Regardless of where your DAW loyalty lies, Pro Tools is considered to be the "industry standard" music and audio production platform. While it has always been a powerhouse when working with audio, its MIDI support and feature set have made leaps and bounds in recent times, too. It certainly is better placed as an all-in-one studio environment for musicians, engineers and the post-production world than ever before.
To discuss the new Pro Tools 10 and more I sat down with Scott Freiman and Bill Burgess, two of our star trainers here at macProVideo.com. And who better to talk Pro Tools 10 than two Pro Tools experts responsible for creating our new Avid Learning Partner Courseware tutorials.
In this interview/review we discuss all the pertinent new features, who they are aimed at, how to use them, the MPV Pro Tools 10 tutorial-videos, and what the future holds for Pro Tools.
Rounik Sethi: Hi Bill and Scott. Thanks for taking the time to talk about the new features in Pro Tools 10 and MPV's New Avid Learning Partner Courseware tutorials.
Let’s dive straight in and talk about the Pro Tools 10 tutorials you have been working on...
Bill Burgess: I’m covering the basics of Pro Tools 10 right from the beginning, including all that’s new, how to get certified, the history of the equipment, iLok, the plugins and the basics of digital audio. So, for example, all about what amplitude, sample rate and frequency is and how it figures in with A/D conversion. Then there’s more about bit-depth and dynamic range, too.
Then we move on to file structure. Where does MIDI go when imported and what happens if clip groups are saved and they can’t be located. Then we look at the basics of how all the tools work, like the tracks, the clips, edit tools and edit modes and how to control and record playback. That includes all the essential things you’ll need to know about the interface, session templates, parameters, track types and really important navigation tips.
RS: So, really teaching the fundamentals of digital audio and how to use Pro Tools 10!
BB: Yes. Once they go through this section of the course they won’t be scratching their head on any part of Scott’s or Mike’s videos. They’ll already have covered the foundation of Pro Tools 10.
RS: Excellent! And Scott, I know you’ve been working on a number of titles. Could you give us a run-through of what’s inside?
Scott Freiman: Sure. I’ve done two tutorials on recording and editing audio. They cover all aspects of working with audio in Pro Tools 10. This includes working with clips, renaming, syncing them up, working with fades, to navigating around the clip list window, and plenty more about audio in Pro Tools.
Mike (Watkinson) has been working on everything you've ever wanted to know about MIDI in Pro Tools—but were afraid to ask! Beyond that we have at least two more I’m currently working on which build on what Bill teaches. It takes track views, zoom shortcuts, window configurations, details on the editing tools even further. Then there’s an in-depth tutorial on Mixing and, of course, we have our other tutorials on Beat Detective and Elastic Audio, which are the same in the latest version of Pro Tools. Elastic audio is especially useful and it’s a very good tutorial!
RS: So now that Pro Tools 10 has arrived can you tell us what your favorite new features are?
BB: For me it’s the clip-based gain feature. You can easily draw in waveform gain...
RS: OK. I’m curious what you mean by “clip.” I know what clips are in Final Cut and Media Composer...but not Pro Tools.
BB: So, in PT 10 the terminology has changed from region to clip. Everything that was previously referred to as a region is now referred to as a clip. There are a handful of other rebranded names you’ll run into...
SF: Region lists, region groups and regions are all now clip lists, clip groups and clips. I think this is a neat effort to unify terminology between the Avid video and audio lines. There’s also a change in that more things are called Avid as opposed to Digidesign. In fact Pro Tools is now installed in the Avid directory, not the Digidesign directory.
RS: I see. That makes sense. It should make life easier for many people. So, what about the other stand-out features you’ve been enjoying in the new Pro Tools 10?
BB: Well, back to the clip-based gain feature. In the lower left-hand corner is a little fader. If you click on it you can choose to ‘Show Clip Gain Line’. Then you can draw volume right into the clip. As you expand or contract the lines the waveform underneath it expands or contracts in real-time. Basically, it’s embedded automation.
SF: It’s really extremely useful for music and very useful for post-production work. For example, let’s say we have an actor who has recorded some dialogue and one clip of that dialogue is at a lower volume... In Pro Tools 9 we’d have used volume automation riding the volume up and down. That meant you had to keep track of it and do the volume automation all the time. Now with Clip Based Gain you can draw the gain into the waveform, see it visually on the screen and then you can move that clip around, cut and paste it and the clip gain always stays with it. Then, if needed, you can always render that clip gain into the file.
