Intro from Jay Allison: If you work in audio production, you end up having some kind of relationship to Digidesign's ubiquitous software, ProTools. Generally, the relationship is dysfunctional. We at Transom are no exception and we asked our TOOLS Editor to come up with a set of ProTools tips specifically for the public radio producer. So, now we bring you the result of years of conversation and complaint about this powerful, troublesome software in a single guide, Jeff Towne's "ProTools Shortcuts," which comes with its own handy print-out to keep by your bedside. You know you need it.
from Jeff Towne
There are many audio editing programs that can be used to make audio programs, but we here at Transom.org still feel that Pro Tools offers the best balance of power, value and interoperability. But as is true of many computer applications, the flexibility of the program creates a dizzying array of options. There are so many ways to do things that it’s easy to miss shortcuts and methodology that can save a lot of tedious work.
Here are a few tips and tricks and shortcuts that might save some time and frustration.
Keyboard shortcuts can be a major time-saver, eliminating mousing-around multiple menus and submenus. There’s a comprehensive list in the user manual, and on the Digidesign website:
Those documents are good references, but there are way too many keystrokes to memorize, and many of them won’t apply to the kind of work you do. Here’s a reduced and reorganized list of some of our favorites that we’ve found to be helpful in audio documentary production.
It still seems to be the case that the majority of our readers are using Pro Tools on a Macintosh computer, so we’ll describe the Mac keystrokes. These shortcuts will all work on a Windows computer, just substitute Control (Windows) for Command (Mac), Alt (Windows) for Option (Mac), Start (Windows) for Control (Mac).
On the Mac, the Command key is the one with the Apple on it.
For many operations:
Holding the Option key will apply changes to all tracks.
Holding Option-Shift will apply changes to selected tracks.
This works for changing track size, track display, adding aux sends, and many other operations. Hold the option key and change a value on one track, and all other tracks will change the same way. Often, adding the option key to a keyboard shortcut will apply the command to all tracks.
Holding the Command key will give fine control when moving faders, knobs and breakpoints.
Tools and Edit-Modes
- F1: Shuffle mode
- F2: Slip mode
- F3: Spot mode
- F4: Grid mode
- F5: Zoomer tool
- F6: Trimmer tool
- F7: Selector tool
- F8: Grabber tool
- F9: Scrubber tool
- F10: Pencil tool
Often, the F-keys are assigned to other functions, so other shortcuts may be used. The numbers indicated here are the number keys on the QUERTY keyboard, not the numeric keypad on an extended keyboard.
- Option 1: Shuffle mode
- Option 2: Slip mode
- Option 3: Spot mode
- Option 4: Grid mode
- Command 1: Zoomer tool
- Command 2: Trimmer tool
- Command 3: Selector tool
- Command 4: Grabber tool
- Command 5: Scrubber tool
- Command 6: Pencil tool
Also, pressing the Single Quote/Tilde key, (above the Tab key) will cycle through the edit modes. Pressing the Escape key will cycle through the tools.
toggle edit and mixer windows: Command +
toggle waveform and volume displays: Control –
(the minus sign alone will make this toggle on some systems)
toggle waveform and volume displays on all tracks: Control Option –
Clear all red “over” indicators on meters: Option C
Move Cursor to next edit point, sync point, or audio transient: Tab
Move Cursor to previous region start, sync point or audio transient: Option Tab
(the tab mode is determined by the “Tab to Transients” button, in the black bar right under the edit modes and tools, to the left of the a…z button. When highlighted, pressing tab will advance the cursor to the next audio peak. When deselected, Tab will advance the cursor the next region boundary.)
Zoom to end of selection: Right arrow
Zoom to beginning of selection: Left arrow
Zoom to selection: Option F
Zoom to entire session: Option A
Zoom to preset zoom level: Control 1/2/3/4/5
Zoom In: Command right bracket
Zoom Out: Command left bracket
Increase waveform size vertically: Command Option right bracket
Reduce waveform size vertically: Command Option left bracket
Extend selection to next region boundary: Shift Tab
Extend selection to previous region boundary: Shift Option Tab
Select next region: Control Tab
Select previous region: Control Option Tab
Select from cursor to beginning of session: Shift Return
Select from cursor to end of session: Option Shift Return
Set selection start while playing: (down arrow)
Set selection end while playing: (up arrow)
Keyboard shortcuts can be used to quickly place fades at the beginning or end of a region, which can be especially helpful in softening the edges of clips with significant background ambience. Leave some audio before and after the section you want to use, then place the cursor where you want the volume to be fully up.
