Good Migrations

Steps for painless migration between software platforms.
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FIG. 1: Moving a complex file with multiple tracks and regions can present a challenge, even if the OMF file exchange works perfectly.

In today's world of digital file sharing, musicians and engineers are often called upon to collaborate on files created in software other than their preferred DAW. I am often hired to mix sessions created in Apple Logic Pro or MOTU Digital Performer, and in order to work efficiently, I prefer these files to be imported into Digidesign Pro Tools. Likewise, when I send out my Pro Tools production to a keyboard wizard for spicing up, he may feel more comfortable in Logic Pro or Steinberg Cubase.

The simplest way to migrate between software platforms is to export and import OMF or AAF files. (See “Making Tracks: Going DAW to DAW” in the October 2007 issue of EM.) Here I'll offer six tricks of the trade (that I have learned the hard way) to make that process as painless and sonically smooth as possible (see “Step-by-Step Instructions” on p. 70).

Remove the Clutter

Nothing slows down file transfers like searching for missing audio, and nothing inflates OMF files more than audio files that are not relevant to the session. To get rid of them, first delete unused tracks and playlists left over from earlier in the project. That eliminates visual clutter by lowering your track count and removes audio files that are no longer necessary (see Fig. 1).

Next, open your audio bin, select all the unused audio files, and remove them from the session. Be careful to remove them from the session only; do not delete them from your hard drive. When the OMF codec creates an OMF with embedded audio, it will encode only the remaining audio files, which results in a much smaller OMF file.

Use third-party plug-ins that are common to both platforms to ensure that your effects will translate. For example, if you are using Performer's or Logic's channel EQ, try replacing it with something like Waves Renaissance EQ. Remember to save the Renaissance EQ settings in the project folder so that when the file is pulled up in a different DAW, you can instantiate the EQ and restore its settings. If you are accompanying the session to your collaborator's studio and you use plug-ins that are dongle protected, it's easy to bring your installations and dongle along and temporarily install them on the new system.

Worth a Thousand Words

Most OMF transfers include only audio-region and track-layout information — levels and panning are often ignored. You could spend an afternoon jotting all this info down in your session notes, or you could take a screen shot and save it with the session folder.

Open the mix window in your sequencer and position it to fill as much of the screen as possible, showing fader levels, panning, sends, and inserts. If you can't capture everything in one screen shot, reposition the mix window to show the next bank of faders. Repeat until you have a sequence of screen shots that shows the entire mixer.

Now you are ready to export your file in OMF format. Be sure to check the include-audio option; that will embed all the audio into a single OMF file. If you are going from a native system to a PCI-card-based TDM system, all the audio files must have the same bit depth. Otherwise, the files will be visible but won't play, so make sure you select the option to convert all audio files to a common bit depth. You can also save a step by converting interleaved-stereo files to split-stereo files, which are required by the TDM engine.

It's About Time

In order to transfer tempo information, you must export a Standard MIDI File (SMF). Consider saving your original MIDI programming in the SMF as well. Often a plug-in or soft synth reacts differently in different hosts, so some of your MIDI controller automation may need tweaking. An SMF takes up very little storage and is handy to have when the need arises.

When you open the OMF in a new DAW, you will see the various audio-region edits as before, but the track layout may be changed and the stereo/mono configurations may be different. Use your screen shots to restore panning and levels, instantiate your plug-ins, recall the settings, and tweak to taste.

If moving from native Logic to TDM-based Logic, you can easily maintain all the plug-ins and settings. Before changing an audio track from Core Audio to Direct TDM, click-and-hold the Settings button on the channel strip. Copy channel strip settings into the buffer and then paste them back after reconfiguring that channel to Direct TDM. Unfortunately, in Logic 8 there is no quick way to do all the tracks at once; you must repeat this process for each track. With a little preparation (and a few hidden tricks), you can make the trek from one platform to another seem like a small step instead of a giant leap.

David Darlington won a Grammy in 2007 for engineering the Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project album Simpatico (ArtistShare, 2006).

STEP-BY-STEP Instructions

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Step 1: Remove the unused audio from a file before exporting.

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Step 2: Use third-party plug-ins to ensure that you can use the same plug-ins on another platform.

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Step 3: Take a screen shot of your mixer to remember panning, levels, and sends.

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Step 4: When exporting an OMF, convert all files to a common bit depth to ensure compatibility.

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Step 5: Export a MIDI file to capture tempo information as well as all the MIDI data.

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Step 6: Copy the channel strip setting before changing the audio driver of a Logic Pro audio track.

Additional Resources

Wikipedia article on OMF

Wikipedia article on AAF