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Music 265B Week 05 Control Room Setup

PDF version available HERE

While the crew is arranging chairs & stands for the musicians in the studio, the engineers are in the control room, preparing the gear for the recording session. The Control Room is where the producer and engineers record and monitor the musicians in the studio. It typically contains the mixing console, computer systems, interfaces, recording devices, patch bays, speaker systems, and a variety of rack-mounted signal processors like compressors, reverb units, and so on.

 

Signal Flow in a Digital Studio

 

At this point, it is important to have a clear understanding of Signal Flow – the path that the sound and audio signal travels from the time it leaves the player’s instrument in the studio until the time it reaches our ears through a pair of speakers in the control room. Here is a brief review.

 

When an instrument (our Sound Source) is played, it creates acoustic Sound Waves that travel through out the room by causing the air to vibrate. A microphone captures these acoustic waves, and turns them into an electric Analog Signal. The microphone sends this signal down a series of cables: the microphone cable connects to a single channel on the audio snake, which connects to the input panel on the control room wall. Inside the control room, each channel on the input panel usually connects to a Preamp on the mixing console. The preamp adjusts the level of the analog signal. From there, the output of the preamp connects to an Interface or Converter. This converts the Analog (A) signal into a Digital (D) format that the computer can understand – A/D Conversion. From there the converter sends the digital signal into the computer, where it can be manipulated in Pro Tools and saved as an Audio File. After that, the digital signal passes back through the converter, where it is converted back into an analog signal (D/A Conversion). This analog signal is sent to an Amplifier that powers a pair of speakers or headphones, which converts the analog signal into acoustic sounds that our ears can hear. Our ears, in turn, convert this acoustic sound into a signal that our brains can process.

 

Depending on the equipment available in the studio, this process may be handled by a simple all-in-one interface like an M-Box, or multiple pieces of equipment, like a mixing console with an HD-System. An all-in-one interface includes a preamp, converter, computer connection, and a headphone or monitor output. Regardless, the overall steps are the same.

 

In professional studios, all of the equipment is routed through a Patch Bay (Discussed in Chapter 5 of Basic Audio Recording Techniques). A bay is usually wired in a way that allows the signal to flow in its Normal direction (e.g. the preamp’s output connecting to the interface input) without needing to manually patch this connection into the bay. However, the patch bay gives the engineer the ability to interrupt this normal connection, and redirect (Patch) the signal from one piece of gear to another. For example, instead of sending the signal straight from the preamp into the converter/interface, the engineer may want to process the signal through some Outboard Gear (an external Signal Processor) like a compressor, and then send the processed signal into the recording device. In this case, the engineer takes a patch cable, plugs one end into the preamp output, and plugs the other end into the compressor’s input on the patch bay. With another patch cable, the compressor’s output gets patched into the interface’s input. Some studios even run their microphone panel outputs and console’s microphone inputs through the patch bay, but this can cause problems. The preamp can send Phantom Power through the cable to power the microphone. If this cable gets unplugged in the patch bay, it can damage the mic.

Input Signal Flow from the Studio to the Computer

 

Sound Source: creates Sound Waves that travel through the air, until they are captured by a…

 

Microphone: converts sound waves into a signal, which travels through cables to a…

 

Preamp: adjusts the level (volume) of the signal, which is sent to a…

 

Patch Bay: Normally routes the signal from one device to another, unless we…

 

Patch: Preamp output to the input of an outboard Signal Processor, like a…

 

Compressor: compresses the dynamic range of the signal…

 

Patch: Signal processor output to the input of a…

 

A/D Converter: Converts the signal from Analog (A) to a Digital (D) format which is sent to a…

 

Computer: Pro Tools records the digital signal and saves it as an Audio File on a Hard Drive.

 

Playback Signal Flow from the Computer to our Ears

 

Computer: Pro Tools plays back the recorded audio file, sending the track’s output through the…

 

D/A Converter: Converts the Digital (D) signal from the computer into an Analog (A) signal…

 

Patch Bay: the converter’s output is normally routed to the input on an…

 

Amplifier: Adjusts the level of the analog signal so it is strong enough to play through…

 

Speakers (or headphones): converts the analog signal into acoustic sound waves, which we hear.

 

What about MIDI?

 

When a musician reads a piece of sheet music, the information on the page tells the player what notes to play, when to play them, how fast, and how loud, and how long to play any given note. In other words, the musician translates that information into a musical performance. MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a programming language that translates musical information into data that a computer can understand. MIDI data can also be sent back through the synthesizer, allowing the synthesizer to perform the music like an old Player Piano.

 

When a pianist plays a piece of music on the MIDI keyboard, each keystroke gets recorded: when in the key was pressed, released, how hard it was pressed, and what other controllers were used (sustain pedals, mod wheels, and so on). We can record this information in the control room.

 

Most modern synthesizers come with both audio outputs and a MIDI input & output (I/O). The audio output will follow the normal signal chain: line out to a direct box, to the control room, etc. In order to capture the MIDI information, we need to plug the keyboard’s MIDI I/O into a MIDI Interface. Newer keyboards can do this through a standard USB cable, which plugs directly into the computer. However, since MIDI technology was developed in the early1980’s, older MIDI devices require MIDI Cables. We will discuss MIDI configurations in Pro Tools later.

 

Powering Up in the Control Room

 

If you ever turn a guitar amp or sound system on and off, you might hear a popping sound as the current surges through the system. In some cases, this loud popping sound may be strong enough to blow out our speakers. Because of this, we always turn our equipment on & off in a set order.

 

Turn on the mixing console and outboard gear first. This includes compressors, interfaces, etc.

 

Next turn connect and turn on any external hard drives, followed by the computer.

 

Lastly, turn on the amplifiers & speakers. Note: many consoles & interfaces will automatically Mute themselves when they first power on. In order to hear anything, check the mute button.

 

When powering down the system, follow this order in reverse.

 

REMEMBER: Turn the speakers ON LAST, and turn them OFF FIRST to avoid damaging them.

 

Hard Drives

 

In a modern studio, portable hard drives have replaced tapes as the storage medium of choice. Since ensemble recording can capture hours of high-resolution multi track audio, our hard drives need to be large enough and fast enough to keep up with the workflow. A cheap USB thumb drive won’t cut it. For technical specifications, refer to the course syllabus.

 

Before We Get Started

 

We need a copy of the setup sheet (last week’s lesson) for this recording session.

 

For this week’s lesson, let’s assume our control room is using a Mac computer, a Digidesign C24 console (16 inputs/preamps with direct outs), an Avid HD I/O interface (16 channels of analog I/O), a 5.1 surround sound speaker system, and a headphone amp for the musicians in the studio. Everything is routed through a patch bay.

 

Getting Started

 

Turn on the gear in the control room using the sequence we discussed earlier. Make sure the hard drive is connected and powered. Once the computer is done booting up, quit any audio-related applications (like iTunes and GarageBand), and launch the Pro Tools application. The Quick Start menu may appear on screen by default: select “Create Blank Session…” from the menu. If the Quick Start menu does not show up, then within the Pro Tools application, select File > New Session… from the dropdown menu (shortcut ⌘N). Again, make sure “Create Blank Session…” is selected.

 

Session Parameters

 

In this section, we need to choose several options that will affect the Pro Tools session’s quality and compatibility. Our top of the line Pro Tools HD system may be able to hand any of the settings listed here, but if we have to edit or mix this session on an older version of Pro Tools or at a different studio, some of these options may be impractical or unusable for our purposes.

