Learn how to use Pro Tools' Digibase Browsers and all your audio files will be at your fingertips.
Pro Tools' file-management tools are hugely powerful but rarely discussed, so in this month's workshop we're going to take a look at the Workspace, the Digibase Browser and the power of Catalogs. These functions are handled through three related browsers. Workspace provides access to all your drives, as well as any files and folders on them. You can also access all your Catalogs (of which more in a minute) and search, view, manage, audition and import individual items from any Datalog or drive. Here you can designate any drive as a Record, Playback or Transfer drive, depending on whether you want Pro Tools to be able to record, play back or simply copy audio to them. The Workspace Browser is also used to unmount drives, though Pro Tools 10 now lets you do this from the Mac OS Finder too.
The Project browser is dedicated to viewing and managing the files in the active project or session, and offers various ways of handling missing files (see the September 2009 Pro Tools workshop: /sos/sep09/articles/pt_0909.htm). You can also 'spot' individual items from here.
Finally, the Catalogs window is the real powerhouse of the Digibase Browser feature set. In essence, Catalogs organise files from multiple sources into libraries of your favourite files, managed and grouped just how you would like them. Catalogs can sorted and searched even if the drives to which the Catalogs refer are offline.
All the information that you see in the Digibase Browsers is stored in Databases by Pro Tools. Volume Databases store media and session data metadata and on Macs, they are stored in the Library/ Application Support/Digidesign/Databases/Volumes folder. On Windows, these databases are stored in Program Files/Digidesign/Pro Tools/Databases/Volumes. These files occasionally get corrupted, so if you have problems — especially error messages that contain 'Insertion Error line number…' — try deleting the Databases in the Volumes folder. Pro Tools will recreate fresh Volume Database files the next time you boot it, but don't delete the Catalogs Folder, or you will loose your valuable Catalogs.
Visually, all the browser windows are variations on a theme, with a two-pane layout. You can configure which parameters appear in each pane, by right-clicking on a column title to show and hide them, or clicking and dragging to re-order them. The ideal is to have the parameters you most frequently use in the left-hand pane, and those you use less frequently, but which provide additional supporting information, in the right-hand pane (which can be hidden using the Show/Hide icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the left-hand pane).
Each browser window has five viewing presets you can save and recall, allowing you to quickly display five layout configurations. Once you are happy with how your browser window looks, Command-click (Mac) or Ctrl-click (Windows) on one of the preset buttons to store the setting. To recall a setting, simply click the button.
You can select a column to sort in ascending or descending order by clicking on it. A '1' will appear in the column title box to show that this is the column you are sorting by, and you can add a secondary sort by Alt-clicking another column's title bar. So, for instance, you could have all your audio files sorted by length, with any files that are equally long secondarily sorted by date of creation.
You can preview files from any browser window by clicking on the Speaker icon. Clicking at any point in a waveform will preview the file from that point, or you can turn on Spacebar Toggle File Preview, so that when you are in a browser window, the space bar will act as a play/stop button; alternatively, the Browser menu's Auto Preview option will start files playing as soon as they are selected. Stereo files will play in stereo whether they are interleaved or separate, but interleaved files with more than two channels will preview in mono.
It's also possible to audition loops at session tempo and in time from within the browsers, allowing you to try out loops before dragging them into the session timeline. To do this, you need to make sure that Pro Tools has analysed the audio files for Elastic Audio: select Calculate Elastic Analysis from the Browser menu, right-click a file, or engage Conform To Session Tempo to have it done automatically. We covered this feature in some detail in the Jan 2010 issue (/sos/jan10/articles/pt_0110.htm).
Catalogs are perhaps the most useful feature of the Digibase system, allowing you to create groups of files across multiple drives, following any theme you like. There are a number of ways to create them. For instance, if you open any Digibase browser (including an existing Catalog), select the items you want to catalogue, and choose 'Create Catalog from Selection' from the Browser menu, a new, fully indexed Catalog database of the selected items is created.The option I use most often is to create a Catalog of an entire folder and all its contents. You can do the above, but you can also open the Workspace browser, and drag and drop a single folder onto the browser's Catalog icon. Pro Tools first indexes the folder and then creates a fully indexed Catalog with the same name as the dropped folder.