BB: It has some similarities to stuff in Ableton and is so useful. As Scott said you could use volume automation in Pro Tools 9 to adjust volume discrepancies, but the problem is say you’re working with 100 tracks and you’ve got little bits of volume automation drawn all over and you get to the end of your rope and you want to start over on your mix and pull every fader…you simply can’t do that if you have automation drawn everywhere. So, having these corrections as part of the clip itself is great.
From a musical perspective for beat cutting and making dub-step basses it’s also great. You can accentuate parts of the waveform, kill other parts. I’m a big fan of gating and in Live I use a lot of gate effects but here in Pro Tools 10 you can just draw these right in so easily. I really like it. You know, you can also take all the nodes that you’ve drawn in and select it all and then gain the entire clip up or down and it retains all the drawn in clip gain automation!
Bill Burgess is particularly excited by the creative possibilities using features such as Clip-Based Gain in the new Pro Tools 10.
RS: The more I think about this feature the more I start to understand how awesome it is! So what other features have really caught your eye?
SF: Well, in general this is an architectural release. It’s really about bringing Pro Tools into the next decade if you will. It works in a 64-bit OS and has 64-bit drivers. And another massive feature is 32-bit audio support! This means when you work with your audio it’s really hard to get distortion in there and when you export to other systems or between sessions you can keep the audio as high-quality as possible.
BB: I’m super excited about the options for 32-bit floating point sessions. In essence a 16-bit, 44.1kHz file has a limited amount of volume and amplitude information. 24-bit has close to 17,000,000 steps and 32-bit floating point has even more steps! Steve H talks about this in his Logic's Mastering Toolbox tutorial!
It basically means that if you’re running huge sessions it’s easy for the volume to get away from you, particularly in a mix session where your ears are getting tired and you’re adding more and more to a mix. Then you start getting overload clip lights on every channel. However, in a 32-bit floating point session those clip lights don’t mean distortion in the least bit. It’s almost impossible to distort the audio signal within Pro Tools 10!
And you can also import 32-bit files. I tried it out with Ableton’s 32-bit files. This is great because you can use it to archive mixes and archive super-high versions of recorded audio so there’s no need to dither anything down. In Logic, we used to freeze the files which are 32-bit but can’t be played or sent to other sessions. In Pro Tools they can!
BB: And the other huge thing is that Avid are supporting interleaved files. Logic users in particular have been used to dealing with interleaved files for years and every time they were thrown into Pro Tools 9 or before they were split into a left and a right file. Now the interleaved file format support is simply great.
RS: That must be music to the ears of many Pro Tools users right now!
SF: Absolutely. Especially those who are working between Logic and Pro Tools.
BB: Export selected tracks is another prime feature. Say you’re working on a massive session and you just want to take the rhythm tracks and move them to another session, in Pro Tools 10 you select those tracks and choose File > Export > Selected Tracks as New Session.
RS: That’s going to be a huge time-saving feature.
RS: Have there been other additions in the way Pro Tools can export sessions or files?
SF: Yes! In Pro Tools 10 you can export your mix to iTunes. It’s a one-click option. There’s also a checkbox to enable bouncing to SoundCloud. If you’ve got a SoundCloud account you log into it right there and then and you’ll be notified when the upload is complete.
RS: So the whole process happens completely within Pro Tools?
SF: That’s right.
BB: So you don’t have to go through any money-changers at all. You just choose File > Bounce... and send it out for free and never make any money on it ever again! (laughs!)
RS: That’s a good point. Are there options to restrict the privacy of audio uploaded to SoundCloud?
SF: Yes! It can be marked as private or public.
Scott Freiman is very impressed with the improvements in Pro Tools 10, including the new import and export features.
RS: Thanks! So, there have been other improvements in the audio file support area, too. Could you explain what these are and what they’ll mean to the end-user?
SF: Well, there’s the new RF64 which is a BWF compatible multi-channel file format. It allows the file to go beyond the previous 4GB file size limitation.
BB: This is aimed at post guys. What that actually means is a broadcast wave is capable of holding 7.1 or 5.1 channels in one file and you can import those directly in to the Timeline. And those RF64s are essentially ginormous versions of those multi-channel files, right Scott?
SF: That’s correct!
RS: Thanks! Moving on, there’s a new plugin format that interests me a lot. What can you tell us about this new format?
