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Comping with Playlists in Pro Tools 8

May 25, 2009
On top of all the fancy new UI enhancements and fantastic sounding Virtual Instruments, Pro Tools 8 has made significant improvements to many of my everyday workflows. Playlists have always been a great way to keep track of alternate takes in Pro Tools, allowing you to easily craft the perfect composite performance or "comp" by piecing together different takes. Pro Tools 8 has enhanced this process infinitely by allowing you to view, edit and audition a track's playlists within its new "Playlists View." This week at the corner I will show you some tricks that will cut your comping time in half and share what's new with playlists in Pro Tools 8.
Playlist Basics
    Essentially playlists are just a way for Pro Tools to store the timeline placement of a group of regions on a track. Regions are pointers to raw audio files on your hard disk, while a playlist stores the organization or placement of multiple regions in time. A track in pro tools can have an unlimited number of playlists associated with it, or "virtually unlimited" as we like to say in the DAW world. In other words, you don't need to worry about running out.
    New Loop Record Workflow
      Before Pro Tools 8, loop record and playlist comping were sort of mutually exclusive workflows. You generally used either the "takes list" comping method with loop record, or you stopped recording and manually created a new playlist after each take. Fortunately, these two features now work harmoniously in version 8, using the new preference "Automatically create new playlists when loop recording." When this option is checked, Pro Tools automatically appends each new pass in loop record to a fresh playlist. Let's check it out.

      Step 1: I start by checking the preference "Automatically create new playlists when loop recording," found under the Operations tab of Setup > Preferences.

      Step 2: After creating and naming a new track for my loop record pass, I enable loop recording via Operations > Loop Record or by using the shortcut Option-L (Mac) Alt-L (PC).

      Step 3: At this point, I need to make a selection defining the "loop" that I will record each pass over. Remember, loop record mode always requires a selection to define the length of each take. If you need a refresher on the basics of loop record mode, check out my previous article here.

      Step 4: After defining my loop record selection, I can add a bit of pre-roll to get me into the first pass and record enable my track. To make this easier, Pro Tools 8 added three new shortcuts for record, solo and mute track. Shift-R for record, Shift-S for solo, and Shift-M for mute on the selected track.

      Step 5: In this example I have recorded 3 takes and Pro Tools has created 3 new playlists, leaving the final pass as the active, or "main" playlist on my track. Because Pro Tools left my final take on the original playlist "LoopRec," I will double click the track's nameplate and rename this playlist to "LoopRec.03."

      Tip: You don't have to complete your loop recording in the initial run, you can stop and start up again as much as you'd like. Because Pro Tools only creates a new playlist for the second pass of a loop record take, just create a fresh playlist for each loop record set you want to do.

      Tip: If you have already completed a loop record pass without the preference "automatically create new playlists in loop record mode" checked, you can simply right-click one of the loop recorded regions and choose Matches > Expand Alternates to new Playlists. Alternates are defined by the "match criteria," to change the match criteria right-click a region and choose Matches > Match Criteria.
      Comping With the Playlists View
        Now that I have a set of playlists, either ones created automatically via loop record or ones created manually during the recording process, I can easily view these simultaneously by switching the track's view to "Playlists." Click on the word "Waveform" and select "Playlists," or Ctrl+Opt+Cmd-Click (Mac) Start+Alt+Ctrl-Click (PC) on the track's playlist selector.

        Right now the active or "main" playlist is LoopRec.01, but I want to create a new main playlist for my composite take. I can do this by clicking on the track's playlist selector (the little down arrow next to the track's name) and choosing "New…" I name this playlist LoopRec.Comp and since it was the last playlist created it now becomes this track's active or "main" playlist. Remember, whichever playlist is active (selected via the track's playlist selector) is by default the track's main playlist, therefore any playlist can be the "main playlist" for a given track.

        Hint: When selecting playlists, you can generally ignore the number in parenthesis after the playlist's name (e.g. "Playlist.01 (XX)"). This is simply a master playlist counter telling me when the playlist was created relative to others. This continues to count up even after tracks/playlists have been deleted or after an undo.

        To audition the main playlist for a track I simply hit play. To audition alternate playlists associated with a track, I simply hit the solo button (the "S") on each alternate playlist. When auditioning, try making a selection and using the key commands Cntrl-P/Cntrl-; (Mac) or Start-P/Start-; (PC) to move the selection up and down in conjunction with Shift-S (track solo key command) to quickly audition each alternate playlist without using the mouse. Tip: In command key focus mode you can use 'P' and ';' without a modifier to move the selection up or down.

        To promote a selection to the main playlist, simply select the piece you wish to copy, right-click and choose "copy to main playlist," or use the key command Cntrl+Opt-V (Mac) Start+Alt-V (PC). You can also copy the selection to a new or duplicate playlist from the same menu.

        Once you are finished editing you can re-hide the alternate playlists by switching the main track back to "Waveform" view. The alternate playlists will still remain in the session, associated with the track in case you need to do any further comping.

        Remember, all of these playlist and loop record workflows will work with MIDI data too!
        Rating Regions
          Pro Tools 8 features a brand new region rating system that allows you to give any regions a numerical rating of 1-5. Use this to rate each pass in a loop record take, and then use the playlist view's "filter lanes" function to show only takes with a rating of 4 or better.

          To rate a region: Simply right-click on any region in the edit window and choose Rating > 1-5.

          To display the region's rating: Choose View > Region > Rating.

          To filter the playlist lanes: In playlists view, right click on any playlists name and choose "Filter Lanes."

          Tip: each region has a its own numeric rating, if you have already edited a group of regions and wish to rate them as a whole, first consolidate the regions into a new whole region using Edit > Consolidate Region (currently region groups and the rating system don't work so well together)
          Some Considerations
            While loop recording with new playlists is a great way to speed up your recording and comping workflow, there are a few things you may want to consider. For example, let's say you loop record 3 passes of your first verse and then you want to loop record 3 passes of your second verse. The system will create an entirely new set of playlists for the second verse's loop record pass, leaving you with 6 playlists (3 representing the first verse's takes and 3 representing the second verse's takes). So depending on how you are used to using playlists and loop record for tracking and comping across a complex multi-part tune, just work out a organizational game plan in your head before hand, otherwise you may end up with 40-50 playlists on each track (which is fine if that is what you want). This is a situation where region rating and lane filtering can really be handy. Imagine a track representing 3 verses of a song. Each verse has 10 takes generated via loop record for a total of 30 playlists. After auditioning and rating each take, the lane's filter can pair your choices down to only the 4 and 5 star takes, making the comping process much more organized and efficient.
          This article has been proposed to you by PcMusic in association with AudioMIDI
          AudioMIDI is a leading US relleser who also provides great information about a plethora of products commercially available for creating and recording music with a computer.
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