Considering one of the principal uses Pro Tools is put to is as a multitrack recorder I’d always encourage a new user to get straight in there and actually record something. However there are many users for whom very little of the audio on their timelines will actually be recorded into that system. While importing audio into Pro Tools is straightforward there are still a few things to be aware of.
Importing Audio - The Import Dialogue
The way I recommend people start importing audio, and the way I still tend to do it, is using the import audio dialogue (File > Import > Audio, CMD+Shift+I/Ctrl+Shift+I). Although this might be seen as slower than some other methods it makes the user aware of some details which might otherwise be missed. There is important information presented in the import audio window which other methods do not draw the user’s attention to in the same way, like the difference between adding a file to your session and copying a file to the session.
Pro Tools works with either .BWF files (broadcast wave files - basically a .WAV but with additional metadata) or .AIFF files. The current recommendations are for the use of BWF over AIFF as BWF supports time stamping and AIFF does not. Historically mac users used AIFF and windows users used .WAV but there is no longer any reason to to this. In the Import Audio dialogue the user selects files using the window’s browser, files can be previewed if necessary and the wanted files are added to the clips list. Files can either be added, copied or converted for use in the session by using the add or the copy/convert buttons. The copy button will automatically change to “convert” if the selected file is not a type which can be used natively within Pro Tools. Compressed audio files such as mp3s are not natively compatible and must be converted first before use.
Add, Copy and Convert
Add - The audio file will remain in its original location and the Pro Tools session will reference that file at its original location (i.e. it is not in the project’s audio files folder)
Copy - The audio file is left in its original location and a copy is made in the session's audio files folder and it is this copy which is used by Pro Tools.
Convert - The audio file is left in its original location and a copy is made in WAV or AIFF format and this converted copy, which is stored in the session's audio files folder, is used by Pro Tools. If a file is compatible with Pro Tools you have a choice to add or to copy. Which is best? Well like most choices you are presented with it depends but for the overwhelming majority of new users I would recommend always copying.
Pros And Cons Of Adding Vs Copying
Pros - Quick, uses less drive space. Can benefit collaborative workflow
Cons - File management becomes less straightforward. Potential to have missing files
Pros - allows use of incompatible file types. Backup and moving projects is simpler.
Cons - Slower. Uses more drive space.
Why is Add Not Always Available?
In a Pro Tools session you can freely combine files with different bit depths but files with a different sample rate to the session would play back at the wrong pitch if they were imported directly. In this case a copy has to be made with appropriate sample rate conversion applied. In practise compatibility issues are easy to understand as the import window displays helpful information about the properties of the currently selected file and its compatibility with the session in the file properties section of the import audio window.
Importing Audio - Drag and drop
Of course there are other ways of importing audio and the most intuitive is to drag and drop from Finder/Windows Explorer. Dragging an audio file which is compatible with the current session onto the timeline adds the file to the session. If the file is not directly compatible it will be copied with any appropriate sample rate or file conversion applied. This automatic adding of files can lead to files which are not stored in the session folder being referenced by the session and this is, in my experience, the most common cause of missing files in sessions which are moved between systems.
Pro Tools Import Preferences
There is a very useful pref in the Processing tab of the Pro Tools Preferences. “Automatically Copy Files On Import” prevents drag and drop from adding files and for most users I would recommend it.
Importing Audio - Workspace
The final option for importing audio into your session is using the workspace browser (Window > New Workspace). The workspace browser has attracted criticism from some members of the team and while it is far from perfect I would still recommend anyone who hasn’t used it before to investigate it as it offers elastic time based auditioning features which are not available using other methods. Discussion of the Workspace browser goes beyond the scope of this article but in terms of potential pitfalls when importing audio the Workspace browser works in the same way as dragging and dropping and if the prefs do not force copying of compatible files it is still possible to add files rather than copying them.
To audition files from the Import Audio dialogue or the Workspace browser You will need a valid audition path set up. In small systems this is probably going to be the same as your default stereo output. To set up your audition path go to I/O settings (Setup > I/O) and go to the output tab. Another thing to be aware of is that if you are working with imported loops and samples, these tend to have been limited. As such they usually will be much louder than material which has been tracked into a system so be careful when auditioning. Additionally if you use imported, full-scale loops and leave your faders 0dB you will clip the output, if you don’t have a master fader you probably won’t realise and if you EQ by boosting frequencies you will drive your system further into the red. All very common mistakes but easily avoided if you are aware of the danger.