Join Brian Lee White for an in-depth discussion in this video Staying organized: Effectively prepping the mix, part of Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools.
I truly believe an effectively organized session or what I like to call good Pro Tools hygiene, can take a lot of mystery out of the mixing process and really help you stay focused on the task at hand. Rather than racing around a huge session looking for unnamed mystery tracks labeled Audio 7 or Audio 8, we're sorting through a list of thousands of unused regions. A clean and organized session is not only an efficient way to work, it is absolutely necessary when working on collaborative projects with other engineers.
Let me show you a few things that I do to every session before I even touch a single fader. So, before I start mixing, I'm always going to do a Save As, to create a new version of the session file for my mix. This allows me to archive my work over time and always get back to certain points of my mix. I now have to rely on Undo or Auto Backup. So to do that I'll go File > Save As and then I'm going to add mix to the end there.
I might add my initials if I'm working with other engineers, but for this I'll just say mix. And now what I have is a new version of the session file to begin my mix song. If I ever need to go back and start the mix over again, I have a clean edited version ready to open up. Now, the first thing I do once I save a new copy of this session is I begin labeling the tracks, if they're not already labeled. So, how can you find something if you don't even know what it's called? So I don't like to see a bunch of Audio 1, Audio 2s in my session.
So, to label a track, it's really easy, you can just double-click on the nameplate and give it a name. You can also choose to make any comments at this time about the track that will show up in your Comments field. Now, another thing I like to do is make sure that all my regions in the Edit window are correctly labeled. So if I look at my Regions list, everything is named effectively. So in case anything gets lost or misplaced, I'll always know what's going on. What we can do to rename a region, I can just double-click it here in this list and rename it.
Now, if I choose name region and disk file, it's also going to rename the file on the hard drive, which could mean trouble for previous versions of this session. So, in this case, I might choose just to name the region only. So, it's referenced that way in my mix. Another thing that I like to do is clean out all the unused regions in my sessions. So what I can do is go to the Regions list dropdown menu and say Select Unused and I could get rid of any files that aren't being used in my Edit window here.
That just makes things easier for me. When I'm focused on the task of mixing, I don't want to see thousands of regions from the editing process sitting there. Now after I have labeled the tracks and labeled my regions, I started thinking about the order of my tracks. Now, every engineer has his own personal preference about ordering tracks, one way or another. And some of these sort of stem historically from a console setup, a large format console where the engineer would lay out his tracks with things like the vocal in the sweet spot of the monitoring range.
In my system, I usually start with the drums to the left. Then if I have any submixes, aux track submixes, I will put them directly to the right of the tracks they are submixing. And then over to the right-hand side, the extreme right-hand side, is where I'm going to put all my effects returns and my master fader. I like it this way. It just makes sense for me. Now, basically you want to come up with a system for yourself and use it consistently. So you always know where things are in this session.
There is a really cool way if you have a big session to instantly scroll to a track. If you take the Tracks list here, and if you hold down Ctrl+Shift on the Mac or that Start+Shift on the PC and click on a track, it automatically scrolls you to that track in either the Mix or Edit window. The other cool thing about this is if you're using a control surface like the 003 or Command 8 or a bigger control surface, it's going to bank the leftmost fader to that track you just clicked on. So it's a really effective way of banking a control surface or just getting a big mix into view.
Now another thing that I like to do as far as organizing the view of my session, the location of the different parts of my song is using memory locations to organize the session. Now, in this specific session, Take Me Down, I have marker locations representing the different parts of the song and I can see those in the Markers lane, View>Rulers>Markers. I can see all those markers in the Window>Memory Locations window.
So, I see I have Start, Intro, Verse. The way I organize my session as far verse, chorus etcetera, is I'll actually name the memory locations and give them a number based on what they are. So, for Verse 1, Verse 2, Verse 3, I've used 11, 12 and 13. The reason for that is I can use this shortcut Period plus the memory location number plus Period on my numeric keypad to quickly scroll to that. So to go to Verse 2, I would just hit Period+12+Period. Now, you don't have to use this system, but come up with a system that makes sense for you, so that while you're in the Mix window and you don't have this window showing, you can easily scroll to any location in this session.
