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The Hidden Digidesign Pro Tools (part 2)

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Pro Tools as a Sequencer

Imagine a recording engineer who just doesn’t want to get involved with
those fiddly sequencer things that are jammed packed with all the unusable features
the consumer market seems to demand, and are a million miles from the elegant
simplicity of Pro Tools in its role as an audio recording and editing system.
Well, this recording engineer may just find that Pro Tools is all the sequencer
he is ever going to need. How many times have you pulled down Pro Tools’
File menu to create a new audio track, or tracks? Well why not go just a little
further down and create a new MIDI track? Go on, it won’t hurt. I should
say that you will need to have OMS (Open Music System) installed, but you probably
already installed it without realising when you first got your Pro Tools software,
or upgrade. If you have never done this before I think you will be surprised
to find how similar to an audio track a MIDI track appears. It has Record, Solo
and Mute buttons, and recording is initiated in exactly the same way as audio.
Look at the Mix window – your MIDI tracks are there complete with faders and
pan controls. If you look at the inserts view you will see that MIDI tracks
too have inputs and outputs, but this time they will be MIDI devices selected
via OMS. Easy. And since it’s so easy, why not hook up that old Yamaha
DX7 that has been lurking in a corner of the studio since 1985 and have a go
at recording a MIDI sequence into Pro Tools? It’s MIDI for engineers, not
musos, and it works.

Recording MIDI is culturally a little different to audio. With MIDI, everything
revolves round the tempo set in the sequencer – or in Pro Tools – and the metronome
click. Pro Tools’ tempo setting can be found under ‘MIDI Metronome’
in the Setups menu and, as I mentioned, a suitable sound generator has to be
used actually to produce the click. Once some MIDI data has been recorded, the
notes can be quantised so that they fall at regular intervals, according to
the nudge setting which, when the timeline is calibrated in bars and beats,
shows quarter notes, eighth notes etc. This is the sum total of Pro Tools’
MIDI facilities, and hardened sequencer users will be likely to scoff and say
that it just isn’t enough. There are no ‘piano roll’ or other
edit screens for instance so how do you correct duff notes? The answer is that
you go back and do a punch-in, just as you would with audio. Pro Tools handles
audio punch-ins brilliantly, and MIDI punch-in, within the limitations of the
MIDI protocol, is just as good. So what would you need an editing screen for?
The only significant thing missing from Pro Tools’ MIDI functions is any
ability to match the quantisation of notes to other MIDI data, which is common
in ‘proper’ sequencers and is very useful as you can record a pattern
without quantisation, select a good bit that worked, and use that as a quantisation
template. Now if Pro Tools could do this, and also match quantise to an audio
segment such as a breakbeat, then we really could be getting somewhere. Pro
Tools’ audio quantise function could be similarly improved.

David Mellor

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David Mellor