by Stephanie L. Carlin
Pro Tools: it’s kind of like a spicy food. On the one hand, when you’ve eaten enough of it, it can be extremely sweet and thrilling. On the other hand, if you haven’t eaten enough of it, it can make you stressed out and ask why anyone would do this to themselves. I’m not saying that I’ve grown completely accustom to Pro Tools, but I have a few tips that I feel like would prevent a lot of panic attacks and crying, so I think it’s only fair I share them. (Also, I upgraded to eight, because this program is probably the second most frustrating behind a certain program that rhymes with Critical Reformer, which, fun-fact, is also a new action movie coming out).
Keep your iLok Handy
Keychain, wallet chain, anything really. Just keep it with you and keep it protected. I don’t really understand the legal logistics behind Pro Tools keeping its buyer’s information on a small, physical flash drive. There’s a lot of people that want to steal Pro Tools. That’s probably why, so I would also keep it in a secure place in your bag mainly. I’ve seen people hang it like a keychain outside their bag and it has not worked out. The same goes for if you want to keep it in your home. I’m under the personal belief that one should keep it in their bag because you never know when you’re going to need it, but, if you’re really paranoid, just keep it in a small box or attached to a multi-input device in a drawer.
Avoid Pro Tools Aggregate
Pro Tools Aggregate is an I/O option in Pro Tools. Don’t use it. It is meant to be used for multiple output devices, not audio interfaces, and is commonly used for film. If you plug in your interface and you don’t get any sound or a high-pitch sound that you imagine a dog whistle sounds like, then check your I/O settings. Pro Tools occasionally has the thought, “Hey, I don’t like this interface and/or the fact this is hooked up to the computer’s input/output settings, so I’m just going to do my own thing.” Just set it to your interface because it can actually damage your computer if you don’t set it probably. Freshman Steph learned this, and her ears have not fully recovered.
Find the tempo
DAWs can’t really predict the tempo you’re going to put your track in, in the same way a waiter can’t predict what food you want. You have to put in yourself, but sometimes you don’t know the exact tempo. So, what do you do? Well, luckily, there is a tap tempo option. YES. TAP. If you go to manual mode and click on the number in your Pro Tools transport, just tap the key “T” to the beat you want and it will find the tempo. It’s so simple and will naturally adjust the grid to the tempo. Sometimes Pro Tools gets a little glitchy here, so if you want, there’s also this website that does the same thing with the spacebar instead of T.
“N” is your best friend
Every time I went to the tech center freshman year to complain about how Pro Tools wouldn’t open and I had a project due tomorrow, they would always ask “Have you tried holding down N?” I’d look dumbfounded and shout, “No! I don’t believe you!” and it would be a big dramatic scene of me in disbelief that something in Pro Tools could be so easy. But it is. Every time, I’d hold down N, I’d get a notification about the HUI (a MIDI mapping protocol), and then it would open. Perfectly fine. No error. Nothing. Yes, friends. It is possible for Pro Tools to be that stupidly simple.
Organize your tracks properly
This process should be done before any mixing, mastering, and sometimes recording. There’s an order that you eventually learn in tech classes but, to be honest, no one’s going to see it but you. Still, with all these tracks that you’ve either imported or recorded yourself, it can be overwhelming. For me, I typically start from the bottom-up with the drums tracks first, bass second, key/synth tracks third, vocal tracks fourth, and effects and master fader last. For colors, I like it in a rainbow because it calms me, but with groups, I make them the same color. As unique and beautiful every track is, they’re a part of a group, and it’s a little hard to navigate if my kick drum is a different color than my snare. Speaking of groups, command-G is the sub-group key command. Sub-groups will help you keep all of your sounds on the same level and route them to a separate auxiliary track where you can record them at the same level. You’re welcome.
Understand what buses and sends are there for
Okay, they’re not like the magic school buses but they can send you to a magical place in your music. The reason they’re there is just to make your mix easier to handle. Think about it. Why would you want to make individual effects in each track when you’re going after the same effect? Wouldn’t it just be easier to label a bus and, using an aux track, send it to all the tracks that you want? Trust me. IT IS. Just add the effect to the aux track and put a bus into an input.
Don’t sequence MIDI in Pro Tools
Just… don’t. Sequence your sounds from Logic or Ableton or what have you, export them as audio files and mix them in Pro Tools. I’m not going to argue about this. I’m just saving you the trouble.
Bonus: Remember it’s okay to cry
When Pro Tools has crashed so many times to the point where you wanna smash your laptop to pieces, you can’t help but feel the water filling your eyes as you reap in the dread and hours of anger you’ve had to hold back. If there’s ever a time a person needs to cry, I believe this is one of those times. Just crash on the couch and let the waterworks flow. You can get back to it after midnight.