 

Audio File Type

 

Audio File Type selects the audio file format used in the session. BWF (.WAV) or AIFF file formats are both acceptable, and almost universally compatible with any other program or audio device. Tracks on a CD usually come in an AIFF file format.

 

Sample Rate

 

Sample Rate selects the sample resolution used in the session. Higher sample rates capture and convert the recorded audio at higher resolution (higher potential quality), but these files take up more space on the hard drive. Some other systems may not be able to handle extremely high sample rates. Because of this, we need to find a nice balance between quality, and compatibility. We also need to determine what the end product of this recording will be. If this is a song intended to go on an album, then we will likely record at or higher than CD quality (44.1kHz, 16 Bit). In most cases, 48 kHz is the highest, most compatible sample rate we can use. 48 kHz, 24 Bit is also the standard for a lot of video formats.

 

Bit Depth

 

Bit Depth captures the dynamic range of the recorded audio. Higher numbers mean higher resolution here as well. Again, we want to record at or above the bit depth of our intended product. However, we may run into compatibility problems if we pick the highest settings. 32 Bit Float & Interleaved are fairly new formats, so older versions of Pro Tools (versions 9 & older) and other programs may not be able to read these files. If you know ahead of time that you will be working in an older version of Pro Tools, then 24 Bit (non-interleaved) is the highest resolution & most compatible bit depth available to old programs and devices.

 

I/O Settings

 

The I/O Settings dropdown menu refers to the Pro Tools interface’s physical inputs & outputs. Depending on how our studio is configured, some channels on the interface may be dedicated to specific functions. For example, a single HD interface might come with 16 inputs & 16 outputs. In a standard “Stereo Mix” the session’s main stereo output is assigned to output on channels 1 (left) and 2 (right). This is a common setting for most home studios and all-in-one interfaces like the M-Box. In larger HD systems, certain consoles and playback formats require different routing options. Since our studio uses a Digidesign C24 console, we will use the “C24 Mix” setting. This setting uses 8 separate output channels: 6 channels for the console’s 5.1 Surround Sound output (Output channel 1 left, 2 center, 3 right, 4 side left, 5 side right, and 6 sub), and 2 output channels for a Cue output (a stereo headphone mix for the band on output 7 & 8).

 

Other I/O settings are intended for different consoles & interfaces. Some engineers may even make their own customized I/O settings to fit their unique setup. Selecting the “Last Used” option, as the name implies, will select the last I/O configuration that Pro Tools used on this computer. Every studio is different, so choose the right settings for your system.

 

Once you have chosen the right session parameters, click the OK button to move on.

 

Save – Name the Session

 

The next screen lets us choose where we want to save this Pro Tools session file, and what we want to call it. Before you name the session “Final Project” and click the save button, stop and pay attention to where the file is being saved. Click the dropdown arrow next to the “Save As” field. This will expand the window, displaying the system’s finder window. Pro Tools by default will navigate to the last place where it saved a session. More often than not, this means Pro Tools will navigate to someone else’s session folders. DO NOT save your file in the middle of someone else’s project. Instead, look at the list of devices on the left side of the window. Find YOUR portable hard drive, select it, and make a New Folder. Alternatively, if you are sharing a computer with other students, don’t save the session on the desktop, and don’t save it on the computer’s primary system hard drive. Make a folder for yourself in the proper place, and give it a unique name. Hundreds of other students have already decided to call their session file “Final Project” which means yours will get lost in that mess. Give the new folder a unique name, like the name of the artist and the name of the project. Lastly, in the “Save As” field, give the session a unique name: the song title with today’s date for example. Click Save to move on.

 

When we click the Save button, Pro Tools creates several folders and a session file. The primary Session Folder will have whatever unique name you gave it in the previous step, and it will be saved in the location you picked in the previous window. Inside that folder is a Pro Tools Session File, with the same unique name. Pro Tools 10 and newer saves sessions in a .PTX file format, versions 9 and earlier save a .PTF session file. There are a few other important folders in the session folder. The Audio Files folder is where any audio related to this session will be recorded and saved. There is also a Session File Backups folder: Pro Tools will periodically save a backup copy of the session file every few minutes – this can be changed it Pro Tools’ preferences.

 

A Few Minor Adjustments – Playback Engine

 

We need to check a few settings before we move on. Once the new session finishes loading, select Setup > Playback Engine from the dropdown menus along the top of the screen. In this Playback Engine window, look at the first (Playback Engine) dropdown field. Verify that the name of the Pro Tools interface currently connected to this system is selected. In a home studio, this may be an Avid M-Box, or the computer’s Built-In Output. In our control room, the Pro Tools HD system plays back through the HD-Native card inside the computer. Select the right option for the right system – every system may be different. If this setting gets changed, Pro Tools will close and reopen itself using the right playback device. If the right playback device is already selected, move on.

 

In the Setup > Playback Engine window, look for the H/W Buffer Size (Hardware buffer size) dropdown field under the Settings section. In this dropdown menu, we can adjust the system’s playback Latency. When sound gets recorded and played back through a Pro Tools system, there is a slight delay, measured in Samples. When the musicians need to hear and play along to the Pro Tools session, we need to make the latency/buffer size as low as possible. However, the computer’s processor (CPU) has to work harder to keep the latency low – it may not be able to keep up with the lowest, most responsive settings. Every computer is different, and some processors are faster than others. Because of this, we keep the hardware buffer size as low as reasonably possible during the recording phase (when the musicians need to play along to the tracks). When we are done recording, we raise the buffer size so the computer can dedicate more processing power for editing & mixing. To see how hard the processor is working, select Window > System Usage.

 

I/O Setup

 

Select Setup > I/O to look at the various routing options to, from, and within the Pro Tools system. The I/O Setup window contains several important Tabs along the top of the window. The Input tabs show the name and routing configuration for the interface’s physical hardware inputs. Here, we just need to verify that the first input in Pro Tools is assigned to the first input on the interface, 2 on channel 2, and so on. If something looks out of place, pressing the Default button should correct it.

 

The Output tab shows the system/interface’s physical hardware outputs. These settings may need to be changed, depending on our system. If we’re using a stereo interface like an M-Box with the “Stereo Mix” I/O setting we mentioned earlier, then we need to make sure that the main stereo output in Pro Tools is playing out through channels 1 & 2 on the interface. Since our control room uses the C24 console’s 5.1 surround sound & stereo cue output, we need to double-check the output settings on this page. In 5.1 Surround Sound, the Left channel is assigned to output channel 1 on the interface, Center on 2, Right on 3, Side-Left on 4, Side-Right on 5, and the Sub on channel 6. Additionally, the stereo Cue output assigns Cue Left to Channel 7, and Cue Right to Channel 8. In the bottom right corner, there are several options: Audition Paths and Default Output Bus. These should both be set to the same main output path we used for the I/O setup.

 

Next is the Bus tab. This displays all of the internal routing connections within Pro Tools. Remember, the interface gets us into and outside of the Pro Tools system, but the busses route signals within the software – they never leave the system. We will discuss how to use busses later in this lesson.

 

The other tabs cover some specialized features that are beyond the scope of this lesson. Our system doesn’t make use of the remote-controlled Mic Preamps tab, and we will discuss the Hardware Insert & H/W Insert Delay tabs at another time.

