This is the first in a series of Pro Tools music creation tips and tricks I plan to post over the next few months. Pro Tools is widely used both in post production and music production, and is a mature program with a lot of features. This series is aimed at composers and sound designers who are familiar with the basics of Pro Tools. We’ll start this series by taking a look at audio loops, which are a fundamental building block in a great deal of music made today.
Audio loops are a big part of electronic music, and getting all the loops in your session to play at the correct tempo is critical to making your song work. Usually we define a tempo for our session and then import loops and conform them to the session tempo. But sometimes we want our session to conform to the tempo of a loop. There can be several reasons for this. Maybe the loop tempo feels right. Or maybe we don’t want to compress or expand the loop and introduce artifacts. In Pro Tools, there are a few different methods we can use to match our session tempo to the original tempo of an audio loop. In this post we’ll take a look at two of them.
Method 1: Drag a loop into a new session
The simplest approach is to drag a loop into a new Pro Tools session. Be sure to drag and drop the loop into the empty Tracks pane:
When you drag a loop into the Tracks pane, Pro Tools automatically creates an audio track and places the audio on the track. Since there are no other tracks in the session, Pro Tools prompts you with a dialog asking if you want to import the original tempo from the loop:
Press Import and Pro Tools will set the session to the loop’s tempo.
This is fastest and easiest way to determine the original tempo of a loop. However, it’s not always practical to create a new session just to determine the tempo of a loop. Sometimes you already have a session with plenty of tracks in it, and you simply want to drop the loop into the session and still be able to determine the tempo of the loop. To do this you can use Identify Beat.
Method 2: Identify Beat
Using Identify Beat, you tell Pro Tools where on the timeline a clip should start and end. Pro Tools then adjusts the session tempo so that the clip start and end position line up against the timeline as you requested. Assuming you have specified the correct length for the clip, the new session tempo will equal the loop tempo.
Let’s see how to do this in practice.
1. Drag and drop a loop into the session. You can either drop it onto the Tracks pane or onto an existing audio track. If you use an existing audio track, it doesn’t matter whether it is sample or tick based.
2. If the audio clip you dragged in isn’t already sitting exactly on the start of a bar, move the clip to the beginning of a bar. You’ll need to be in grid mode, and make sure your grid value is set to a bars and beats value:
Having your clip start exactly on the bar will make it easier to set the bar and beat values in Identify Beat.
3. Make sure tempo mode is set to conductor tempo by enabling the blue Conductor Track toggle button:
4. Select the clip and press ⌘I (Mac) or Ctrl I (PC) to bring up the Identify Beat dialog:
The dialog displays a Start Location field which should be set to the bars and beats that you positioned the clip at earlier. In this example you can see the clip is set to bar 1 beat 1 (1|1|000), which is also shown in the dialog. The End Location field will display whatever end location your clip is currently positioned at. In this example the clip ends at 3|2|121.
Here’s where the power of Identify Beat comes in.
Since this is a two bar loop, it’s end location should be 3|1|000. So you simply need to tell Pro Tools the correct value for End Location. In this case that means setting the End Location field to 3|1|000 and pressing OK.
Pro Tools now calculates the correct session tempo to match the loop tempo, and the loop conforms to the session grid:
You can see in this case Pro Tools changed the session tempo from 120 bpm to 105.192 bpm, and our two bar loop now ends where it is supposed to, exactly on 3|1|0.
So now your Pro Tools session is set to the original tempo of your audio loop. When you play the session, the audio loop you imported will play back at its original tempo, and everything else in the session that is set to automatically conform to the session tempo will play back in time with your audio loop.
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