Digidesign Pro Tools has an extensive feature set that may seem endless to everyone except the most experienced user. But even power users might not know that an update has added functionality that can change the way they approach routine tasks. And unless you have read the latest version of the Pro Tools manual (now approaching 700 pages), the full potential of the workstation will remain untapped because many of its handiest features, while not necessarily hidden, are not immediately obvious.
In this article, I'll focus on features and techniques that can be used to enhance your work flow, no matter what kind of production work you do. Many of these features appear in version 6.7 (the most recent update), while others have existed since version 6. But whatever level of experience you have with Pro Tools LE, the following tips and techniques will help you increase your productivity. (Because Mac and Windows keyboard shortcuts vary slightly, I will indicate both — Mac first, then Windows — with a slash between the two, as in Shift + Command/Ctrl + N.)
PDQ Session Building
Beginning with version 6.7, Pro Tools LE lets you create all the tracks you need for a session in one step. Start by going to File and choosing New Session (Command/Ctrl + N). Name the session, then select the audio file type, sampling rate, bit depth, I/O settings, and destination of the session folder. (You will notice that you have the option of choosing a fader gain of +6 or +12; the larger gain range will be useful if the session is destined for use in an Avid video editing system.) Select Save, and then let the session build.
To add your tracks, go to the File menu and select New Tracks (or use Shift + Command/Ctrl + N). The New Tracks dialog box now has the plus (+) button at the far right of the box. Click on the button to specify as many of each type of track as you think you will need. Note that once you click on the plus button, a minus (-) button appears next to it on each track. As you would expect, the minus button removes any track you have created. You can use your keyboard's Up- and Down Arrows to raise and lower the number of tracks you want for each kind of track, or you can type in the number of tracks.
Starting with version 6.7, you can specify whether an audio track is sample based or tick based. (Pro Tools lets you combine tick-based and sample-based tracks in the same session.) If you're working on a project that has audio files and you need tempo flexibility, tick-based tracks will lock your audio regions to the tempo grid just as MIDI does: when you change tempo, your samples remain lined up with the beat. If you want to change back to a sample base, click and hold on the Edit window rack's time-base icon (it resembles a small triangular metronome), and select Samples.
After you've selected the tracks that you want, click on Create and Pro Tools will build the session, placing the tracks in the Mix and Edit windows in the order you specified in the New Tracks dialog box (from top to bottom in the Edit window and from left to right in the Mix window). If you decide later that you want to change the order, it's easy to do: go to the Show/Hide Tracks display at the far left of the Mix or Edit window, and drag any track to the position you want it. In addition, you can sort the tracks in the Edit and Mix windows by name, type, edit group, mix group, or voice by clicking on the Show/Hide bar and selecting Sort Tracks By from the pull-down menu.
Better Living Through Templates
Although the new functionality I have described can help you create a session quickly, you don't have to start from scratch each time you create a new song if you have template sessions. You can have templates for all types of projects that you work on; for example, you can have a template for different band lineups, for video post-production work, or for MIDI-only sessions. Creating session templates is easy, but the steps are different for Mac and Windows machines.
For Windows, build the session that will become your template, save it with a name indicating that it's a template, and close the session. If you're a Windows user, right-click on your session icon, choose Properties, and click on the Read Only box. Now you can open and work on the file like normal. But when it comes time to save or close the session, you will be prompted to rename the file in order to save it, because it's a Read Only file. To make changes to your template, you will have to return to the Properties dialog box and deselect the Read Only box.
For the Mac, highlight the icon of your template session, go to the File menu, and select Get Info (Command + I). Click on the Stationery Pad box, then close the window. Next, double-click on your template. After the Edit and Mixer windows are built, a dialog box will appear with two options: Edit Stationery and New Session. Click on Edit Stationery if you want to modify the template file. The New Session button opens another dialog box that prompts you to rename the session and select where you want to save it. Once you press Save, you're ready to work on the new session, without damaging the related template file. This is an excerpt from the following article: Pro Tips for Pro Tools.
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