The Best 3 Pro Tools Tips Ever

You want tips? Pro Tools production chops ONLY? Shortcuts and best practices, application triumphs and tragedies, how to make sure you keep the client happy and other goodies? OK, then, buy my book (Pro Tools Overdrive!, Thomson). But for now, I’m listing THREE here so you can get a sense of what the book is like. Use these all day if you like them or store them in the mental Rolodex for use later if you’re not doing this work now. I’ve tried to spread them across multiple production processes. Enjoy.

Creating Discrete Headphone Mixes (Single Artist)

When recording, you and your artist will likely want different mixes. She’ll want plenty of piano and voice, but you’ll want to hear everything as it’ll be in final mix state. That means you’ll be fighting her every step of the way and you’ll never get the performance you want out of her. And we both know who’s going to win, don’t we?

So, you’ll need a discrete pair of outputs and a free SEND tab. For Pro Tools users other than Mbox users, try sending a separate set of outputs to her headphone amp so you can each get what you want. In the I/O labels section (setups>I/O labels) click to the OUTPUT tab and choose a pair of outs that are not in use (use 7-8 as they are not likely to be confused with your 1-2 stereo outs). Label the pair something creative like “Artist Headphone Mix” (Figure 1).

On the MIX page (or EDIT page if you prefer, but it’s easier to see on the MIX page), select every channel (option + channel select) and show the Sends view to make sure you have a free send to use (Display>Sends View shows>Assignments). Create a send to the newly labeled “Artist Headphone Mix” pair of outputs on all channels (option + create Send on free assignment tab).

Once you’ve selected all the channels and create the Send, choose Edit>Copy to Send and choose the “Artist Headphone Mix” send (Figure 2). Check the boxes next to any info you’d like to send to the artist (be careful of automation as it’ll be difficult to change values later for her if the automation is carried to the send). If you switch your display to Sends show individual sends (Display>Sends view shows> Send to “Artist Headphone Mix”), you’ll see that your fader mix is copied to your Send mix going to the Artist. Let her tell you what she wants more or less of and simply turn up or down the value of that track until she’s happy. And then hope that she knows what she wants and knows how to be happy. If not, I can’t help you!

Using Track Edits from Other Sessions

How often have you wanted to take the edits from one session and play with them in another? Want the first half of the first chorus from the other song in this one as an effect? Wish you could get to that perfect guitar hit from two songs ago? If you’ve tried, you’ve probably found that you need to close your current song, re-open the other song, find the parts, Export them as files as seen in Figure 3 (or bounce them if you need the effects too), then re-close this song, re-open the current song and import the parts. Lord help you if you make a mistake or want to go back for more!

Next time, if you think you might want to get to these edits in other sessions (and not import the whole parent file and re-edit because you’re too lazy/rushed to close and open songs all day long!) try to Export Regions as Definitions (Audio bin menu drop-down>Export Region Definitions). Pro Tools normally keeps the Region definitions in the session and the audio on the drive, but Exporting Region Definitions exports the timing of edits to the audio files themselves. Once done, you can import the original audio file and you will now see all the regions in the import audio bin as well (Figure 4).

Thickening Reason’s Dr. Rex Loops

For those of you using Reason or Reason Adapted, a common technique is to take the performance of the Dr. Rex loop and thicken the sound with other drums from other instruments. The challenge is in identifying the individual sounds in the Dr. Rex loop. Since the .rex files play MIDI notes in chromatic increments, all you’ll ever see in the MIDI piano roll is a 45-degree line as seen in Figure 5. This will not work when the MIDI is applied to another sound — even drums.

Import the MIDI file of the Dr. Rex loop onto a MIDI track in Pro Tools (File>Import MIDI to Track). Copy the track to a second MIDI track and assign both outputs to the same Dr. Rex part in Reason shown in Figure 6. On the duplicate track, identify the sound played by each MIDI note as either kick, snare, hat, and so on. As you go up the Dr. Rex line, drag the notes down to the same line as the first note that plays the same sound, (i.e. if the first note (c0) is a kick and the 7th note (f#0) is also a kick, drag the 7th note down to c0). Continue this process until all kicks are on one note, all hats are on one note, etc. (Figure 7).

Now, when you re-assign the second MIDI track to another drum module like Redrum, the timing and feel of the Dr. Rex part will play the sounds from Redrum, thickening the sound and feel of the Dr. Rex loop.