Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pro Tools 101

If this manual looks familiar to you, then you either took voiceover classes with Such A Voice or caught my guest blog post on Taji's Voice Emporium a few months back. If this is the first time you're seeing this manual, I hope you find it useful!

For more information on our live Pro Tools Workshops with Recording Engineer & Post Production extraordinaire Aaron Sullivan, click here!

Stay tuned for an expanded list of dates & locations for 2011 -- coming soon!

Getting started as a professional voice-over artist is thrilling and confusing at the same time. All of a sudden you have to become a pro at voice-over technique, a marketing expert, and a tech-savvy Pro Tools guru. I trust that you got your professional voice-over training, and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of social media marketing tips to help you get started. Pro Tools LE takes a bit more time to get used to, so here are some beginner tips to help you figure out the rest.

The Hardware

We’ll start off by looking at your Mbox. There are many different variations of the Mbox, which is the hardware required to operate Pro Tools. Most of them connect to your computer via USB, but some also connect via firewire. Your Mbox must be hooked up to your computer in order to operate Pro Tools.

Make sure that your mic is connected (with your XLR cable) to mic “input 1” on the back of your Mbox. Check your microphone instructions to determine if your mic requires phantom power. Phantom power means that your mic will need to be provided with power through the mbox. If your mic does require phantom power, you’ll need to click the button on the Mbox labeled “48v” in order to power your mic. If you’re still not sure if your mic needs phantom power or not, this can be determined when you’re setting up to do your first sound check.

Your headphones should also be connected to the headphone output. If you would like to use speakers instead of headphones, you may do so by running 1/4″ stereo cables from the “Mon Out” (Monitor Outputs) on the back of your Mbox. Visit Radioshack or your local music store in order to find cables that can run from the Mbox into the speakers of your choice.

What Settings to Use for Your New Session

1. After installing Pro Tools LE on your computer, open the program by clicking on the icon:

2. The Quick Start Box will pop up. Get started by selecting New Session from the File drop-down menu at the top of your screen. You are shown a screen that allows you to set some parameters for your session, which can be confusing. Under “Audio File Type” it is best to select a wave file because it is a high-quality setting, and it is both Mac and PC friendly.

Bit Depth is a measure of the quality of the recording you are about to make. A 16 bit is CD quality, whereas the 24 bit gives you a little bit better recording but takes up twice the space. The 16 bit is the way to go because you don’t want to make a client spend too much time downloading your file in order to hear your audition or demo.

Under I/O Settings select stereo mix if this is your first time using Pro Tools. After you use Pro Tools a few times, it will automatically remember this setting as last used. Click OK and save the session somewhere on your computer.

3. A blank session opens, and you can see your Edit window, your Mix window, and your Playback Transport.

The Edit Window is the large window on the left hand side of the screen.

Your Mix Window is the tall window on the right hand side of the screen.

The Transport is the playback controls on the bottom of the screen.

4. The first thing to do now is to create an Audio Track. To do that, go up to the File menu “Track” and select New. On the menu that pops up, select 1 — mono — audio track — samples, which is the standard format to make a track. Click Create.

5. Once you have created your mono audio track, this is what your screen should look like:

(Note: the edit window on the left side of the screen and the mix window on the right side of the screen now show your mono audio track.)

A tip to make the audio easy to follow and edit is to click on the ruler bar on the left hand, vertical side of the track, and select jumbo size.

6. Label your audio tracks to help keep your sessions organized by double-clicking on the white area of the edit window that says “Audio 1” and type “Voice” (or whatever your project name and date is).

7. You are now able to set up to record your track. Under “Audio 1″ (or the new title that you gave it) on the left side of the screen, click on the Track Record Enable button, which will start to flash red after you click it.

8. Click the Record Button (the button with the small red dot) on the transport in order to record-enable the transport.

The button should now be flashing red.

Note: You are record-enabling in two locations because there are often multiple tracks recording at the same time in Pro Tools. The program is designed for complex music recording sessions, and the system needs to know what track(s) you are recording onto.

9. On the track in the mix window, double check to make sure that the input is set to “In 1” (where your mic is plugged in to the Mbox). The output should also always be set to “Out 1-2”, which routes a stereo signal to the outputs of the Mbox. “In 1” and “Out 1-2” tend to be the default settings, but it’s good to be aware of this in case those settings happen to change for any reason.

10. Now are you able to do a sound check. Adjust the audio level on your M-Box and gauge the level of the audio on your Pro Tools screen by looking at the green, yellow, or red line that spikes when you speak into your microphone. Check the sound by reading the copy that you are about to record, and make sure to speak into the mic at the same distance and volume that you will when you record. Ideally, you want your audio to check in about three-quarters of the way up. If you are “red lining,” then you need to back off a bit.

11. Become familiar with the basic tools that you’ll be using in Pro Tools. You’ll find them at the top of the edit window, and when you scroll your mouse over them, they will be defined for you.

From left to right you’ll find the Zoomer, Trim, Selector, Grabber, Scrub, and Pencil tools. I recommend that you stick with the Trim, Selector, and Grabber tools for now.

With the Selector tool highlighted, click inside the track somewhere near the 5-second mark. This will be where your recording will begin.

12. Optional Step: The Pre-Roll

Because you will most likely be both the recording engineer and the voice-over talent, some people find it helpful to have a little bit of extra time to prepare to switch from recording engineer to voice talent.

Pre-Roll means that Pro Tools will roll or play a specified amount of time before it actually starts recording. To activate your Pre Roll, click on the button on the transport labeled Pre-Roll. The button will become white, which means that Pre-Roll is active. Then, select the length of your pre-roll. The time count shown is minutes: seconds: milliseconds. Next, click on the seconds, and type in how many seconds of Pre-Roll time you would like. Finally, hit enter or return on your keyboard so that the new Pre-Roll time registers.

I entered a 3-second pre-roll, so that Pro Tools will roll for 3 seconds before where my cursor is placed (5.294 seconds) when I start my actual recording. It will not begin recording any audio until it reaches my cursor.

13. Now that you have your track and mic level set up, you are ready to record! Either tap the space bar on your keyboard or click play on the Playback Transport to start recording, and then tap the space bar or click stop to stop recording. When you play back the recording, turn on your speakers, and turn off your microphone so that you don’t get feedback.

Note: You’re rarely going to be happy with your first take. But the good news is that editing in Pro Tools is fairly easy to do!


  1. Nice images to share. Though I hardly know anything about it, I'm quiet sure it is used in music recording. Right?

  2. Such a fantastic post. I really like it and appreciate for such a detailed post.

  3. I have read the pro tools manual, and this explanation of how to record was more clear than the manual. Thank you!