A Beginners Guide to Pro Tools
by Eli Kao and Jeff Towne
- Create a new Pro Tools Session
- Recording new audio
- Importing Audio
- Preparing to edit and creating new tracks
- Working in the edit window
- Basic Mixing
- Bouncing to Disk
- Read entire article on one page
Digidesign’s Pro Tools is an industry-standard digital audio program used for a variety of applications, from mixing film sound in Hollywood to producing radio documentaries in your living room (or producing radio in Hollywood and mixing film sound in your living room.) The wide array of features and options in Pro Tools can be overwhelming to the newcomer, and though the manuals and documentation are thorough, there’s so much detail, and focus on multitrack music production, that they can be confusing to a beginning producer looking to mix together a few voice tracks, some ambience and some stereo music. The purpose of this article is to guide you through the essential operations of the program and give you a way to approach your project that is simple and geared toward audio documentary work.
Note: The version referenced in this article is Pro Tools LE 7. The Mbox is used as an example of a supported hardware interface, and though some details may vary from device to device, the concepts are the same. If you are on a Windows PC, the “Ctrl” key should be substituted for the “Apple” key whenever keyboard shortcuts are listed.
What should I get?
Pro Tools comes in a few different flavors. Perhaps the most ubiquitous combination is the Mbox interface with Pro Tools LE. For most radio producers and home studio owners, the expanded input/output options and small increase in audio quality offered by higher-end systems like Pro Tools HD do not warrant the higher price tag.
Pro Tools LE is sold with Digidesign hardware, and will only work if one of the supported interfaces is connected to your computer. The original Mbox, or its replacement the Mbox 2, is a good interface for most users. The new Mbox 2 Pro, and the Digi 002r offer more input and output channels if one needs to record or output more than stereo audio (most users don’t.) The Digi 002 is an integrated controller with hardware faders and the ability to input and output multitrack audio. The original Mbox and the Mbox2 connect to your computer with a USB cable. The Mbox2 Pro, 002 and 002r connect with a firewire cable. Unless you’re buying a used system, the least expensive Digidesign option currently on the market is the Mbox 2.
The Pro Tools program is now also offered in a less-expensive “M-Powered” version that works with a variety of interfaces made by M-Audio, which can be purchased seperately. Pro Tools M-Powered and the M-Audio FireWire Solo interface would give similar capabilities to the M-Box and Pro Tools LE. There are a couple of minor differences between the Pro Tools M-Powered and LE that pertain to post-production for video, but they are otherwise functionally similar. As with ProTools LE, ProTools M-Powered will only function with an approved hardware interface connected.
In addition, there are Pro Tools HD systems, but these are very expensive and generally only necessary for commercial music and film production.
Pro Tools FREE, which you may have heard about, will not work with current operating systems (it’s only good with Mac OS 8.6 or 9 and Windows 98 or ME), although the download is still available on Digidesign’s website at this time.
Important: Before you buy a Pro Tools system, be sure to consult the Digidesign website and check that your computer and operating system are compatible with the hardware and version of Pro Tools you want. There are enough exceptions that doing your homework on their website is well worth it.
Do I need anything else?
You should have a second hard drive on which to record audio and save files. It is not recommended to use your computer’s main system drive to record audio. This drive can be mounted internally if you have a tower-style computer, or it can be an external firewire drive (USB drives are not currently supported.) Most normal consumer drives are fine, just make sure that the drive has a minimum speed of 7200 RPM and average seek time faster than 10.0 ms. There are also specific formatting instructions for your drive depending on your platform and operating system. Check the Support section of digidesign.com for details.
You will also want a good pair of headphones (such as Sony MDR-7506) or powered monitor speakers that will be plugged into the respective outputs of your Digidesign or M-Audio hardware. See the article Setting Up a Small Studio for more information on additional equipment you might want.