Despite a Reference Guide that stretches beyond 1,000 pages, as well as a handful of additional guides and manuals, there is so much you can do with Pro Tools LE that it can be overwhelming to approach the documentation directly. (Though, to Avid’s credit, the guides are easy to navigate.) For those who just won’t RTFM but want to get things done now, this article offers five techniques that every Pro Tools LE user should know, but which are often overlooked.
One of the things that sets Pro Tools apart from the competition is its elegant routing system, yet it’s the simplest application of the sends and buses that often intimidate Pro Tools users. I’ll explain a couple of ways the pros use them to get the most creative mileage, with a fun technique at the end for fans of old-school, tape-speed effects.
Throughout the article, I’ll offer keyboard shortcuts whenever possible. Command/Control indicates that on the Mac you use Command, while on the PC you use Control as part of the key sequence.
Unlike in an analog mixer, the insert section in Pro Tools is post-fader. This means that even though you may have effects plug-ins on your track while you record, you’re not recording—or printing, as we say—those effects to disk. That’s a good thing when all you want to do is give singers some reverb around their voices. On the other hand, if you want to keep that awesome sound you’re getting from your amp-modeling plug-in, you’ll need to use an aux track to host the plug-in and then route its output, using a bus, to an audio track to capture the processed signal.
Begin by creating an aux track that will serve as your main audio input (Track > New, or Command/Control+Shift+N). If you’re playing guitar, a mono track will do, but if your input is stereo, create a stereo aux track. The aux track serves as the effects conduit that will feed other tracks. So if you’re recording a lead guitar part, this is the track in which you will load your favorite amp-modeling plug-in.
Notice that the aux track doesn’t have a Record Enable button like audio tracks do. You need to create a destination, so hit Command/Control+Shift+N to open the track dialog box again and create the number of destinations tracks you want. (Typically, I’ll create the aux and audio tracks at the same time, but for the sake of clarity, I’m doing them separately here.)
To feed audio to your destination track, use a bus in the I/O section rather than one in the Sends area because you don’t want to hear the unprocessed track while you play. (If you were to use a send in the aux track, and kept its output tile set to Out 1-2, you’d hear both parts—processed and unprocessed—at the outputs, which gets annoying when you’re playing.) Therefore, select an unused bus for your aux track’s output—let’s say bus 7 for now—and then select the same bus number as your input for your destination track. Hit the Record Enable button to see if you’re getting signal when you play (see Fig. 1).