Pro Tools Fundamentals - 5 Uses For Utility Plug Ins

10-11-2014 10:00 AM

A long time ago I put quite a lot of time into learning Photoshop. I’m thoroughly behind the times now but the basics haven’t changed since then. At the time there were several popular bundles of plug-ins which, it occurred to me, seemed to be little more than fancy macros which automated the application of the standard tools available to anyone with the software. In a similar way the more unglamorous plug-ins, many of which you’ll find in the “other” category can be more powerful than you might expect. Here are five examples:

1. Signal Generator

I use this more than I realise. From its intended use as a test signal for calibrating monitors or external hardware through nerdy mixer experiments to side-chaining sub tones for extra oompf under kick drums I find I couldn’t get by without it. Add to that the related consolidate clip with slate tone shortcut and this plug in is a must. If you’re not familiar with consolidate with slate tone (not sure if thats what its called but I think its an undocumented feature) it is a variation on the standard Option/Alt+Shift+3 shortcut to consolidate clip. By adding Ctrl/Start you can consolidate a clip containing a 1KHz tone at -20dB (the default setting for the Signal Generator plug in). This is such a timesaver when you want to create a session quickly with some audio just for test purposes, something I do a lot in those “what happens if you…” moments. Of course this would also be useful for dialogue editing Gordon Ramsay, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is why it exists.

2. Phase Buttons In Plug-ins

Much has been said in the past about the lack of a dedicated polarity invert button in the Pro Tools mixer. While I can see the point being made by the people complaining, I have to say its really never bothered me that much. A trim plug-in inserted on a channel, or on a stereo track just instantiating a multichannel version of a plug-in, unlinking channels and inverting one side is all that you need. If you object to using an insert slot then invert using AudioSuite and “bake it in” using the Invert plug-in. Easy.

3. Blue Cat Gain For MS

Of all the free AAX plug-ins available, this is my absolute favourite, though I still don’t understand why it’s categorised under “Dynamics”. Of course it offers a useful workaround for a VCA like workflow for non HD users but the thing I use it for is the MS mode. While its interesting to construct an MS matrix using the Pro Tools mixer (see here for one I submitted in my pre PTE team days), for day-to-day use an MS plug-in is so useful it makes me wonder why one isn’t included as standard, I’d call it more of a priority than a phase button (sorry everyone).

4. Multi Mono Trim For Centering Stereo Material

There are dedicated plug ins for fixing stereo material which is tilted to one side but in most cases all that is needed is to adjust the relative levels of the two channels. Many people would adjust the balance control for the relevant channel of the stereo track but to my mind this is a messy way of fixing the problem. Using a multi-mono trim plug in you can trim or boost each channel independently (and invert one side if necessary). If the significance of multi-mono plug ins is lost on you, try this and you’ll see why they exist. Just Option/Alt click on the channel selector (top right, under the blue link button) to display both channels in separate windows and unlink.

5. 1 Band EQ For Split Processing

I’m looking forward to the release of Avid’s new multi band Pro Compressor, if it is as good as the existing Pro Compressor it will be great. I’m very interested to see whether the ability to solo bands of compression and null them to hear only the difference between the compressed and uncompressed signals will make me less wary of multi band compressors - I’ve always thought that a multi band compressor in the wrong hands is as dangerous as a loaded gun! In the absence of a stock multi band compressor plug-in I have in the past constructed a two band compressor using a combination of 1 band EQs and ordinary full range compressors. Not exactly beginner stuff I know, but lots of fun.