When Pro Tools loses track of the media files used in a session, you need to turn detective...
How many times have you opened up a Pro Tools session, only to see the dreaded Missing Files window? This month and next, we're going to take a detailed look at what to do in this situation, to help Pro Tools link up with all the files it needs to run your project.
Pro Tools considers files to be 'missing' if they are not found in the same location as when the session was last saved. This could, for example, be because files have been moved in the Mac OS Finder or Windows Explorer, or because they reside on a drive that is not currently connected to your system.
The good news is that when Pro Tools cannot find files, it doesn't forget about them. All their details are retained in the session, so if they do 'reappear', Pro Tools will include them in the project as though they had never gone missing.
There are two Session status indicators in the Edit window. One indicates whether all the media files are available or not, and the second tells you whether all the media files used on the timeline are available or not. It is possible for the session indicator to be red but the timeline indicator to be green, indicating that all the files on the timeline are present and the project will play completely without any 'holes', but that there are files in the Clip List that Pro Tools cannot access.
The Missing Files window has changed a little with Pro Tools 10, in that it no longer features the option to Regenerate missing fade files — Pro Tools 10 now handles fade files in real time. The three main options are:
- Skip All. This option is the fastest way to open the session. Missing files will be displayed as offline in the session, shown in the Clip List in italic text and as sky-blue blocks on the timeline. You should use this option to quickly open a session to review what the 'issues' are, or if you know a particular drive is not available, or you want to continue to work on the session without the missing files.
- Manually Find & Relink will open the Relink window, from where you can search, compare, verify and relink missing files. They can be relinked one at a time or in batches. You can choose this option if you know where the files might be, because you can target the Relink process to only look where it needs to look.
- Automatically Find & Relink is the simplest method for relinking sessions to required media, but because it is automatic, there is no way to compare files or verify links and the choices cannot be undone, except by choosing 'Don't Save' when closing the session. This mode searches all connected hard drives for all the missing items with a matching Name, File ID, Format and Length, and will link to the first match found. Because it searches everywhere for each file, it can take some time, but it does so in the background, so you can work on the session while it goes through the list of missing files. You can monitor its progress using Pro Tools' Task Manager window. Also, because it links the process to the first match it finds, if you have the same file in several places it may link to a copy on a different drive from that which was originally used in the session.
The remaining tick-box allows you to exclude searches for rendered files such as Elastic Audio files, which Pro Tools can recreate from data held in the session file.
In practice, it's often easiest to take the Automatic route first of all, as you can get on with something else while it does its work in the background. As it finds missing files, you will see the items in the Clip List turn from italics to normal type, and the sky-blue blocks on the Edit window revert to normal clips with waveforms. In the screenshot above, Pro Tools has found most of the missing files on the drive 'Storage 2'. Once the automatic process has searched all available drives, it will tell you what files it has been unable to find. Click on 'Relink' and the Relink window will open with the missing files listed. This is the same window you come to if you select the Manual relink option in the Missing Files window.
In the example session there are two files that Pro Tools cannot find, having searched all the attached drives for files that match all the Name, File ID, Format and Length criteria. One of these is visible at the top of the screen above. All is not lost at this point: you can use the manual mode to target where Pro Tools looks and change the criteria it uses to compute matches. In the 'Select Areas to Search' section, you can use the tick boxes to select which drives to look in: if you drill down, you can focus on specific folders if necessary.
Highlight one of the files in the 'Select Files to Relink' list, then click on the 'Find All Candidates' button. Pro Tools will search the selected locations and display all files that match File Name or File ID in the Candidates list. In the screen shown below, it has found one file; you can see that the filename is different but the unique File ID matches. This can happen if file names are modified outside Pro Tools, either by someone renaming files to reorganise things, or opening a file in another application and then saving it with a different name. As with any browser window, you can audition the file in the Relink window to check it is the correct file. A match by File ID is going to be pretty reliable, as the chances of having another file with the same unique File ID is very small. However, be careful if the matches have the same filename but different File IDs, as there is a good chance they may be files from a different project — there could well be a file called 'Ac Guit 01' in other sessions for instance, and if you search for generic filenames like 'Audio 1_01' there are likely to be many matches.
Once you are happy you have the correct match, click the Link button and then the Commit Links button to get Pro Tools to modify the session file with the new link. You will get a final warning that you are going to make a change. If you are happy, click Yes and then repeat the process for the next file.
If you find you have a large number of files that have to be linked manually, the good news is that you don't have to do one file at a time: you can work on them in batches. To do this, highlight all the files you want to work on together in the 'Select Files to Relink' section; then, instead of the Find All Candidates button, use the Find Links button in the top bar. This will bring up the Linking Options window, where you can choose which parameters Pro Tools will use to help find the correct matches. I would always include File ID and Length, as these are the two that are most likely to provide the correct matches. Pro Tools will go away and find matches and put a Match icon next to the filename in the middle section. You can check these by clicking on a filename in the list; the appropriate matches will appear in the bottom section. Satisfy yourself you have the correct match and then Commit Links, as before.
Next month, we'll continue the Missing Files theme and look at techniques you can use to force even the most stubborn file to be relinked back home into the Pro Tools session. We'll also be explaining how to ensure you never face these problems by keeping all your media in the session folder where it belongs.