We thought it would be good to review options for configuring an effective and inspiring mixing environment. We’ll pull together certain techniques that the Pro’s use, consider new ways to utilize some tools, and explore additional Pro Tools features that can significantly enhance the mixing process.
Anyone that has mixed before has seen how beefing up a system can facilitate taking on larger, more complex projects. Nowhere is this more imperative than when mixing. You just can’t get enough of certain items:
Control surface features. Mixing is all about making repeated control adjustments until you’ve gotten parameters just right. How do you make these adjustments? Perhaps largely using the graphical editing tools we explored last week, but everything else you do involves setting linear fader levels, rotary pot positions, and other types of controls. Control surfaces make these actions considerably easier, so it won’t be a surprise if you use these features more when mixing that at any other stage of the production process.
Screen real estate. With or without a control surface, mixing benefits from as much display capacity as possible. Besides having access to both the Mix and Edit windows, you’ll often want to show multiple plug-ins as well as other windows. Larger monitors are always good, but a second display is even better.
Processing power and RAM. The amount of number crunching going on within a mix can be staggering. Unless you’re making minimal use of signal processing, faster multi-processor or multi-core hosts for native systems—or additional DSP cards with an HD rig—will enable you to manage far more involved mixes. Likewise, additional RAM will boost general performance and enable the use of more plug-ins, particularly processor hogs like convolution reverbs.
Plug-ins. Of course, all of this processing power won’t help if you don’t have much in the way of plug-ins. The standard suite of Pro Tools plug-ins is a nice start, but you’ve already seen how additional Avid as well as third-party products can dramatically enhance your capabilities. For mixing, you may want to start by looking at additional ambience and effects processors, since these are not the strongest elements of the basic Pro Tools collection.
Modifying and Deleting Groups
It’s not uncommon for you to want to modify characteristics of a group. For example, you might record new tracks that are consistent with an existing group, or find that you’d rather not have an Edit group also link track controls. In the past, you’d have to create a new group and overwrite the previous one to effectively modify it. That’s not necessary anymore:
Access the Modify Groups dialog using any of the following methods:
Select Modify Groups in the Edit Groups List or Mix Groups List popup menu.
In the Mix window, click on a track’s Group ID Indicator and select Modify in the popup menu.
Right-click or click and hold on the group name in the Edit Groups List or Mix Groups List, then select Modify in the popup menu.
Set the group parameters as you would when creating a new group, starting with the group ID.
1. The Remove button in the Modify Groups dialog provides an easy means for removing one or more tracks from the current group members.
2. The handy—but dangerous—All group (discussed shortly) can be modified to make it somewhat less dangerous by restricting it to only act as an Edit or Mix group.
Two of the methods for modifying groups also provide a means for deleting a designated group:
In the Mix window, click on a track’s Group ID Indicator and select Delete in the popup menu.
Right-click or click and hold on the group name in the Edit Groups List or Mix Groups List, then select Delete in the popup menu.
NOTE: Deleting groups is not undoable, so be certain you really want to do this. Don’t worry; you’ll be reminded. Also keep in mind that deleting groups leaves the actual tracks intact.
Stereo Tracks Versus Grouped Mono
Don’t discount the possibility that a grouped pair of mono tracks might occasionally be more effective than the typical stereo configuration. It’s true that a single stereo track is usually best for two-channel sources such as virtual instruments or stereo miking. However, you’ll sometimes want to treat one side of the pair differently than the other, like using a different plug-in on the left and right channels. In this case, it might be convenient to simply work with mono tracks but group them to easily adjust their general control settings.
Exploring Inserts and Real-Time Plug-Ins
In this section, we’ll explore a variety of aspects related to using channel inserts in Pro Tools sessions. We’ll start by considering several general insert issues, including the potential for misusing plug-ins, insert signal flow in applicable tracks, and the distinctions between multi-mono and multi-channel formats. We’ll review basic methods for instantiating inserts, and throw in a few new tricks for simultaneously adding or deleting multiple inserts, as well as moving and copying them. We’ll look at several options for organizing plug-in menu listings, including basic preferences, custom plug-in favorites, and default EQ and compressor settings. We’ll identify the performance issues relevant to heavy use of plug-ins, and suggest appropriate settings for optimizing plug-in capabilities in mix sessions. We’ll revisit the concept of plug-in latency discussed earlier this week, and see how to mitigate the potential problems of phase cancellation. Finally, we’ll survey a variety of specific techniques that will be helpful when utilizing inserts. Complete the reading below, and then we’ll get started.
Inserts Versus Real-Time Plug-Ins
Inserts and real-time plug-ins are not equivalent. It’s easy to think of these as identical, since all real-time plug-ins are instantiated as channel inserts. However, hardware I/O channels can also be utilized for inserts, and this has nothing to do with internal signal processing. We’ll be dealing with plug-ins almost exclusively here and will use the terms somewhat interchangeably, but keep in mind that there is an alternative.
If your audio interface only supports two inputs and outputs, it won’t be possible to use hardware inserts. (You’d need at least one unused input and output channel, and the main stereo monitor outputs would preempt any others.)
When a plug-in is inserted in a channel, it interrupts the normal signal flow and routes audio through the plug-in software. When an I/O channel is inserted in the signal flow, audio is routed to the designated audio interface output channel, through an external device, and back through the corresponding audio interface input channel.