 

Make Tracks

 

Look at the setup sheet and determine how many tracks are needed for this session. Each input used on the console/interface will typically be routed into one mono audio track. To make new tracks in Pro Tools, select Track > New from the menu, or use the shortcut ñ⌘N to bring up the new track window. If our studio setup used 16 channels, then select 16MonoAudio Track in the track window. Before we hit move on, let’s make a few more tracks. Click the “+” button to make some additional tracks in this window. Add 1 – Stereo – Master Fader, + 2 Stereo – Aux Input, + 1 – Stereo – Instrument Track. Now click the “Create” button. Lastly, select Track > Create Click Track. The tracks will appear in both the Edit & Mix windows.

 

Edit & Mix Windows

 

The two main windows in Pro Tools are the Edit & Mix windows. We can use the shortcut keys ⌘= to cycle between these two windows. Both tracks can display a lot of the same information, but they serve different purposes. Before we discuss these windows, let’s make a few modifications to prove a point. In the View menu, select View > Mix Window Views > All, View > Edit Window Views > All, and View > Rulers > All. In fact, go down the list of items in the View menu and select everything under the Mix Window Views, Edit Window Views, Rulers, Other Displays, and Transport options: we’re going to make the screen unnecessarily cluttered. We’ll clean this up in a minute.

 

The Edit Window shows the editing Tools, Main Counter, and Transport (playback controls) at the top of the window. Below that are the various Rulers, which display timing information on the timeline: Bars & Beats for musical timing (including Tempo, Meter, etc), Minutes & Seconds, SMPTE Timecode, and Markers for Memory Locations (discussed later). On the left side of the screen is the Track List and Groups display. On the right side of the screen is the Clip List: this is a list of all media files currently being used within the session. As audio files are recorded, they will be added to this list. At the bottom of the window is the MIDI Editor. This can be expanded into its own separate window by selecting Window > MIDI Editor, or the ⌃= shortcut.

 

The middle of the screen shows our various tracks arranged from top to bottom. The large empty space will display the recorded audio waveform, and MIDI data when we record the session. It is essentially like looking at the tape on a tape recorder. However, the rest of the screen is cluttered with a lot of other information.

 

Track Layout

 

Tab back to the Edit window. On the left side of the track section is the Track Color marker, including several small dropdown buttons for track height and Automation Lanes – those will be covered in another lesson. Next to that is the Track Name, Record, Input Monitor (HD only), Solo, and Mute buttons. Beneath that is the Track View Selector (defaulted to display the Waveform on Audio tracks, Volume on Master & Aux tracks, Clips on Instrument & MIDI tracks), the Voice selector, Automation Mode selector, and Timebase selector. These advanced functions will be covered in another lesson.

 

The next section displays a color-coded Meter, with a Clip Indicator – one meter for mono tracks, 2 for stereo, more for surround formats. When a signal is recorded through or played back on the track, the level will be displayed on the Meter. If the signal is too strong, the red Clip Indicator will light up.

 

The rest of the window is cluttered with information. The Comments section lets you type a brief note about the track. The Mic Pre section deals with the same remote-controlled preamps we mentioned in the I/O Setup – our system does not use these, so they will always be blank. The Instrument section displays the MIDI I/O – it is only visible on Instrument Tracks. If our setup involves any MIDI keyboards, we can assign the keyboard’s output to this track, allowing us to record the MIDI data. The MIDI I/O will be sent to the first Instrument plug-in on the inserts in the next section. There are two rows, and 10 slots for Inserts.

 

Inserts work like the points on a patch bay. When we stick a Plug-In (EQ, compression, reverb, etc) on one of the inserts, the signal gets processed through the plug-in, and is then sent back out to the track. Instrument plug-ins are software synthesizers that require MIDI input. Other plug-ins, like the metronome on our Click Track, can generate sound independently.

 

Next come the Sends: these function like Aux Sends on an analog mixing console. We can use the sends & busses to route some our signal somewhere else, and create a secondary mix for the players wearing headphones. During the mixing phase, we will use these to send signal to reverb & delay plug-ins, among others. We will apply some of this later on in the lesson.

 

The I/O section controls the track’s input (on top) and output (on bottom). Audio tracks usually receive their Input from the Interface section of the dropdown menu. For example, Audio Track 1 will most likely receive its Input from Interface > Channel 1 (the name may be different). Some tracks, especially Aux Input tracks, may receive their input from one of the Busses. Tracks can Output their signal to a Bus, but more often than not, they will ultimately output to the interface’s physical outputs: main stereo, Cue, etc. From there, the signal travels down the chain until we hear it through the speakers.

 

In the Edit Window, there is a display for Real-Time Properties – this only appears on MIDI & Instrument tracks. This is a MIDI editing function that will be covered in another lesson.

 

The Mix Window has several additional functions that we don’t find on the Edit window. Next to the Meter is a long Fader: this lets us adjust the track’s volume within the mix. Above that is the Pan section. The Pan knobs allow us to position the track within the stereo (or surround) image. A Group ID Indicator displays any grouping information assigned to this track – we will cover this later in the lesson. Lastly Delay Compensation refers to a track’s latency in the mix. We will discuss this during the mixing phase.

 

Cleaning Up The Windows

 

Now that we know where everything is, we need to get the clutter out of our way. Both windows display a lot of redundant information: more often than not, we don’t need to see most of this information anyway. Let’s clean up the Mix window first. With every View option displayed in the mix window, the tracks are probably too long to fit on the screen. In order to make everything visible at a glance, we can eliminate what we don’t need. If our system doesn’t use the remote-controlled Microphone Preamps, go back to the View menu and disable it. If we aren’t using any MIDI keyboards or Instrument tracks, we can disable the Instrument view. By now, the track is short enough to fit on the average computer screen. If there is still not enough room, eliminate the Comments section if it won’t be used, or remove the secondary sections of Inserts & Sends. With all of the extra junk out of the way, we can clearly see all of our current routing options on the Mix window. If there are too many tracks on the screen, we can use the View > Narrow Mix option (shortcut ⌘M) to shrink the track’s width.

 

In the Edit, window, we can eliminate almost everything. The rulers by themselves take up a few inches of space on the screen. If we’re not working with video, then we don’t need to see the Timecode and Feet+Frames rulers. Since we’re recording music, we will need to see the Bars & Beats, and Minutes & Seconds rulers, as well as Tempo, Meter, and Markers. We may not need the Key & Chords rulers, but we can always turn them back on if we do. Under Other Displays, we usually want access to all of this information, except for the MIDI Editor. If we aren’t using MIDI or Instrument tracks, then we have no use for the MIDI Editor. In fact, we can also eliminate most of the Edit Window views by selecting View > Edit Window Views > Minimal. All of the relevant information is already displayed on our Mix window.

 

Session Setup

 

Now that we know where everything is, we can configure our tracks for our recording session. If you haven’t done so yet, consult the setup sheet to determine how many tracks will be needed for this session – usually 1 Audio Track for every channel in use on the console. We will also need a Master Fader and several stereo Aux Input tracks. For this session, let’s assume we’re recording 16 channels, with a headphone mix for the band.

 

Create 16 – Mono – Audio Tracks, + 1 – Stereo – Master Fader, + 2 – Stereo – Aux Inputs, and one Click Track (1 Mono Aux Input with a metronome plug-in on the 1st Insert).

 

We can always add more tracks as needed, or delete the tracks we don’t need.

