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The Hidden Digidesign Pro Tools (part 1)

A post by David Mellor
Thursday January 01, 2004
Pro Tools, as a cost-effective hard disk multitrack recording and editing system, is without compare and massively respected throughout the industry. Everyone knows about Pro Tools’ recording and editing capabilities, and about the blossoming range of TDM plug-ins that make Pro Tools an all-in-one system ready for just about anything...
The Hidden Digidesign Pro Tools (part 1)
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Pro Tools, as a cost-effective hard disk multitrack recording and editing system, is without compare and massively respected throughout the industry. Everyone knows about Pro Tools’ recording and editing capabilities, and about the blossoming range of TDM plug-ins that make Pro Tools an all-in-one system ready for just about anything. But Pro Tools has hidden talents too. Talents that are only appreciated by a few but deserve wider attention, and you don’t need to pay the price tag of a full system to reap considerable rewards from the basic Pro Tools software in a minimal configuration.

Pro Tools and MIDI

It is fairly well known that Pro Tools possesses MIDI functions, but 95% of users have heard from ‘somewhere’ that they are no good and not worth bothering about. This isn’t true. Pro Tools’ MIDI features may be basic, but maybe for some users they might be exactly what is required. And unlike the ‘bonus’ features in other software, the MIDI side of Pro Tools actually works! There are two ways you can make use of MIDI, firstly by importing a MIDI sequence file from another MIDI sequencer application such as Cubase or Logic. This is a practical way of working since a musician or programmer can do all the musical work in his or her favourite sequencer and then hand it over as a completed item to the non-musician recording engineer to import into Pro Tools. Although the barriers between musicians and engineers have broken down in recent years there is still merit in focussing on core skills and not allowing oneself to be distracted by another field of activity in which you could never become an expert. Bringing a sequence file into Pro Tools isn’t difficult, but there is a procedure to it that needs to be understood. Firstly, in the sequencer software, all modern sequencers of quality, including hardware sequencers, have the ability to convert a sequence from their native file format into a generic MIDI file which should be understandable to any other sequencer, and to Pro Tools. Pro Tools can recognise MIDI files type 0 and type 1. A type 0 MIDI file contains all the MIDI data of the entire composition in a single track, and will appear as such in the Pro Tools Edit window. This isn’t really in the spirit of Pro Tools so a type 1 file where each track in the original sequence is retained as an individual item, and will appear as a separate track in the Edit window, is to be preferred.

This is straightforward but there is one little problem. Neither of the standard MIDI file formats retains any information on the MIDI port assignment. If you remember your MIDI technical stuff, then in a basic Macintosh MIDI setup the Mac’s printer port will be connected to one MIDI interface, the modem port to another (often both interfaces are contained within a single box). In a more sophisticated setup with a better MIDI interface, there could be several more outputs, each capable of carrying sixteen MIDI channels. This means that whoever programs the MIDI sequence has to list the MIDI device that is allocated to each track. For example, track 1 might be a Korg M1 set to MIDI channel 2. This will need to be reset when the file is imported into Pro Tools. It’s not a great hardship if you know in advance that it has to be done. MIDI sequence files retain the tempo and meter information of the original sequence and this can be imported into Pro Tools with all the other MIDI data. Pro Tools is as happy measuring the timeline in bars and beats as it is in minutes and seconds, SMPTE values or feet and frames. This will be useful when recording the audio tracks and, if need be, Pro Tools can generate a metronome click by sending a MIDI note-on command to any suitable MIDI module.

A post by David Mellor
Thursday January 01, 2004 ARCHIVE
David Mellor has been creating music and recording in professional and home studios for more than 30 years. This website is all about learning how to improve and have more fun with music and recording. If you enjoy creating music and recording it, then you're definitely in the right place :-)
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