Pro Tools offers punch-in features designed to make it work like a tape machine - except that you can change your mind later about where, when and what to drop in...
This month we are going to look at two different methods of doing drop-ins to patch an otherwise good performance. These are Quick Punch and a new feature, added in the TDM version of Pro Tools 7, called Track Punch.
In the good old days of tape, this process would show up the skill of the recording engineer, as they had to be able to hit the record button exactly at the correct time to go into record on the appropriate track. Too early and you wiped a bit of the good section; too late and you missed a bit of the new section — and of course there was no safety net, in the shape of an Undo button, when you got it wrong.
Quick Punch has been around for quite a while now, but I recently discovered a number of features that I wasn't aware of before, so I thought I would share them with you here. The screen at the top of this page shows a classic scenario where I need to drop in and patch a line in a vocal part. I have enabled both Pre-roll and Post-roll, so without Quick Punch enabled, Pro Tools will play from the green flag at 0'40", drop into record, record for the highlighted section, and then continue playing until the cursor reaches the Post-roll flag at just after 0'53". This will be fine, but if I want to move the drop-out point to include the next word after recording, I can't, because the patch stops at the end of the highlighted section.
With Quick Punch enabled, this still appears to be the case, but actually what is happening is that Pro Tools is recording all the way from the Pre-roll flag to the Post-roll flag even though only the highlighted section is displayed as having recorded. What this means is that I can now use the Trim tool to extend out the patch to include the next word. I find this feature so useful that I always make sure that I am in Quick Punch mode whenever I am doing any drop-ins. To turn Quick Punch on and off, go to the Options menu and select it; alternatively, if you have the numeric keypad set to Transport then pressing '6' will toggle Quick Punch on and off. When you are in Quick Punch mode you will see that the Record button in the Transport has a P in it.
The Quick Punch works is as follows. When you are in Quick Punch mode, Pro Tools allocates another voice to each record-enabled track so that it is, in effect, able to simultaneously record and play back on the same track. Remember that the number of voices limits what you can play back in Pro Tools, not the number of tracks — for example, a Pro Tools 7 LE Session can contain up to 128 tracks, but the standard version of Pro Tools LE has 32 voices, meaning that I can only play up to 32 of them at any one time. So when it comes to using Quick Punch on a track-intensive Session, you have to consider whether you need to have all your tracks active while recording your drop-ins.
If you get to the point where there are no longer enough free voices to enable you to use Quick Punch, Pro Tools will come up with a warning dialogue box. If you click OK, you will be able to record on all the selected tracks but without Quick Punch. If you want to keep Quick Punch enabled, select the Un-arm Tracks button. This will de-select the Record Enable buttons and keep you in the Quick Punch mode. At this point, if you wish to continue to use Quick Punch then you must disable the voice allocation on some tracks to free up enough voices, or do the drop-in over two passes, if that is possible. You can turn voices on and off by clicking on the 'dyn' button below each fader in the Mix window.
TDM users have the benefit of being able to override the dynamic voice allocation and manually assign specific voices to specific tracks. Pro Tools HD also operates a system of intelligent dynamic voice allocation, meaning that it can 'steal' voices temporarily whilst recording in Quick Punch mode. For this, Pro Tools HD has a priority system to work through. The 'safest' tracks are ones that have manually assigned voices that are not record enabled. Then come tracks that have assigned voices that are record enabled. Next come tracks that have dynamically allocated voices that are not record enabled, and finally the least 'safe' tracks are those that have dynamically allocated voices and are record enabled. The safest rule to adopt here is that if you are running out of voices and you want to make sure a track will be heard, manually assign a voice to it.
There is one shortcoming that might take users by surprise when using Quick Punch, and that is that Pro Tools doesn't create waveforms on the fly whilst recording when in Quick Punch mode. This takes a moment to get used to, especially when you are used to having the confidence of seeing a waveform being created during recording. However, it takes us veteran users back to the time when Pro Tools was unable to create waveforms during recording at all!
Another feature of Quick Punch is the ability to drop in and out of record on the fly without stopping. This kind of reminds me of the old tape days, except that drop-ins done in this way are fixable after the fact: with Quick Punch, you can move the drop-in point later if you 'missed'. Having record enabled any tracks you wish to do drop-ins on, you can put Pro Tools into Play, and when you reach the drop-in point, click on the Record button in the Transport window (or if you have the numeric keypad set to Transport, simply use the '3' key). When you want to drop out, hit the Record button again. You can repeat this up to 100 times, and if you have a 002 or 002R you can use a footswitch connected to the appropriate socket on the back to control dropping in and out.
Remember that when you are using Quick Punch, Pro Tools is actually in record all the time you are playing, and although it displays separate Regions for each patch, in fact one complete file is being created for each pass. You can see this in the screen immediately above, where I've dragged the complete file from the Region List to a new track.
You can configure Pro Tools to create crossfades automatically at the drop-in and drop-out points. To do this, go into Editing tab of the Pro Tools Preferences window and insert a suitable length in the Quick Punch/Track Punch Crossfade Length box near the bottom of the window. Ten milliseconds is a good general-purpose crossfade length to start with.
Here is a really nice trick that makes it worth recording in Quick Punch more often. You know the scenario: you are running through a session and as it's a rehearsal, you haven't gone into record. The performer does a stunner of a take because the pressure was off, but you weren't in record so didn't get it down. However, with Quick Punch enabled, you are actually recording on any record-enabled track — but Pro Tools bins the files created if you haven't gone into record anywhere on that pass. So all you have to remember to do, if someone produces a great take, is to drop into record and back out again before you hit stop. Then you can use the Trim tool to reveal the rest of the take and you become the star of the moment.
