Compression Dos & Don’ts

To wrap things up regarding compressors, I will offer 3 Dos and Don’ts as my final word for now. These are things to always keep in mind when working with compressors. Some may have been previously stated in an earlier blog post.

DO          Avoid using extreme settings to begin with, if you are just trying to control the dynamics.

DON’T   Add compression to every channel by default. Start off with minimal compression, and carefully choose where to add compressors.

DO         Experiment with different types of compressors – hardware and software. There can be differences in how they sound. Compressors can and do sometimes sound different from one another.

DON’T  Forget to bypass the compressor occasionally while setting to check the results.

DO         Remember to balance the output gain so the level doesn’t change when engaged and bypassed. This way you can accurately compare before and after. Also, typically compression is added AFTER the mix has been balanced. So you don’t want to alter levels with either compression or EQ.

DON’T  Be afraid to experiment. Some of the greatest sounds in the history of recorded music came from misused and abused compressors.


Compressors – What is the Knee and What does it do?

What does the knee do on a compressor?

As you get better with compressors, you will start playing with other knobs and features. One of these is the knee. The knee refers to when and how the ratio starts to change when the compressor starts to take effect. A ‘hard knee’ means the compression becomes immediately active as soon as the input signal hits the threshold. A ‘soft knee’ means the compression becomes audible more gradually. A ‘soft knee’ also means that gentle compression starts happening further below the threshold. Another way to say this is it starts acting before the signal actuall reaches the threshold setting.

Both hard- and soft-knee compression have their uses; two examples: if you want to squash a signal’s transients quickly, you’ll want hard knee compression. If you want to use a compressor to gently glue a mix together by tightening up transients, you’ll want a soft-knee compressor.

Lastly, if you have a compressor, like the Dyn3 Compressor/limiter which comes free with Pro Tools, look at the picture of the knee. It actually looks like a human knee!

As always – I hope this helps!

And…. HEY! Make it a great day!


Unmount hard drives from within Pro Tools

Have you ever tried to eject a hard drive from your system that you used in a Pro Tools session while Pro Tools was still up and running? It didn’t work, did it?

Here’s the scenario and solution:

You’re working in a Pro Tools session and the client gives you a hard drive (or flash drive) to grab wav files from. So you take care of that, go to the desktop, and try to eject the hard drive (command E) since you’re done with it. You get some dialog box that says the hard drive is in use and can’t be ejected.

Now, in the old days, I always closed the Pro Tools session I was working on, closed the application, and then went and ejected the drive. I didn’t know any better. Well there’s a much better way!!

From within Pro Tools, go to the ‘Window‘ menu command on the menu bar at the top of the screen. Under Window, go to ‘Workspace‘.  On the left side it will show all hard drives on the computer. Select the one you want to eject (the client’s hard drive). Then, at the top right of that same window there is a drop down arrow (in a circle), select that. Three quarters of the way down the menu list it says ‘Unmount‘. Select it and it will unmount (eject) the hard drive!

[This is an earlier blog of mine and pertains mostly to earlier versions of Pro Tools. I had Pro Tools 8 when I wrote this.]

Awesome, right!? Knowing this little tidbit helps save time and makes you look more professional in front of the client! All in a day’s work!

And, HEY, make it a great day!

Demystifying Pro Tools Preference Settings part 3/3

OK today let’s first go over the Editing tab. There’s really only one item I want to make sure you know about. At the bottom of the page is ‘Levels of Undo’. This preference sets the maximum number of actions that can be undone. The maximum is 32 levels of undo! That’s a lot! You can “back up” 32 times. Sometimes I use this to my advantage – I may try something knowing that I can go back and undo whatever it is I’m trying. For instance, in editing I might try to edit two different sections together a certain way not knowing if it’s going to work or not. And then if it doesn’t work I can just back up until I see my two sections as they were in the beginning before I did any editing at all.NOTE: The one thing to keep in mind is that setting this to a lower number can speed up the performance of slower computers.
The next tab in the preferences setup is Mixing. Under the Setup section I like to use the Default EQ and Default Dynamics windows. Here I set the EQ and Dynamics processors that I use most often. After setting them, they will show up when you’re in the mix window and you click on an insert. The plugin appears at the top of the insert selector pop-up menu.
Next under Automation be sure ‘Smooth and Thin Data After Pass’ is selected. Pro Tools will automatically smooth and thin the automation data created in an automation pass if this is set. Be sure to set the ‘Degree of Thinning’ also. I have mine set to “more”. I would leave this higher – either ‘more’ or ‘most’.
And finally, notice ‘After Write Pass, Switch To’. This determines what happens after you write the first pass of automation. Touch mode writes automation only while a fader or switch is touched or clicked with a mouse. When the fader is released, the writing of automation stops and the fader returns to any previously automated position. Latch mode works in the same way but continues to write automation until you stop playback.
So that’s it for the Preference settings in the Setup menu! I hoped this helps. I hope this lessens any intimidation you might have felt while looking through this particular menu item!
Until next time –
And HEY! make it a great day!

Demystifying Pro Tools Preference Settings part 2/3

In the last blog post I covered the first tab under pro tools preferences – Display. Today I will cover Operation Preferences. First section is Transport: The very first selection ‘Timeline Insertion/Play Start Marker Follows Playback’ is important and I use it all the time. When selected, the Timeline Insertion and the Play Start Marker both move to the point in the timeline where playback stops. When deselected, the Timeline Insertion and Play Start Marker do not follow playback, but return to the point in time where playback began. Many times I leave this deselected because I want to play a section of my song and I want playback to start from the same place every time. This way I can listen to the same section over and over for whatever reason. If you select it, then when you are in playback mode, wherever you stop and then restart, playback continues from wherever you stopped.**This can also be selected/deselected from the Edit window – underneath the Edit Tools – the farthest right icon (looks like a rt. arrow with vertical line and play button).

