6 Things Everyone Should Know When Starting Out in Pro Tools

Pro Tools is a complicated piece of software. It can be almost overwhelming, especially when you’re first starting out. Often, you can spend more time trying to figure how to do something than actually doing it.

It’s incredibly frustrating to have your project continually crash during a recording session. Or to have to record a whole new take because you don’t know how to punch in. Maybe you’re striving for perfection because you don’t know how to comp takes or quantize audio.

Part of being a good recording engineer is becoming efficient with your DAW of choice. Microphone selection and placement is only part of the job. Creativity is fleeting and some artists like to work fast—it’s important that you can keep up the pace on your end.

While efficient and necessary, keyboard shortcuts can only take you so far. And hey, anybody can sit in front of a computer and push "3" to record. Increase your workflow with the following six tips, so that you can spend more time actually making music.

Auto Backup

Depending on the session, Pro Tools can use a lot of your computer’s processing power. At times, it may use so much that it crashes. And unless you’ve been religiously hitting Command+S every 60 seconds, there’s a good chance you’re going to lose some work. Unless, that is, you use Auto Backup.

This one’s easy:

  • Go to the Setup menu
  • Select Preferences
  • In the Preferences Window, select the Operations Tab
  • Check "Enable Session File Auto Backup"

From there, you can select how often the system creates a backup.

Session Templates

Session Templates are a huge time-saver. They allow you to create different starting points for recording, mixing, and any other job you routinely do in your studio.

Most session templates include color-coded busses, effects sends and returns, and I/O settings. They may also include a few of your favorite plugins.*

To create a Session Template:

  • Create a new session
  • Create and organize channels as needed
  • Label I/O accordingly
  • Go to the File menu
  • Select "Save As Template"

Next time you open Pro Tools, you can select "Create New Session From Template" from the launch window. Alternatively, you can always Import the Session Template data from the File menu.

*Bonus Tip: You can create a list of "favorite" plugins to keep at the top of the insert menu! To add a plugin to the list, simply Command+Click / Control+Click!

H/W Buffer Size

Latency can be a huge problem during the recording process. It’s essentially a short delay between the actual performance and what the performer hears played back to them in their headphones. It may not seem like a big deal, but it can be a huge-huge distraction-distraction.

Latency is controlled by your H/W Buffer Size, which is the size of the cache Pro Tools uses to work its magic.

A large H/W Buffer Size is needed when there’s a lot of processing in a session. Things like plugins, automation, and clip edits all require processing. However, large H/W Buffer Sizes also create latency when recording.

Here’s the solution—when recording, use a low H/W Buffer Size, and when mixing, use a high H/W Buffer Size.

To adjust your H/W Buffer Size:

  • Go to the Setup menu
  • Select Playback Engine
  • Find the H/W Buffer Size dropdown menu
  • When recording try 128 samples*
  • When mixing use 1024 samples

*Author’s Note: Most systems produce minimal latency at 128, and many systems begin to crash when recording with a lower sample rate. Experiment and find what works best for your rig.

Playlists & Comping

The Playlist function allows you to record multiple takes of the same instrument on one track.

After recording your first take, click on the dropdown menu to the right of the track name in the Edit Window, and select "New." The original audio clip will be moved to an alternate "playlist," allowing you to record a new take. Repeat this process as many times as needed, until you have enough takes to create the desired performance.

After recording several takes, you may find that you like parts from Take 1, Take 3, Take 7, and so on. Thankfully, Pro Tools makes it easy to make a "comp," or composite take, from multiple takes.

  • First, find the best take overall
  • Click on the dropdown menu to the right of the track name in the Edit Window, and select "Duplicate"
  • Name this track "Vocal/Guitar/Whatever" Comp
  • Click on the Track View Selector
  • Select Playlist—this will show each take in its own lane below the Comp Take
  • Click the solo button on the lane of the take you’d like to preview and hit play
  • Select a portion of a take that you would like to include in the Comp Take with the Selector Tool
  • Push the Copy Selection To Main Playlist button (Up Arrow) on the take lane—this will add the selection to the Comp Take
  • Repeat as needed, until you have the desired performance

Punching In / Loop Record

Pro Tools offers multiple recording methods. For instance, say you recorded a vocal take, and it was perfect except for one line. Instead of trying to get an even better take, you can simply "punch in" and overdub the bad line.

To enable Quick Punch, simply go to the Options menu and enable Quick Punch. Then, select a point in your session just before the part you want to replace. Be sure to give yourself some lead-in time to prepare. Hit play, and when you’re ready, push record to "punch-in."

You can also use the Pre Roll function in the Transport window to give yourself some buffer time. This option allows you to start recording before the point you actually want to punch in, to avoid clipping off the intro of your take.

If you’re having a particularly hard time with a certain part and need to record multiple takes, you can enable Loop Recording. Loop Recording allows you to record multiple takes of a selected range.To enable Loop Recording:

  • Go to Setup menu, and select Preferences
  • In the Preferences Window, under the Operations Tab, find the Record section
  • Check the box "Automatically Create New Playlists When Loop Recording" box
  • Go to the Options menu and enable Loop Record
  • Select the portion of the song in which you would like to loop record, and go!

Elastic Audio

The Elastic Audio function in Pro Tools allows you to manipulate the timing of an audio track. You can even quantize an audio recording to the grid! To enable Elastic Audio:

  • Click on the Time Base Selector button on the bottom left corner of the track you want to quantize
  • Select Ticks
  • This will enable the Elastic Audio Plug-In Selector directly to the right. Select Polyphonic for instruments playing more than one note at a time, Monophonic for instruments playing only one note, or Rhythmic for rhythmic instruments.
  • Click the Track View menu and select Warp
  • Go to the Event menu > Event Operations > Quantize
  • Select the desired preferences and hit Apply
  • Fine tune the quantized performance by hand using Warp Markers

These 6 tips are only a start. Pro Tools is an incredibly sophisticated system. It can take years to discover everything it has to offer. Being a recording engineer is a craft, after all. And you don’t get good at a craft just by reading about it online. You’ve got to practice! So boot up a session and put these new skills to the test!

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