4. Logic Pro X Session

From the beginning of Aeons End in 2014, we knew that we’ll have to use a DAW for backing-tracks, live effects and click. Back in the day we still had a vocalist and played our first shows with Ableton Live 9. This DAW  is known for its live performance and we enjoyed its possibilities – especially in pulling off live effects on the vocals such as reverb and delay. Nevertheless, we’ve been used to Logic Pro X from our recording and mixing processes so we dropped Ableton when we started playing as an instrumental band only. The workflow from songwriting into live-production just seemed easier for us.

4.1 Routing

Our Logic project holds all the songs we’re playing live, including click-tracks, MIDI-tracks for the Kempers, MIDI-tracks for the light show, additional stems (guitars, synths) and also some live VSTs such as pianos and synths. The actual songs have markers at the beginning which allow us to jump from song to song with a simple push of a button. The usage of markers will be explained in section 4.6. In order to keep things as clear as possible we also put most of the tracks in folders which can be expanded if needed.

We set up our digital outputs as following:

output signal explanation
output 1 + 2 additional guitars and synths
  • sum of all pre-leveled guitar and synth layers
output 3 + 4 drum stems
  • only for rehearsing without a drummer
  • stems can be muted individually in our IEMs
output 5 crowd mic
  • Beyerdynamic MCE 86 S ii – directional mic pointed at the crowd
  • a mic we put on stage on point to the audience so we can hear some feedback in our IEMs, also we programmed an automation for this mic to mute it during the songs
output 6 click track
  • simple metronome for our IEM (Logic’s built-in Klopfgeist VST)
  • song title as spoken word at the beginning of a song (only audible in IEM)
output 7 + 8 live VSTs
  • pianos, synths and some effects such as reverb and delay

These particular output settings in our Logic sessions enable us to provide a pre-mixed and leveled signal (live guitars + additional guitar stems + live VSTs + synth stems) to the FOH, as described in part 2. Also we can individually set up our IEM systems the way we want. That’s why our live VSTs have a dedicated output as well – not everybody in the band needs them in their personal IEM mix. Speaking of the IEMs: they can make you feel isolated from the crowd, so our solution with the crowd mic is very beneficial for the overall live feel.

4.2 Click

For the actual click we use Logic’s own plugin called “Klopfgeist”. Every song starts with a spoken word audio file with the title (for example “Confess”) and a pre-click of two bars. For guidance the pre-click is pitched higher as the regular click which – once it’s started – lasts for the whole song. Of course the click picks up any tempo changes. As already mentioned, we can set the level of the click in our personal IEM-mix individually.

4.3 Backing Tracks, Stems, Leveling

In aeons end we often have three or more guitar layers going on, but we’re actually only two guitar players. To cover that, using backing tracks was essential from the very beginning of the band. Additional guitars or synths usually get exported from a song writing project as a stereo .wav-file. Later we import those stems into our live project in Logic.

The final step is dialing in the level of the individual audio files. Since we use Logics built-in normalize feature, the imported audio files usually get set to -23 dB LUFS. After setting the right pre-fader level, we typically adjust the track volume via automation. As explained in part 1 and 2, live guitars and backing tracks share a stereo analog output on our output panel, so after recording a new song directly in the x32 mixer, setting the appropriate levels is quite easy. We’re listening to the recording on studio headphones, IEM-headphones and also our PA system to make sure everything is set the way we want.

4.4 Kemper MIDI & programming

For controlling the Kempers we have two individual MIDI tracks, sending on two different MIDI channels. Most of our MIDI changes are PCs (program changes) which switch between different performances and slots. For certain situations we also programmed CC (control changes) within the MIDI tracks to control volume, panorama or morphing.

In the screenshot you can see the two highlighted MIDI tracks. The numbers on the actual MIDI regions are the programmed PCs. What occurs as darker lines on “MIDI Oli” is a PC we put in. For programming those CCs and PCs no actual MIDI notes are necessary (at least in Logic Pro X, maybe this is different in other DAWs).

While programming we also discovered that there is a slight delay from the MIDI change to the Kemper actually reacting to those changes. In order to fix that, we usually put in the MIDI changes a 16th note earlier. But this also depends on the song. We move around the MIDI change as long as it starts to “feel right”.

We ran into another problem with programming MIDI that took us quite a while to solve. After morphing parameters had been triggered, the Kempers started to crash or stopped responding to the MIDI information we put in. In that case restarting the Kempers was the only way to get them back to function. After many hours of frustration and research on the Internet we finally found the reason for this mess. Morphing is triggered by the expression value in the MIDI files and can be set anywhere between 0 and 127. We’ve learned that the Kempers need a “morphing reset” before the next PC or CC. That means after putting in a full morph (value 127 in the screenshot) we had to get back to 0 (no morphing) before changing to another slot. Having that in mind putting in new morphing parameters hasn’t been an issue anymore.

We also enabled a Logic feature called “MIDI chase” which basically keeps the Kempers in the right performance slots depending on where we place the playhead. That means when we put the playhead in the middle of the song, the Kempers will actually go to the right performance without directly being triggered by the playhead running over a certain CC or PC.

4.5 DMX MIDI & programming

We run two dedicated MIDI tracks for our own light show. MIDI track 1 is triggering a song bank. Each song has its own bank.  MIDI track 2 is triggering the presets within banks. A dedicated explanation to the process of programming light MIDIs and our own lighting hardware will follow in part 5.

4.6 MIDI-Keyboard for controlling and triggering

After setting up a few songs for live performance we were looking for a solution to quickly jump between songs without actually going to the laptop and manually place the playhead on a specific spot at the Logic project. We first ended up using a wireless bluetooth numpad that is hooked up to the laptop via USB and then mapped our song markers to the keys. 

Mapping the markers and triggering them with the numpad works like a charm. We can easily place the wireless numpad anywhere on stage, for instance next to our drummer, to manually jump to a specific song. This gives us the freedom to mix up the setlist or start and stop the Logic session at any time.

However for some songs we recently started utilizing VSTs to manually play certain piano or synthesizer parts. After testing the practicability of this approach with a simple MIDI controller, we decided on getting a new one that also allows us to expand our marker mapping and VST control. The controller we finally purchased is a M-AUDIO Code 61 that features 61 full-size keys, 16 pads, 9 faders on a whole bunch of assignable buttons. In addition to that a sustain pedal by M-Audio was added as well. Now the markers are assigned to the pads as following:

pad assignment description
1 marker 1 light check, MIDI check, click check
2 marker 2 first song in the project
3 marker 3 second song in the project
4 marker 4 fourth song in the project
5 marker 5 fifth song in the project
6 marker 6 sixth song in the project
7 marker 7 seventh song in the project
8 marker 8 eighth song in the project
9 marker 9 ninth song in the project
10 marker 10 ambient light (just an indirect warm light situation)
11 not assigned yet
12 select previous track allows us to toggle between different track with different VSTs
13 not assigned yet
14 not assigned yet
15 not assigned yet
16 select next rack allows us to toggle between different track with different VSTs

The M-Audio Code 61 controller also comes with a neat software that helps setting up the controller, changing colors of and saving presets. For orientation we changed the color of the pads which trigger song markers according to the main color we programmed for lighting. For example: for our song “reflect” we programmed green as a main color for the light show. Therefore the marker in the Logic project as well as the pad on the MIDI controller are both set to green.

Also we connected some of the encoders (360 degree pot-like buttons) to certain synthesizer parameters such as cutoff, resonance, attack, decay, sustain and release. Besides the pad and encoder assignment we also programmed other functions to MIDI controller:

  • play project
  • stop project
  • jump to previous marker
  • jump to next marker