Be a Pro Tools 11 Power User

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AVID SPENT several years preparing Pro Tools 11 for release, and it shows in the depth and breadth of its new features. For example, its 64-bit architecture not only accesses more of your computer’s RAM, but it re-allocates host-based multi-core resources dynamically and more efficiently.

Besides being 64-bit under the hood, Version 11 adds a number of useful workflow enhancements to an already mature DAW. Here, I will focus on the ones that are easy to overlook, especially by those of us who don’t normally open a manual because we just want to get things done.

All of the topics in this article are available in both levels of the program, Pro Tools HD 11 and Pro Tools 11, the latter of which runs natively on your system and requires nothing more than your iLok. When I mention two modifiers in relation to key-command shortcuts, such as Command/Control + S, the first modifier is for Mac OS and the second for Windows users.

11 Will Get You 10! Bummed about losing your RTAS and TDM plug-ins? Don’t worry! Your purchase of Pro Tools 11 includes an install of version 10.3.6, and both versions can live on your drive at the same time. This provides a way for you to continue using your favorite instruments and effects when you need them. For example, use your RTAS plug-ins to process an audio file within Version 10, then bounce the results to disk or record the processed audio to a new track. When you’re done, quit Version 10, launch Version 11, and import the tracks you created. You won’t need to restart your computer to do this.

Version 10.3.6 is also your last chance to use those SD2 (Sound Designer 2) files you have lying around; they’re not supported in Version 11. As you import these files, Version 10 will automatically change them to match your session’s audio file format. So don’t let that old sample library go to waste!

Know Your Workspace Avid has enhanced the Workspace Browser in Pro Tools 11, making it easier to search through volumes (hard drives, networked drives, and removable media such as CDs and DVDs) and relink media assets. It’s a great way to locate and audition audio clips before importing them into a session using drag-and-drop.

But don’t let the look of this powerful databasing feature intimidate you: It’s one of the handiest resources that Pro Tools has and it’s worth exploring until you understand it. To open it, select New Workspace from the Window menu or type Alt/Option + ; (semicolon).

If you are looking for a sound file to import into your session, use the Workspace’s standard Search capabilities to find it. The shortcut is Command/Control + F. Or simply type the name of the file you’re looking for into the box at the top right of the window and you will see the results.

Fig. 1. Using the Advanced Search capabilities of the Workspace browser, you can search using a long list of criteria.

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If you’re not sure of the file name you want, but you know other criteria, use the Advanced Search functionality by clicking on the button with the three vertical lines next to the magnifying glass icon, or use the shortcut Command/Control + Shift + F. Now you can search by whatever aspect of the file you know (sample rate, duration, tempo, bit-depth, clip name, etc.), and whether or not it contains or begins with a certain word (see Figure 1). Once you find the sound file you’re looking for, you can drag and drop it onto a blank place on the Edit window timeline to create a new track, drag it into a compatible track or into the track list, or place it in the clip bin.

With Version 11, the Workspace browser is divided—the Locations pane is on the left, and the Workspace pane is on the right. In the latter pane, you can view and organize files by Name, Kind, Size, Bit Depth, Sample Rate, Duration, and so forth. When I look for files, I often want to see the Waveform view, file format, and resolution at a glance, so I reorder the columns by clicking on their names and dragging them where I need them. When they are in the order I want, I save it as a preset by Command/Control-clicking on one of the preset numbers in the upper left area of the window.

This is just one of the many ways to use the Workspace browser, which is covered in depth but in an easy-to-understand way in Chapter 16 of the Pro Tools Reference Guide. Despite being 1,300 pages in length, the guide is a great place to find answers for those of us who don’t normally read manuals cover to cover. It’s hyperlinked and searchable, and remarkably easy to use. And, no, you don’t have to read all of it!

Add a Track By Double-Clicking One of the biggest time saving additions to Pro Tools 11 is the ability to add new tracks by double-clicking (often with a modifier) in the blank area of the Edit and Mix window or Track list. You can use this method when you first create a session, which gives you a stereo audio track by default. Or, if you already have a session going, double-clicking below other tracks yields a track similar to the last one you created, including the channel width.

To create specific types of tracks, add a modifier when double clicking:

Audio Track: Command/Control + double-click
Stereo Instrument Track:
Option/Alt + double-click
Aux Input Track:
Control/Start + double-click
Master Fader:
Shift + double-click

Keep in mind that, if the previous track you created was mono, such as a mono audio track, and you create a Master Fader or Aux Input, these too will be mono. Only the Instrument track is always stereo. Consequently, I start a new session by creating audio tracks first when using the double-click method, in order to get stereo tracks, before creating Aux Inputs or a Master Fader. If I need to, I reorder them later by dragging the track name tiles to a more meaningful position (e.g., audio tracks on the left, Master Fader track on the far right).

Write Automation While Recording There are times when you want to create a rough mix while you’re tracking, and with Pro Tools 11 you can. The program now allows you to write automation while you’re recording.

Under the Operations tab in Preferences, you will find the Enable Automation in Record check box. Select it, and then begin automating parameters as you would during playback using your control surface or mouse.