 

Label the Tracks

 

When new tracks are created, Pro Tools assigns them a simple name and number; Audio 1, Audio 2, Aux 1, etc. These labels are fairly meaningless to us – we want to name our tracks according to our setup sheet. If the kick drum is on channel 1 on the console, then double–click on the Track Name in Pro Tools and change the track name from “Audio 1” to “Kick” or something meaningful. Do this for the rest of the audio tracks in the session. The Master fader will usually still be called “Master” and the Aux Inputs will serve a special function which we will discuss in a moment.

 

Assign Inputs

 

With our tracks labeled, it’s time to assign the track input. If our Kick drum is on channel 1 on the console, and track 1 in Pro Tools, then the track should read from channel 1 on the interface’s input. 1 to 1 to 1. Track 2 reads input 2 from channel 2, and so on. Do this for the rest of our audio tracks.

 

Assign Outputs

 

Here’s where things get tricky. We’re probably listening back to the tracks on a stereo system. Even if we’re using the 5.1 Surround Sound system, we may only be using the Left & Right (stereo) channels. Ultimately, our tracks have to output to the proper channels in order to play back on our system. This may just be Output 1 & 2 on an M-Box, or the Surround-Stereo option on an HD System. To make things more complicated, we might be recording these tracks on the surround system, but we may edit and mix them at home on our stereo interface. These settings won’t work properly from one studio to another. There’s a way around this. We’ll make a Mix bus.

 

Aux Tracks and Busses

 

Remember those stereo Aux tracks? Rename one of them “Mix” for this next step. Set the Mix aux’s Input to read from any empty stereo Bus – probably Bus 1 & 2. With Bus 1 & 2 activated on the track’s input, we might want to rename this Bus as well. Right-Click on Bus 1 & 2, and select Rename from the menu. Change the Bus’ name to “Mix Bus” or something similar. Assign the outputs of all the other audio tracks to that Mix Bus, and assign the Mix Aux Track’s output to the system’s main stereo output. Lastly, put the Mix track into Solo-Safe Mode by holding down the Command button () and Left-Clicking on the Mix track’s Solo button. When in Solo-Safe mode, this track will always be open (unmuted) whenever another solo button is pressed. By changing this I/O routing, we will only have to alter the output on the Mix track and the Master Fader when we go from one system to another. All of our internal routing will remain unharmed.

 

By now, our signal flow looks like this.

 

Sound Sources to the Microphones – Microphones to the Preamps – Preamps to the Interface – Interface to Audio Track Inputs – Audio Track Outputs to the Mix track input – Mix track output to the Master/Interface’s Main Out – Main Outputs to the Speaker System – Speakers to our Ears.

 

We can take that Mix bus trick a step further. In any given session, we have multiple families of instruments in the band – several tracks of drums, several strings, horns, woodwinds, guitars, vocals, etc. We can use that same bussing technique to make a sub-mix of each family of instruments: Drum tracks outputting to a drum bus (another unused stereo bus), which goes to a Drum Aux Input track, which goes to the Mix track. This extra step is not required, but it does give us more control in the mix: we can now adjust the overall blend of each family of instruments with stereo busses.

 

 

Groups & Panning

 

Certain tracks should be part of a group. In Pro Tools, Groups are collections of tracks that can be linked together for editing purposes. For example, stereo configurations, whether it’s a pair of drum overheads, or a pair of room microphones, should operate as two parts of one group. When we raise or lower the volume on one of these tracks, we will probably want to match it on the other. Create a group by selecting two tracks, like the overheads. Select Track > Group or use the shortcut (⌘G). In the Create Group window, give the group a Name (like “Overheads” or “Room”), then select and Add the tracks that should be part of the same group. Repeat the process for each new group. We can enable and disable each group by clicking on the Group name, under the Track List. By default, there is an <ALL> group, which selects every track when clicked.

 

Some tracks, like stereo configurations, need to be panned in the mix. In the mix window, select the Pan knob for the left channel (overhead left, room left, etc), and pan it all the way to the left. Pan the right channel all the way to the right.

 

Mid-Side Stereo

 

During our lesson on microphone placement, we discussed the Mid-Side stereo configuration: two microphones split across three channels. To complete this, we need to do some careful panning and routing. The mid microphone is panned to the center on the mid track, but the side microphone is split across two separate tracks: side left and side right. Both side channels have the same input. Pan the side channels left & right, but invert the polarity on the right side’s track. We can do this by placing an EQ plug-in on the Right channel’s Insert. The Plug-In window will pop up. Look for the Phase button (a zero with a slash through it), and press it to invert the phase on the side channel.

 

Ruler Setup

 

If we plan on recording a piece of music along with a metronome, we need to program the music’s tempo, meter, and other important information into the session. Pro Tools is defaulted to 4/4 meter, a tempo of 120 BPM, and the key of C Major. More often than not, we need to change these settings. First, click on the Bars & Beats ruler to switch into a musical time reference.

 

In music, the downbeat happens at the start of measure 1. When we record, we usually give the band 2 bars of the metronome’s count off before they begin to play. Just so everyone is on the same page, we need to move the downbeat back two measures in Pro Tools. Go to Event > Time Operations > Move Song Start. In this menu, change the Timebase to Bars. Change “Move Start to:” measure 3, “Renumber song start to:” measure 1, and click the Apply button. We now have empty 2 measures before the first downbeat.

Tempo controls the metronome’s speed (BPM). To make a tempo change, move the playback head to the start of the session and press the + button on the Tempo ruler. In the Tempo Change window select your desired Location, BPM, and Resolution. We can also make the tempo get faster or slower over time. Select Event > Tempo Operations > Tempo Operations Window. In the Tempo Operations window, select the start & end locations & tempos. The Advanced options allow for more detailed changes.

 

Key & Chords affect MIDI data. Changing keys can transpose MIDI notes from one key to another. To make a change, go to Event > Add Key Change, pick the location, and the major or minor key you want to use.

 

Lastly, Markers are Memory Locations that we can create throughout the session. These can be anything from the start of a musical section, like a verse or chorus, or anything we choose. To create a Memory Location, move the playback head to the desired location in the session and press Enter on the keyboard’s Number Pad. Give the location a name. To see a list of these markers, select Window > Memory Locations. Clicking on the marker name will move the playhead to that marker’s location.

 

The Click Track

 

The click track is a mono Aux Input track with a Metronome plug-in on the track’s first Insert. It beeps along to the session’s tempo & meter ruler. It will play when the session plays. To enable & disable the metronome, activate the Metronome button on the transport, or press 7 on the number pad.

 

Headphones & Cue Mixes

 

All of the routing in those previous steps affects what we hear in the control room (the main mix). Musicians in the studio may need one or more headphone mixes, which are different from what we want to hear in the studio. The drummer may need a mix that doesn’t include other players in the band: “More metronome, more bass, less vocals.” In order to get them a separate headphone mix, we use the Sends, another stereo Aux Input track, and the stereo Cue output, which is sent to the headphone amp. Create a stereo Aux Input track, and name it “Headphones” or something unique. Assign is headphones’ track input to any empty stereo bus, and rename the bus “Headphones Bus” or something similar. Assign the track’s output to the system’s Cue output. To send signals into this headphone aux track, activate the Sends on our click track & audio tracks. Click on the first Send, and select our headphone bus from the menu. A new window with the Send Fader will appear. Raise the fader to send some of this track’s signal to the headphone mix. You may want to make this send Solo-Safe. This is the same method we will use for reverb and delay effects during the mixing phase.

 

NEVER send a track’s signal back to itself, and never have a track send/receive from the same bus. For example, don’t put a headphone send on the headphone track. This may cause a feedback loop.

