Monday, August 26th, 2019

Track Types & Routing in ProTools

By Nick LucasNovember 4, 2012


Nick Lucas
Nick started out producing Drum & Bass and other Dancefloor styles under the pseudonym Veranova, still a major part of what he does.  Nowadays though, he also does a lot of Freelance work: composing for companies such as Morphsuits and producing music for the likes of Lewis Mokler, and Pob.  His most recent venture however, is Production Bytes, a web tutorials series aimed at Beginner & Intermediate level producers, which has led him straight into his passion for teaching and writing.

The Mixer comes pretty naturally to most of us, but for the beginner Pro Tools user, it can be tricky to get their head around due to its many quirks.  So this month I’m going to cover the types of tracks available in the mixer, and an example of how to use the most common of them.

Starting in a blank project, pressing Ctrl+Shift+N (Cmd+Shift+N on Mac) will bring up the dialogue to create a new set of Mixer tracks. Here you can select which types of tracks you want to create, as-well as how many of each.

Part 1: Types of Mixer Track

Audio track

  • Audio tracks are the most basic track in Pro Tools, you can place or record audio into these in the edit window.
  •  They are available in Mono and Stereo variants so make sure you create the right one for the source material. If you insert a stereo audio file into the Edit window with only Mono tracks, its channels will be split across 2 tracks instead of being placed in one.

Midi Track

  • These tracks can be used to send Midi data to external hardware or to instruments placed elsewhere in Pro Tools
  • Due to the existence of Instrument tracks, most people will likely never use one of these for internal instruments.  However with multi-timbral virtual instruments it can be useful to have several different control sources, so Midi tracks can come in handy.

Instrument Track

  • These tracks are used to contain and control virtual instruments, and output their audio in the same way as an audio track.
  • They are very similar to Midi tracks in that they contain midi data in the playlist, but software instruments can be inserted directly on to them instead of having to route a midi track elsewhere.
  • Instrument tracks are available in Mono & Stereo variants, and for most Virtual Instruments you will want to use Stereo.

Aux Input

  • Aux tracks are used to receive audio from other Pro Tools tracks or inputs, usually for internal Busing or as Effects Sends.
  • They can also be used to monitor physical inputs, however unlike with audio tracks they are always on and don’t need arming. Also they can’t be recorded on to, so are often used for monitoring external hardware in situations an armed audio track would not be suitable.
  • Aux Inputs are available in Mono & Stereo variants, for Bus’ing you will probably want a Stereo track. But if you’re monitoring a Mono input you’ll need Mono.

Master Fader

  • Master Fader tracks show the summed output of a specified bus or hardware output, and also give you control over the level of the selected output. It is generally seen as good practice to create one of these for your main output, although not strictly necessary.
  • Again Master tracks are available in Mono and Stereo, so make sure you select the right type for what you’re hearing.
  • Unlike every other type of track, Inserts on the Master Fader are Post-fader (All others are Pre-Fader). This means that any processing you apply will come after adjustments in level on the Master Fader have been made.  Useful when driving a limiter.

All these track types have an I/O menu on their mixer track, and I’ll be using this a lot inside this article.  The top drop-down is the track Input selector, and the bottom drop-down is the Output selector.

I’ve added 8 Mono Audio tracks, 1 Stereo Audio Track, 2 Stereo Aux Tracks, 1 Stereo Instrument track, and 2 Stereo Master Faders.
I’m going to use these to set up a recording session with some specific requirements.

Here’s what I need to achieve:
I’m going to record drums with a band using 8 Mic’s. They’ve provided a Stereo backing track, and want to program guide drums as midi so they can draft drums in the control room before doing it for real.

I’ll need to set up a headphones send so that the drummer can hear the guide drums, and we can have a separate mix without the guide while monitoring him.

I’ll want to bus his Drums for quick control over the levels of the whole drum kit, and also set up some reverb in the drummers headphones to give him a more natural sound than my recording booth.

(Hot tip: setting up spatial FX in a performers headphones can often enhance a performance by giving the musician a more natural sounding headphone mix than the room they’re in. Reflection dead rooms can be eerie and off putting)

Before I move on to setting up routing I need to name my tracks to make it easier to find what I want.
Double clicking on the track name of the first track will bring up a rename dialogue, type the name and then press Ctrl+Right (Cmd+Right on Mac) to move to the next track.
Keep repeating this process until all your tracks are named as you intend to use them.
In this example, here’s how I’ve named all my tracks:

Now I need to set up my routing.
Part 2: Routing
First off, all the tracks I want to hear need to be routed to my master output.  To do this I just select all the tracks and hold Alt+Shift (Opt+Shift on Mac), click the I/O output of one of the selected tracks and under ‘Output’ select my main output.  This keyboard shortcut routes all the selected tracks to the same input/output, and is really useful for setting up multiple identical outputs quickly.

I want to route all my Drums tracks through my Drums Bus Aux however, so I’ll select all these tracks as before (hold Alt+Shift on PC / Opt+Shift on Mac) and route them to my Drums Bus, this time under the ‘track’ menu of the drop-down menu.  Now all audio from my drums tracks will run through ‘Drums Bus’.
Selecting the routing in this manner automatically sets up a bus between the Audio tracks and Aux track, however you can also select a bus under the ‘Bus’ section of the dropdown, and select the same Bus under the Aux tracks Input menu.

For the Master Faders, they don’t have audio routed through them like Aux tracks, so I just need to select the output I want to monitor on these tracks under their I/O output.

Now I’ve got all my outputs routed to my master I need to set up my inputs for recording, and my headphone sends.
My only inputs are going to be for my drums, so I’ll select the 8 drum tracks, and hold Ctrl+Alt+Shift (Cmd+Opt+Shift on Mac), then on the input section of the first track, select the first input I want to use from my list of interface inputs.
This keyboard shortcut routes your inputs/outputs sequentially across the selected tracks, saving a lot of time when assigning multiple tracks to sequential inputs.

Finally I need to set up Headphone sends.
As I said before I need to give the Drummer a different mix from the control room, notably the addition of the ‘Midi Drums’ to the mix.
Setting up tracks to send to headphones is easy though, and because I’ve bussed my drums I can more easily route some of that signal back to my drummer so they can hear the how the drums are sounding inside the mix.
All I need to do is select the output I want to use for headphones under the ‘Sends’ section on each mixer track, and turn up the level until the drummer is happy.  Finally I can select the ‘pre’ switch to send the signal before it reaches the tracks volume fader, which is important if I want my headphones mix to be independent from the main mix.

However, when you’ve got lots of tracks to send to headphones, this can be a bit of a painful process as you can’t turn up all the send tracks at once, even though you can use the same shortcut as before to create sends on multiple tracks at once.
However getting around this is easy, just ‘Group’ all the tracks which have the sends on and tick the ‘Send Levels’ box to link all the sends’ levels and turn them up together.

Since I’ve selected ‘pre’ on each send track I can now turn down the Midi Drums tracks fader, and the Drummer can still hear them.
Finally I want to put a bit of reverb on the Live Drums, and this is done the same way as sending to headphones, just create a send output on the Drums Bus, but this time route it to the Reverb bus and turn up the send level until it sounds good.

The signal flow is now finished and it’s just a case of putting it to work once I’ve added my Virtual Drums and Reverb plugin to their relevant tracks.
From here you can start working in the project, or even save it as a Template through the ‘File>Save as Template’ command.

I’ve attached the project for you to tear apart yourself, although be aware if you have an audio interface with less than 4 Outputs and 6 Inputs the I/O settings may not load correctly.

Track Types & Routing Project (10.5KB zip file)

Nick Lucas
November 2012

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