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Pro Tools: How Best To Use Session Templates

Avid Pro Tools Tips & Techniques By Mike Thornton
Published December 2014

Pro Tools’ Quick Start dialogue does exactly what its name suggests!

When you open the Pro Tools application, the first thing you see is the Quick Start dialogue window — unless, that is, you have ticked the option in the bottom left-hand corner of the Quick Start window to not have it show when you start Pro Tools. If this has been ticked in error or if you want to reinstate the Quick Start window, go to the Display tab of Pro Tools Preferences and tick the box marked ‘Show Quick Start dialog when Pro Tools starts’.

The Quick Start window enables you to quickly get to the place you need, whether that means browsing for a session on your system, directly opening a recently used session, creating a blank session or creating a new session from a template file. This feature can help experienced and new users alike, but often gets turned off before users have explored what it can do. So let’s work through the options from top to bottom.

Create Session From Template

A template is, in effect, an entire Pro Tools session without any project-specific content. It can include audio, MIDI, instrument and auxiliary input tracks, buses, master faders and plug-ins. If you wish, it can also include generic content such as drum loops and MIDI parts, or even custom audio segments.

Any existing Pro Tools session can be saved as a template: simply go to the File menu and select Save As Template, then follow the instructions in the dialogue box to save it in an appropriate category, with or without its media. Although it’s generally considered better to keep working projects on separate drives, templates are stored by default on your system drive. If you are running Pro Tools 11, the Session Templates folder is now in the Pro Tools folder in Documents, but if you’re still running Pro Tools 10 on a Mac, they are in the Digidesign folder in Library / Application Support on your start-up drive. Templates stored within this folder can be freely categorised by placing them in named subfolders.

The Quick Start dialogue, with the all-important Session Parameters section visible.The Quick Start dialogue, with the all-important Session Parameters section visible.However, you don’t have to save templates to this folder; they can be stored anywhere on your system, and sometimes it’s useful to do so. For example, when I am starting on an album project I often create a template for the album and save that in the folder in which I will also store all the different sessions for each track. To do this, tick the ‘Select location for template’ option; then, when you click OK, you will get the option to name the template and save it to your desired location.

Subfolders within the Templates folder will appear in a drop-down list of ‘categories’.Subfolders within the Templates folder will appear in a drop-down list of ‘categories’.You can also save media with your template. I use this feature when I am working on a radio series where each episode shares some common content. Rather than importing the same content into a new session for each episode, I create a template that includes the common content such as jingles and music stabs. Now each time I create a new session using that template, all the shared content will be ready to go straight away.

At the bottom of both new session options in the Quick Start window, you also get a section labelled Session Parameters (click the arrow if you can’t see it), where you can set items such as file type, sample rate and bit depth. This works for Pro Tools sessions created both with and without a template and you overlook it at your peril! It is where you determine all the key parameters of your session. Often, mistakes made here don’t become apparent until much later, when they can take a lot of time to correct, so please take a moment to check these settings and make sure they are as you want them to be before you click OK.

Create Blank Session

This option allows you to create an entirely blank session and enables you to edit the Session Parameters. As I explained above, these parameters are an essential part of setting up a Pro Tools session, as they then determine some things that are not always easy to change later on in the process:

  • Audio File Type: Pro Tools can work with Broadcast WAV or AIFF files. Unless you have a particular reason for choosing the latter, Avid rightly advise selecting BWAV to maximise compatibility between versions and platforms.
  • Bit Depth: The bit depth (or ‘word length’) of an audio file determines how much dynamic range it can capture. These days, there is very little reason for recording at 16-bit, though you may need to dither the output of your session down to 16-bit at some stage in order to make your music available in commercial formats such as CD. While 24-bit audio takes up 50 percent more space on your hard drive, it also offers a dynamic range wide enough to capture the output from any existing A-D converter, while still leaving headroom, so is very much the safest option. Pro Tools also offers the option to store audio in 32-bit floating-point format. This is little-used as it takes up still more hard-drive space, and offers no advantage in terms of capturing real-world signals with greater fidelity. However, it can help to preserve audio quality in situations where audio is repeatedly processed and bounced to disk.
  • Sample Rate: The two most commonly used sample rates are 44.1kHz — the sampling frequency employed by CDs — and 48kHz, widely used in broadcast. The other available sample rates are multiples of these. Debate rages about whether they offer a noticeable improvement in audio quality, but again, audio recorded at high sample rates takes up more disk space, and playing it back uses more system resources.
  • Interleaved: This is a relatively new option that determines how Pro Tools will handle multi-channel audio files. In older versions of Pro Tools, stereo and surround recordings were always collections of individual mono files, but you can now choose to have Pro Tools handle them as single interleaved files. This can help when editing or locating multi-channel audio files in Pro Tools, and means that they can be directly imported from other applications without having to be converted first.
  • I/O Settings: This is one of the most misunderstood settings in the New Session window. In a small one-studio setup where you always use the same audio hardware, the default Last Used I/O Setting will be fine, because you know what the Last Used setting was. However, as soon as you start sharing sessions with other users, who will almost certainly have a different set of I/O Settings to you, you can start to have problems. These problems get even worse if you are in a facility with shared systems — you have no idea what the last used settings were, because someone else was the last person to use this system! So I always recommend never to use the Last Used option but always to change it. If you have created your own I/O Settings then choose one of those. If not, then use one of the factory defaults like Stereo Mix.

Open Recent Session

This option gives you the chance to browse a recent history of sessions you have been working on and choose to open one of those. It saves a lot of having to hunt through your drives to find things. One small note: if Pro Tools crashes before a session was saved, it will not appear in this list.

Open Session

It doesn’t get much simpler than the final option. Click OK and you can navigate to anywhere on your computer to open an existing Pro Tools session.

Off The MarkThere aren’t any features that are exclusive to the Quick Start window and unavailable anywhere else. You can create a blank session and a session from a template using the New option in the File menu, just as you can access the Open Recent and Open commands. However, the Quick Start window does have the advantage of bringing all these together in one place, and is especially helpful for new users getting used to how Pro Tools works.

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