 

 

While the crew is arranging chairs & stands for the musicians in the studio, the engineers are in the control room, preparing the gear for the recording session. The Control Room is where the producer and engineers record and monitor the musicians in the studio. It typically contains the mixing console, computer systems, interfaces, recording devices, patch bays, speaker systems, and a variety of rack-mounted signal processors like compressors, reverb units, and so on.

 

Signal Flow in a Digital Studio

 

At this point, it is important to have a clear understanding of Signal Flow – the path that the sound and audio signal travels from the time it leaves the player’s instrument in the studio until the time it reaches our ears through a pair of speakers in the control room. Here is a brief review.

 

When an instrument (our Sound Source) is played, it creates acoustic Sound Waves that travel through out the room by causing the air to vibrate. A microphone captures these acoustic waves, and turns them into an electric Analog Signal. The microphone sends this signal down a series of cables: the microphone cable connects to a single channel on the audio snake, which connects to the input panel on the control room wall. Inside the control room, each channel on the input panel usually connects to a Preamp on the mixing console. The preamp adjusts the level of the analog signal. From there, the output of the preamp connects to an Interface or Converter. This converts the Analog (A) signal into a Digital (D) format that the computer can understand – A/D Conversion. From there the converter sends the digital signal into the computer, where it can be manipulated in Pro Tools and saved as an Audio File. After that, the digital signal passes back through the converter, where it is converted back into an analog signal (D/A Conversion). This analog signal is sent to an Amplifier that powers a pair of speakers or headphones, which converts the analog signal into acoustic sounds that our ears can hear. Our ears, in turn, convert this acoustic sound into a signal that our brains can process.

 

Depending on the equipment available in the studio, this process may be handled by a simple all-in-one interface like an M-Box, or multiple pieces of equipment, like a mixing console with an HD-System. An all-in-one interface includes a preamp, converter, computer connection, and a headphone or monitor output. Regardless, the overall steps are the same.

 

In professional studios, all of the equipment is routed through a Patch Bay (Discussed in Chapter 5 of Basic Audio Recording Techniques). A bay is usually wired in a way that allows the signal to flow in its Normal direction (e.g. the preamp’s output connecting to the interface input) without needing to manually patch this connection into the bay. However, the patch bay gives the engineer the ability to interrupt this normal connection, and redirect (Patch) the signal from one piece of gear to another. For example, instead of sending the signal straight from the preamp into the converter/interface, the engineer may want to process the signal through some Outboard Gear (an external Signal Processor) like a compressor, and then send the processed signal into the recording device. In this case, the engineer takes a patch cable, plugs one end into the preamp output, and plugs the other end into the compressor’s input on the patch bay. With another patch cable, the compressor’s output gets patched into the interface’s input. Some studios even run their microphone panel outputs and console’s microphone inputs through the patch bay, but this can cause problems. The preamp can send Phantom Power through the cable to power the microphone. If this cable gets unplugged in the patch bay, it can damage the mic.

Input Signal Flow from the Studio to the Computer

 

Sound Source: creates Sound Waves that travel through the air, until they are captured by a…

 

Microphone: converts sound waves into a signal, which travels through cables to a…

 

Preamp: adjusts the level (volume) of the signal, which is sent to a…

 

Patch Bay: Normally routes the signal from one device to another, unless we…

 

Patch: Preamp output to the input of an outboard Signal Processor, like a…

 

Compressor: compresses the dynamic range of the signal…

 

Patch: Signal processor output to the input of a…

 

A/D Converter: Converts the signal from Analog (A) to a Digital (D) format which is sent to a…

 

Computer: Pro Tools records the digital signal and saves it as an Audio File on a Hard Drive.

 

Playback Signal Flow from the Computer to our Ears

 

Computer: Pro Tools plays back the recorded audio file, sending the track’s output through the…

 

D/A Converter: Converts the Digital (D) signal from the computer into an Analog (A) signal…

 

Patch Bay: the converter’s output is normally routed to the input on an…

 

Amplifier: Adjusts the level of the analog signal so it is strong enough to play through…

 

Speakers (or headphones): converts the analog signal into acoustic sound waves, which we hear.

 

What about MIDI?

 

When a musician reads a piece of sheet music, the information on the page tells the player what notes to play, when to play them, how fast, and how loud, and how long to play any given note. In other words, the musician translates that information into a musical performance. MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a programming language that translates musical information into data that a computer can understand. MIDI data can also be sent back through the synthesizer, allowing the synthesizer to perform the music like an old Player Piano.

 

When a pianist plays a piece of music on the MIDI keyboard, each keystroke gets recorded: when in the key was pressed, released, how hard it was pressed, and what other controllers were used (sustain pedals, mod wheels, and so on). We can record this information in the control room.

 

Most modern synthesizers come with both audio outputs and a MIDI input & output (I/O). The audio output will follow the normal signal chain: line out to a direct box, to the control room, etc. In order to capture the MIDI information, we need to plug the keyboard’s MIDI I/O into a MIDI Interface. Newer keyboards can do this through a standard USB cable, which plugs directly into the computer. However, since MIDI technology was developed in the early1980’s, older MIDI devices require MIDI Cables. We will discuss MIDI configurations in Pro Tools later.

 

Powering Up in the Control Room

 

If you ever turn a guitar amp or sound system on and off, you might hear a popping sound as the current surges through the system. In some cases, this loud popping sound may be strong enough to blow out our speakers. Because of this, we always turn our equipment on & off in a set order.

 

Turn on the mixing console and outboard gear first. This includes compressors, interfaces, etc.

 

Next turn connect and turn on any external hard drives, followed by the computer.

 

Lastly, turn on the amplifiers & speakers. Note: many consoles & interfaces will automatically Mute themselves when they first power on. In order to hear anything, check the mute button.

 

When powering down the system, follow this order in reverse.

 

REMEMBER: Turn the speakers ON LAST, and turn them OFF FIRST to avoid damaging them.

 

Hard Drives

 

In a modern studio, portable hard drives have replaced tapes as the storage medium of choice. Since ensemble recording can capture hours of high-resolution multi track audio, our hard drives need to be large enough and fast enough to keep up with the workflow. A cheap USB thumb drive won’t cut it. For technical specifications, refer to the course syllabus.

 

Before We Get Started

 

We need a copy of the setup sheet (last week’s lesson) for this recording session.

 

For this week’s lesson, let’s assume our control room is using a Mac computer, a Digidesign C24 console (16 inputs/preamps with direct outs), an Avid HD I/O interface (16 channels of analog I/O), a 5.1 surround sound speaker system, and a headphone amp for the musicians in the studio. Everything is routed through a patch bay.

 

Getting Started

 

Turn on the gear in the control room using the sequence we discussed earlier. Make sure the hard drive is connected and powered. Once the computer is done booting up, quit any audio-related applications (like iTunes and GarageBand), and launch the Pro Tools application. The Quick Start menu may appear on screen by default: select “Create Blank Session…” from the menu. If the Quick Start menu does not show up, then within the Pro Tools application, select File > New Session… from the dropdown menu (shortcut ⌘N). Again, make sure “Create Blank Session…” is selected.

 

Session Parameters

 

In this section, we need to choose several options that will affect the Pro Tools session’s quality and compatibility. Our top of the line Pro Tools HD system may be able to hand any of the settings listed here, but if we have to edit or mix this session on an older version of Pro Tools or at a different studio, some of these options may be impractical or unusable for our purposes.

