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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.
As I mentioned before, most mixing environments feature some sort of channel insert capability allowing the engineer to insert a signal processor or effect directly into the path of an audio signal in the Mixer. In the analog days, this meant physically patching a signal processing device through the mixing console's insert patch point, usually connected to some sort of patch bay, and running any additional effects inserts in series until returning the signal back into the Mixer's insert input.
In the DAW era in Pro Tools while we can and do continue to use hardware gear via hardware inserts which I'll show you, we generally opt for the easier to manage and configure plug-in insert, which are often just virtual emulations of the hardware processors mixers have used for years. So plug-in inserts, what are they and what do they do? Well, first off, a plug-in is just a small software program or algorithm that runs inside of the Pro Tools Mixer and processes or affects the audio signal in a specific way.
A Mixer will use the signal processing tools to further effect tracks running through the Mixer when the Level and Pan controls are not enough. So simple example here, on the vocal, I'm using a few plug-ins. There is a Compressor plug-in and an EQ plug-in. To insert a new plug-in, I can simply click on an empty slot, choose from plug-in, and then choose the type of plug-in I want to insert, and there it is. And if I want to remove that, I can click to the left of a plug-in and choose No Insert.
I can also move these around throughout the 10 insert slots. So I can pull them down, up, I can even reorder them. Because these are in series, one processes into the next. The order will matter. So it's nice to be able to change these around and listen to the results. You can also copy a plug-in by holding down Option on the Mac or Alt on the PC and dragging. That makes a copy including the settings. Now, when we use plug-ins in Pro Tools, it's important to recognize the format of plug-in we are going to be working with.
So when you go shopping for plug-ins or you're looking to download some demos, you want to recognize the types of plug-in software that Pro Tools can use. In Pro Tools LE and Pro Tools HD, you can use RTAS or what are called Real-Time AudioSuite plug-ins. You can also use VST Format plug-ins via a VST Wrapper. A company called FXpansion makes one of these that basically just converts the popular VST Format into RTAS, so that you can use it in Pro Tools.
Now, in Pro Tools HD, we can exclusively work with TDM format plug-ins and these are plug-ins that are designed to run specifically on the DSP chips of the HD Cards. Now, once we've determined we are working with the right plug-in format, there are different types of plug-ins within Pro Tools in terms of routing mono or stereo or multichannel signals. So we have plug-ins that are mono-in, mono-out. We also have plug-ins that are Mono In/Stereo Out.
So if we look at the Reverb section here, I can see that there is a D-Verb(mono), which would mean a mono signal comes in and a mono signal goes out. Or D-Verb(mono/stereo). That means a mono signal comes in, but the plug-in then stereoizes the signal and gives you a left-right output. These can be really cool for stereoizing mono tracks in a mix. Now, on a stereo track, if I bring up a stereo track here, we have the option of using multi-channel plug- ins or multi-mono plug-ins.
Multichannel refers to stereo-in stereo-out. So all the processing is linked. Whatever you do to the left side is done to the right side. Whereas a Multi-mono plug-in, let me pull one of those up, is going to allow you to independently adjust the left and the right-hand side via the linking option. So if I uncheck the little chain, I can switch between the left and the right-hand sides, and make unique changes to each one. So in some situations, this can be beneficial. For example, for EQing something like a piano, very broad band, and the way that it's miked, you might have the bass notes on one mike and the higher notes on another mike.
You might decide to use different EQ curves for each one of those mikes, and a multi-mono plug-in can help you achieve this. So remember that plug-in inserts run in series and are pre-fader. That is to say that all this processing comes before it hits the volume fader on a given channel strip. So what that means for you in terms of processing is that when you set up a threshold in a compressor or a gate, which we'll talk about a little later, you don't have to readjust this if you adjust the volume level on the track after you've configured the plug-in.
And this is generally a good thing. Master faders however do have post- fader inserts and we'll discuss those a little bit later. Now, you can use hardware inserts in Pro Tools and a hardware insert would be an actual physical piece of hardware signal processing gear, like a hardware compressor or a hardware EQ. We can use these inline. How it basically works is we are going to take an output out of Pro Tools, feed it into our processing gear, and then bring it back in again, sort of in an effects loop kind of way.
Now, we are going to need an interface with more than just two outputs and two inputs to do this. So this isn't something I'm going to be doing on my Mbox, but something I could do on a 002, 003 or Mbox Pro. How this works, if I go to I/O on my Inserts, what I'm going to see our 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and those refer to the physical outputs and inputs of my interface. If I were to choose 3 and 4, in this case, it would send the inline signal after it was processed by this last plug-in.
Out outputs 3 and 4 into whatever processing gear I was using, and then it would expected to be routed back into inputs 3 and 4. Now, if I don't make the patches correctly, I'm not going to hear anything out of this channel. When you use hardware inserts, Pro Tools is not going to be able to recall the settings on that gear. This may seem obvious, but it's actually kind of a big deal. You are going to have to write down those settings, or make sure it has some sort of recall situation on the device itself.
So a lot of times I opt for using plug- ins inside of Pro Tools because of the complete recall ability and the automation capabilities. So throughout the course, a variety of plug-in processors and techniques for using them in your mixes are covered. For more info on choosing and evaluating a new plug-in for your system, check out the tips for evaluating plug-in processors video in the additional topics section.
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