Like me, I am sure that you have acquired a lot of gear in your years of music making. Synths, drum machines and other such hardware instruments/ sound modules. Soft synths are super flexible and a lot cheaper than actual hardware synths but I doubt that the creative process you go through on an actual hardware synth can be rivaled by a soft synth. Myself, I love hardware synths for one good reason. When you are working with soft synths, the price and flexibility make users go out there and get all sorts of things and never exploit them to the full potential. When you get a hardware synth you really learn to use the instrument and overcome its limitations in very creative ways and amazing things come out of this process. But I digress.
In this tutorial I will show you how to connect an external sound modules to Pro Tools so that you can send and receive MIDI and audio to and from the sound module.
Setting Up Outside Of Pro Tools
In order for Pro Tools to see your device it is compulsory to make all the connections that will send/ receive MIDI and to turn on the device prior to powering up Pro Tools. Its just how Pro Tools works. If you have ever used a MIDI controller with Pro Tools you already know that if you forget to start the controller before starting Pro Tools, it won’t communicate with Pro Tools. For the purpose of this article I will set up an ARP Odyssey to receive MIDI and send audio to Pro Tools.
My ARP Odyssey ready to be connected with Pro Tools.
My ARP offers two options for receiving MIDI: USB or 5-pin MIDI cable. If I use USB I can actually use the ARP as a MIDI keyboard and play soft synths in Pro Tools with its keyboard as the key cv gate is converted to MIDI messages. I always use the USB connection exactly because of this reason. Most sound modules offer both USB and 5-pin MIDI. For the latter option your audio interface needs MIDI in/out ports.
Setting Up In Pro Tools
My ARP is a monophonic analog synthesizer so I only have a mono audio output that I connected to my Steinberg UR44 audio interface, on input 1. Some synths or drum machines will have a stereo output or in some cases (Arturia DrumBrute, for example) more outputs. Connect the audio outputs however your setup dictates you to. From here on I will consider only mono/stereo sources for the purpose of making this article easier to read. In Pro Tools, create a mono/ stereo audio track and set the inputs of the track to the inputs on your audio interface you connected your sound module to.
Mono audio track with the input set to the input I have connected my ARP to.
You are now setup to send audio from the module to your session. Test this by activating the input monitoring on the track and playing your sound module. If no signal is coming in, repeat all the above steps. For MIDI information to go to your sound module and to record MIDI messages you will need to create a MIDI track.
Creating a MIDI track.
If your Pro Tools preferences are set so that MIDI information will go to the first selected MIDI/ Instrument track you should already be ready to record MIDI. If you record arm the MIDI track and play your sound module you should be able to see the MIDI meter jump up and down.
Recording MIDI with your sound module.
Now, in order to send MIDI to your device you have to go to the output of the MIDI track and select the channel that the manufacturer suggests that you use. In the case of the ARP it is MIDI channel 1. If I were to use the MIDI out on my Steinberg it would also be channel 1. Be sure to check the documentation of your sound module before doing this, most manuals have a clear explanation of this.
Selecting the appropriate MIDI channel.
And you are set! Now you can create MIDI sequences that will play through your sound module and you can record the audio output to the audio track you have created. Like this you can properly use your sound module just as you would use a virtual instrument.
Playing a MIDI sequence through the ARP and monitoring the audio output of the synth.
Using external sound modules is a great way to change things around and boost your creativity. + you are likely to get really cool, original sounds that no preset will match. I am sure that this will come in handy in many sessions to come and setting it up is really easy.