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Once recording and editing are finished, audio engineers can take advantage of the training in Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools to punch up the final output. Digidesign Certified Expert Brian Lee White covers all the basic mixing tools that every producer and engineer should know, from using EQ to add clarity and focus to using compression and limiting to maximize track levels within a mix. Brian stresses the importance of setting up a solid mixing plan prior to any work in Pro Tools, and gives advice on the best plug-ins for each stage of the process. Exercise files accompany the course.
So bottom line when mixing on a native Pro Tools system like LE or Empowered, the faster your computer is, the better, because the Pro Tools mixer and plug-ins as with any DAW, pull the resources or what we call DSP directly from the computer. It stands to reason that the faster your computer is, the more simultaneous tracks and plug-ins you can run while mixing. That said, there are some optimizations you can make to any Pro Tools system to improve the resources available while mixing.
So what we're going to want to look at first is optimizing the playback engine. We can access the playback engine by going to Setup > Playback Engine. These settings are going to control how Pro Tools uses the computer resources to process things like plug-ins and track count and things like that. Now the first setting we want to look at is the Hardware Buffer Size and this is going to determine the amount of time Pro Tools takes to process chunks of audio or samples.
Lower settings are perfect for recording, because they're going to give you less latency, so less turnaround time. Higher settings are best for mixing and editing, because it's going to give your computer more time to process more things. You can think of it sort of like the computer taking bites of food. So smaller bites, they can chew and swallow faster, whereas larger bites are going to take a little bit more time. So you get a little bit more latency, but you're going to have more processing power overall. Now sometimes you might run into errors no matter where you set the Hardware Buffer Size.
This might just mean that your computer is maxing out even at the highest buffer size or there maybe other problems you are experiencing with drivers or software installation problems. Now here the RTAS Processors and CPU Usage Limit determines how many processors or cores Pro Tools is going to use when working with the software. So you can set this from anywhere to 1 to 8, if you have an 8-core machine. If you have a single processor machine, you're only going to be able to use one processor and the CPU Usage Limit is going to define sort of kind of like a rev limiter in a car, how much of that CPU Pro Tools can use before it returns an error.
Now if you have an multi-processor machine, you can generally set this to a lower value, something like 65%, and a lot of times you don't have to use all your cores. In fact, Pro Tools doesn't effectively use more than three or four cores. So some plug-ins actually perform better with a lower setting here. So play around with these depending on the third party plug-ins you have, you might have to make some adjustments. The main one though is that Hardware Buffer Size, setting it to a higher value when you're mixing.
Now the RTAS Engine here, we can check this button to ignore errors. What this is going to do is it's going to ignore slight sample drops from Pro Tools. So if it only drops a few samples, it's going to ignore that and you might get some pops or clicks and it might not suppress all errors, but it can help. Now when you're running the mix-down, you probably want to uncheck this. So there are two thoughts around it, if you leave it unchecked, you know you're going to be able to bounce your mix-down and have all of the processing power you need.
However, if you're getting a lot of errors and you just need to work, sometimes this can help suppress them, especially when you're just kind of playing around with plug-ins and some particular third party plug-ins that cause additional errors. Now the DAE Playback Buffer down here has to do with the buffer of moving files or audio from your hard drive into RAM. So moving from the long-term storage of the hard drive to the short-term storage of RAM. Higher levels here move more audio into RAM, but the system is not as snappy.
So when you hit Spacebar, you are not hearing audio playback as fast. Lower levels buffer less hard drive, but require that you have a faster drive. So if you have a 10,000 RPM or faster drive you can get away with lower settings and have sort of a snappier Pro Tools system. However, I generally leave this at Level 2, and if I'm working on a laptop with a larger mix, I might even set it to Level 4 to give it a little extra boost on those slower laptop hard drives.
Now, some additional things that you can do to help give your computer more processing power cum mix-down is think about what's currently running in your session coming out of the production stage. So printing virtual instruments and specific effects from the production stage can help save system resources or combining multiple tracks into one track can also help conserve track count and plug-ins and things like that. So what we actually do is we can take and bus the audio out of a single or multiple tracks into a new audio track and record what we call print that through.