So, to create a memory location, you can place your cursor at a specific point and hit the Enter key on your numeric keypad. You could give it a name and a number, remember you can use that number to recall it later with the shortcut and you would choose Marker, if you want to be a point in time. Now there's another type of memory location where I use these General Properties that I'm going to use to show specific views in my sessions. So if you look in this exercise's Memory Locations window, at the bottom here, I have View only memory locations.
So if I click Drums, I get all my drums in the Mix window. If I click on Lead Vocal, my Lead Vocal show up. How I create these, what I call show/ hide memory locations is I'll actually show or hide tracks in the Tracks list. So if I wanted to add the background vocals to this, I could show those by clicking on the little dot there. Then create a new memory location, enter on the numeric keypad. I'm going to choose None, because I'm not marking a place in time or a selection, and I'm going to save the Track Show/Hide state.
I can also save the Track Heights or the Zoom Settings and even Pre/Post Roll Times and I could tie it to a Window Configuration that makes my window look exactly how I want for the size of screen that I have showing the mix in either a wide view or a narrow view, etcetera. So I'll take some time, maybe takes me 10, 15 minutes to create all these memory locations, and then while I'm mixing, I'm not focused on looking for things. I can always access exactly what I want, so it gets straight to being creative rather than sort of managing a large session.
Now another thing that I'll do before I start mixing is I'll make sure to name all my I/O pathways. So you notice in this session that all of the outputs and inputs and all of the buses that I have are labeled. Rather than being called Bus 1 and 2 or Bus 3 and 4, they're actually labeled exactly what they're doing. We can do this in Setup>I/O.What I/O Setup is going to show you are pathways, which are just software pointers to your hardware.
So I can see here in my Output tab, I've called the Main outputs going to 1 and 2 on my 003 Main. I could rename that Master if I wanted to. If I go to my Buses, Buses are going to be internal pathways inside the Pro Tools mixer that we use for routing things from one place to another. I can actually name these. So I see that Room Verb corresponds to Bus Resource 1 and 2. The reason I'm going to do this is it makes it a whole lot easier to track down signal routing in the mixers.
So when I use an effects send-and-return relationship, I know exactly where it's going to. So when I see that I've sent to Room Verb, I know that that's going all the way down here to my effects returns into the Room Verbs, rather than having to remember a number like Bus 7 and 8. Now, another thing that I like to do, especially if I'm working with other engineers, is use the track comments. So if I scroll down here, I've got the track comment showing in my Mixer. I can show those by clicking on View>Mix Window Views, and checking track Comments.
Now, you can use these comments for anything that you want, you can talk about how something was recorded, how something was edited or how something was automated, for example, in the Lead Vocal, I say, no delay on certain lines in the beginning. If I come over here to the guitar track, it says FX tracked with the guitar from the pedal. So those were notes about the recording process. Now once I'm done laying everything out, sometimes I like to create a session text document. So that's a document outside of Pro Tools just using a simple text editor, where I'll make any notes about the recording process and might include the key, the tempo of the song and maybe the lyrics sheet, if I need to refer to that, and any notes that I feel are necessary in recalling in the sessions.
So if I used outboard gear, I would put recall notes with that. This is going to help other engineers who get the session later down the line or maybe you save this and two years later the artists hire someone else to remix it or re-master it, these are going to be invaluable for them in terms of recreating the mix. Again, a well-organized session is going to run efficiently and navigate quickly and effectively. Because it is hard enough trying to make difficult aesthetic decisions in a mix without having to hunt down tracks when creativity calls.
This is actually such a big topic of discussion amongst professional Pro Tools users that an official guideline has been developed to help direct you in organizing a Pro Tools session. It has much more detail than I have outlined in this video. I highly recommend you do a search for the NARAS Pro Tools guidelines on Google. It should be the first PDF that comes up in your search. It's got pages of information about effectively organizing a session, so that other engineers can see exactly what you're doing and everything is going to run smoothly.
- Using the Pro Tools Creative Collection to add clarity, punch, width, and depth to a mix
- Recording real-time automation moves for future replication
- Building healthy and profitable mixing habits when putting a final mix together
- Knowing when to process the audio of a track
- Using saturation effects to capture that "analog" sound
- Working with limiting and multiband compression during the mastering process
- Dealing with plug-in delay and latency in a mix