You can, in addition, save the results of a browser search as a Catalog. Once you have completed a search, choose Edit/Select All, or press Command-A (Mac) or Ctrl-A (Windows), to select all items in the Items List. From the Browser menu, choose Create Catalog. A new, fully indexed Catalog database of the selected items is created.
Note that creating Catalogs can take some time if the folder contains a lot of files. Progress can be checked using the Task Manager window.
Once you have your Catalogs, you can search them for files you need (see box). By searching within Catalogs rather then using the main browser, you are focusing your search in targeted areas, and because a Catalog can contain files from multiple drives that don't even need to be online, you can find the specific file you need very quickly. I use a Digibase Catalog for all my sound effects. I now have around 50,000 of these, and with a library of these dimensions there are a number of metadata options that can make the Digibase Catalogs very powerful indeed.
Before Digibase, I had a separate Filemaker Pro database. To find a sound effect, I would have to open this, search for what I wanted, get the appropriate CD, listen to the options and choose the right one, which was all very slow. Then I transferred my files onto a hard drive, so I just had to go into the correct folder for the appropriate tracks and audition them from the Pro Tools Import Audio window — better, but still slow. So I used a feature in the Digibase Catalogs which lets you copy the OS X Finder Comments into the Database Comments for each file in the Catalog. Now I can use the Catalog Search function to search all the metadata in the Database Comments to find very accurately the sound effects I am looking for, without the need to try to squeeze all the description into the file names. This now makes selecting and auditioning sound effects very quick, and exactly the same could apply to a music sample library. Remember that the ease of finding what you need depends on the metadata you create, so make sure you use consistent descriptors.
Once you have found the file you want, you can drag it into the Edit Window, and depending on where you put it, slightly different things will happen. If you drag it to the clear space under the last track, Pro Tools will create a new track with the audio on it. If you drag it onto an existing track, Pro Tools will import the audio and place it at the chosen location on that track, providing the track type matches the file type (for instance, if they are both stereo). If you drop it into the Clip List (formerly the Region List), Pro Tools will import it into the session but it won't be on a track.
There is also an option in the Catalog browser menu that enable you to copy either the File Comments or the Database Comments to the Clip Name. In the screen below, you will see that the first file on 'BBC Disk 1' is 'Seawash Calm' in both the Database Comments and the Clip Name column, but the second track, 'Seawash Choppy' is still called '02 Track 02.mp3' in the Clip Name column — so when I import them into Pro Tools, the names in the Clip List are the same as the Clip Name column. Using the Copy Database Comments option from the Browser menu ensures that when I import these into Pro Tools, both Clip Names will have the correct labels. Note, though, that this process doesn't rename the actual file, which is still called '02 Track 02.mp3'.
I have only been able to hint at the power of the DigiBase Browsers in this workshop, so have a go for yourself and see how this comprehensive management and search feature set can speed up your work without your having to spend a penny on a third-party librarian package. If you feel inspired to explore further, take a look at chapter 16 of the Pro Tools 10 Reference Guide, but be warned that there are 50 pages to get through! .
Searching in any of the Digibase Browsers is very easy: simply hit the Search icon in the top left-hand corner of the browser and then type the search criteria in the appropriate column. Click Enter or the Search button and your results will come up. There is a whole range of additional options to help you narrow down your search to just the files you're looking for. The most obvious are the two wild-card characters: the question mark and the asterisk. These, respectively, find any single character, or any group of characters. For example, a search on 'f?ee' finds 'free', 'flee' and so on, while a search on 'f*ee' finds 'frendlee', 'flippee', 'flee', 'free', and so on. You can also do Boolean multiple searches, using the '+' button in the top bar to add a second search criterion. For instance, searching for 'Dog' OR 'Bark' will find any file with either 'Dog' or 'Bark' in the name. Do AND searches by using multiple words, separated by an ampersand — for instance, 'Car & Peugeot'.