Keep Your Logic Sessions Organized or Else
Not taking the time to keep my Logic projects and sessions well organized has come back to bite me hard. Here’s why it’s so important and a system you can use as a starting point so you don’t end up like me and have to do a bunch of work all over again.
What can go wrong
I opened an old Logic project today for the first time in some months and found that some plugins I was using are no longer supported. Those plugins used to remember the impulse response cabinets I’d been using on multiple tracks and so I ended up in a situation where I was missing the track icon (I use custom icons for some instruments), a good description, and there was no record of which amp I had used to record those tracks. And those are just some of the issues you could run into. But how exactly did I end up here and how common is it?
It may not be a common issue if you use the same computer for all your sessions and you don’t leave a project for a long period of time. But the problem with thinking this won’t happen to you is that it’s a false sense of security. Computers die. Backup drives get lost. Computers have accidents. These issues are rare but all it takes is for you to drop your laptop once or have a laptop or drive stolen or have a hard drive die or any number of things.
In my case I upgraded an “old” 2015 MacBook Pro for a new 2020 MacBook Pro. The new Macs use the M1 processor which is ARM based rather than x86 like Intel or AMD processors. This is what led me to this situation where I had to replace key pieces of my workflow with no reference material to help me remember how the tracks that got messed up used to work.
How to keep your projects organized (the simple way)
I need to take my own advice because I’ve always used this system to organize my projects and for this particular album I was working quickly and got lazy. It’s actually very easy to keep things organized and you can even save your settings as a project template to help you get started whenever you start a new Logic session.
1. Keep your files on an external drive
For brand new songs I save them directly on my computer’s built-in hard drive but once writing and recording are finished I move everything to an external drive and work directly from there for mixing and mastering. A USB 3 HDD or SSD will do the job but I highly recommend a USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 drive. These drives are so fast that you won’t notice any lag on loading and working directly off of them. I use the Samsung T7 portable SSD which works over USB-C because it literally fits in a pocket (it’s smaller than my wallet), has options from 500GB to 2TB, and supports transfer speeds of up to 1GB per second.
Using an external drive lets you work on multiple computers and saves you tons of room on your internal drive. I upgraded to 512GB on my Mac but when working with music it’s easy to fill that space fast.
Always back up your work to three places. If you don’t have 3 copies of any file then it doesn’t exist. I have multiple drives that are exact copies of each other. One is for working directly off of, another is a backup for the first drive, and then all the others I use with Time Machine and are redundant backups. I also keep copies of some files in the cloud on Amazon’s S3 service.
Bonus tip: you can relocate Logic’s sound library to an external drive. With just the standard content and some producer drum kits you’re already loading 70GB of data so putting that on an external drive and working from there frees your computer for the other stuff you’ll need. I had 256GB on my last Mac and I ended up with only 60GB remaining after using it for music production for only a year. On my external drive I have these folders for music production:
- Samples & Field Recordings
- Relocated Logic sound library (Logic creates this and manages it for you)
- Logic sessions (where I keep all my projects)
- Impulse responses
2. Use custom icons for tracks
Logic doesn’t have a Jazzmaster icon. It doesn’t have an icon for a lot of instruments you may use. Download custom icons, use them on your tracks so you can easily tell what instrument you used on a track in the past, and back up those custom icons to your external drive.
3. Give tracks descriptive, short, names
“Audio 1” tells you nothing about what sound is on a track. It could be an OP-1, a Korean Volca, or any guitar. Guitars are the hardest tracks to manage because there are many parts to it. Here’s my general naming convention: [Effect]-[Amp]-[Arrangement]-[Instrument]
So my Jazzmaster running through a tremolo pedal and Vox amp during the chorus would be labeled as Trem Vox Chorus JM. What order you put those in depends on preference slightly but for me this works well when I’m focusing only on the mixer window and want to know what I’m mixing at a glance. You only have so many characters in the mix window so doing it this way gives me the most important info at a glance and by putting the instrument last it’s easy for me to look at the track icon to see what the instrument is so it’s okay if that text is cut off.
The added benefit to this is that if you need to punch in or dub over a part of that track you know how to match the sound.
4. Take copious notes
This one is hard but important. I use a Field Notes notebook for every album I start and I write down instrument settings like synth patch presets, signal chains, amp settings, guitar pickup selection, tone and volume settings, and more in there. If I’m in a hurry I’ll sometimes just take a photo of my amp’s settings to recreate that later if I need to.
This is the only part of this method that takes real discipline. I love to write in notebooks so it’s not so bad for me but even I sometimes get caught up in the flow of recording and fail to write things down. In the end though, good notes can save your ass many times over and the better your notes the better your chances of being able to bounce back from any catastrophic failure.
5. Color code tracks
You can right click a track and assign it a color. I use this to group tracks that are similar. For example, if I double track guitars or have a lead and rhythm part that are working together I’ll color code them with the same color so I know how they fit into the overall sound when I get to mixing.
6. Use the arrangement markers
Arrangement markers are something I never skip. It helps me get an arrangement down quickly and helps me to see tracks that go together quickly in much the same way that color coding tracks does except this works more to help me see where tracks are coming in and out of an arrangement rather than simply seeing what’s playing together. Because many times you’ll have a mix of long running tracks that go through multiple song sections and some that only last as long as a bridge or a chorus.
7. Keep your licenses in a safe place
One of the worst feelings is realizing you can no longer access a plug-in you love because you don’t remember who made it, lost the license, your Focusrite account doesn’t have it listed anymore, or iLok is just being a pain in the ass.
I lost access to Sonible’s Balancer plugin because it was part of a one month feature in my Focusrite account and now I can’t find the license code and it isn’t managed by iLok.
When you get a license, put it in a spreadsheet somewhere along with a link to the download. Even better, keep a copy of the installer backed up.
iLok is the absolute worst thing in earth. I hate it. I have two computers I sold that had licenses on them and because I wiped the computer I’m unable to deactivate the plugins on them and have to use one of my remaining installs in my current computer. So be sure to keep your iLok account current before you give away a computer. Cloud activations are great because you can remotely shut off access to cloud sessions and take them over on your current computer. If you used up all your installs you have to email the plug-in creator and have them manually revoke access on other computers which sucks. You have to track down the manufacturer and then wait for them to respond to you and it’s just a pain. So, as bad as iLok is, go in there and do your best to keep track of what is active on what machine.
Computers get lost, stolen, break, and replaced. If you keep your projects organized it will save you so much time and hassle when you feel inspired to work on music. You’ll be spending more time creating music and less time troubleshooting tech problems.