Track Punch is a new addition to the Pro Tools feature list in version 7, although it is currently only available to Pro Tools HD users, and shares a lot features and settings with Quick Punch. Track Punch likewise requires two voices for each record-enabled track and so has the same limits and uses the same prioritising of voices as Quick Punch. It also uses the same crossfade setting as Quick Punch, and the file structure is the same, so the Edit window will show the files as you dropped in and out, but the complete files are available from the Region List or by 'pulling out' using the Trim tool. No waveforms are displayed while you're recording in Track Punch, as is the case with Quick Punch.
The biggest difference between the two is also the main feature of Track Punch: it enables you to drop in and out on different tracks at different times within the same pass, whereas Quick Punch will only drop in and out on all the selected tracks at the same time. You can set whether Track Punch stays record armed when you stop, or whether you need to re-arm it every time.
To use it, you first need to enable Track Punch mode. You do this from the Options Menu. You will now notice that the Record button in the Transport window has turned blue, with a 'T' in the centre. Now you can choose which tracks will go into record by Ctrl-clicking (Mac) or Start-clicking (Windows) on each track's Record button (right-clicking it on my Mac works, too). This will turn the track's Record button blue.
Before starting your patching pass, click the Record button on the Transport window. It will then start flashing alternately blue and red. Next, position your cursor ahead of the patches you need to do and put Pro Tools into Play. If you have the numeric keypad in Transport mode, pressing '3' (Record) will put Pro Tools into record and start playing from the cursor. Now, as you reach each patch point, click the track Record buttons to drop in to record and then again to drop out. This enables you to do a range of patches on different tracks at different times all in one pass, which can be very productive!
In the Operations tab of the Pro Tools Preferences window are some specific settings for Track Punch: Audio Track Record Lock and Transport Record Lock. These enable you to configure what happens to the record 'enables' when you hit the Stop button in Pro Tools, and have been added so that Pro Tools can emulate a 'digital dubber' for film dubbing work.
When Transport Record Lock is not enabled, the Transport Record button disarms every time you stop Pro Tools, which is safer. When it is enabled, the Transport Record button stays active ready for the next pass, as it would normally do. Audio Track Record Lock works in a similar way for the Track record-enable buttons. Note that when Destructive Recording is enabled, both Audio Track and Transport Record Locks are disabled, to help prevent accidental destructive recordings. The Crossfade settings in the Edit tab of the Pro Tools Preferences window works for both the Track Punch and Quick Punch modes.
Well, Digidesign have finally managed to come up with a sensibly priced Pro Tools keyboard that has properly labelled keys. They used to offer a Mac keyboard, which I think was based on a MacAlly model, but the price Digidesign charged for the Pro Tools version was astronomical, and for my taste it wasn't a very nice keyboard to use either.
At last they've come up with two new versions, one a proper Apple Design keyboard (exactly like those shipped with new Macs), and the other a Windows one with USB and PS/2 support. I have been using the Mac one now for a week or so, and it is so nice to have a proper keyboard with all the Pro Tools keyboard shortcuts on it rather than my old one, which had Digidesign's key stickers on it — some of the stickers had started to come off and others were oozing glue! On Digidesign's key stickers the letters were in light grey, which made typing by looking at the keys, as I do, much more difficult, and so I am pleased to report that all the legends on the new custom keyboards are black and very clear. It has certainly helped me to incorporate some more single-key shortcuts into my day-to-day Pro Tools work. I would recommend this keyboard to any Pro Tools user who wants to make the best of all the Keyboard Focus shortcuts but can't manage to remember them all.
I only have two points of criticism. The first is that it is a US keyboard, so the '3' key has a hash symbol rather than a pound symbol on it. The other is that, unlike my old keyboard, the Enter key only covers one key row; I had got into the habit of hitting it on the 'QWERTY' row rather than the 'ASDFG' row, so with the new keyboard I found myself typing \\ a lot when I meant to hit Enter.
The Mac keyboard costs £70 and the Windows one is £65. Try to get one in your Christmas stocking this year!
It is possible to put multiple tracks into record with Track Punch in a number of different ways. As with single tracks, you must first enable Track Punch on the tracks you want to punch in to. You can enable all your tracks by using Alt+Start-click (Windows) or Option+Ctrl-click (Mac) or holding down Alt/Option and right-clicking on any track Record button. This will turn all the track Record buttons blue.
Alternatively, if you want to enable a group of tracks, first select the appropriate tracks (so the track names are highlighted). You can do this by selecting tracks manually, or, if you have created a group, clicking to the left-hand side of the group name in the Group menu, which will highlight all the tracks in that group. Then add Shift to the key combinations mentioned above. This will turn the selected tracks' Record buttons blue.
When you want to punch in on these tracks, again, you have a range of choices. You can record-enable tracks selected for Track Punch by clicking on the track Record button so that it flashes blue and red; then when you go into record from the Transport all the selected tracks will drop in together. You can then use the Transport Record button again to drop out, but be aware that this will disable the Track Punch Transport Enable too. Alternatively, you can drop out of tracks individually at different times. If you don't want to use the Transport Record button, you can Alt/Option+Shift-click on the track Record buttons, and all the selected tracks will drop in together; this works on the way out as well.
Quick Punch is the normal tool for handling drop-ins and patches. Track Punch is the tool for HD users if you need to be able to drop in and out of different tracks at different times all in the same pass. With Track Punch you have to remember to Track Punch-enable both the track and the transport, as well as then dropping in and out of record at the appropriate times. I have to say this took me a while to get used to, and I did a number of drop-ins where one button or other stayed blue because I hadn't enabled both the track and the transport!