BB: There are three new AAX plugins in Pro Tools 10: The Channel Strip, Mod Delay 3 and DownMixer. The Channel Strip is a very interesting plugin. It’s modeled directly on the Euphonix System 5 much-coveted channel strip sound. So it has compression, EQ, side-chain...the whole thing. Very cool!
These new plugins feature a new GUI design that is optimized for touch-based devices. That’s a very promising development for a touchable interface future.
RS: So, what about the hardware side of things? Pro Tools is famous for its tight integration with supported hardware. In that regard has much changed between Pro Tools 9 and 10?
BB: There is actually a great new hardware feature called the HDX... First I’d like to talk about the new plugin format, AAX (Avid Audio Exchange). It’s super good news for developers. In the past a company like Waves would need to develop Audio Unit, VST, TDM and RTAS versions. From my understanding, the AAX format clears the way for developers to author and create plugins on one platform and then migrate it to all the different standards.
Now, the HDX system includes an HDX PCI-Express card. Basically, per card you get 5 times the power of a standard HD Accel card. So one new card equals a five card expansion chassis on an older TDM system. An HDX card has a large fan on it to cool it down, but the fan noise is several dB below the fan noise of a Mac Pro tower! So you can record up to 32-bit, 196kHz audio, it integrates with the Pro Tools 10 software and it looks like the whole experience has a much more responsive feel, too.
RS: And something else that peeks my curiosity is Marketplace. Can you explain something about this?
SF: So from within Pro Tools there is a menu to go directly to the online plugin page. This gets you, via the built-in browser, to a list of sound libraries, virtual instruments and processing plugins and other things to expand your Pro Tools system. You can then rent or buy them right from within Pro Tools 10.
RS: Rent plugins?
SF: Yes. For example, there’s the Virus Indigo which is an amazing TDM synth which you can buy for $795 or rent it for $20 for two days.
RS: How do you access this area?
SF: When you pull-up a plugin there is a list of plugins and when you choose the plugin the options will appear from a drop-down menu: ‘Buy Download, Buy Shippable box or Rental (2 days, 14 days and 31 days)’. So for 31 days you can get Virus for only $80.
RS: So if you’re working on a session where you’ll need a plugin for a short space of time this is the most economical way to get hold of it?
SF: Yes. I find I’m being handed sessions that someone else has loaded into Pro Tools with their set of plugins all the time. If you don’t have the same plugins then you spend all your time remapping the session. It might well be worth spending a little bit of money to rent the plugins to have a compatible system at least for some period of time.
RS: So, the changes to networking abilities of Pro Tools might interest a lot of the bigger production houses.
BB: Yeah. Network attached storage is pretty cool. In the past, especially for non-TDM users, say you were using an MBox Pro 2 on firewire and somebody comes in with some new drum tracks on a USB or firewire drive, Pro Tools wouldn’t acknowledge it. Now, you can work on sessions of any network attached storage! So that could be various drives on your rig, the tower sitting in the next room, and they’ve even done tests at Avid in Burbank where they’re conducting an entire session over a wireless network!
BB: So the entire session is in a different room and they’re accessing, editing and doing all the things you’d do in a Pro Tools session on a laptop in another room. That is really amazing.
RS: That’s awesome! It’s the future right there just in that one feature! So, these new features and improvements sound very impressive so far. In your respective opinions which type of Pro Tools user will benefit the most?
BB: This is an excellent version for those in post. Avid has two major customer groups, music-based recording and post-production. Remember that pretty much every television and documentary show on the planet uses Pro Tools. So the post-production game is significant and there are a ton of features and fixes for the world of post-production in this upgrade, including network attached storage, improved AAF and OMF usability and all the other new features we’ve talked about.
Another example, is the new 24-hour timeline. In the past if you were working on a film with 18 reels and you’re working on reel 18 which starts on SMPTE 18 hours, it’s nice to build a session that starts at 18 hours. This wasn’t possible before, but now there’s a 24-hour timeline which adds this support.
RS: What about compatibility between earlier Pro Tools sessions and Pro Tools 10? What’s your experience been?
SF: I can tell you that so far all my sessions from 8 and 9 have opened perfectly in Pro Tools 10. That’s great news! Overall, it seems to be working very smoothly.
BB: Now the session file format has been changed from a .PTS to .PTX so I can’t send my PT10 session to my buddy using PT9.
SF: But ‘Save Session Copy’ lets you save as a Pro Tools 7, 8 or 9 session, all the way back to 3.2 session format. I haven’t tested what this will leave out when you do that, though.