Option D: Fade In from the start of the segment to the cursor.
Fade outs can be done similarly:
Option G: Fade Out from the cursor to the end of the segment.
The fade shapes are the default fades, as set in Preferences. They can be edited by double-clicking on the fade and pressing Command F. The length of the fade can be changed by dragging on the edges of the fade with the trimmer tool.
Crossfades are made by highlighting a section of audio between two regions, then hitting Command F. This will open the crossfade dialog, which allows adjusting the shape of the fade. Command Control F will apply the default crossfade without opening the crossfade window. The length of the crossfade can be adjusted by clicking and dragging either edge of the fade with the trimmer tool. Neither edge can be dragged past the original edit location.
Fades can also be quickly made with the Multi-Tool (F6 F7 pressed together). In and Out fades can be made by clicking and dragging on the upper corners of the region (the tool will switch to a small square with a diagonal line indicating the direction of the fade.) Crossfades can be made by clicking on the bottom of the edit line and dragging in either direction.
Move region start to playhead: Control click with Grabber Tool (must be in Slip Mode)
Align two regions’ start times on different tracks: select static region, then control click on the second region with the grabber tool.
Drag region to new track retaining start time: hold Control key, drag with grabber to new track, in slip mode.
Nudging a selected region right: + (on alphanumeric keyboard)
Nudging a selected region left: – (on alphanumeric keyboard)
Nudging a selected region right on a laptop: Control M or Control comma or fn ;
Nudging a selected region left on a laptop: Control / or Control period or fn /
(the fn key is in the lower left of Mac keyboards, next to the Control key)
Half-Speed Playback: Shift Spacebar
Temporary Scrub: Control drag (with selector tool)
Change Playback Speed (shuttle lock): Control 1-9 on numeric keypad (5 is normal, 1 is slowest, 9 is fastest.) The gradations are coarse; even one number up or down tends to be too fast or too slow.
Thankfully, Control 9 on the numeric keypad can be assigned to a custom speed. Set it in Preferences>>Operation>>Custom Shuttle Lock speed. Try something like 125 percent to get greater speed while maintaining intelligibility, or 90 percent to slow playback slightly.
This can be done on a Mac laptop, which does not have a numeric keypad, by holding the fn key (in the lower left of the keyboard) and using the “alternate keypad” numbers overlaid on the corners of some of the numbers and letters of the standard QWERTY keyboard. Holding fn, J=1, K=2, L=3, U=4, I=5, O=6, 7=7, 8=8, 9=9.
Importing and Exporting
Import a soundfile into the region bin: Command Shift I
Export a selected region from the region bin: Command Shift K
Create Separation: Command E
(this creates a break at the cursor, or creates a new region if a section of the soundfile is highlighted.)
Heal Separation: Command H
(this rejoins separated regions, as long as they have not moved relative to one another, or been altered by a destructive process, like normalizing, gain, EQ, etc.)
A continuous soundfile can be automatically separated into multiple regions, based on (relative) silence between sections. This is most helpful in separating narration sessions or other recordings with spaces of silence separating the takes.
Highlight the soundfile, then select “Strip Silence”: Command Shift U
This will bring up a dialog box. The top two sliders, for Threshold and Duration can be moved until the best balance of values is achieved to create helpful breaks, as indicated by the overlaid blocks in the display. When the right balance is reached, click “Strip” in the dialog.
Undesired breaks can be “healed” by highlighting across the gap(s) and pressing Command H.
There are also many shortcuts and techniques that don’t specifically involve keyboard shortcuts. Here are a few favorites:
In recent versions of Pro Tools, one can group regions together so they can be acted on consistently.
The most obvious use for this is to bind together edited audio, while maintaining the edit points for possible future adjustments.
This is functionally similar to Consolidating multiple regions into one new one, with the advantage of being able to ungroup the regions at any time and adjust any one region individually. Grouped regions will move together, and automation will be equally applied to all regions. Groups take the name of the track they’re in. Temporarily changing the track name before grouping can be helpful for giving the group a meaningful name as displayed in the edit window.
