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Pro Tools 9 Essential Training with musician and producer David Franz demonstrates concepts and techniques necessary for recording, editing, mixing, and mastering in the industry-standard software for music and post-production. The course covers creating music with virtual instruments and plugins, editing with elastic audio for time and pitch manipulation, creating a musical score, and mixing with effects loops. Exercise files accompany the course.
A mix is the combination of the recorded tracks in a session, reduced to two tracks for stereo playback, or to six or eight tracks for surround playback. The goal of any mix is to create a total sound that helps support the purpose of the song, putting the listener into an appealing acoustical space by adjusting the volume levels, panning, EQ, and effects of individual sounds in a creative and appealing way, while giving each element it's own place in the final soundscape. Before starting a mix of your own song in Pro Tools, I recommend listening to some reference mixes; listen to songs that you know very well.
Most professional mixers have several CDs of music that they know intimately, and they reference these from time to time when mixing. In fact, you may even want to import the reference tracks into your mix session for a direct comparison using the File > Import > Audio command. Check out the videos about importing audio if you need more details. Second, I recommend choosing some songs that sounds similar to your current project, or that have a sound that you're aiming for in your mix. For example, listen to the levels of certain instruments, such as where the vocal sits. Is it deep in the mix or is it riding on top of the instruments? Also, listen to the particular stylistic effects, like how much reverb is used on the snare drum.
Once you've got some reference mixes in mind, we can go to Pro Tools, and we'll go to the Edit window here. The first thing you should do before starting your mix is check your edits. You should use fades and crossfades to make sure there are no stray clicks and pops at any edit point. So, for example, if I zoom in here, you can see that there is no fade here, so I am going to go up to the smart tool here and click and drag and create a fade-in. So that makes sure that there is no click or pop at the beginning of this region.
You may also consider consolidating multiple regions on one track into one region. This can save on processing power, and it also looks cleaner. So I'm going to zoom out, and on this particular track, I'm going to select all of the material, so I'm going to Shift+Click. Before consolidating, I am going to make a duplicate playlist, so that I always have the original playlist underneath. So now it's ready to consolidate, so I'll choose Edit > Consolidate Region, and Pro Tools will create a brand- new whole file audio region.
Now let's go over to the mix window. I want to make sure there our session is organized nicely. Having your tracks in a logical order makes it easier for you to move around your session when you're mixing. So first you want to make sure that your tracks are labeled, and if you need to rename any track, you can just double-click on it and name it. And also make sure that you have a stereo master fader track in the session, which I have right here. This track allows you to monitor the stereo output from the session and control it with just one fader.
You can see all the tracks here have their outputs set to Analog 1 and 2, and the master fader receives Analog 1 and 2. So all of the signals from all of the tracks here are routed through this master fader track, so we can use this fader volume to adjust the overall output level. Another good tool for organizing your mix session is creating groups. And we can go down here. I'm going to select all three of these tracks. I'm pressing Shift as I click on the name of the tracks. I'm going to choose Track > Group, and call this Keys, so these are all the keyboard tracks. I'll just hit OK.
And you've seen the video before on the groups. If you need more information, check out that video. And one of the great features that I like about using groups is that you can go down here into the Groups list and hit Ctrl--either on Mac or Windows--and show just this group in the mix window. This makes it really easy to focus in just on this group. I am going to go back to showing all by Ctrl+Clicking the All group. And one other thing that you see up here in this session already is that I've got some effects loop setup.
You can set these up for any reverb, delay, or chorus effects, and I am going to show you how to do this in a separate video. And finally, as one of the last steps before you begin your mix, you might consider adding EQ and compression plug- ins onto a lot of the individual tracks, where you think that you're going to use them. Having EQ and compression on tracks is a standard feature on analog mixing boards, and we can mimic that here in Pro Tools. First, let's go up to the Setup > Preferences, and on the Mixing page, we can choose the default EQ and dynamics plug-ins.
From this menu, I am going to choose EQ 3 7-Band, and I'm also going to choose the Compressor/Limiter Dyn 3. Now these are our default EQ and dynamics, and let me show you where they show up in the mix page. If we go up to the Inserts, and on the first insert, I'm going to click on Insert A, and you'll see right here at the top, these are our defaults, so they are right at the top of the list. This saves us from having to go through the whole list of choosing plug-ins, so we can choose to insert these plug-ins right on the tracks.
Also, if you like to use compression or EQ on your overall mix, you should add it onto the stereo master fader before you even start mixing, so that you know how the mix sounds with it on from the very beginning of your mixing session. Otherwise, if you add the effect in later, your entire mix will change, and you might have to redo a bunch of work. Now, let's talk about some mixing terms. Panning is used to play sound sources on the left side, right side, or anywhere in between two speakers. In our session here, we can use these pan pots to adjust the panning of any track in our session.
We've the left pan knob and the right pan knob, and this is for a stereo track. If we have a mono track, we'll have one knob that will place the track anywhere from the left side to the right side in the stereo image. Now, I recommend spreading out the instruments in the stereo field, and kind of envisioning what it would look like with all these instruments playing at once onstage. Usually vocals, lead instruments, kick drum, and snare, are panned to the center, but there really are no panning rules for any type of track. Another key term in mixing his EQ positioning.
EQ positioning means adjusting the frequency content of the tracks in your session so they don't interfere with each other very much. This is sometimes referred to as carving EQ holes, and I'll discuss this technique in another video on the course about applying EQ. The third mixing term that I want to discuss is depth. Depth refers to the feeling that a sound source is close to or distant from the listener. Depth is created using reverb and delay affects, and I'll be discussing those in another video in this course. Use these three dimensions to envision the physical layout of all the tracks in your Pro Tools session, and to balance the sound sources visually.
So when you're mixing in Pro Tools, here is the general procedure of how you want to go about it. Note that these steps don't need to be performed in this particular order, and that some steps will probably overlap each other. First, you want to create a rough balance using volume levels and panning. Then you should apply EQ, making room for each instrument in the frequency spectrum. Next, you can add dynamic processing, which is compression, limiting, gates, and expansion. Follow that with adding depth and special effects, like reverb, delay, chorus, and flanging.
Then you can set your final levels and use automation wherever it's necessary. Then you can bounce down your mix and check it against reference mixes and on different playback systems. Finally, revisit the mix to fix any issues. I recommend keeping your original mix and using the File > Save as command for any new mix that you create. If you can keep your mix process loosely aligned with the steps outlined here, you'll be on the path to creating excellent sounding mixes in Pro Tools.
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