The Numeric Keypad mode determines how the numeric keypad functions. The main thing I set this for is memory locations. Whether you have it set for Classic or Transport will determine how you recall different memory locations using the numeric keypad. This will be a personal preference for you. I use Transport setting, just because that is how I prefer to move to my memory locations when using the numeric keypad.
The really BIG ONE is Auto Backup. You DEFINITELY want to have this selected! This determines if pro tools automatically backs up your sessions! If hard drive space is limited you may only want to keep the last 3 backups and backup every hour. I think I normally keep the last 5 or 10 sessions and backup every 20 minutes. Ask yourself how much work and time you are ready to lose and have to re-do? Sometimes when I am working on an intense session or one with heavy work changes or with a client where a lot is happening, I will keep more back ups and back up at more frequent intervals. Other times it’s not that critical so I decrease the number of backups and frequency. But every backup takes up hard drive space, so keep that in mind! As terabyte hard drives continue to come down in price, this becomes less of an issue!
On the right side is the Record preferences. The default settings here should be adequate for most people most of the time. I believe the default settings are Latch Record Enable Buttons (selected) and Link Record and Play Faders (selected). Also make sure Open-Ended Record Allocation is set to ‘Use All Available Space’.
That’s it for the Operation preference! We’ll cover some others preference settings next time, so until then . . . .
HEY! Make it a Great Day!!

Demystifying Pro Tools Preferences part 1/3

I remember how terrified I felt going to the Preferences (under Setup) tab! I looked at all that and said “Maaann! I am NOT touching anything here! I didn’t understand it and I CERTAINLY wasn’t going to change anything!! Wow! I think the first 3 or 4 years were like that – maybe even longer! It seemed too confusing to me and I just didn’t bother to change anything, much less even get in there! But now, I am in there all the time, changing settings the way I need to, when I need to, to help accommodate my workflow.Let me see if I can make it less intimidating for those just starting out. There are definitely a few things in there that are worth looking at. So – Go to Setup > Preferences . . . Today we’ll deal with just the first tab – Display. First off, if you aren’t very familiar with the different functions in either the edit or mix window, you can set pro tools to tell you what the different functions are. Under Basics – select Tool Tips: Function & Details. That way when you hold the cursor over an icon, tool or abbreviated name, pro tools will tell you what it is or what it does. This is a great way to learn your way around!
Another neat function under Basics is ‘Organize Plug-In Menus By:’ menu drop down. When you are choosing an insert plug-in, the way the list shows up can be selected here. You can choose a Flat List, Category, Manufacture, or Category and Manufacture. Typically I just use Category, but you may choose to do it by manufacture for instance. Kind of helpful!
Below the Basics area is the Meters area. I sometimes need to change how long the setting for the Peak Hold or Clip Indicator is seen – either 3 seconds, Infinite or none. And I have used all 3 settings at one point or another.
The only other area under the Display tab is the Color Coding which I talked about on 5/18/15. Next time we’ll talk about the Operation tab.
And HEY! Make it a great day!

Stay organized by colorizing the tracks in Pro Tools

To help stay organized in Pro Tools, I colorize my tracks, MIDI channels, and sometimes regions. My master fader is always one color, the aux tracks are always a certain color, all the drum tracks are the same color, vocal tracks are all one color, etc. Separate colors can be assigned to audio and MIDI regions, tracks, markers, and groups. Default colors are automatically assigned to tracks, but I always override the default and set my own color scheme.[This is done on pro tools 8] First you have to go to preferences and change the color coding options.
To change color coding options choose Setup > Preferences. Click the Display tab. Under Default Track Color Coding I usually select Track Type. But I have also at times selected Tracks and MIDI Channels or Groups, depending on what I was working on and which was easier for my workflow. If you want to change the colors of Regions, you will also do it here. Under Default Region Color Coding choose one of the options listed, such as Track Color, Tracks and MIDI Channels, or Groups for instance.

At the top of this area there are two other Color Coding options which I always leave selected. The first one, Always Display Marker Colors divides the Markers ruler at the top of the edit screen into different colors per section. In other words, if you have gone through the trouble to label the sections of your song Intro, V1, Chorus1, V2, Chorus2, Bridge, etc., each of those sections has it’s own color on the ruler bar. Very cool and it makes it really easy to see your different sections of the song at a quick glance.
The other option which I always have selected is MIDI Note Color Shows Velocity. So for those of us who use MIDI (and I use a lot), when you pull up the velocity window underneath a MIDI track, it shows you different colors which tell you how hard (velocity) the notes were struck (played). I can tell at a quick glance if notes are too soft or too hard just by looking at them.
**NOW – to change the color of the tracks – go to the mix window, at the very top or the very bottom of each track is a solid horizontal colored bar. Double click this bar and a palette window opens up. This is where you choose which color you want. Check out the drop down menu to select Tracks, Regions in Tracks, Regions in Region List (Very cool!), Groups, and Markers. Play with the Saturation and Brightness sliders and watch what they do! **See pics below
Explaining all this sounds complicated, but it is really a very simple process. And in the end this will improve your workflow, and THAT my friends is what it’s all about!!
Work smarter – Work better!
And as always – Make it a great day!!

** The top pic shows track colors. The 2nd pic shows clip colors.