Before you hit that record button for the first time there are quite a lot of things to take into consideration. Using Pro Tools for recording requires certain hardware setups that are quite different from all other production scenarios.
For example, if you are mixing a song, you only need two output channels on your audio interface in order to monitor what you are doing in stereo – but if you are recording, say, a singer that is also playing guitar you need at least two inputs on top of that stereo output.
There are other hardware limitations that might not be as apparent as the number of inputs on your audio interface: your hard drive, your processor, your configuration can all affect the way your system is able to record audio. We will take a look at all the elements that come into play when recording audio with Pro Tools.
Getting Your Audio Interface To Work With Pro Tools
I will assume that you have installed all the necessary software that comes with your audio interface (see our recommendations of the best audio interfaces) and you have connected it properly to your computer. It is important to know your start-up sequence so that every part of your system functions correctly.
You should start your computer first, then any external drive that is not bus powered, then your audio interface (again, if not bus powered) and after that any MIDI devices you have and your monitoring system. You know what comes last? You guessed it: Pro Tools.
Choosing Inputs And Outputs
Now that everything is up and running let’s look at how to set up the inputs and outputs on your audio interface for recording. First things first go to the “Setup” tab and open “Playback Engine“. It should look like this:
Pro Tools Playback Engine Menu
Make sure that the proper playback engine is selected from the drop down menu – it should be the name of your audio interface. (For example, if you have an Mbox you should select Mbox from the drop down menu.) Next, let’s visit another menu, the “I/O” menu which is also located in the “Setup” tab.
Pro Tools I/O Menu
Go to the “Input” tab and check that all the inputs on your audio interface are listed. If they are not, adding them is really easy – Click on “New Path” and then select which analog input you want this new path to be associated with:
Associating An Analog Input To A Path
Now that we have checked our inputs, take a moment to check you stereo output as well in order to make sure that you will be able to monitor what you are recording.
More With I/O
Apart from configuring your audio paths to be able to record and monitor through Pro Tool you can also use the I/O menu to route audio from Pro Tools to an external signal processing device and back. This is a little more advanced than what we are looking on in this article but keep in mind that the I/O menu is a powerful tool that let’s you take control of all the analog inputs and outputs of your audio interface.
We also have an article about hardware setup for pro tools. Check it out.
Configuring Audio Track For Recording
Now that our ins and outs are all sorted out let’s create an audio track onto which we will make our first recording. You can go to the “Track” menu and click on “New” or use the keyboard shortcut SHIFT + CTRL + N / SHIFT + CMND + N to open the new track menu. For this tutorial, I will assume we are recording a source using just one microphone. From the menu select one mono audio track and then press the plus sign to add a new row and add a stereo master fader as well.
Pro Tools New Track Menu
Now go to the mix window (either by using the “Window” tab or the CTRL + = / CMND + = shortcut) and select one of the analog inputs on your audio interface as the input to your mono audio track.
Selecting An Input For An Audio Track
Checking The Buffer Size
Before diving in and recording there a few more things to look at. First, let’s go back to the playback engine menu and take a look at the H/W Buffer Size drop down list. This option will make a big influence on your capabilities to record audio.
The buffer size is the amount of samples your CPU can move at on time to and from your audio interface. Small buffer sizes reduce the input monitor latency but at the same time strain your system while larger sizes increase the latency, giving your system a break. As you might have guessed, smaller sizes are preferable for recording as it is hard to perform when what you are hearing is not playing back at the same time as with what you are actually playing.
Another important aspect is storage (see the article on choosing proper storage). First check that your disk is selected as a record drive by opening up a workspace browser, navigating to your preferred disk and checking the permissions tab to make sure that recording is enabled for that storage device .
You definitely do not want to run out of disk space during that perfect take so before starting a recording project try to estimate how much space you are going to need and then check if you have that kind of space available. As I have said, I am assuming that we are recording a basic session where we are using one mic to record one source. Let’s say that our session is a 44.1 kHz, 24 bit session.
For these specs, we need 7.7 MB per track/ per minute. So if we are recording ten minutes worth of talking, we need 77 MB. In this example, it is not necessarily critical to check the space availability as it is unlikely to run our of space – but think about a large recording session: 44.1 kHz, 24 bit, 24 tracks – that is 7.7 X 24 = 184.4 MB per minute of recording.
If you are recording a song that is three minutes long that is already 554.4 MB – and it can keep escalating as you maybe want to do multiple takes and keep all of them and then do some overdubs and maybe print several versions of audiosuite processing. You can use THIS calculator to estimate how much space your project needs.
Check out some great options for dedicated audio harddrives HERE.
Ready For Recording
Record Arming A Track
After all these tedious steps we are now ready to hit the little red button. But are we? Let’s imagine we are recording ourselves speak for this tutorial. Place the microphone within one foot of your mouth. (Be aware, depending on the type of microphone your are using you might need to supply phantom power) Connect some headphones to your audio interface and turn the general monitoring level all the way down to avoid feedback.
Now record arm your track and use the preamp gain rotary fader on your audio interface to get a good, healthy signal in your system – getting into professional standard recording levels is beyond the scope of this article; just increase the gain on your preamp as much as you need in order to hear yourself properly in your headphones while not clipping (hitting red) on your track.
When you feel you have a good level go ahead and click the record button in the upper portion of the edit window or the transport floating window and then take a deep breath and press space or click play. You are now recording!
Now that you have made your very first recording disengage recording on the track bring up the volume on your monitoring system and listen back. Do you like the recording? Want to go again but keep this take as well? Try to name each take in a way that it will make sense to you every time your sift through the takes in order to find the right one. Also, to free up space, try to get rid of the ones you are sure you are not going to use. Last thing, always save your session after a good take, it will save you a lot of headaches.
Take your time going through your first recording and then try to experiment: if you have more than one input, try to fill out all your inputs, map them correctly and try to record. Something went wrong? Troubleshoot the problem – that’s how you will learn the most efficiently. Remember, most importantly, keep being creative and do not let the technical aspect of recording get in the way of the music – on the contrary, use it to enhance the music.