Before we get started, I have been asked introduce myself. My name is Lucy J Mitchell and I am a freelance Sound Editor and Dubbing Mixer for TV, Film and Computer Games living on the Surrey-London border and have been working in the Audio Post Production industry for almost 10 years. I work on all genres and all areas of sound editorial; you name it, I probably do it! I have both chaired and been part of panel discussions at BVE and The Media Production Show, and guest lecturer at 6th Form Colleges and Universities.
I started my career at Envy Post Production as a Runner in 2009, whilst there was named one of the Top 30 under 30 in Broadcast Magazine's Broadcast Hotshot feature in 2013, and eventually ventured into the big bad world of freelancing in 2015. I am currently building a fully soundproofed studio in my garden, equipped for VO, ADR and Foley recording and am setting up my new business LJ Studios; a full service post facility, a “one stop shop” if you will, with currently 7 freelance audio and music specialists on board – more on this to come!
I would like to thank Mike Thornton for approaching me to be a contributor and part of the Pro Tools Expert team. I was truly flattered and humbled to be asked, as I am (painfully) aware of just how many people there are who do what I do.
I hope you all enjoy my content, and find it useful. Let me know if there is anything specific you would like me to talk about! Although I have been mixing professionally for a couple of years now, sound editing and voice overs are my areas of expertise so the majority of my articles will focus on these.
Right. Blurb over. Let’s get back to Pro Tools…
Pro Tools has SO many functions, some of which have been cleverly added over time thanks to user experience feedback, so well done you!
NB There are lots of different ways to do things in Pro Tools, which suit an individual’s needs, so this is not a list of shortcuts (although there will be some overlaps) – this is purely a list of the functions themselves.
NBB Admittedly, I don't know any other DAW/software well enough to know if they have these functions too, so this isn't an article stating what is better in Pro Tools, just which ones I like!
With those riders out of the way, here are all the first 7 of 14 Pro Tools functions I could not live without.
1. Clip Gain
This has to be top of the list and if I could vote multiple times Clip Gain would get my vote over and over. When I first started editing, my sessions took way longer to mix than they do now. Both because of uneven dialogue levels, and some sound effects being so damn loud (I'm looking at you, footsteps).
Okay, so some mixers import your volume automation into their template so that everything is vaguely balanced when they start. But some mixers don't. I now hand over my session with dialogue mostly at a similar level so that the mixer can spend more time eq-ing and treating it in the mix. The mixer also now has a clear indication of my intentions when there are lots of layers of effects (the ones that should be more prevalent etc), and now that my effects are all balanced against each-other, they can often just leave the effects and only touch a fader if they want to tweak my volume settings.
This speeds up their mix and gives them time to focus on other important things.
2. Snap Clip Start To Cursor (Control+Click On A Clip)
This is great when you want to move a clip to a specific timecode quickly. Be that to move atmospheres to start exactly on a scene change, to sync up layers of sound effects, or to move out-of-sync dialogue to match the mouth movements of consonants. Just click (or click and nudge to location) where you want the clip to start, or on another clip, click the clip whilst on the Grabber Tool, and snap. It's as quick and easy as that. I use this in every job I do, bar none. And it speeds up my workflow considerably.
An added bonus is if you hold down the mouse rather than just clicking, you can snap to the specific timecode, but move your clip to a different track (connected to no.12). Again, very useful for atmospheres and spot effects.
3. Tab To Transients
If you aren't aware, this button enables Tab To Transients.
With this deselected, if you click your Edit Cursor on a track and then press Tab, your edit cursor advances to the next clip boundary, ie. if in a gap, you'll hit the next audio clip – if mid clip, it will take you to the end of that clip. With Tab to Transients enabled, pressing Tab will take you to the next detected wave transient. This is very helpful when syncing up sound effects. Take a door slam for example: Obviously the sfx file won't start with audio immediately on the first frame, there's usually silence first. Tab To Transient allows you to quickly and accurately find the beginning of the sound. You and can swiftly trim off the beginning and snap the effect where it needs to be.
Tab To Transient is also hugely effective in music editing. Offline editors will often cut up a piece of music to make it work in the scene, but the edit is not always perfect and can be ever so slightly (or a lot so slightly...) out of time. Sometimes it is purely down to the fact that Avid can only edit to 1 frame accuracy, whereas Pro Tools can edit all the way down to samples. Instead of us sound-bods having to zoom in as far as we can on a music track to match the wave peaks and troughs perfectly by eye to avoid phasing issues, Tab To Transient ensures precision in beat matching (or off-beat matching!) and again, makes the whole process much faster and painless. It obviously works best on audio that has clear transients such as drum parts.
4. Solo And Mute
I'm referring to both tracks and clips here. I frequently solo tracks, especially when dialogue or music editing – usually in X-OR (Cancels Previous Solo) as I like to switch between individual tracks quickly. This is great when trying to choose the best microphone. I rarely mute tracks though, I mostly use the mute function on the clips themselves, its a personal preference. I don't think I have ever worked on a session and not solo'd or muted something. So great.
5. Session File Backup
Okay, so not a function you specifically use manually, but very useful nonetheless and could not be missed off this listicle (do people still use the word listicle? I'm going to use it. Bring it back. I'm cool like that).
Aside from the obvious (and arguably inevitable) spinning wheel of doom, leading to a crash of some sort and the “oh my gosh I haven't saved for hours! Oh wait, it was backed up automatically 3 minutes ago” moment, (we've all been there), it can actually be very useful in other scenarios.
If you spend a long time on something and decide you have gone too far and want to go back to a previous version, but you are too far down the line for simply 'undoing', or you've made other changes you do want to keep but want to go back to older version for other tracks, you can simply import the tracks from hours, or even days before via 'Import Session Data'. This has save my a** more times than I can remember. Also useful if you accidentally delete something and don't realise for a while! (not that that has happened to me... **cough cough**)
6. Clip Trim
Let's start with the obvious. Trim Start and Trim End. I probably don't need to go too deep into these two, but click where you want a clip to start or end (like the first frame of a sound effect) and as long as you have the Keyboard Command Focus enabled then press A for Trim Start or S for Trim End, and hey presto! There you have it! Bob's your Uncle! Not worrying about having to highlight a selection of audio of the right length, then pressing delete is great.
The other type of clip trim I use all the time is Command+T. This can be used when you don't want both the beginning and end of a clip – or you want just a small section of a long file. You simply highlight the audio you want to keep, press Command+T, and there you have it! Hey Presto! Bob's your uncle! Think of it like cropping a picture. I use this for scripted dialogue, voice overs, atmospheres (these files are often rendered with fade ins and outs which you don't usually want) and of course sound effects.
I use markers a lot. It was only recently that I realised just how much I rely on them, when I needed to do some work at my parents' house and forgot my Pro Tools keyboard. I therefore didn't have a number pad on the laptop and it really threw me! I had to completely alter my workflow that day. Never again! They can be used to indicate scene changes, marking up what sound effects you'll need on a later pass, giving notes to other editors or mixers picking up your session, syncing sound effects, or, if you're like me, commenting on the stupidity of the contributors in reality TV shows....
7 More To Come
So there you have it! there are my first 7 of 14 Pro Tools functions I could not live without. There are loads of others I use on a regular basis, and I am going to cover 7 more in another article so watch out for that. Have any functions you use more than these? Let us know in the comments!