Over the years I have amassed quite a large collection of sound effects. I use these on a regular basis when I’m working on audio post production mixes, especially film based projects which rely heavily on sound design. The Workspace Browser in Pro Tools allows you to search connected drives when you need to find a file. However, if you’re searching through a very large volume of data, it can be slow to come up with the search results. This is where the Catalogs feature can come in very handy.
Catalogs are found in the locations pane of Workspace browsers and are essentially a way of creating references to files, irrespective of where those files are actually located. This can be useful if, for example, you want to create a convenient list of your favourite sound effects which is fully searchable.
Creating a catalog is very easy. Just right click within the empty catalogs area and choose New catalog. Give it a name and click OK. Now open a second workspace window (Option + I), locate the files you want to reference and drag them to the catalog. This doesn’t copy the files themselves, but will reference all of the metadata about the files including file name, bit depth, sample rate, file comments and a whole host of other attributes. If you’ve dragged a large quantity of files to a catalog, this process may take a few minutes. Once it’s done though, you will have a convenient list of the files you just added, which is fully searchable. Searching is extremely quick because Pro Tools only has to search through metadata and everything is already indexed.
Files All Over The Place
One of the most convenient features of catalogs is that they can contain references to files from any number of locations. If you had favourite sound effects or samples spread across multiple drives, a catalog would be a convenient way to bring them together in an easily browsable list. You can audition audio files from catalogs in the same way you can from any other Workspace browser. Once you find a file you want to use, just drag it from the catalog to the session and the audio will be imported.
The basic search function which workspace browsers provide often turns up too many search results. It’s an ‘or’ search, which means that if I just typed in ‘footsteps wooden floor’ it would come up with results which match any of those individual words.
Clicking on the advanced search button (the button with 3 horizontal lines on it at the top right of the window) allows additional fields to be added. Just click the + button and input the search terms individually. The advanced search operates as an 'and' search. As you can see, my search results are now much more refined and only contain results which match ALL of my search terms.
Searching Offline Files
Once you have created a catalog, you can still search through the referenced files, even when the drive they are on is not connected to your computer. Obviously you can’t audition the files but you can search them by any of the available metadata fields.
I also use catalogs to reference backed up Pro Tools sessions. This makes it easy to track down an old project. I can just search my ‘Session Backups’ catalog and the Path column will tell me which drive it’s on and in which folder.
This means that I can search for any audio file or session I’ve ever worked on, as long as I can remember roughly what it was called or what the client or project name was. Failing that, the advanced search allows you to search for items within a range of dates so if you can only remember that you worked on something in a certain time frame, you still stand a very good chance of locating it.
That’s a brief overview of some of the more handy features of catalogs. There is actually a lot more you can do with it, and a lot more to the search functionality than I've covered here but if you haven’t used catalogs before, give them a try. It’s not the most exciting feature of Pro Tools but it’s certainly one which can help to make life a little easier!