The Inner Life of a Musicianeer

jam session

I think it is a safe bet to say that most of us Logic Pro users are, to varying degrees, musicians as well as engineers. The two previously separate realms of playing music and engineering recordings have become merged into a new combined set of skills we all need to have. We are “musicianeers”.

The Old Days

Coming up as a musician, the gold standard we all aspired to was to play at the level of the legendary studio players on our favourite albums who could go in to a session, run down a new tune a few times, and nail it with a perfect part, groove, and feel after a couple of takes.

DAWS like Logic have changed the game somewhat. Those coveted skills are still the brass ring we all aim for, but the opportunities to develop them are far more accessible. Our home studios, a buddy to jam with, and a couple of sequenced tracks to play over are readily available to emulate the old skool studio musician experience. And then we get to work our mixing chops on our virtual mixing desks, just like the engineers behind the glass windows of yesteryear.

I earn my living with Logic in various ways, but none is as gratifying as getting a friend over to jam and record with. It’s easy and fun playing along with some sequenced tracks alone; but add another musician to play with simultaneously, and it’s a whole different ball game. Creating parts that fit, grooving together, generating a feel and mood and vibe that bring life to the jam requires a whole different set of chops when playing together with others.

The New Ways

I’m a drummer and am fortunate enough to have a kit set up in my studio that I leave permanently mic’d and ready to go. It’s nothing fancy, but it gets the job done.

Drums

Like most of us, I have a small home studio and am not set up for true “multi player” recording. But thanks to Amp Designer, a few other choice plug-ins, and a couple of decent pairs of headphones, I can have a guitar player over to play and record with together at the same time. Sure, it’s not the same as going through a real amp, but plugging directly into Logic with some amp and plug-in processing can yield very satisfying results. With some careful tweaking, there’s always a way to get even the most finicky guitar player satisfied with the sound. And besides, it’s really the buzz of playing together with some one else while tracking that is the important thing.

I usually start by coming up with a little chord pattern in advance to jam over, and program up a simple bass and keyboard accompaniment that I loop over and over. I like to leave it as open as possible, to give the guitar player freedom to take it in whatever direction they are inspired to go in. I put together little chord progressions with varying degrees of complexity, depending on the guitar player available. I like it to be challenging, but not overly daunting. Besides, we usually just have a couple of hours together.

Eli and Roger March 17

I had my good buddy Roger Mann over the other day. He’s one of Montreal’s best guitar players, and we both put aside the whole day to have some fun together. I know from experience that when he is over, he’ll have some ideas to help develop the parts we play over. So I prepared some raw parts to use as a jumping off point, hoping it would inspire some ideas. And it did.

I Got The Music In Me

I started off with a fairly busy bass part, built on a C blues scale, to be played over a C minor 7th chordal vamp. It included an Ab7 to G7 turn around at the end with some punches. It then went in to another section cycling around the relative major key, with a few little twists and turns. And then a third section with some open sustained chords that we could let ring out that would serve as a nice alternate section to temporarily change the groove up with.

Roger decided to leave the busy bass part stand on it’s own as a melodic element, and play around it instead of over it.  After eight bars of this, we decided to finish the A section with an ascending chord pattern that went like this:

|| Fm7  Gm7  | Ab/Bb  Bb/C  |  Fm7  Gm7  | B/C#    | Db/Eb   ||

We added some anticipations to make it interesting. After repeating that A section a second time, we came up with an interesting B section fairly different than my original jumping off point idea. This was the new B section:

|| Eb  Bb2/D  |  Cm  Bb/C  |  Ab    |  Ab/Bb    |  Eb  Bb2/D  |  Cm  Bb/C  | Ab    | Db7   ||

Now, I have to say at this point that, no matter the complexity of the chord progression being used or the abilities of who I am jamming with, inevitably the same process occurs. The more takes we do and listen back to, the more we both realize that we need to simplify our parts and really zero in on the groove and feel in order to make it all work and lock in. This is the lesson we learn over and over again each time, and is what the studio heavy weights know intuitively. As the session wore on we locked our parts in, and edited out from our playing what didn’t work (that’s right – in our playing – not in Logic Pro!).

After a dozen or so takes, we were finally left with a nice tight well crafted performance built around the basic form and structure we had set up. As we listened back we decided to “dress up” the arrangement a bit with a simple organ part that built up the energy at the end of the A section, and filled in the holes nicely over some of the sustained chords.

I Got The Engineer In Me

So, we both got into our “studio musician” zone and really honed simple but effective parts that fit the material. Roger left and I was left to get into my “engineering” zone and mix the track. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to really explore and “learn” my McDSP compressor bank and filter bank plug-ins a bit better. So, as an exercise, I used these EQs and compressors exclusively. I also used the McDSP Analog Channel on a few tracks and the drum bus. I sub grouped the drums and did some parallel compression (compressor bank is a REALLY versatile compressor!)  I parallel compressed the entire mix with the IK Multimedia VC 760 T-racks plug-in, for a bit of a different colour, and put the McDSP ML 4000 mastering limiter across the stereo bus.

As musicianeers, we owe it to ourselves to carve out some time to develop our chops. Jamming/recording like this is a great way to get creative, have some fun, work on some playing techniques you might not otherwise have the chance to develop, work on groove, work on musicianship, practice some mixing techniques you’ve read or heard about but haven’t had a chance to try yet, learn some new plug-ins, and become better at what you do.

Listen to the finished track here:

Eli Krantzberg
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Eli Krantzberg

Apple Certified Pro Eli Krantzberg is an internationally known author and music software trainer for Groove3. His instructional videos have helped demystify music software such as Logic Pro, Pro Tools, Sonar, BFD, Melodyne, and Kontakt for thousands of users all over the world. Based in Montreal, Canada, Eli is involved in all aspects of audio production. In his studio he works with various artists, as well as on commercial jingles, corporate videos, and original music composition.
Eli Krantzberg
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  • Cameron

    A very enjoyable read.

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