The majority of recording and editing operations in Pro Tools are non-destructive. Whether you trim a clip, process something with an AudioSuite plug-in, remove a clip from a track or make a recording which runs into an existing clip on the timeline, you can still revert back to the original audio. This can be done by either undoing what you’ve just done, re-trimming a clip or simply dragging the original clip from the clip list back onto the timeline. There are, however, certain operations in Pro Tools which operate destructively, meaning that the original files are permanently overwritten. Here are 5 destructive Pro Tools features to be aware of:
If you right click on the record button in either the Transport window or at the top of the edit window, you are presented with a number of different record modes. One of these modes is called Destructive. This allows you to record over existing audio on the timeline, permanently replacing the original. In certain workflows this can be useful. I use it occasionally when doing an internal layback of a post production mix. If I spot a mistake part way through the recording, I can stop the recording, correct the problem and resume recording again from just before where the problem was. When the recording is stopped, the new audio is written directly into the original file. Destructive record is not undoable and so be careful when using this feature!
This HD-only record mode operates in a similar way to destructive record but with the added feature of being able to selectively punch in and out of a recording as the session runs. In order for this to work, a track must be ‘Destructive Punch Enabled’. You can only punch into an existing audio file and not into empty space. The file has to start at the beginning of the session, and it has to meet the Destructive Punch File length duration you’ve set in the Operation tab of preferences. If the criteria aren’t met, you are prompted to Prepare DPE tracks when you try to initiate recording.
This appends any existing audio on the track with silence, creating a new consolidated audio clip into which you can destructively punch in. It’s a strange record mode and probably the one I’ve found least use for. As the name suggests, it’s destructive and so you can’t go back or undo a recording once it’s done!
Pencil Tool Waveform Editing
If you are sufficiently zoomed into an audio waveform, the pencil tool becomes available for waveform repair. This can be handy if you need to remove short ticks or clicks from a clip. Simply draw them out with the pencil tool and they’re gone! This operation modifies the original audio on your hard disk. Whilst it’s undoable, once you’ve exceeded the maximum number of undo levels of your session, it’s impossible to revert back to the original file. This destructive editing operation should be used with care and if you really need to preserve the original audio file before editing, consolidate the clip and use the pencil tool on the consolidated version rather than the orignal. That way you can still revert back if needed.
AudioSuite 'Overwrite Files' Option
Usually, audio suite plug-ins render audio non-destructively. When you process a clip, the original remains available in the clip list. However, if you click on the Processing Output Mode button near the top left of an audio suite plug-in, you get the option to overwrite files.
This is a destructive processing mode and replaces the original audio with the processed version. When you click render, you are presented with a warning that’s it’s a destructive process. At this point you have the option of either proceeding destructively or rendering non-destructively instead.
Once again, the destructive option is not undoable and you’ll notice that the session undo history is cleared when you process audio in this way. Even if you close the session without saving it, the audio on the drive has already been replaced. Perhaps this mode could be useful if you’re really struggling for drive space but personally I would avoid it.
The Clear Command In The Clip List
On occasions, you’ll want to remove clips from your clip list if they’re no longer required. Just select the audio and choose Clear from the clip list menu. You are then presented with 4 options: Cancel, Delete, Move To Trash or Remove.
Remove simply clears the audio from the clip list but leaves the original audio on your hard drive. Move to trash clears the audio and moves the original audio into the trash can on your computer. Delete not only removes the clips from the session but also deletes the actual audio files permanently. This is yet another non-undoable action so be careful when you choose delete because once you do, it’s gone forever!
Under certain circumstances it’s useful to be able to permanently delete or replace audio files. The destructive options detailed here can be handy and it’s certainly worth being aware of these features. On a critical project (and that’s the majority, isn’t it?), I’d exercise extreme caution when using any of the destructive options in Pro Tools.