MIDI Beat Clock

Introduction

Using external MIDI devices alongside Pro Tools is great, but I see a lot of people only scratching the surface and I wonder is that out of choice?, or just because they are not aware of the options Pro Tools provides to make life easier.

For example, you may have an external synth which you love the sound of, so you plug the sound outputs of it into the inputs of your Pro Tools sound card and capture that sound you love, great, but what happens if you have a delay effect on that synth? Or a sequenced arpeggiator? in walks the problem of synchronicity. It’s at this point that I have seen people remove delays from their external devices and place a plug-in on the track within Pro Tools instead as they clock right to the BPM of the session.

In this article I am going to introduce you to the offerings of MIDI beat clock within Pro Tools which allows you to clock your external MIDI devices to the timings of your session with ease. It’s worth noting that not all devices are capable of this, you are looking to see if your device supports receiving a MIDI beat clock, and if so, read ahead.


Transmitting

Let’s first look at getting Pro Tools setup to transmit a MIDI clock signal for your external devices to receive.

From the Setup navigate to Setup > MIDI > MIDI Beat Clock from which you should be presented with a dialog window as seen below.

Menu MIDI Beat Clock
MIDI Beat Clock Dialog

At the very top you will want to check the box labelled “Enable MIDI Beat Clock for…”, you will then notice a list of MIDI devices underneath, these are the devices, when checked, that you wish to receive the clock signal. You may find that if your MIDI interface does not support transmitting to specific MIDI ports that only the specific interface title will be offered as a destination.

You may need to activate your external device to receive the signal and line up with it, in these cases you should refer to the manual in which it should be relatively easy to find, it is usually down to something as simple as a menu option that needs changing.

You will notice the option on the right hand side of the window to enter an offset value in samples, this is to help account for delay in the time taken between the MIDI signal being sent by one device and received by another. We obviously want to avoid any timing issues where possible so let’s look at calculating that offset so we can get everything inline.


Offset

Different devices will hold different fixed latencies, this is the reason why Pro Tools allows you to apply an offset to individual devices on a port-by-port basis. So by now your external device should be receiving the signal and synchronising to it, now we have to calculate and input any timing differences which have have occurred to keep everything tight, which after all is the reason we set the beat clock up in the first place!

To determine the MIDI beat clock offset between your MIDI interface and the external receiver, first ensure that the two are connected and have been activated as we discussed in the section above. You will want to ensure that the audio output of your external device is plugged into the input of your Pro Tools interface and that you are seeing the incoming signal within your Pro Tools session when it is triggered.

You will then want to make sure your device is ready to play back something that will be easy to line up with within your edit window, something that is ‘on the beat’ such as a single drum hit with a sharp transient works best.

Create a new Pro Tools session ensuring that the MIDI beat clock is activated and is being sent to the device you wish to test for delay. Set the main time scale to Bars|Beats as shown in the image below:

Pro Tools Set Bar|Beat

Next, create a new audio track and set the input to be the sound output of your external device. Record enable that track and start recording, if set up correctly, this should send the MIDI beat clock to your external device triggering it to play on the beat of your session. A couple of bars of recording will suffice, when you are happy you have enough content, stop recording.

You should now have an audio track within your Pro Tools session which holds audio data that has come from your external device after it was triggered by the beat clock, still with me?

Next we are going to enable Grid Mode so that we can see a grid and snap to it:

Pro Tools Grid Mode

Using the selector tool, place the cursor on a straight beat of the grid before a transient, for example if you are working in a 4/4 session, place the cursor precisely on the first beat of that bar, with Grid Mode enabled you should be able to click roughly near the beat and the cursor will snap to the precise grid point.

We now have a place to measure the delay, the time difference between the Pro Tools grid beat and the start of the transient from your external instrument.

Next turn on Tab To Transient and after doing so hit the shortcut Shift + Tab, this will select the space between the selected grid point and the transient recorded.

Next, without losing that selection, head up to the top of the edit window and change the main time scale to Samples, notice that the display window to the right on the time scale display will now show you the length of the selection in samples, this is roughly the offset timing that we need to correct! Easy right?

Offset Samples

Now we know we have an offset of 215 samples, we can head back into the MIDI beat clock dialog window and enter the value. Remember that in the recording the transient was 200 samples late, so we need to set an offset value of -215 to get everything back in line.


Take Note

Once you have figured out the offset value required for you external devices, write them down! Should you start a new session in the future and want to use your device again you will have the values to hand for a quick setup so you can spend the time recording and not wasting time calculating latency!


Final Words

We hope you have found this article useful and if anything has given you another string for the bow of Pro Tools knowledge to woo people with next time you’re in the studio!

It makes sense to have the software perform as much as it can for you, especially if it will save you time not having to try and sync things after recording when you didn’t realise Pro Tools could do it for you in the first place!

Any questions give us a shout!

Pro Tools Production

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  1. Josh A.
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