Working in Pro Tools on your first day can be a bit intimidating if you’ve never used a DAW before. Heck, even if you’re a surgeon in Logic Pro or Ableton Live, making the switch over to Pro Tools can make you shiver a bit! Here are 5 areas in which to build good habits from day 1 that will help you work efficiently and productively down the road.
Setting up window configurations and views is an important part of using Pro Tools. The fact that these can be saved alongside your session file is a little jarring for folks who open Pro Tools sessions from other studios. The entire program can really change its ‘look’ and feel entirely new based on different engineer preferences! While you can quickly switch between the Mix and Edit windows with Command + =, there is so much more there if you open up the Window menu. Try going to Window > Configurations > Window Configurations List and build your favorite setup for tracking, overdubbing, mixing, mastering, and more!
Pro Tools can do a fantastic job of showing, hiding and routing inputs as you decide you need them. Setting up IO configurations is important, and you’ll even want to save your setup after you’re done just in case you lose the setup in an upgrade down the road. Go to Setup > IO and you’ll see a ‘matrix’ window that allows you to route physical inputs from your audio interface to numbered inputs in Pro Tools. You can decide to route a bus to a specific physical output on your audio interface for monitoring purposes, you can set up a specific output on your audio interface for re-amping purposes, the sky is the limit! If you put in a little time with this window when you first set up Pro Tools, you can save yourself LOADS of time down the road ‘hunting down’ a specific input to record.
Trying to grab things with your mouse on day 1 of Pro Tools can be a little daunting if you aren’t aware of the 3 main selector tools available to you. The first one, all the way on the left side in the group of 3 is the Trim tool. It allows you to quickly adjust the end of a region or extend the edge of a region if you previously deleted something. Using this tool, click and drag a region to make fast adjustments.
The second tool is the Selection tool. With this cursor you can grasp any part of any region for adjustment. If you want to snip out the middle of something, this is the tool you use. If you want to select a bunch of audio to process it, you’d go here. While you have this tool selected, you won’t be able to make adjustments like you did with the Trim tool, but you can precisely select just about anything to manipulate.
The last tool is the Grabber tool, and it looks like a little hand. With this tool you can easily move a region, completely intact, to another place. If you’ve got the Grabber tool selected, you can also quickly rename a region by double clicking it.
If you want to utilize all 3 behaviors somewhat at once, you can enable the Smart Tool. You do this by clicking on the entire ‘bar’ that surrounds the 3 main tools. This will now make the cursor change to the tool that you most likely want depending on where your mouse is on the screen. It’s a bit of the ‘best of all 3 worlds’ approach, and it can definitely help you work a bit faster.
I really hate the word ‘playlist’ as I don’t think it does a great job of denoting what it does, but alas, I’m not in charge of naming things over at Avid. Basically, if you’re looking to set up alternate ‘takes’ of things you’re going to want to utilize playlists. A playlist allows you to record audio into a track without getting rid of audio that was previously there. You can save these alternate takes as ‘playlists’. You can even create a blank playlist that allows you to move the best parts of each ‘take’ together into one Frankenstien’s monster of a take. This behavior helped coin the famous Pro Tools phrase, “That was the BEST solo I NEVER played!”
You can make all of the playlists for any given track visible at once, and that will make comping a track a whole lot easier. Once you’ve done this, get used to using Command + E to ‘separate’ a portion of a playlist, then clone and drag those separated portions up into the active playlist for your comp track or ‘final product’.
There are 4 modes that Pro Tools allows you to edit in: Shuffle, Spot, Grid, and Slip. I remember starting out with Pro Tools and being very confused about what would happen when I deleted something before I became aware of the modes. Let’s break down all 4 of them so you know which mode to utilize depending on your situation.
Shuffle mode basically enables a ‘snap’ type behavior for the regions. When you drag and drop a region to a different place, it will automatically abut another region, or snap to the beginning of the track. If you’re dropping in audio loops this is desired because you won’t have any ‘dead space’ between them.
Spot mode allows you to drop regions into a specific spot using any time scale. When you grab and move a region, you’ll get a prompt asking you exactly what time you’d like to drop it in. If you’re scoring music to film, or doing foley work for film, this can be incredibly handy as you can always drop things in exactly where they need to be to work with the video.
Grid mode is extremely common as it’s how many other DAWs tend to work. You can move regions around freely, but they will ‘snap in place’ to the grid lines. You can decide if these lines represent bars or beats depending on what time scale you wind up using. So if you want to snap to the 16th note you can, or if you want to snap to the quarter note, you can do that too.
Slip mode is as basic as you can get. You move stuff, it goes where you move it. There’s no snapping, no ‘smart tools’ at work here - just working down at the sample level. This is a great mode if you’re recording without a click track and want the freedom to move things around precisely and discretely.
Pro Tools is a deep program with a ton of functionality layered underneath. Watching a master mix and edit in Pro Tools can be a bit of a performance in and of itself. Try to think about these 5 concepts often in your beginning days, and you’ll build good habits to become a Pro Tools Ninja later on!