Pro Tools Fundamentals - Naming Everything

09-06-2014 10:00 AM

One of the things which first attracted me to Pro Tools was that it doesn’t do things for you. Everything in your session is there because you made it, and if you made it hopefully you understand it, and its exactly the way you want it to be. This has been eroded a little recently by things like factory templates but still largely holds true. For the most part if you start a new session you will be met with a blank page and if you create an aux send, Pro Tools doesn’t assume you want an auxiliary return creating (I’m talking to you Logic Pro…).
However with freedom comes responsibility and Pro Tools puts you in charge of pretty much everything, including housekeeping. If you want to stay on top of your session its in your interest to label everything. I’m pretty obsessive about this stuff and even in a session with one track I’ll still label it, in my book leaving it as “Audio 1” is just plain wrong. So what can/should you name and how do you do it?

Naming Sessions

The first opportunity for naming comes right at the start when you create a session. Sometimes you may be just creating a junk session to play with some ideas or to check something out. I have developed a habit to avoid having to decide a name for a session before creating it and also avoiding peppering my drives with project folders called “untitled” by just dragging my fingers across the keyboard and creating sessions called “,jdhfhkjv” or “lksbvkbvb”. This may appear messy and disorganised but there is a rationale. If I start a session to just have a play (I hope we all do that, I know I do) then I give the session a nonsense title. If the session develops into an idea I’d like to develop further then I will save a copy of the session, give it a proper, meaningful name and save it somewhere appropriate. More often than not the junk session will be abandoned and very often not deleted. When I return to my drive and I see a project folder with a nonsense name I know I can delete it without opening it or checking the contents, the nonsense name tells me everything I need to know about the value of the project. I’m sure there are many who would always name, organise and save properly first time, if thats you then well done but this method is an acknowledgement of my own organisational failings and is appropriate to me. I’m not totally sure I’d recommend it but it works for me. I suppose what I am saying is that even a nonsense name is better that no name at all (but I still wouldn’t do it in front of someone who was paying me…)

Incremental Saves

Of course once you have saved your session with an appropriate name that is not the end of it. Many people overlook the fact that saving is a destructive action. When you save, you are destroying the previous version. Anyone who has ever had a Pro Tools Session file get corrupted will appreciate the value of incremental saves. Every time you make significant changes to your session, instead of saving it, do a “Save as” under a new name, preferably using version numbers “New Tune 1”, “New Tune 2”, etc. This way if you want to backtrack, you can. This is an excellent example of why a session file which references audio files is better than one big monolithic file with the audio contained within it. You can have many, many versions as separate session files in your project folder all referencing the same set of audio files without increasing the size of your project significantly.

Naming Tracks

You should always name tracks before recording to them. Simply double-click the track name. Pro Tools names newly recorded audio files based on the track name so if you record to a track called “Bass” you will create a wav file called “Bass_01”. If you don’t you will end up with lots of files in your clips list called things like “Audio 1_01.wav” . Not helpful. If you forget you can rename the track but you’ll also have to rename the clips and its laborious and easy to make a mistake. If you are ever going to collaborate with other people then naming becomes really important.

Naming Clips/Files

If you have forgotten to name your track before recording to it you can rename the clip either by double-clicking it with the grab tool or by selecting it in the clip list and selecting Rename (CMD+Shift+R/Crtl+Shift+R). You will be presented with the option of renaming just the clip or the clip and the file on disk. If it is a whole file clip (in bold in the clips list) I would always rename both so the file and clip names match but there are occasions when a clip which doesn’t refer to a whole file (not in bold in the clips list) might still be renamed. A good example is when editing dialogue or remixing an a cappella vocal. In cases like this it can sometimes be helpful to rename the clip from “Vocal_05” to “Ooh baby baby” (or whatever generic pop lyric it happens to be).

Naming Busses

I always rename busses. It just makes life that little bit simpler by not having to remember that buss 1-2 is my drum submix and buss 3-4 is my hall reverb. Just right-click in the I/O section to rename. If its that quick why wouldn’t you?

Naming Inputs and Outputs

If your interface has many inputs and especially if you leave gear permanently patched to specific inputs or outputs its a good idea to create a custom I/O settings file. I won’t go there today but if you want to temporarily name inputs or outputs you can right click and rename much as you would with a buss. When renaming I/O or busses it can often be more convenient to see them all in the same place, especially if you are dealing with a big system. The I/O setup window allows you to rename by double clicking on the name of the path. Sub paths can be automatically created, in a stereo environment they will have the suffix .L or .R but this can be changed as appropriate by accessing the sub paths by clicking the disclosure triangle.
Naming things in your sessions in always a good idea and not doing it is a false economy, you might be able to find your way around your session today but if you came back to it in a year would you still remember where everything is? Its essential when collaborating with other people. Its quick, its easy and it means you can concentrate on how it sounds not on where everything is.