RS: So, as this upgrade has an underlying architectural change, in your opinions what does the future hold for Pro Tools?
BB: Still, the fact that I can use Pro Tools on a laptop with just an iLok continues to produce shockwaves throughout the land. So as they move to version 10 and a plugin format that has sonic parity with TDM... that’s great news. There are guys around that have consistently (in a scientific way) found that TDM plugins sound better than the equivalent other plugin types. The AAX format is designed to bring audio parity to a non-TDM platform.
And one of my absolute, drop-dead favorite features in Pro Tools from the very beginning has been Audio Suite plugins. Every plugin that loads on a channel strip also loads as a hard process. It’s something I wished that Logic did and wished that about Logic from the beginning. In Pro Tools I can sit there and add an API-2500 and render it into the clip and put the plugin away. That has always been great. Plus you can select any kind of empty space in the Pro Tools timeline whether it includes clips or not and create a new distinct clip. So you can take disparate clips and create new clips from that; it's a quick way to consolidate audio., including the silent parts.
To my mind these things make Pro Tools ideal for beat cutters and grid-based looper musicians, too.
BB: You can sit there and just jam lots of stuff in, embed these effects into your clips and send it off to Ableton Live with all the compression, etc. embedded! To me that’s awesome.
SF: There’s another important feature in PT10’s AudioSuite. Previously you could only have one plugin window open at a time. So you had to bring up the plugin, render it, put it away, bring up another. Now you can actually have multiple ones. So if you’re processing a whole bunch of audio with the same plugins you can keep them open and just keep hitting render. It’s really nice to be able to do that.
RS: Another big time-saving feature I imagine!
SF: Then there are the new handles for trimming out. When you use AudioSuite plugins in PT9 it makes a change to the file, even if it is non-destructive. If you then try to trim the file or cross-fade it with something else and you need a little extra space on the end... if you did’t include the extra space when you ran the process in the Audiosuite you have to go back to square one.
Now in Pro Tools 10 when you run AudioSuite, you’re allowed to add in handles up to 60 seconds long. That means you can trim back and forth, crossfade with other things. The additional audio, even though it’s not showing, has actually been processed with the same plugin(s)! That makes it even nicer to work in AudioSuite.
Also new in Pro Tools 10, fades are all rendered in real-time. Pro Tools 9 would render fades out to disk, so every time you built a fade it would actually create another file out on your disk. In Pro Tools 10 that’s all gone away. There are no more fades folders as they are generated in real-time which makes it much, much faster to change the shape of the fade.
RS: So, I imagine this will lead to much more experimentation with fade shapes...
SF: That’s right and it’s also about speed, because every time you’re adding a fade, although it’s a small thing, it’s running to disk. But now it all happens dynamically in real-time from memory.
BB: And Pro Tools 10 users will not find any fade files any longer, just a fade cache file.
RS: I really like the sound of this! Have there been any other changes to the way crossfades behave?
SF: There’s a view now where you can actually see the waveform of the crossfade. You can visually get an indication of how the crossfade looks right in your session.
RS: How do you activate that?
SF: There’s a view option...well, you’ll have to watch my tutorial on fades! (laughs).
No, there’s a shortcut and it can be found here: View > Waveform > Overlapping Crossfades. I love it because when you crossfade the wave you actually see the resulting waveform.
RS: Brilliant! So, all these features we’ve been exploring and discussing are covered in more depth in yours, Bill’s and Mike’s Pro Tools tutorials?
SF: That’s right!
RS: This has been a brilliant and eye-opening conversation guys, thanks! Do you have any final thoughts on Pro Tools 10?
SF: This is a release which offers some very cool new features and is a hint at the direction that Pro Tools is going in. It’s very exciting both on the post and composing front that Pro Tools is including more power features for their end users. Anything they do to make Pro Tools sound better and easier to work with is of benefit to everyone who uses it!
BB: There’s no better audio editor on the planet than Pro Tools 10. It’s been that way a long time and I use it to edit dialogue every day and I wouldn’t want to do it anywhere else. As for the clip gain feature I really enjoy using it in a musical sense. I see a lot of potential with just this one feature.
RS: Thank you so much Bill and Scott for taking the time to explain many of the new features in Pro Tools 10! It’s exciting that macProVideo.com is an Avid Learning Partner Online and I’m looking forward to seeing more of your Pro Tools tutorials designed to help users prepare for the Pro Tools certification.