Update: 20 Intermediate Pro Tools Tips now posted!
During my years of experience in the field, I’ve had tons of people asking for advice. Specially advice on DAW systems – mainly Pro Tools, because it’s the industry standard – and because Digital Audio Workstations can get complicated.
The tips I keep repeating are rarely heard, and then they come back with more serious problems – because they didn’t listen the first time. It’s not because they are stupid, but because it’s normal to be excited about this new investment, thinking Digidesign is just like any other company who makes products that “just work”. Unfortunately products that “just work” are a very rare breed in today’s technological age, so people need to be prepared…
Despite the title of the article, these tips are far from being only for “newbies”. Enjoy!
– In the case of Macs, pay attention to the OS version;
– In the case of Windows PCs, check the Digidesign Compatibility Info – never get a machine that is listed as unsupported, and try to get the ones that are listed as 100% supported.
If you’re in doubt and you have no clue, always ask at the Digi User Conference before buying.
– Mbox (if you’re not too interested in integrated MIDI);
– Digi 002 (specially if you can get a Black Lion Audio modification afterwards);
– Digi 001 (also a good deal for desktop machines, but not supported by more recent Pro Tools versions and featuring low quality Analog-to-Digital converters);
– Mix 24 (TDM) is an option in some cases.
– If you have budget for an HD system, you don’t deserve to get free help 🙂 Shame on you. Or, if you read this article, donate something to Moozek!
Of course these will take less time to become unsupported by future versions of Pro Tools – and that is the catch. They might also have slightly lower grade converters, but that’s what Apogee is good for (and you can delay spendings by getting that later.)
8) You need at least one extra hard drive (two, if you use virtual instruments), besides the one where the operating system is. Virtual instrument and sample libraries go into the beginning of the first drive, and sessions/audio in the beginning of the second. These should be preferably external, and if they are, they have to be IEEE 1394 (Firewire), and use the Oxford 911, 912 or 924 chipsets (the only ones officially supported by Digidesign). RPM can’t be under 7200.
7) Uninstall software you don’t use, and keep your computer clean, inside and outside (software and hardware). Remember to defragment all partitions frequently, except audio drives (where the session files are). For some (idiotic) reason, defragmenting session & audio files is risky, as they can become corrupted, and rendered useless, according to frequent reports. The safest way to do it:
1) take the audio files and sessions out of that drive, into another drive;
2) defragment the audio drive (if it’s not empty after step 1);
3) put the audio files and sessions back in the drive.
DO NOT install Anti Virus programs. If you need an anti virus, use a free, open source release that doesn’t install background scanners, such as this one. Use Firefox to go online and stay away from dubious pirated software, and your system should remain virus-free.
6) Learn to use the Smart Tool. The most inefficient people with Pro Tools are the ones who click on the respective tool every time they want to do something different with the audio. I’ve seen this a lot – and it’s ridiculous, because in my opinion, 50% of the appeal of Pro Tools is that little Smart Tool feature alone. Show me a new DAW that has a Smart Tool working just like that, and I’ll show you a guy interested in it!
5) Regions > Group is your best friend. Organize song sections, group sliced up regions, move big chunks of audio parts. Nifty!
4) Zooming in and out can be a pain to get used to. The most intuitive way to do it? Click on a zoom arrow in the toolbar (left or right – doesn’t matter), hold the mouse button and drag left or right. A lot of people don’t know they can do this, and it’s the only way I zoom in Pro Tools.
– There are lots of zooming alternative techniques: another one is to use Alt + Mouse Wheel on Windows (and Option + Mouse Wheel on Mac);
– Alt (or Option) + Shift + Mouse Wheel to zoom the Waveform;
– Shift + Mouse Wheel to move the Time Line;
3) Create a session template file. In the process, you will label the I/O Setup and this will be saved in your preferences and session. Create Aux busses for delays and reverbs and insert all the plug-ins you know for sure you use everytime. Activate loop playback by default, automate the creation of a click track, and have a Master bus (with bus compression) ready all the time. Whatever you find yourself doing when you start a session, try to have that done automatically by Pro Tools – this will save you valuable time when all you want to do is to start working on a mix, or tracking a song idea.
A very important tip not included when I wrote this:
3.1) In Pro Tools, go to Setup > Preferences > Operation > Record and in “Open-Ended Record Allocation” instead of “Use All Available Space” set “Limit to: 10 minutes”. I personally use it with 8, and you can even set it to 5 (depending on how long most of your projects are). This will put a lot less pressure on your disk usage and avoid a long list of possible nags.
2) Get the fxpansion VST To RTAS Adapter. Before you decide to buy any overly expensive RTAS plug-in suite, don’t miss out on the great free VST plug-ins out there, like the SimulAnalog Guitar Suite. Of course, the more free RTAS plug-ins you can find, the better. Moozek will have some information about that in the future.
1) If Pro Tools gives you any problem (it will, no matter how optimistic you want to stay), the first thing you must do is trash all preference files.
To trash Databases and Preferences on a PC:
- To trash your databases, go to “My Computer,” then double-click each of your hard drives on your system, right-click each “Digidesign Databases” folder and choose delete. Then, go to your System Drive (C:) > Program Files > Digidesign > Pro Tools > Databases. Click on the folder called “volumes” and delete it.
- To trash your preferences manually on a PC, go to your Start Menu > My Computer > Your Local Hard Drive > Documents and Settings > “Your User Name Folder” > Application Data > Digidesign. Right-click the Digidesign folder and delete it. Then, go to your Start Menu > My Computer > Your Local Hard Drive > Program Files > Digidesign > DAE > DAE Prefs. Delete the entire DAE Preferences folder.
To trash Databases and Preferences on a Mac:
- To trash your databases, you should delete the Digidesign Databases folder on each of your mounted hard drives, and then delete the “Volumes” folder that’s located in Macintosh HD > Library > Application Support > Digidesign > Databases.
- To trash your preferences, go to Macintosh Hard Drive > Users > “Your User Name” > Library > Preferences. Delete anything that starts with “com.digidesign,” the “DAE Prefs” folder, “Pro Tools preferences,” and “DigiSetup.OSX”
You will also need to get used to moving any unused or possibly problematic plug-ins from the Plug-Ins to the Plug-Ins (Unused) folder. To avoid complicated situations in the future, you should avoid clutter, and this is valid even inside Pro Tools.