So if you look here, I have the drums. All my drums are running into a drum bus, which is being collected in this track called Drum Submix. Now if I traded that out and let's say I created a new stereo audio track, I could actually set its input to that same drum bus and record all the audio during playback from those drums onto this new track. I'd of course want to label this track Drums or maybe I will call it Drums Print so that I know I actually recorded that from multiple tracks.
I could record that through in real time, and when I was done, what I could do is I could actually disable the tracks that I recorded. So to disable a track or what's called, make it inactive, you can right-click and say Make Inactive or even Hide and Make Inactive. When I do that, I'll actually move those unused tracks down to the bottom of my Tracks list and hide them. So I actually have two unused tracks here, one is just a Marker track saying, Hey! These are unused tracks below this line. The other is actually is a virtual instrument track where I got my Snare Sample track here.
I can see the comments say, Printed from Snare Sample Instrument Track. So it's a good idea to use those comments to kind of explain what you did and then I can always go back to the original tracks and work with those. Something else I can do in terms of saving DSP resources is use AudioSuite plug -ins. So if I have an effect that I'm using as an real time plug-in and I want to print that or commit that to the actual audio, what I can do is I can take and call up my real time plug-in and I can copy the Preset setting.
So I can go here and click on the Preset library menu and I can copy the settings and now I can come and select the audio that I want to process. I'll just double-click there, and let me ungroup that and click on AudioSuite, pull up the same plug-in here and I will paste those settings and I will hit Process. What's going to happen when I hit Process is it's actually going to create a new audio file in the Regions list with that plug-in applied to it as a committed audio effect.
So what I can do is I can right-click on this plug-in and I can choose Make Inactive, because effectively that plug-in has been applied to that sound right here. So this is a great way if you're running out of power or you're using plug-ins that take a lot of DSP in your mix. You can actually print them with AudioSuites. Sometimes, if I know I want to go back, I'll actually create a new playlist before I print the audio. So I'll create a duplicate playlist and I'll call that audiosuite or FX and I'll actually apply the process to that playlist so that I can always get back to the original, they are the unaffected.
I'll leave the plug-in there generally, so in case I need to refer back to the real time plug-in, I can always make it active again. Now if you've done all these things and you still need some additional power, some of the things you might want to consider are what plug-ins are you using. There are plug-ins that are really resource-intensive. So you might want to kind of check how your plug-ins are interacting with the system. And how you can do that is by going to Window>System Usage. So the system's resource monitor is going to show you how much your real time plug-ins are taxing your CPU.
So you have two values here, CPU (RTAS) and CPU (Elastic). The one you want to look at is CPU (RTAS). That's going to show you all your RTAS plug-ins and any processing that they're taking on your CPU in a percentage here. Now CPU (Elastic) should read zero, because you probably shouldn't be running real time Elastic processes cum mix-down stage. So you probably want to set any elastic audio on your tracks to rendered processing, if you are using Elastic audio.
What you can do is you can enable plug- ins and see how it affects the system usage percentage here. So if re-enable this plug-ins, I can see that it kicks it up a few more percent. And it's not an exact value, but it's going to hover around 1% or 2% when you engage a plug-ins. Some plug-ins take up, like I said, significantly more resources. Now another consideration in terms of performance is going to be region consolidation. If you have a lot of edits in your regions like you cut up a drum track with Beat Detective, this can be really hard on the hard drives.
So you might want to consider consolidating a lot of edits into one new audio file. You can select those edits and choose Edit>Consolidate Region. That's going to make one audio file out of a bunch of audio regions. This is a lot easier for the hard drive to play back. If you do all those things and you're still having problems, your printing tracks, your printing plug-ins, you're consolidating everything, there are some additional options. Obviously, Pro Tools HD uses hardware DSP supplements in the form of cards, so you can run additional plug-ins and track count of the power of those cards.
There are third party DSP supplements. So Universal Audio makes the UAD card. There's the PowerCore card and these provide additional DSP processing to run specific plug-ins in your mix. Those can help a lot. So while a new computer might not be in your budget right now, like I said, there are a lot of techniques to optimize and get you through your mix. So if you have to work in a modular way and print stems of things like lots of background vocals or lots of guitar tracks, do it.
If you have to AudioSuite some things or print virtual instruments, do that. We always have to remember that some of the greatest recordings of all time were made on 4-track or even mono technology. So I try not to complain too much.
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