It is well worth getting to grips with session templates. With Pro Tools, you can set up sessions that can be templates for other projects. These are really useful if you have a number of regular projects.
Whatever you find yourself doing when you start a session, try to have it in your template so you don’t end up wasting time doing the same things over and over again. It is also worth having some template sessions with things like regular effects combinations and then use Import Session Data to bring in the appropriate tracks.
Naming Inputs and Outputs In The I/O Setup Window
If your interface has many inputs and especially if you leave gear permanently patched to specific inputs or outputs it's a good idea to create a custom I/O settings file. You can name inputs or outputs by right-clicking and rename much as you would with a bus. However, when renaming I/O or busses it can often be more convenient to see them all in the same place, especially if you are dealing with a big system. The I/O setup window allows you to rename by double clicking on the name of the path. Subpaths can be automatically created, and in a stereo environment they will have the suffix .L or .R, but this can be changed as appropriate by accessing the subpaths by clicking on the little disclosure triangle.
3. Using Labelling To Name Everything
Pro Tools uses default names to label things like tracks, starting with Audio 1, Audio 2 etc. When you record on the track named Audio 1 you get a file labelled Audio 1-01, Audio 1-02 etc. When you edit those files you get clips labelled Audio 1-01_2 or Audio 3-15_22 etc. It is important that you take responsibility to label everything with sensible names as it will help you to find the different takes, which track is which, if you have taken the trouble to name them carefully.
To learn more about labelling and naming everything, check out our Pro Tools Fundamentals - Naming Everything article.
4. Use Mix Groups
Look at using the Edit & Mix group feature. For mixing this can be a real time saver. If you create a group of all your drum tracks, then when you hit Solo on the Snare track all the drum tracks will be soloed.
5. Remove Unnecessary Audio Files
As you record & edit in your session, the Clip List down the right end side of the Edit window will get bigger and bigger. The size of this list can impact on the performance of Pro Tools. If you notice Pro Tools is getting slower to respond, then it might be time to prune the Clip List or the Region List as it was called in earlier versions of Pro Tools.
6. Use Playlists
Playlists can be used in a number of ways but essentially playlists in Pro Tools enable you to make different edits and takes and display them on different playlists on the same track. Before playlists came in with Pro Tools 8 you had to create duplicate tracks and then try and manage them. Playlists are great for compiling (comping) different takes into one master version, most often used on vocal tracks.
When recording, give each ‘take’ a playlist. That way Playlist 01 becomes ‘take 1’ etc so you won’t need to need to do the mental adjustments to convert playlist numbers to take numbers. Leave the original playlist empty, when you come to ‘comp up’ you will have an empty playlist to comp onto.
7. Clean Up Audio When Mixing
Before you start mixing it is good practice to clean up your session and prepare it for mixing. This could include cleaning down the tracks, removing any audio and clips that are not being used including audio before a singer starts to buzz etc on a guitar track before and after solos. Also if you have Aux Sends for performers headphone mixes etc, then clear all those out as well.
You can learn more about Prepare A Track For Mixing, How To Prepare Your Session For Collaboration Like A Gentleman and we also have a video tutorial on Mix Prep Workflow When Importing Audio Stems Into Pro Tools as well.
8. Use Windows Configurations
Window Configurations is a feature Digidesign added in all the way back with the v7.3 release of Pro Tools. But it is surprising how few people use it. Using Window Configurations in Pro Tools can really help to speed up your workflow and reduce clutter. Learn more about Window Configurations in this video tutorial.
In a free video tutorial, we show you how to use Memory Locations and Windows Configurations inside of Pro Tools to maximise your efficiency and speed during the mixing/editing process. You will learn how to create numerous track/plug-in/windows configurations that can be fired quickly, to efficiently change your viewing preferences during your mixing process.
9. Use Clip Groups
Make this feature a good friend. A clip group, also known as a region group in earlier versions of Pro Tools, is a collection of any combination of audio and MIDI regions that looks and acts like a single clip. Clip groups can be created on single or multiple adjacent audio, MIDI, and instrument tracks and can be considered like ‘containers’ and as such can be manipulated just like any other ‘normal’ clip. Some edits will affect all the clips in a group whereas others only apply to the boundaries of a clip group like Trim.
10. Check The Disk Allocation
Remember to check Disk Allocation. For reasons I have never been able to get to the bottom of Pro Tools can sometimes change the Disk Allocation settings to another hard drive on your system.
