Continuing our journey through the A-Z of Pro Tools, the first letter of 2015 is F. There are a few candidates here. Fades are worth a mention as are files.
Unfortunately in my experience when introducing students to Pro Tools, file management is the biggest single barrier to overcome. For many, Pro Tools is their first experience of dealing with software which references assets. Given the direction of current operating systems, and with iOS locking the user out of the file structure altogether, it seems that a division between pro users and consumers is going to emerge, with many not having to engage with file management at all in the future. I’m far from convinced this is a good thing but given the amount of people I meet who seem to rely on spotlight to manage their files (!) I can see a time when it will no longer be safe to assume that someone who is using professional tools on a computer knows how to look after their files. At the end of the day file management is about being organised and few of us are as organised as we should be but to make sure your sessions are properly archived, begin with the save copy command. If you need a refresher on this try this article on Pro Tools session structure.
Fades are bread and butter in audio editing. When working with people who are new to Pro Tools, it regularly surprises me how many try to create fades using volume automation, which would be achieved much more easily using conventional clip-based fades. Fades are very important but the basics are reasonably self-explanatory. If you have never created any fades then members can watch this tutorial by Russ on creating fades using the smart tool and fades dialogue.
Until very recently Pro Tools printed fades as separate audio files in a dedicated Fades folder (the contents of which seemed to get lost or corrupted regularly and had to be rebuilt). This was a legacy behaviour dating right back to the early days of Sound Tools where crossfading between regions would push the system above its maximum voice count. Crossfading between two stereo regions on a stereo track used four voices for the duration of the crossfade: Two for the fade out and two for the (simultaneous) fade in. Rendering fades neatly bypassed this increase in simultaneous voices. Thankfully fades are now rendered in real time in Pro Tools today.
While many people edit very effectively using just the Smart Tool, I have never been particularly fond of it. I prefer to use keyboard shortcuts. Command F (Control F on PC) is well known but If you don’t use Command Focus when creating fades it is definitely worth trying. With Command Focus active in the Edit window (Command+Option+1 on a Mac, Control+Alt+1 on PC) pressing D will create a fade in from the clip in point to the insertion point (assuming the insertion point is in the clip), G will create a fade out from the insertion point to the clip out point and, if an edit selection exists crossing a clip boundary, F will create a fade (in, out or crossfade) depending on whether the edit selection is over the head, tail or between two adjacent clips.
Usefully it has always been possible to trim fades using the Trim tool. This allows the fade length or the in and out points to be tweaked freely but if you want to tweak the shape of the fade itself it is necessary to use the fades editor.
The fades editor window was, as far as I’m aware, the last piece of the Pro Tools GUI to receive a facelift and I found it rather amusing to see a window which was still so stubbornly blocky and refusing to believe it wasn’t still part of Pro Tools 5! Since Pro Tools 11 it has finally joined the rest of the interface but the contents of the window are still unchanged, giving fine control of both the incoming and outgoing fades with useful, standard fades. The interface doesn’t allow for the direct dragging of the crossfade point like many would expect but by setting Link Out/In to none it is possible to manipulate the fades by handles at each end. To be honest this isn’t somewhere I spend much time other than choosing between equal power and equal gain fades.
Default Fade Preferences
The choice of whether you should choose an equal power or equal gain fade only really affects crossfades. The correct choice depends on exactly what is being crossfaded with what. If the incoming and outgoing clips are “correlated” then equal gain is the right choice. If the material isn’t strongly correlated then equal power is the correct choice. This business about correlation is a bit technical but simply put it is about how similar the two sounds are to each other, its a bit more complicated than that but it is important because if you sum two uncorrelated sounds together then the overall level will rise by 3dB, if you sum two correlated sounds together the overall level will rise by 6dB. Because of this the two choices exist. If you use equal power to crossfade strongly correlated sounds then there will be a noticeable rise and fall in level (3dB) during the crossfade. Similarly if equal gain is selected for use on uncorrelated material there will be a corresponding dip in level during the crossfade. The default fade shape can be set for fade in, out and cross in the editing tab of the preferences. If you need the other shape select it from the fades dialogue.
An area which causes much confusion is the subject of a crossfade having “invalid bounds”. I remember discussing this with a BBC editor who told me about a feature of her system, which displayed the “handles” of a clip to avoid this. I’d love to see this as a view option in Pro Tools, toggled with a modifier? The handles refers to the audio available beyond the in and out points of the clip. In a crossfade there has to be audio available before the in point of the incoming clip and after the out point of the outgoing clip for the crossfade to be possible. In the image below the whole file clips are displayed above and below the crossfade track. In this example a crossfade of the duration of the edit selection wouldn’t be possible as there isn’t enough audio in the parent files to allow a crossfade of that length.
Stay tuned for the next instalment which predictably enough will be brought to you by the letter G (cue Sesame Street music….).