Group highlighted regions……….Command Option G
Ungroup highlighted region group……….Command Option U
Regions can be locked in time by selecting the region(s) and pressing Command L. This prevents these regions from moving, even if shuffle edits are made previous to the segment. The small padlock graphic in the corner of the region indicates that it is locked. The regions can be unlocked by simply pressing Command L again.
If most of your Pro Tools projects have a similar structure, use a template to save set-up time and increase consistency. Track configurations, plug-ins, markers, even audio elements can be saved and reused in future projects. Create a template by making a new empty session in the configuration you most use: number and types of tracks, with names; plug-ins; markers; recurring audio, such as a theme or break music. Or simply delete any episode-specific audio from a finished session and save that session with a memorable name, like “ProgramTemplate.pts”.
When starting a new project, make a new session, then choose “Import Session Data” from the Edit menu, or press Option Shift I. Navigate to your template, and click open.
Ignore the top half of the dialog (unless your new session is at a different sample rate from your template.) Option click on any of the tracks in the bottom half of the dialog to add all of them as new tracks, or individually select which tracks to import. Check “markers” if you used them in your template. Your session will open with tracks named, plugins configured, markers and audio in-place.
Slip and Shuffle modes are pretty well-understood, but Grid and Spot modes are less familiar to may users. Spot can be very helpful when working on any production with defined timings. If your piece has an opening “billboard” or fixed breaks, or a defined length, Spot mode can be used to quickly place regions at precise times. Drag audio into (or within) a track while in Spot mode, and the spot dialog window will open.
There you can choose to define a precise start or end time of a region. The trimmer tool can also be used in spot mode, constraining the trimming of the start or end times of a region to absolute times. Using Spot, Regions can be trimmed or moved to an exact start or end time without zooming in and moving or trimming or fading by eye.
Bouncing (the act of rendering a Pro Tools multitrack project to a mixed file) is more problematic than it should be. Because it’s a real-time process, it can be time consuming, and if something interrupts the bounce, it fails completely; it does not result in a partial mixed soundfile. There are a few workarounds for these problems.
If the session consists of a single mono or stereo track, and no automation or plug-ins are used, the file can be Consolidated, rather than bounced. This process runs at many times real-time, creating a new file from the edited original. Highlight all regions to be consolidated (they must be continuous) and choose Edit>>Consolidate (or press Option Shift 3).
For more complex productions, involving overlapping multitrack audio, volume automation, and real-time plug-ins, bouncing is the primary way of rendering the production to a final stereo or mono file. If your bounce stalls and you get an error message indicating that “CPU usage is holding off USB audio…” or other mysterious warnings, often suggesting that you reduce track counts or plug-ins, or to increase buffer size, ignore the message. Usually the problem has nothing to do with these things. First, turn off Airport, or other wireless networking. If the error continues, make sure there are no other background processes running while the bounce is proceeding.
If the bounce repeatedly fails, it may be more efficient to create a new audio track in your session, and set that track to record the output of the session. For some reason this process tends to go smoother than a bounce, and even if it fails, a partial recording is made, so multiple passes can be made if necessary, and then consolidated.
To do this, instead of sending the output of your tracks to the default audio outputs, set them to an alternative routing called a “bus.” Click on the channel output button, it will give you the choice of “no output” “interface” and “bus.” Click on bus, and choose any of the several busses that appear. Add a new audio track, and name it something distinctive, like ProjectnameMix. Then set the inputs of this new audio track to the same bus as the other tracks are using as an output.
Highlight the audio you want to record, click the record-ready button on the new audio track, then press Command Spacebar to start recording. The recording will stop at the end of the highlighted region.
That newly-created soundfile will reside in the Audio folder of the current session. It will be split-stereo, so if you need it as an interleaved stereo file (to burn to CD, or convert to mp3, etc.) you can import it into your session, highlight it in the region list, and export it (Command Shift K) choosing stereo (interleaved) as the format.
Even though this too is a real-time process, if Pro Tools stalls during playback, you will retain the recording up to that time, allowing you to start the recording again later in the session, rather than starting again from the beginning with a bounce. It also allows you to watch meters and automation moves, which are disabled during a bounce.
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Pro Tools may occasionally display error messages referring to disc errors. These could be the result of many different problems, and sadly the error messages rarely give you many clues. There are a few common problems that are relatively easily solved, so try these before doing anything drastic, like reinstalling Pro Tools or your operating system (which may sometimes be required.)