 

Audio File Type

 

Audio File Type selects the audio file format used in the session. BWF (.WAV) or AIFF file formats are both acceptable, and almost universally compatible with any other program or audio device. Tracks on a CD usually come in an AIFF file format.

 

Sample Rate

 

Sample Rate selects the sample resolution used in the session. Higher sample rates capture and convert the recorded audio at higher resolution (higher potential quality), but these files take up more space on the hard drive. Some other systems may not be able to handle extremely high sample rates. Because of this, we need to find a nice balance between quality, and compatibility. We also need to determine what the end product of this recording will be. If this is a song intended to go on an album, then we will likely record at or higher than CD quality (44.1kHz, 16 Bit). In most cases, 48 kHz is the highest, most compatible sample rate we can use. 48 kHz, 24 Bit is also the standard for a lot of video formats.

 

Bit Depth

 

Bit Depth captures the dynamic range of the recorded audio. Higher numbers mean higher resolution here as well. Again, we want to record at or above the bit depth of our intended product. However, we may run into compatibility problems if we pick the highest settings. 32 Bit Float & Interleaved are fairly new formats, so older versions of Pro Tools (versions 9 & older) and other programs may not be able to read these files. If you know ahead of time that you will be working in an older version of Pro Tools, then 24 Bit (non-interleaved) is the highest resolution & most compatible bit depth available to old programs and devices.

 

I/O Settings

 

The I/O Settings dropdown menu refers to the Pro Tools interface’s physical inputs & outputs. Depending on how our studio is configured, some channels on the interface may be dedicated to specific functions. For example, a single HD interface might come with 16 inputs & 16 outputs. In a standard “Stereo Mix” the session’s main stereo output is assigned to output on channels 1 (left) and 2 (right). This is a common setting for most home studios and all-in-one interfaces like the M-Box. In larger HD systems, certain consoles and playback formats require different routing options. Since our studio uses a Digidesign C24 console, we will use the “C24 Mix” setting. This setting uses 8 separate output channels: 6 channels for the console’s 5.1 Surround Sound output (Output channel 1 left, 2 center, 3 right, 4 side left, 5 side right, and 6 sub), and 2 output channels for a Cue output (a stereo headphone mix for the band on output 7 & 8).

 

Other I/O settings are intended for different consoles & interfaces. Some engineers may even make their own customized I/O settings to fit their unique setup. Selecting the “Last Used” option, as the name implies, will select the last I/O configuration that Pro Tools used on this computer. Every studio is different, so choose the right settings for your system.

 

Once you have chosen the right session parameters, click the OK button to move on.

 

Save – Name the Session

 

The next screen lets us choose where we want to save this Pro Tools session file, and what we want to call it. Before you name the session “Final Project” and click the save button, stop and pay attention to where the file is being saved. Click the dropdown arrow next to the “Save As” field. This will expand the window, displaying the system’s finder window. Pro Tools by default will navigate to the last place where it saved a session. More often than not, this means Pro Tools will navigate to someone else’s session folders. DO NOT save your file in the middle of someone else’s project. Instead, look at the list of devices on the left side of the window. Find YOUR portable hard drive, select it, and make a New Folder. Alternatively, if you are sharing a computer with other students, don’t save the session on the desktop, and don’t save it on the computer’s primary system hard drive. Make a folder for yourself in the proper place, and give it a unique name. Hundreds of other students have already decided to call their session file “Final Project” which means yours will get lost in that mess. Give the new folder a unique name, like the name of the artist and the name of the project. Lastly, in the “Save As” field, give the session a unique name: the song title with today’s date for example. Click Save to move on.

 

When we click the Save button, Pro Tools creates several folders and a session file. The primary Session Folder will have whatever unique name you gave it in the previous step, and it will be saved in the location you picked in the previous window. Inside that folder is a Pro Tools Session File, with the same unique name. Pro Tools 10 and newer saves sessions in a .PTX file format, versions 9 and earlier save a .PTF session file. There are a few other important folders in the session folder. The Audio Files folder is where any audio related to this session will be recorded and saved. There is also a Session File Backups folder: Pro Tools will periodically save a backup copy of the session file every few minutes – this can be changed it Pro Tools’ preferences.

 

A Few Minor Adjustments – Playback Engine

 

We need to check a few settings before we move on. Once the new session finishes loading, select Setup > Playback Engine from the dropdown menus along the top of the screen. In this Playback Engine window, look at the first (Playback Engine) dropdown field. Verify that the name of the Pro Tools interface currently connected to this system is selected. In a home studio, this may be an Avid M-Box, or the computer’s Built-In Output. In our control room, the Pro Tools HD system plays back through the HD-Native card inside the computer. Select the right option for the right system – every system may be different. If this setting gets changed, Pro Tools will close and reopen itself using the right playback device. If the right playback device is already selected, move on.

 

In the Setup > Playback Engine window, look for the H/W Buffer Size (Hardware buffer size) dropdown field under the Settings section. In this dropdown menu, we can adjust the system’s playback Latency. When sound gets recorded and played back through a Pro Tools system, there is a slight delay, measured in Samples. When the musicians need to hear and play along to the Pro Tools session, we need to make the latency/buffer size as low as possible. However, the computer’s processor (CPU) has to work harder to keep the latency low – it may not be able to keep up with the lowest, most responsive settings. Every computer is different, and some processors are faster than others. Because of this, we keep the hardware buffer size as low as reasonably possible during the recording phase (when the musicians need to play along to the tracks). When we are done recording, we raise the buffer size so the computer can dedicate more processing power for editing & mixing. To see how hard the processor is working, select Window > System Usage.

 

I/O Setup

 

Select Setup > I/O to look at the various routing options to, from, and within the Pro Tools system. The I/O Setup window contains several important Tabs along the top of the window. The Input tabs show the name and routing configuration for the interface’s physical hardware inputs. Here, we just need to verify that the first input in Pro Tools is assigned to the first input on the interface, 2 on channel 2, and so on. If something looks out of place, pressing the Default button should correct it.

 

The Output tab shows the system/interface’s physical hardware outputs. These settings may need to be changed, depending on our system. If we’re using a stereo interface like an M-Box with the “Stereo Mix” I/O setting we mentioned earlier, then we need to make sure that the main stereo output in Pro Tools is playing out through channels 1 & 2 on the interface. Since our control room uses the C24 console’s 5.1 surround sound & stereo cue output, we need to double-check the output settings on this page. In 5.1 Surround Sound, the Left channel is assigned to output channel 1 on the interface, Center on 2, Right on 3, Side-Left on 4, Side-Right on 5, and the Sub on channel 6. Additionally, the stereo Cue output assigns Cue Left to Channel 7, and Cue Right to Channel 8. In the bottom right corner, there are several options: Audition Paths and Default Output Bus. These should both be set to the same main output path we used for the I/O setup.

 

Next is the Bus tab. This displays all of the internal routing connections within Pro Tools. Remember, the interface gets us into and outside of the Pro Tools system, but the busses route signals within the software – they never leave the system. We will discuss how to use busses later in this lesson.

 

The other tabs cover some specialized features that are beyond the scope of this lesson. Our system doesn’t make use of the remote-controlled Mic Preamps tab, and we will discuss the Hardware Insert & H/W Insert Delay tabs at another time.

