In 2003, in an effort to simplify life for those who record and mix music, the Producers & Engineers Wing developed the “Pro Tools Session Guidelines for Music Production,” an easy-to-use reference that became a popular tool for many engineers and producers. Now, just in time for the 2007 AES convention, the P&E Wing is debuting a new version of the document. Created, like the “Pro Tools Guidelines,” by a volunteer group of industry professionals, it's titled “DAW Guidelines for Music Production.”
“A few years ago, an engineer could open a box of analog multitrack tape they'd never seen before, glance at the track sheet and begin working almost immediately,” explains engineer, author and educator Charles Dye, whose writings were the genesis for the original guidelines. “Now that DAWs have replaced tape machines on most recording projects, the amount of time between opening a session from another engineer and going to work has increased; in some cases, drastically.
“We deal with an immense amount of information today — sometimes several hundred tracks, as well as tons of other parameters and stored settings,” Dye continues. “We have all sorts of creative options and almost endless flexibility. But in many cases, the people who engineer sessions haven't come up through the studio system we used to have, where they learned conventions and good practices — things that were passed on from engineer to engineer. Opening a DAW session can reveal a jumble of tracks that take a while to untangle. This can even be true of your own session if you haven't worked on it for a few months. It's not uncommon on DAW sessions to find 100 tracks in some order that isn't very logical, along with eight vocal takes and no vocal comp.”
Dye started keeping notes on problems he discovered and compiling notes from other veteran engineers. The need for better project organization and documentation was obvious, and he began suggesting better practices on his Website and in his writing work for manufacturers. But it was when he got together with several Florida-based members of the P&E Wing — including Eric Schilling, Tom Morris, Roger Nichols, Carlos Alvarez and Ron Taylor — that the nascent guidelines underwent a metamorphosis.
“A lot of people worked extremely hard to update, expand and vastly improve on the original,” he remarks, “and what we came up with was also reviewed by members of the P&E Wing from around the country. The resulting “Pro Tools Session Guidelines” are based on the input of some of the most respected engineers and producers in the industry, including Bob Ludwig, Tony Maserati and Mick Guzauski, to name just a few.”
The DAW Guidelines were a natural outgrowth of the original Pro Tools document. “We always wanted to make the guidelines universal and to incorporate other platforms,” explains Dye. “This year, we regrouped and got together with power users and manufacturers' representatives of [Steinberg] Cubase/Nuendo, [MOTU] Digital Performer, [Apple] Logic, [Digidesign] Pro Tools and [Cakewalk] SONAR. So now we have input from people like Frank Filipetti, Chuck Ainlay, Don Gunn, Scott Garrigus and Vincent di Pasquale.”
The DAW Guidelines are organized into two sections: Universal Guidelines that apply to any DAW platform and platform-specific guidelines. Essentially, the document breaks the work process into three types of project/session files: master, used during tracking, recording and overdubbing; Slave, files sent out as satellite projects for overdubs; and Mix, the stripped-down, cleaned-up and notated files ready for mixing.
“We're not re-inventing the wheel here,” Dye concludes. “We've simply adopting practices that were used with tape for years to DAWs. Following the guidelines will eliminate most of the questions that arise when opening a project/session file. You can open the file and go to work instantly. You don't even have to do a quick, rough mix; you hit the spacebar and hear the mix back the way that somebody else, two weeks ago in a city halfway around the world, was listening to it. It decreases time spent and increases productivity, and life is so much easier when all you have to do is focus on the music.”