Disk Allocation is a setting within Pro Tools that determines which hard drive any content on a track will be recorded onto. It is there because once you get beyond 24 or so tracks you consider spreading your tracks across multiple hard drives if you want to keep Pro Tools happy. Yes I know you can have sessions with more than 24 tracks on one drive and get away with it, I have done it too on many occasions but the guidelines recommend that once you get above 24 tracks you should be looking at more than one hard drive especially if your tracks are heavily edited.
11. Use Colours
You can change the colour of a number of elements in Pro Tools and this can be a really helpful feature as long as you are consistent, and use the same colour for the same thing each time. We cover this in more detail in our article Pro Tools Fundamentals - Using Track Names And Colour.
12. Use A Naming Convention
Just as the consistent use of colour is important so is a consistent strategy for the way you name tracks, clips, routing etc. We cover this in more detail in our article Pro Tools Fundamentals - Using Track Names And Colour.
13. Keep Notes In The Tracks
There is a feature in Pro Tools where you can make notes on a track in a section which can be displayed in the Edit window and the Mix Window call Track Comments, which can be very helpful especially in collaboration workflows or where you are going to hand a project on to be mixed by somebody else.
To add comments to a track, do one of the following....
- From the track channel strip, click directly in the Comments area, type any comments for the track, and press Enter (Windows) or Return (Mac).
- In the Edit or Mix window, double-click the Track Name button for a track. Then click directly in the Comments area, type any comments for the track, and press Enter (Windows) or Return (Mac). To enter a carriage return in the Comments area, press Shift+Enter (Windows) or Shift+Return (Mac) on the alphanumeric keyboard.
You can show or hide the Track Comments in the Edit and Mix Windows from The View menu.
14. Learn Keyboard Shortcuts
Learn your keyboard shortcuts - you will save so much time and you will spend less time with your hand on the mouse too. If you don’t know the shortcuts then go to the help menu and there’s a reference guide in PDF format. Even better there’s this great site for Pro Tools keyboard shortcuts here.
There is also an excellent set of one-button shortcuts. The Keyboard Focus commands are a real step forward for single-key operations when the [a…z] focus mode in the Edit window is selected by clicking on the a-z button at the top of the Edit window vertical scroll bar. These are available to use on all Windows and Mac based Pro Tools systems. Good news for those who work with both Windows and Mac based systems that, unlike some other shortcuts, the Keyboard Focus shortcuts are the same for both Mac and Windows systems.
You can learn more about how to use the Command Focus keyboard shortcuts here.
15. Set Default EQ And Dynamics Plug-ins
In the Mixing Tab in Pro Tools Preferences, you have the option to choose any installed EQ and Dynamics plug-ins as the default plug-in, which makes it available for quick assignment, both on-screen and on certain controllers. On-screen, the plug-in appears at the top of the Insert selector pop-up menu. On controllers, the plug-in appears first in the list of menu choices on the rotary encoders.
16. Have Your Favourite Plug-ins At The Top Of The insert Menu
To have your favourite plugins on top of the Inserts menu, hold down the Control on a Windows system or the Command key on a Mac and click its name in the list. You use the same process to remove it.
17. Temporarily Disable Groups To Edit One Track
When needing to make a quick edit of a parameter on one track that is in a track group you can use the keyboard shortcut Control+Shift+G on a Windows system or Command+Shift+G on a Mac system to disable/enable all groups.
18. Bypass All Plug-ins On A Track
To quickly compare your mix, before and after plug-ins, there are several ways to go about bypassing plug-ins and sends in a Pro Tools session. Check out this free tutorial video, which gives a run through of a number of keyboard shortcuts which allow you to quickly toggle sends and inserts on and off across all tracks or selected tracks and also toggle plug-ins on and off by plug-in type.
Select the track, or tracks, which you want to bypass the inserts, press and hold Control+Alt on a Windows system or Command+Option on a Mac system, and click the insert. If you click the second insert, all second inserts in all selected tracks will be bypassed.
19. Temporarily Access Slip When In Grid Mode
If you are working in Grid mode but just need to temporarily use Slip, rather than going up to the Tool Bar and changing the Edit mode from Grid to Slip, make the change, and back to the toolbar again to change back to Grid mode, you can Press and hold Control on a Windows system or Command on a Mac system when editing in Grid mode, to temporarily switch to Slip mode.
20. Use Session Backup Feature
Make sure you are using the Pro Tools Auto backup feature. This feature is built into Pro Tools as a simple first step to backing up your sessions. Note this isn’t an autosave feature where the session is saved every x minutes. It is an auto backup system where Pro Tools saves a copy of the session in a special Session Backup folder. But remember it only backups the session files, it does not back up any of the media in a session.
Set it to save automatically a session copy every minute or every 5 minutes: Setup > Preferences > Operation > Auto Backup.