Fig. 2. I have set the Fade-In time in this example to 250ms.

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Transport Fade-In Have you ever been startled by an unexpectedly loud click, pop, or transient when you begin playback during a session? The new Transport Fade-In feature is there to help. You’ll find it located in the Transport window below Post-Roll (see Figure 2).

Type the fade time into the number field and the hit Return/Enter key. Click on the Fade-In button to turn the feature on or off. You can set a fade-in of up to four seconds. Avid recommends a 250ms fade for music production, but the length you choose will depend on the type of project you’re working on. Although this feature is for playback only, determining the right length makes it less distracting.

Be sure to turn Transport Fade-In off before you record or else you will add fades to the beginning of the audio files you create.

Offline Bounce Pro Tools users have been asking for offline (non-realtime) bounce capabilities for a long time, and it took the total code rewrite of Version 11 to get it. When you use Bounce to Disk (Option/Alt + Command/Window + B), simply check the box marked Offline, and you’ll get your bounced file a lot faster than realtime.

But wait, there’s more!

You can tell Pro Tools HD 11 to create several types of tracks at the same time while bouncing files to disk, at a different resolution, as well as mixes of selected tracks and stems. Non-HD users don’t get all of these features, but they do get the ability to simultaneously create an MP3 file while bouncing out a file in a WAV or AIFF format. Just check the box marked Add MP3.

The default destination is a folder named Bounced Files located in your Session folder. It is created automatically when you render files using the Bounce to Disk command. However, you can select a different destination by clicking on the Choose tab next to the word Directory.

Fig. 3. The Bounce dialog box with Offline bounce checked. Next to it is the dialog box that pops up when you choose Add MP3.

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When you’ve selected Add MP3 and hit the Bounce button, a new dialog box appears that lets you customize the MP3 file you’re creating. Here, you can set the encoding speed and constant bit rate, choose the type of ID3 tag it’ll have, add metadata information, and so on (see Figure 3). Hit OK when you’re done, and Pro Tools will begin rendering your files. It works like a charm.

You can also select other destinations for the file in the Bounce dialog box. These include importing the file back into the session after the bounce, adding it to your iTunes Library, and sending it to Gobbler or SoundCloud by using the Share With menu.

Meet the Meters Version 11 has added a number of useful options for metering, much of which is available only to HD users. However, non-HD users do get some very useful options.

Fig. 4. Your metering choices in the non-HD version of Pro Tools 11.

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Both versions of Pro Tools 11 have a dedicated Metering tab under Preferences, where you can set the behavior of the track and master fader meters differently or link them so they display the same scale and ballistics. The scale and ballistics settings for non-HD users are Sample Peak (the default, which displays the dynamics with greater acuity than with previous native versions of Pro Tools), Pro Tools Classic, as well as Venue Peak and Venue RMS, both of which scale to +20dB and are based on Avid’s live-sound mixers (see Figure 4). HD users get an added array of pro-level metering options including RMS, VU, Digital VU, Linear, Linear (Extended), five kinds of PPM, and three K-scale types. In addition, HD systems can display gain-reduction meters, which work with supported dynamics plug-ins and reflect the reference level and range of the type of meter you’ve chosen.

The Preferences’ Metering tab is where you can also add meters to your Send tiles by clicking in the Show Send Assignment Level Meter box below the word Display. Now you will see a mini meter at the right side of each Send tile.

Fig. 5. The Expanded Sends view puts a number of handy controls at your fingertips in the Mix window.

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If you want a slightly larger meter with a fader and controls for each Send, but you don’t want to open a bunch of full-size faders, select Expanded Sends View under the View menu (see Figure 5). Here you can expand the Sends by individual row (A through J) or all at once. I like having the miniature pan controls, fader, meters, and Mute and Pre buttons visible while tweaking a mix, rather than cluttering up my computer screen with floating windows.

Hiding and Sizing Here are a couple of tricks that pros use for faders and metering in the Mix window, which are easy to remember if you paraphrase the Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler:” “You’ve got to know when to hide ’em. Know when to widen ’em.”

Fig. 6. Here is the Mix window with the faders and meters in view.Fig. 7. Here is the Mix window with the faders and meters in view.

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Hide ’Em That’s right! You can hide the meters and fader when you need more screen real estate in your Mix window, or if you’re using a control surface and you don’t want to see the meters and faders of each channel on your computer screen (see Figures 6 and 7). Under the View menu, select Mix Window Views, then deselect Meters and Faders. This doesn’t affect the Send assignment level meters, which will still be part of the Send tile if you checked the box marked Display (located within the Metering section of Preferences).

Widen ’Em If the meters are difficult to see, super-size them! The key combination to do this on the Mac is Control + Option + Command while clicking on any meter. Windows users can hit Control + Option + Start while clicking on a meter. This makes all of the meters in the Mix and Edit windows wider and easier to read.

What’s really cool is that this widens the meters even if you’re in Narrow Mix view, where seeing fatter meters can be quite helpful. Keep in mind that if you’re an HD user and want to view Gain Reduction meters, you will need to refrain from widening the meters: There’s not enough room for both.