Even though many of us are Pro Tools veterans with years of experience, there are always a few new tricks to learn. Here are some of my favorites.
MONITOR MIX MAGIC
Recording numerous tracks of background vocals requires a special managerial tracking setup that works equally well for both monitoring and recording a subsequent submix.
This setup begins by creating as many vocal tracks as you’ll need. I’ll pick 20, but you can also add more later at any time. Assign the outputs of all 20 tracks to buses 1 and 2 for stereo panning and create an Aux bus 1 and 2 submaster fader whose output is 888 1/2, the stereo monitor. This Aux submaster fader is where you can adjust the mix/track relationship of the entire background vocal stack and set up monitoring global effects including a stereo compressor and/or EQ. Once you’ve recorded all 20 tracks, completed your blends and automated any tricky moves, you’re ready to record (bounce) your vocal background production to two new tracks.
Create two new audio tracks whose inputs are buses 1 and 2 and — be careful here! — whose outputs are also buses 1 and 2. To avoid a feedback loop, immediately mute the tracks and place the tracks in Record Ready.
Now, with your background vocal mix previously dialed in and still feeding buses 1 and 2, record onto the two new tracks while in mute. None of the monitor effects or compression will be committed to the recording, because aux 1 and 2 submaster faders and effect returns feed only the monitor. You’ll maintain your exact blends without any additional setup or changes, and you can set a precise recording level by grouping all 20 BG vocals and raising them all up or down as required. When the recording is done, first take the audio tracks out of Ready and then unmute for playback and remember to mute all of the individual vocal tracks. You’ll get the same sound and mix as before the bounce with monitor effects and compression, because the new audio tracks now feed buses 1 and 2 and the monitor path.
RECORDING MANY TAKES OF MANY TRACKS
When recording a live drum kit (or any ensemble, such as a string section) across many tracks, comparing subsequent takes to one another can be problematic. You can group the tracks together and Option-Select “Playlist All Tracks” in the group for each subsequent recording; however, Pro Tools will only allow a single stream of automation data per track, so if you have automated levels or mutes on one take, it will also be applied to any of the other playlisted recordings under that take.
It’s much easier to copy and paste the entire song with all tracks to certain locations later in the session. For example, if you wanted to record five takes of a 10-track drum kit overdub, then try this: After you’ve created the 10 new tracks, got your sounds and are ready to record the drummer, group the drum tracks and save the session. Copy and then paste the song five times starting at bar 100, then at bar 200, again at 300, at 400, and finally, at bar 500. Do not record on the original song; record on these copies. The even bar numbers make it easier to locate (by typing in the bar number) the same places in the song within each take. If you want to compare the fill the drummer played at bar 23, your choices are bar 123 (for bar 23 in take 1), 223 (for the same bar in take 2), 323, 423, bar 523, etc. This scheme assumes that you are using a tempo map and the Song Start is bar 1.
If you are not using bars and beats, switch to time where zero minutes and zero seconds (00:00:00) is the beginning of the original, and — assuming your song is about five minutes long — use six minutes and zero seconds for the start of the next copy; 12 minutes, zero seconds for the next copy, etc. Comping your final master drum recording is also a lot easier than playlist editing: Select the region and paste the desired chunks from each pass back into the blank tracks of your original take. You can take this a step further by playlisting your new drum comp tracks and making an alternate comp. This gives you the option/advantage of saving other good drum bits for substitution in the first comp.
CUSTOM VIRTUAL EFFECTS RACKS!
Use the Import Track function to pull saved mixing templates into any new mix. This function not only lets you call up your own “virtual custom effects rack” with all routing and plug-ins ready to go, but also allows you to store preset rough mixes that are fairly close to how you’ll want them for your new mix.
Remember, you’re not importing any audio tracks, just aux faders, master faders and plug-ins. When music mixing, most engineers start out with a certain basic complement of effects assigned to a standardized set of send buses and return channels. You might start your mix session with two reverbs, two delays and a stereo chorus assigned to mono send buses 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31. Instead of re-creating all of the stereo aux inputs for effect returns and master faders and instantiating and tweaking plug-ins for every new mix, just import them all from your last fave mix.
One caveat: Be sure that no automation was previously written to the imported tracks — otherwise, you’ll have to re-automate, redraw it to flat lines or just turn it off. One suggestion: Make a copy sans automation and call it your mixing template — something you can add to as you go along.
Barry Rudolph is an L.A.-based recording engineer. Visit his Website atwww.barryrudolph.com.