If you’ve recently upgraded either Pro Tools or your computer’s operating system, make sure that the versions you have are compatible. There are links to grids and charts for the various software versions, OS versions and hardware, here:
Because Pro Tools is so picky about which version of the Operating System your computer is using, it is NOT recommended that you allow automatic updates of the OS.
If you see an error indicating that your drive is not a valid audio volume, go to Window>>Workspace and look at the list of drives. If your audio drive is set to T or P, click on that letter and change it to R. If it will not change, restart Pro Tools and try again. If it still won’t change, you may have a mismatch of software, or your drive may have a problem. Digidesign has some troubleshooting tools, including a Tech Support Utility here:
There’s also a vast pool of information in the Digidesign Answerbase. You can do keyword searches on problems you see, including the obscure error codes that pop-up.
There’s also a Support FAQ that might have an answer to your problem.
Occasionally drive problems are caused by a corrupted database file, or corrupted preferences. If you see a “-50” error or a “Neo Access error” you probably have a corrupt database. Each drive has a small Pro Tools-generated database file (named volume.ddb on the Mac), and there is a folder called Volumes stored elsewhere on your system. If those files are deleted, and Pro Tools is restarted, new versions of the databases are created, often solving the problem. Deleting all the potentially corrupted files is a little tedious, but here’s how it’s done:
For Windows XP:
Deleting Digidesign Databases:
- On the root level of every mounted hard drive, go into the Digidesign
Databases folder and delete the “Volume.ddb” and “WaveCache” files.
- Go to: My Computer > C: > Program Files > Digidesign > Pro Tools >
Databases > Volumes. Delete all of the files in this folder (they will have
very odd names).
- Go to: My Computer > C: > Documents and Settings > (your user name) >
Application Data* > Digidesign. Delete the file entitled “ProTools…v6.x
Preferences.PTP” (this may be either Pro Tools LE or TDM, and any version,
such as 6.4 or 6.9).
*If the Application Data folder is not there, go to: Tools (in the menus at
the top) > Folder Options > View, and select “Show Hidden Files and
- Go to: My Computer > C: > Program Files > Common Files > Digidesign >
DAE. Delete the entire “DAE Prefs folder.”
Empty the Recycle Bin after trashing preferences and/or databases.
For Mac OS X:
- On the root level of every mounted hard drive, go into the Digidesign
Databases folder and delete the “Volume.ddb” and “WaveCache” files.
- Go to: MacHD > Library > Application Support > Digidesign > Databases >
Volumes. Delete all of the files in this folder (they will have very odd
- Go to: MacHD > Users > (your user name, aka “the house icon”) > Library >
Preferences. Delete the following files:
- DAE Prefs (entire folder)
- ProTools…v6.x Preferences (this may be either Pro Tools LE or TDM, and any
version, such as 6.4 or 6.9).
Empty the trash.
There’s a really nice little freeware utility available for the Mac, called the Pro Tools Pref and Database Helper. It’s located here: http://www.jcdeshaies.com/
If you find this application helpful, you might want to consider making a donation to its creator via Paypal, there’s a button right on the application’s screen.
An external drive’s database can get corrupted if the drive is not ejected properly from the computer. Pro Tools doesn’t like to let go of drives, but you can remove one without quitting the application. Go to Window>>Workspace then highlight the drive you wish to remove. Click on the Toolbox icon, and select “Unmount” from the dropdown menu.
Repeated Audiosuite processes
When making repeated similar tweaks with Audiosuite processes, such as reducing gain, applying compression, or applying EQ to specific sections of a soundfile, it’s better to just leave the window for that process open so that when one comes to the next breath that needs to be attenuated, or P-Pop that needs to be High-Pass filtered, or whatever, the process is ready, the parameters set. Select the section of audio that need treatment, then choose the Audiosuite process you wish to apply from the Audiosuite menu.
After finding the settings you like, and clicking “apply,” don’t close that window, leave it open on the side of your screen, ready for the next occurrence of a problematic bit of audio. Depending on the process, you might want to select a little bit more audio than you need, run the Audiosuite process, then create short crossfades across the edges to smooth the transitions into and out of the processed regions.