 

Make Tracks

 

Look at the setup sheet and determine how many tracks are needed for this session. Each input used on the console/interface will typically be routed into one mono audio track. To make new tracks in Pro Tools, select Track > New from the menu, or use the shortcut ñ⌘N to bring up the new track window. If our studio setup used 16 channels, then select 16MonoAudio Track in the track window. Before we hit move on, let’s make a few more tracks. Click the “+” button to make some additional tracks in this window. Add 1 – Stereo – Master Fader, + 2 Stereo – Aux Input, + 1 – Stereo – Instrument Track. Now click the “Create” button. Lastly, select Track > Create Click Track. The tracks will appear in both the Edit & Mix windows.

 

Edit & Mix Windows

 

The two main windows in Pro Tools are the Edit & Mix windows. We can use the shortcut keys ⌘= to cycle between these two windows. Both tracks can display a lot of the same information, but they serve different purposes. Before we discuss these windows, let’s make a few modifications to prove a point. In the View menu, select View > Mix Window Views > All, View > Edit Window Views > All, and View > Rulers > All. In fact, go down the list of items in the View menu and select everything under the Mix Window Views, Edit Window Views, Rulers, Other Displays, and Transport options: we’re going to make the screen unnecessarily cluttered. We’ll clean this up in a minute.

 

The Edit Window shows the editing Tools, Main Counter, and Transport (playback controls) at the top of the window. Below that are the various Rulers, which display timing information on the timeline: Bars & Beats for musical timing (including Tempo, Meter, etc), Minutes & Seconds, SMPTE Timecode, and Markers for Memory Locations (discussed later). On the left side of the screen is the Track List and Groups display. On the right side of the screen is the Clip List: this is a list of all media files currently being used within the session. As audio files are recorded, they will be added to this list. At the bottom of the window is the MIDI Editor. This can be expanded into its own separate window by selecting Window > MIDI Editor, or the ⌃= shortcut.

 

The middle of the screen shows our various tracks arranged from top to bottom. The large empty space will display the recorded audio waveform, and MIDI data when we record the session. It is essentially like looking at the tape on a tape recorder. However, the rest of the screen is cluttered with a lot of other information.

 

Track Layout

 

Tab back to the Edit window. On the left side of the track section is the Track Color marker, including several small dropdown buttons for track height and Automation Lanes – those will be covered in another lesson. Next to that is the Track Name, Record, Input Monitor (HD only), Solo, and Mute buttons. Beneath that is the Track View Selector (defaulted to display the Waveform on Audio tracks, Volume on Master & Aux tracks, Clips on Instrument & MIDI tracks), the Voice selector, Automation Mode selector, and Timebase selector. These advanced functions will be covered in another lesson.

 

The next section displays a color-coded Meter, with a Clip Indicator – one meter for mono tracks, 2 for stereo, more for surround formats. When a signal is recorded through or played back on the track, the level will be displayed on the Meter. If the signal is too strong, the red Clip Indicator will light up.

 

The rest of the window is cluttered with information. The Comments section lets you type a brief note about the track. The Mic Pre section deals with the same remote-controlled preamps we mentioned in the I/O Setup – our system does not use these, so they will always be blank. The Instrument section displays the MIDI I/O – it is only visible on Instrument Tracks. If our setup involves any MIDI keyboards, we can assign the keyboard’s output to this track, allowing us to record the MIDI data. The MIDI I/O will be sent to the first Instrument plug-in on the inserts in the next section. There are two rows, and 10 slots for Inserts.

 

Inserts work like the points on a patch bay. When we stick a Plug-In (EQ, compression, reverb, etc) on one of the inserts, the signal gets processed through the plug-in, and is then sent back out to the track. Instrument plug-ins are software synthesizers that require MIDI input. Other plug-ins, like the metronome on our Click Track, can generate sound independently.

 

Next come the Sends: these function like Aux Sends on an analog mixing console. We can use the sends & busses to route some our signal somewhere else, and create a secondary mix for the players wearing headphones. During the mixing phase, we will use these to send signal to reverb & delay plug-ins, among others. We will apply some of this later on in the lesson.

 

The I/O section controls the track’s input (on top) and output (on bottom). Audio tracks usually receive their Input from the Interface section of the dropdown menu. For example, Audio Track 1 will most likely receive its Input from Interface > Channel 1 (the name may be different). Some tracks, especially Aux Input tracks, may receive their input from one of the Busses. Tracks can Output their signal to a Bus, but more often than not, they will ultimately output to the interface’s physical outputs: main stereo, Cue, etc. From there, the signal travels down the chain until we hear it through the speakers.

 

In the Edit Window, there is a display for Real-Time Properties – this only appears on MIDI & Instrument tracks. This is a MIDI editing function that will be covered in another lesson.

 

The Mix Window has several additional functions that we don’t find on the Edit window. Next to the Meter is a long Fader: this lets us adjust the track’s volume within the mix. Above that is the Pan section. The Pan knobs allow us to position the track within the stereo (or surround) image. A Group ID Indicator displays any grouping information assigned to this track – we will cover this later in the lesson. Lastly Delay Compensation refers to a track’s latency in the mix. We will discuss this during the mixing phase.

 

Cleaning Up The Windows

 

Now that we know where everything is, we need to get the clutter out of our way. Both windows display a lot of redundant information: more often than not, we don’t need to see most of this information anyway. Let’s clean up the Mix window first. With every View option displayed in the mix window, the tracks are probably too long to fit on the screen. In order to make everything visible at a glance, we can eliminate what we don’t need. If our system doesn’t use the remote-controlled Microphone Preamps, go back to the View menu and disable it. If we aren’t using any MIDI keyboards or Instrument tracks, we can disable the Instrument view. By now, the track is short enough to fit on the average computer screen. If there is still not enough room, eliminate the Comments section if it won’t be used, or remove the secondary sections of Inserts & Sends. With all of the extra junk out of the way, we can clearly see all of our current routing options on the Mix window. If there are too many tracks on the screen, we can use the View > Narrow Mix option (shortcut ⌘M) to shrink the track’s width.

 

In the Edit, window, we can eliminate almost everything. The rulers by themselves take up a few inches of space on the screen. If we’re not working with video, then we don’t need to see the Timecode and Feet+Frames rulers. Since we’re recording music, we will need to see the Bars & Beats, and Minutes & Seconds rulers, as well as Tempo, Meter, and Markers. We may not need the Key & Chords rulers, but we can always turn them back on if we do. Under Other Displays, we usually want access to all of this information, except for the MIDI Editor. If we aren’t using MIDI or Instrument tracks, then we have no use for the MIDI Editor. In fact, we can also eliminate most of the Edit Window views by selecting View > Edit Window Views > Minimal. All of the relevant information is already displayed on our Mix window.

 

Session Setup

 

Now that we know where everything is, we can configure our tracks for our recording session. If you haven’t done so yet, consult the setup sheet to determine how many tracks will be needed for this session – usually 1 Audio Track for every channel in use on the console. We will also need a Master Fader and several stereo Aux Input tracks. For this session, let’s assume we’re recording 16 channels, with a headphone mix for the band.

 

Create 16 – Mono – Audio Tracks, + 1 – Stereo – Master Fader, + 2 – Stereo – Aux Inputs, and one Click Track (1 Mono Aux Input with a metronome plug-in on the 1st Insert).

 

We can always add more tracks as needed, or delete the tracks we don’t need.

