A Beginners Guide to Pro Tools, Part 7
Click on the bar at the left of each track display in the edit window to switch from “waveform” to “volume” and other modes, to control the track in different ways. Selecting “volume” will display a horizontal line indicating “unity gain”.
You can then adjust the volume of a track’s playback by making “breakpoints” by clicking with the grabber tool. Dragging a breakpoint up or down will adjust the level of the track output, the same way moving a volume fader would. Option-clicking with the grabber will delete points. Drawing with the pencil tool will create a dense stream of points that will follow the line you freehand. Selecting a range of points with the selector tool allows you to delete or copy that volume automation. While a range of points is selected, the trimmer tool can be used to raise or lower all points in proportion to one another.
If any of your soundfiles is drastically low in volume, you may want to get it up to its maximum level by selecting the region or regions, then going to the AudioSuite menu and choosing “normalize.” Run this process, and it will write a new soundfile, with the volume up to the maximum level (you can control the maximum volume of the highest peak in the normalize dialog.) Remember that this process simply brings the peaks up to the level you indicate, so the overall level of the track may need to be manipulated more.
Now, for a quick and dirty mix, we’ll use volume automation on the music tracks. At the bottom left of the track display in the edit window, click on “waveform” and from the drop-down menu, change this from “waveform” to “volume.” You will still be able to see the waveform, but layered in front is a line indicating the volume of the track.
Click with the grabber tool to create “breakpoints” which are pivot points for the volume to be raised or lowered. Dragging a point up or down will create a change in the mix volume of that track. Option-clicking will delete the breakpoint.
In this example, we “duck” the music down under the narration. Make a breakpoint in the music tracks’ volume automation slightly before the narration starts, then another a little later. Pull the second point down until it’s at a good level to voice-over (this will be different for different types of sound, just try a level and listen back, then adjust as needed.) Do the same at the end of the narration, raising the audio back up at the end of the voice. Then make one final point, dragging the audio down to 0 to cause it to fade completely out.
Only using a few breakpoints and making your volume adjustments in straight lines may be too coarse, so you may want to add additional breakpoints to more closely resemble a smooth curve.
Listen to it, and make adjustments to the breakpoints to make for an optimum mix. And watch your overall levels.
It’s always a good idea to have a Master Fader: choose “new track” or Command-shift-N, then choose 1 – stereo – master fader in the dialog that opens. That master fader will show the final level from all mixed tracks. If the audio on the master fader’s meters goes up in to the red, you need to reduce the level on one or more of your tracks. If the levels on the master fader look weak, you’ll need to raise the volume of one or more of your tracks.
Once some (or all) of your elements (narration, actualities, ambience, music, etc.) are in place, the most obvious way to start a mix is to play your session, and adjust the volume slider up and down with your mouse or an external controller.
Auto Write writes continuous automation information for all your moves.
Auto Latch only writes automation data when you change a parameter, and then leaves the setting where you last touched it.
Auto Touch writes automation data much like auto latch, but instead of leaving the levels at your last adjustment, it returns the level to the previous setting. This mode is useful for momentary ducks or boosts in a mix whose levels are otherwise consistent.
Auto Read will play back any automation you have written, and Auto Off predictably will ignore all automation data.
Good, now forget it.
Of course it’s perfectly fine if you’re comfortable working this way, but generally speaking, riding levels with a mouse on a graphic of a fader is a clunky way of controlling the mix, and will usually generate much more automation data than is needed. A physical control surface, providing an array of faders and knobs is undoubtedly quicker and more intuitive, at least for those of us who learned mixing on an analog mixer, but it’s still a less-precise way to control your mix than other tools provide. Try using the graphical breakpoint automation for a while and you’ll probably never go back to pushing faders around with your mouse.