Cleaning Up the Regions Bin
After doing extensive editing, the regions bin (the list of soundfiles and regions at the right of the edit screen) can become cluttered with superfluous regions, segments of audio that have been trimmed from the original soundfiles and are no longer active in your session, or clips that were loaded into the session but never used. Those extra soundfiles can make navigating through the regions bin dizzying, and will unnecessarily bloat the audio folder if you make a copy for transfer or archiving.
The bin can be cleaned up at various times during the workflow, but be careful, you want to be sure there’s nothing in the regions bin that you will want to use in the session later, that hasn’t been added to the edit window yet. If you’re finished arraying everything in the edit window, or are done with one stage of the project and have not yet imported soundfiles for the next stage of the project, you can clear-out unused regions by pressing Command Shift U (or clicking on the “Regions” bar at the top of the regions bin and choosing “Select>>Unused.”) This will highlight all regions in the bin that are not used in the edit window. Then press Command Shift B (or “Clear” from the Regions menu) to open the “Clear” dialog.
“Remove” will simply clear the regions out of the bin, neatening up the regions list, and (probably) reducing the number of regions that will be copied when using the “Save Session Copy In” command. This command does NOT delete anything from your drives.
“Delete” will actually remove unused files from your hard drive permanently. This will allow you to regain drive space, but has the potential to erase a soundfile you did not mean to erase. It is strongly recommended that you just use “Remove” rather than “Delete” unless you are absolutely sure that you want to erase the selected files from your drive forever, that you will never want to use the highlighted soundfile(s) in this or any other project ever.
The “Remove” command will not remove the parent soundfiles for regions contained in the session, so those regions are still editable, and can be extended beyond their current boundaries (unless the active regions were altered by destructive processes like normalizing or other Audiosuite filtering, Consolidating, or destructive recording.)
Saving Session Copies
The safest way to archive a finished mix, or to make a copy of a session for someone else to work on elsewhere, is to use the command: File>>Save Copy In.
Be sure to check the box for “All Audio Files” under “Items to Copy.” This dialog will allow you to change the file type, sample rate or bit-depth of the audio files if you so desire, and if you choose to do so, the option to copy the audio files will be checked by default. But if you choose to keep the original format, the default is to NOT copy the audio files, only the session data. But for the purposes of archiving, or making a copy to be moved to another studio, it’s much safer to check the “All Audio Files” button.
It’s a common problem for soundfiles to be lost when archiving or copying a session. This is usually because a soundfile that is used in the project had not been saved in the session’s Audio folder.
Recordings made in a session will be saved into that session’s Audio folder by default, and files imported into a session are usually saved in the Audio folder, but it is possible to add soundfiles to a session without them being added to that folder. So simply copying the session’s folder, containing the session file, the audio folder, the fades folder, region groups,back-ups etc. is no guarantee of copying all audio files used in the project.
A soundfile may reside elsewhere, on any drive attached to the computer, and may be “added” to a session without copying it to the Audio folder, if it is the same format as the session default. This is efficient in some circumstances, for instance when a session is using audio that is already stored in some systematic way in other directories. But it can create problems in archiving or moving sessions.
The “Import Audio” dialog offers several options when adding audio to a session. If the file format is compatible with the current session, the user may “add” or “copy” the soundfile into the current project. “Adding” leaves the soundfile in its original location, and merely creates pointers to it. “Copying” or “Converting” makes a new version of the file. By default it will be saved in the current session’s Audio folder, but it can be stored anywhere. The default function is “add”, be sure to click “copy” if that’s what you mean to do.
If the imported file is of a different format from the current session, the only import option will be to “convert.” The safest process is to always Copy or Convert, and to save all files into the Audio files folder. That way, all soundfiles in a session are stored together in a predictable location. But this is not always efficient, or soundfiles may be accidentally “added” rather than “copied” and will not reside in the Audio folder.
The best way to assure that all soundfiles used in the session are included in an archive, or in a copy of the session to be worked on elsewhere, is to use the “Save Copy in” and to check the “All Audio files” box. This will collect all soundfiles used in the session, and make copies of them, placed in the session copy’s Audio files folder.
For greater efficiency, it’s advised to remove unused regions, as described above, before saving a copy of the session, that way, copies are not made of soundfiles that aren’t used in the session.
These are just a few of our favorite Pro Tools tips and shortcuts. Please feel free to share yours in the Talk section. Special thanks to Gregg McVicar, Phil Graitcer, Viki Merrick, and Laura Vitale for sharing their tips.