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Making Tracks: A Stamp in Time

December 1, 2008
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FIG. 1: Merging multiple audio files in a track creates one contiguous file for easy import into another DAW.

FIG. 1: Merging multiple audio files in a track creates one contiguous file for easy import into another DAW.

One of the great benefits of recording with a DAW is the ease with which files can be shared to facilitate collaboration on a project by two or more parties. Where different DAWs are used by the collaborators, one party typically exports raw audio files and sends them to the receiving party, who then imports them into his DAW. Both DAWs should be set to the same sampling rate and bit depth when working on a shared project.

By exchanging only the audio files and not project documents (containing mixer setups, plug-ins, virtual instruments, and fades), collaborators avoid potential incompatibilities between their two DAWs. However, there is still one big pitfall to watch out for: simply sending a bunch of audio files to a collaborator doesn't guarantee they will all play together in his DAW properly synced (that is, having their original placements along the project's timeline). Unless certain precautions are taken, the kick drum track might lag behind the snare drum track, for example, and the bass guitar track might play ahead of all the drum tracks. Luckily, there is a way to ensure that all the tracks lock properly.

In this article, I'll show you how to import audio files into MOTU Digital Performer (DP) so that they all lock together as they did in the DAW in which they were originally recorded. Most of what I'll show you is applicable to other DAWs; the principles are the same, and you need only find your DAW's corresponding menus and commands to execute the techniques shown here. But before I dive into importing, a few tips about exporting audio files are in order. How your collaborator records and exports shared audio files will largely determine your success in importing them.

Only the Beginning

The simplest way to ensure that all tracks will lock properly after you import them is to have your collaborator record them beginning at exactly 0:00:00.00. You'll then only need to drag your imported audio files to the known 0:00:00.00 starting point. However, there are drawbacks to relying solely on this method.

The tracks won't all lock if your collaborator hit the record button on some of the takes even a hair after 0:00:00.00. Any punch-ins will be separate files that don't start at 0:00:00.00. And it's tedious to record from the beginning of a song just to overdub, say, a 4-bar solo in the middle.

The fix for all these situations is to use Audio→Merge Soundbites to merge (or, in Pro Tools parlance, consolidate) all previously recorded files from the beginning to the end of a track so that they become one long file starting at 0:00:00.00 (see Fig. 1). To be clear, the track should be merged all the way back along the timeline to 0:00:00.00 even if no audio was recorded in the track that early. In some DAWs, you may need to record a short snippet of audio starting from 0:00:00.00 in order to have the merged file start there. A big benefit of merging is that it greatly reduces the number of audio files the collaborator will need to import.

Even using the foregoing methods, mistakes occasionally happen, and sooner or later you will receive some files that don't begin at 0:00:00.00. Fortunately, you can make even these tracks lock, as long as your collaborator recorded and exported them in a format that supports time-stamping. SDII and Broadcast Wave formats automatically time-stamp each audio file with its original start and end times. After importing time-stamped files into DP, you can command them to snap to their original positions along the project's timeline so that they lock in perfect sync with one another (see “Step-by-Step Instructions”).

Copycat

First, copy to your hard drive all the time-stamped audio files you want to import. Then import them into your project by dragging them into DP's Soundbites window.

Even if you have a zillion other previously recorded soundbites (audio files) listed in the Soundbites window, you can easily find the freshly imported audio files by using DP's powerful soundbites-sorting function. Simply click on the View By menu at the top of the Soundbites window and select Time Created from the drop-down menu. The newest files, those you just imported, will be moved to the bottom of the list in the window.

Next, create any new (blank) tracks you need to play back your newly imported audio files, and drag-and-drop each file into the appropriate track in DP's Sequence Editor. It doesn't matter where along the timeline you drop the files.

Select all the newly imported soundbites. Then under the Audio menu, select Time Stamps→Move To Original Time Stamp. All of the selected soundbites will snap to their original positions along the timeline and will play back in perfect sync.


EM contributing editor Michael Cooper has written more than 300 articles about pro audio over the past 20 years. Visit him at myspace.com/michaelcooperrecording.

STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS ON NEXT PAGE

Step-By-Step Instructions

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Step 1: Import files by dragging them into DP''s Soundbites window.

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Step 2: Sort the list of soundbites in the Soundbites window by Time Created.

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Step 3: Create any new audio tracks that are needed to play back your imported audio files.

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Step 4: Drag each imported file into the appropriate track in DP''s Sequence Editor.

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Step 5: Select all the imported soundbites.

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Step 6: Select the Time StampsMove To Original Time Stamp command in the Audio menu to snap the soundbites to their original timeline locations.

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