minute job, so it became my responsibility to come up with 7 custom trio arrangements of pop and R&B songs within a week. The stress was very real when I found out that there wasn’t any pre-packaged music that I could buy anywhere to fulfill our client’s requests. After I calmed myself down, I had to scramble to find a solution. This is when I remembered that I had a free copy of the Finale NotePad software that came with the lesson books that I use with all of my beginner cello students. It was a mentally painful experience to become proficient with Finale NotePad in a few days while still creating professional arrangements that wouldn’t embarrass my trio mates to play in public. I don’t use this software as much these days since I have a score editor in my Logic Pro DAW (digital audio workstation), but it’s a great alternative when I need to get an arrangement done quickly and don’t want to create a whole new project in Logic to use the Score Editor.

When I first started using Finale, I would either use my keyboard to type the note name that I wanted to appear on the staff and then use the mouse to drag the note head to the correct octave, or I would just use my mouse to individually click on the lines and spaces to create a note. This turned out to be a painstaking and tedious process to go through. I now have a MIDI controller keyboard that I USB connect directly to my computer. The Finale software automatically recognizes my MIDI keyboard, so I don’t have to do any additional setup other than powering the keyboard on. This allows me to quickly play a passage on the keyboard, which then manifests itself immediately on the staff.

finale

 

Since I usually have a Logic Pro project open on my computer at any given time, that is usually the most convenient option for me to create an arrangement or composition. What I have to do is create a software instrument track and then record my MIDI note events using my MIDI keyboard (see the image below).logicsession

In this next image, you will see that the ‘Classic Electric Piano’ track is my software instrument track. Logic automatically defaulted to the ‘Classic Electric Piano’ software instrument on its own. The instrumentation can easily be changed by selecting a different option in the library window. After creating my software instrument track, I then click on the red circle in the top left hand corner to start recording the notes that I will be playing on my MIDI keyboard. The green region below contains my notes which can then be viewed on the staff in the score editor.LogicEditor

Yes, there are other programs out there that you can use to arrange and compose your music. This posting is definitely not meant to be an exhaustive discussion on the subject matter. Hopefully, you will find my experiences helpful as you make your own path through the music world.

Exporting Audio Files From Logic Into Pro Tools

Logic Pro is currently my preferred DAW (digital audio workstation) since I’ve created all of my projects there and am more comfortable with that platform.  As a musician, I may one day need to take my song to a studio where I will need to import the audio files or project into Pro Tools.  There’s actually more of a likelihood that as a producer, I will have to send my audio files to a mix engineer should I decide not to mix my songs myself.  Here is what I do to get my audio files from Logic into Pro Tools:

Step #1 – From within my Logic session, I set my cycle bar to cover the length of the song plus 1-2 additional measures, and then I navigate to File -> Export -> All Track as Audio Files (or use shortcut keys Shift+Cmd+E).

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 4.49.33 PMStep #2 – Below are the settings that I choose.   I select the check box ‘Limit Export to Cycle Range’ so that I’m not capturing unwanted silence in my exported tracks.  My ‘Save Format’ is WAVE, ‘Bit Depth’ is 24 Bit, my saved output is going to be ‘One File per Track’, I don’t want to ‘Bypass Effect Plug-ins’ and I want to ‘Normalize’ as ‘Overload Protection Only’.

If you are sending your tracks to be professionally mixed, then you should consider checking the ‘Bypass effect Plug-ins’ box so that all of your inserts will be turned off.  This will allow your mix engineer to have full creative control over the effects and plug-ins that he or she wants to use.  I choose to leave my normalization setting to ‘Overload Protection Only’ because this tells Logic to turn down the volume on the tracks that are peaking and distorting so that they peak at 0db.

I also click on the ‘New Folder’ button to create a separate directory on my desktop for each project that I’m exporting as audio files.  When you select the ‘One File per Track’ export option, each of the tracks in your Logic project will be saved as its on individual audio file.  It helps me to stay organized by creating individual folders per song.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 4.54.31 PM

Step #3 (Pro Tools) –  After checking my file folder on my desktop to make sure that all of the audio files are there, I then create a new blank project in Pro Tools and click the shortcut key command Shift+Cmd+I (or navigate to File -> Import) to select the audio files that I want to import.  Next, click on the ‘Open’ button to begin the import process.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 5.31.36 PM

Step #4 (Pro Tools) – Below are the import options that I select within my Pro Tools session.  If you select ‘Clip List’ as you input destination, then your tracks won’t show up in your session workspace.  You would then have to manually move each audio file from your list to your workspace.  I also make my import location ‘Session Start’.  This way all of my tracks will start at measure 1.  Click ‘OK’ to have your audio files imported into Pro Tools at your desired destination and location settings.

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 5.37.13 PM

Using a Digital Piano To Record Audio Tracks

Sometimes I practice on and use an 88-key Casio Celviano digital piano that also doubles as my MIDI controller.  I occasionally use this digital piano to create piano audio tracks in Logic Pro by using the headphones jack to send the signal to my x1204usb interface in stereo.

Step #1:  Plug the single end of an 1/4 inch cable into the ‘Phones’ input on the digital piano.  See the photo below.

Pic 1. - Phones input jack on digital piano
Pic 1. – Phones input jack on digital piano

Step #2:  Connect the 1/4 inch dual ends of the cable to channel 5/6 on the x1204usb interface.  (You can also use channel 7/8.)  See the photo below.

Pic 2. - Dual end into Channel 5/6
Pic 2. – Dual end into Channel 5/6

Step #3:  Make sure that the ‘2-TR/USB TO MAIN’ red button is NOT pressed down.

Step #4:  To adjust the volume of the recording, you can play around with turning the volume knob on the digital piano and/or adjusting the ‘MAIN MIX’  R/L faders on the x1204usb.  See the photo below.

 

Pic 3. - Main Mix faders
Pic 3. – Main Mix faders

Step #5:  Make sure that the audio interface is connected to the DAW.  In this specific scenario, I’m using Logic Pro 9 on an iMac.

Step #6:  In Logic Pro, follow the navigation in the photo below to change your audio preferences.

  Logic Pro —> Preferences —> Audio

Pic 4. - Audio preferences navigation
Pic 4. – Audio preferences navigation

Step #7:  Select the ‘USB Audio CODEC’ option for the ‘Input Device’ field.  (I have this same CODEC option selected for the output device since I like to listen to my tracks through my Yamaha HS8 monitors which are also connected to my audio interface.)

audio CODEC
Pic 5. – Input Device CODEC option

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