 

Label the Tracks

 

When new tracks are created, Pro Tools assigns them a simple name and number; Audio 1, Audio 2, Aux 1, etc. These labels are fairly meaningless to us – we want to name our tracks according to our setup sheet. If the kick drum is on channel 1 on the console, then double–click on the Track Name in Pro Tools and change the track name from “Audio 1” to “Kick” or something meaningful. Do this for the rest of the audio tracks in the session. The Master fader will usually still be called “Master” and the Aux Inputs will serve a special function which we will discuss in a moment.

 

Assign Inputs

 

With our tracks labeled, it’s time to assign the track input. If our Kick drum is on channel 1 on the console, and track 1 in Pro Tools, then the track should read from channel 1 on the interface’s input. 1 to 1 to 1. Track 2 reads input 2 from channel 2, and so on. Do this for the rest of our audio tracks.

 

Assign Outputs

 

Here’s where things get tricky. We’re probably listening back to the tracks on a stereo system. Even if we’re using the 5.1 Surround Sound system, we may only be using the Left & Right (stereo) channels. Ultimately, our tracks have to output to the proper channels in order to play back on our system. This may just be Output 1 & 2 on an M-Box, or the Surround-Stereo option on an HD System. To make things more complicated, we might be recording these tracks on the surround system, but we may edit and mix them at home on our stereo interface. These settings won’t work properly from one studio to another. There’s a way around this. We’ll make a Mix bus.

 

Aux Tracks and Busses

 

Remember those stereo Aux tracks? Rename one of them “Mix” for this next step. Set the Mix aux’s Input to read from any empty stereo Bus – probably Bus 1 & 2. With Bus 1 & 2 activated on the track’s input, we might want to rename this Bus as well. Right-Click on Bus 1 & 2, and select Rename from the menu. Change the Bus’ name to “Mix Bus” or something similar. Assign the outputs of all the other audio tracks to that Mix Bus, and assign the Mix Aux Track’s output to the system’s main stereo output. Lastly, put the Mix track into Solo-Safe Mode by holding down the Command button () and Left-Clicking on the Mix track’s Solo button. When in Solo-Safe mode, this track will always be open (unmuted) whenever another solo button is pressed. By changing this I/O routing, we will only have to alter the output on the Mix track and the Master Fader when we go from one system to another. All of our internal routing will remain unharmed.

 

By now, our signal flow looks like this.

 

Sound Sources to the Microphones – Microphones to the Preamps – Preamps to the Interface – Interface to Audio Track Inputs – Audio Track Outputs to the Mix track input – Mix track output to the Master/Interface’s Main Out – Main Outputs to the Speaker System – Speakers to our Ears.

 

We can take that Mix bus trick a step further. In any given session, we have multiple families of instruments in the band – several tracks of drums, several strings, horns, woodwinds, guitars, vocals, etc. We can use that same bussing technique to make a sub-mix of each family of instruments: Drum tracks outputting to a drum bus (another unused stereo bus), which goes to a Drum Aux Input track, which goes to the Mix track. This extra step is not required, but it does give us more control in the mix: we can now adjust the overall blend of each family of instruments with stereo busses.

 

 

Groups & Panning

 

Certain tracks should be part of a group. In Pro Tools, Groups are collections of tracks that can be linked together for editing purposes. For example, stereo configurations, whether it’s a pair of drum overheads, or a pair of room microphones, should operate as two parts of one group. When we raise or lower the volume on one of these tracks, we will probably want to match it on the other. Create a group by selecting two tracks, like the overheads. Select Track > Group or use the shortcut (⌘G). In the Create Group window, give the group a Name (like “Overheads” or “Room”), then select and Add the tracks that should be part of the same group. Repeat the process for each new group. We can enable and disable each group by clicking on the Group name, under the Track List. By default, there is an <ALL> group, which selects every track when clicked.

 

Some tracks, like stereo configurations, need to be panned in the mix. In the mix window, select the Pan knob for the left channel (overhead left, room left, etc), and pan it all the way to the left. Pan the right channel all the way to the right.

 

Mid-Side Stereo

 

During our lesson on microphone placement, we discussed the Mid-Side stereo configuration: two microphones split across three channels. To complete this, we need to do some careful panning and routing. The mid microphone is panned to the center on the mid track, but the side microphone is split across two separate tracks: side left and side right. Both side channels have the same input. Pan the side channels left & right, but invert the polarity on the right side’s track. We can do this by placing an EQ plug-in on the Right channel’s Insert. The Plug-In window will pop up. Look for the Phase button (a zero with a slash through it), and press it to invert the phase on the side channel.

 

Ruler Setup

 

If we plan on recording a piece of music along with a metronome, we need to program the music’s tempo, meter, and other important information into the session. Pro Tools is defaulted to 4/4 meter, a tempo of 120 BPM, and the key of C Major. More often than not, we need to change these settings. First, click on the Bars & Beats ruler to switch into a musical time reference.

 

In music, the downbeat happens at the start of measure 1. When we record, we usually give the band 2 bars of the metronome’s count off before they begin to play. Just so everyone is on the same page, we need to move the downbeat back two measures in Pro Tools. Go to Event > Time Operations > Move Song Start. In this menu, change the Timebase to Bars. Change “Move Start to:” measure 3, “Renumber song start to:” measure 1, and click the Apply button. We now have empty 2 measures before the first downbeat.

Tempo controls the metronome’s speed (BPM). To make a tempo change, move the playback head to the start of the session and press the + button on the Tempo ruler. In the Tempo Change window select your desired Location, BPM, and Resolution. We can also make the tempo get faster or slower over time. Select Event > Tempo Operations > Tempo Operations Window. In the Tempo Operations window, select the start & end locations & tempos. The Advanced options allow for more detailed changes.

 

Key & Chords affect MIDI data. Changing keys can transpose MIDI notes from one key to another. To make a change, go to Event > Add Key Change, pick the location, and the major or minor key you want to use.

 

Lastly, Markers are Memory Locations that we can create throughout the session. These can be anything from the start of a musical section, like a verse or chorus, or anything we choose. To create a Memory Location, move the playback head to the desired location in the session and press Enter on the keyboard’s Number Pad. Give the location a name. To see a list of these markers, select Window > Memory Locations. Clicking on the marker name will move the playhead to that marker’s location.

 

The Click Track

 

The click track is a mono Aux Input track with a Metronome plug-in on the track’s first Insert. It beeps along to the session’s tempo & meter ruler. It will play when the session plays. To enable & disable the metronome, activate the Metronome button on the transport, or press 7 on the number pad.

 

Headphones & Cue Mixes

 

All of the routing in those previous steps affects what we hear in the control room (the main mix). Musicians in the studio may need one or more headphone mixes, which are different from what we want to hear in the studio. The drummer may need a mix that doesn’t include other players in the band: “More metronome, more bass, less vocals.” In order to get them a separate headphone mix, we use the Sends, another stereo Aux Input track, and the stereo Cue output, which is sent to the headphone amp. Create a stereo Aux Input track, and name it “Headphones” or something unique. Assign is headphones’ track input to any empty stereo bus, and rename the bus “Headphones Bus” or something similar. Assign the track’s output to the system’s Cue output. To send signals into this headphone aux track, activate the Sends on our click track & audio tracks. Click on the first Send, and select our headphone bus from the menu. A new window with the Send Fader will appear. Raise the fader to send some of this track’s signal to the headphone mix. You may want to make this send Solo-Safe. This is the same method we will use for reverb and delay effects during the mixing phase.

 

NEVER send a track’s signal back to itself, and never have a track send/receive from the same bus. For example, don’t put a headphone send on the headphone track. This may cause a feedback loop.

 

 

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