Before you deliver your Pro Tools project to a collaborator, it’s vital to make sure it has everything they’ll need!
Online collaboration is increasingly common in the world of music production, and we are promised built-in tools for real-time collaboration in Pro Tools 12. In this workshop, however, I’m going to look at what needs to be done to share projects in a more traditional, non-real-time way, such as if you’re sending a track to someone else to mix. Get things wrong, and the person you are sending the project to might encounter the dreaded Missing Fields window, indicating that they have an incomplete session.
Before we dive in with some techniques, I want to start by showing you how Pro Tools organises the media in your session. When you create a new project in Pro Tools, it creates a folder with the name that you’ve given to the session. Inside this folder, it creates a number of items. Firstly it creates a session file, with the same name as the folder. This is just a list of instructions of what to play and when to play it: this is sometimes called an EDL or Edit Decision List, and does not contain any audio data in itself.
Pro Tools will also create an Audio Files folder, which is where it will normally put all the audio related to that project. However, audio used in a session doesn’t have to be in this folder, and it is quite easy to end up with a session where some audio is played from other locations.
Which other items end up inside the project folder largely depends on what version of Pro Tools you have. In versions of Pro Tools prior to 10, all fades were rendered as separate audio files, which were kept in a Fade Files folder inside the project folder. You won’t see this for projects created with Pro Tools 10 or later, as fades are now calculated in real time. With Pro Tools 11 projects, however, you might see a new folder called Bounced Files. When you carry out a bounce, Pro Tools will offer you the option to put the files in a dedicated folder, called Bounced Files. That folder isn’t created until it is needed, so you won’t find a Bounced Files folder in your session folder at the start.
Other optional elements include a Session File Backups folder, where Pro Tools saves the backup session copies if you have Auto Backup on in the Preferences, and a Video Files folder, which is created if you import a video into a session.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, as Pro Tools tends to keep most of the material related to a session in the Session folder, people often share sessions simply by duplicating the session folder and sending that to a collaborator. However, as has already been mentioned, media doesn’t have to be inside the Session folder for Pro Tools to use it, and that is where things can start to go wrong when collaborating, especially if you don’t understand how Pro Tools normally handles media files and what else can happen.
When you use the Import Audio dialogue to import audio into a session, the default option is Add rather than Copy; and although the audio file will be added to the session and everything will play fine, the audio you imported is still in its original location, which could be anywhere, and isn’t inside the Audio Files folder in the session folder. My advice when importing audio into a session is never to use Add unless you are absolutely sure that is want you want to do. Instead, select Copy, as this will make a copy of the audio file and save it in the session’s audio file folder.
If you try to share your working session by simply duplicating the folder there is always the risk that you will share an incomplete session, so my advice for people collaborating is always to use the Save Session Copy In option from the File menu.This will collate all the media used in the session, irrespective of where it is on your system, and create a fresh session folder with everything in it. Then you can share this new folder with your collaborator. So let’s take a closer look at the Save Session Copy window and how it can be configured to make collaboration easy.
At the top of the window, you can set which session format will be used in your duplicate project. It is important to set this correctly if your collaborator has an older version of Pro Tools than you do, as they will not be able to open a session saved in a later version. In Pro Tools 11 and 12, there are now three different session format options. ‘Latest’ refers to the session format used in Pro Tools 10 to Pro Tools 12, with the file extension ‘.ptx’, while Pro Tools 7 to 9 sessions used file extension ‘.ptf’; it’s also still possible to save a version that will be compatible with Pro Tools versions from v5.1 to v6.9, with the file extension ‘.pts’. However, although Pro Tools 11 and 12 can still open Pro Tools 4 sessions, they can no longer save in the v4 format. Pro Tools 10 supports formats all the way back to v3.
Let’s assume that your collaborator has a copy of Pro Tools 8 LE; in this case, you’d select Pro Tools 7 to 9. Note that the Audio Files option lower down has been automatically ticked. This is because PT10 and later can support mixed audio file formats within a session but earlier versions cannot, so it’s necessary to force all audio files to be saved in the same format.
I would always leave the format as BWF (.WAV), as this is the most universal audio file format and it supports metadata too. Likewise, unless you have a reason to change the sample rate and the bit depth, it’s best to leave them alone. Under Items To Copy, it is essential to tick Audio Files even if Pro Tools doesn’t do it for you.
You can choose to only include specific tracks with the Selected Tracks Only option. This can be very useful to create a version of the session with only the tracks your collaborator needs, so reducing the size of the folder you will share with them. You can also select to just include the Main Playlist, which is the Playlist on each track that is currently visible and in use on your session. Again this can help to keep the session you share as simple and clean as possible, in situations where your collaborator won’t need material from the other Playlists. If you are working to picture, ticking the Movie/Video Files option adds your video file to the Session Copy folder. However, it usually isn’t necessary to tick either of the two Plug-in Settings options unless you need to share plug-in settings that currently are not used in the session, as active plug-in settings are saved within the session file.
Finally, I would not recommend using the Preserve Folder Hierarchy option, as it recreates the folder structure of the location of your existing session and means your collaborator would have to dig down through loads of folders to get to the session.
Once you are happy, click on the OK button and you will get a dialogue box allowing you to decide where the Session Copy folder will be saved. By default, Pro Tools adds ‘Copy of’ to the session name. I usually remove this and amend the session name to make it useful and relevant for your collaborator.
When you save to an earlier session format, a dialogue box will pop up warning you that certain features that were added since PT10 will be lost.If you are happy, click the Yes button and Pro Tools will start to create the Copy Session folder, copying all the session files and all the audio files needed for the session irrespective of where they are located on your system. The result will be a completely fresh and self-contained copy of your project that you can then share with a collaborator.
In some circumstances, though, it’s either unnecessary or inappropriate to send a full Pro Tools session. For instance, your collaborator might only need to add a couple of parts, or might be working in a different DAW altogether. In this case, an option is to create stem and submixes using offline bounce, and share the audio files (or a simpler session containing only the tracks with the stems on them). If you’re going to be sending just the audio files, make sure they all start at the same point and that this is clearly identifiable (for instance, the session start). That way it’ll be easy to line up your collaborator’s contributions when they come in.
One final tip: always, always, always label and name everything clearly. You may know your way round your session and your odd or non-existent labelling scheme may be OK for you — but for someone else it might be a complete nightmare!