A-Z Of Pro Tools - R Is For Record Modes

03-28-2015 10:00 AM

Recording something into Pro Tools should be easy and indeed it is, but that isn’t quite the same thing as saying it doesn’t sometimes get surprisingly complicated. Like most DAWs Pro Tools follows a similar system to that employed in multitrack tape machines and if you press record and play in the transport bar, any record-armed tracks will be recorded onto - easy!
Things can get a little more complicated when looking to replace a section on a previously recorded take. The significance of timeline and edit selections becomes important. It is the timeline selection which controls where a drop in will happen, not the edit selection if the two are unlinked. For more information see this Pro Tools Fundamentals Article. An awareness of how to use playlists and pre and post-roll will definitely help as will understanding how to manage latency. These are the basics and you can’t really get by in Pro Tools without them but by using the other record modes in Pro Tools you can streamline and simplify your workflow. In my experience these are under-used and while you can get by without them, in the right application they are too useful not to know about.

Record Modes

The first potential source of confusion is that while they are related, record modes and playback modes are different things. For example, recording in loop playback is not the same thing as being in loop record, in fact loop playback in record only works with MIDI recording.
In Pro Tools there are six record modes:

  • Normal
  • Loop
  • Destructive
  • Quick Punch
  • Track Punch (HD only)
  • Destructive Punch (HD only)


Is, err… normal. That is to say it is conventional record behaviour without any of the additional features of the other record modes. if you have used Pro Tools before you will have used this record mode.
Loop Record

For musicians I think this would be the other most commonly used mode. It’s certainly the best known. The potential to loop record a section over and over again, in combination with the possibility of comping together all the best parts of the multiple takes is one of the most valued features Pro Tools offers the tracking stage of music production. Of course to get the most out of this feature you have to enable “automatically create new playlists when loop recording” in the operation tab of the Pro Tools prefs. For more on this see here.


The nuclear option! In destructive record Pro Tools permanently overwrites any underlying audio. While this might have been useful to conserve disc space once, those days are long gone. I have met someone who chose to record in destructive record to recreate the tape experience. While I like the idea of committing to ideas early in the production process I think this is a bit “hair shirt”. Destructive record is more than just a historical oddity though, as it has provided post-production types with a way of avoiding long, real-time bounces by bouncing to a track in destructive record. Although offline bounce in Pro Tools 11 offers faster than real time bounce, the benefit of real-time bouncing is that encourages you to listen to your bounce - always a good thing.
Quick Punch

Allows you to freely drop the Pro Tools transport in and out of record during playback causing clips to be recorded on any record-enabled tracks. This is a simple enough behaviour but to achieve it, Pro Tools has to be a bit sneaky. In quick punch Pro Tools is actually recording all the time while simultaneously playing back the visible track playlist. When you drop in to record all Pro Tools is doing is creating clips on the main playlist from the track being recorded rather than the track being played back. As a result quick punch uses twice as many voices. For a demo of using quick punch see Russ’ video here.

Track Punch

An HD only mode, track punch is very similar to quick punch but offers more flexibility in that rather than record-enabling tracks and dropping the transport in and out of record, track punch allows the punching in and out of individual tracks using their record enable buttons while transport remains in record. Lots of buttons which were previously red turn an exciting shade of blue but there’s really not that much more to this mode. Tracks need to be track punch enabled (their record enable buttons will turn blue) when track punch and record enabled they will flash red and blue, and when record enabled but not track punch enabled they will be the familiar solid red.

Destructive Punch

I can’t say I’ve ever used this mode in anger. Offering HD users a destructive record version of track punch it requires that all tracks contain a contiguous audio file which starts at the beginning of the session and is at least the length of the destructive punch file length setting found in the operation tab of the preferences. If these conditions are not met then the prepare DPE tracks window will offer to render some audio clips to your tracks to meet this criterion. Once set up operation is much like the name suggests, with track punch behaviour while maintaining a contiguous file on the main playlist.

Keep in mind that the behaviour of MIDI recording is fundamentally different to audio in Pro Tools and considerably more flexible. For example recording in loop play is possible and track punch is possible without needing a dedicated record mode. This A-Z is about recording audio.