Zen of Recording

Getting One’s Learn On

“Ya learn sumpin’ new every day!” said the mechanic, wiping the sleeve of his grease smeared coveralls across his equally soiled forehead.

I watched as he negotiated just how exactly to close the slightly crumpled hood of my ’95 Ford Aspire and thought a bit more about those words. Sure, it’s pretty much just one of those colloquialisms that lose impact and meaning over time, like “Have a nice day.” or “Don’t let the bedbugs bite,” but it still left me thinking as I drove away: Do I? Shouldn’t I?

One of the things I love about writing this column is, in fact, the opportunity to learn new products and technologies through the process of reviewing them. Each new product presents itself as another potential tool in my chest, another option to explore when experiencing technical difficulties or navigating through a creative impasse. Perhaps this is why I use not just one or two programs, but several, often during the same session! I like to track and edit in Sony Vegas. I switch over to Presonus Studio One for MIDI and virtual instruments, as well as take advantage of its tempo matching functions for loops and effects. I open audio in Celemony Melodyne for surgical solutions to pitch and time. I often master using IK Multimedia’s T-Racks, my main audio editor is Sound Forge and CD Architect burns it all to CDs. That’s six different programs that come into play on a near daily basis.

The most notable program that until recently I had never really used on any basis was ProTools. Many of the reasons for this have already been well covered in an article I wrote several years ago titled “Why I Hate ProTools.” In short, I have avoided it like the plague. However, a majority of recordists are now using ProTools at home studios as well as major commercial facilities. After turning away several potential clients who wanted their work delivered exclusively in the ProTools format, I began to question the wisdom of such an inflexible policy.

One chronic obstacle was that unlike other audio programs, ProTools required proprietary hardware be purchased along with the software just to run it. With the release of Version 9, PT finally “cut the cord” from the hardware, making the software application available to all audio users.

The only remaining challenges, then, lie in just how different working within ProTools would be, compared to my current setup and how easily it could be integrated into my production workflow. I needed not only hands-on experience with ProTools, but also a guide…a well-informed expert to lead me through the bowels of the software’s functionality, answer my myriad questions, hypothetical situations, and other digressions, and just plain get me to a point where I can do what I need to do!

The Recording Arts Center (www.tracsd.com) at Rancho Bernardo’s Studio West is a school for audio engineering and production that offers several courses as part of its 904 class-hour Occupational Associate Degree (OAS) program. As many of these are ProTools-centric, there are several additional classes with more narrowly focused areas of instruction. The TRAC Certificate of Completion Packages include, for example, the Music Creation Package, which provides instruction in Audio Recording Techniques, ProTools 101, Signal Processing with Waves, and The Art of Mixing.

I attended classes for the ProTools Operator Certification Package, which is made up of four courses: ProTools 101, ProTools 110, ProTools 201, and ProTools 210m. Each course runs for five straight four and a half-hour days, with official Avid certification testing at its conclusion.

101 brings you gently into the ProTools experience, introducing essential concepts like making audio and MIDI recordings, basic editing techniques, and introductions to mixing, loops, and working with plug-in effects.

110 gets into configuring and routing MIDI, hardware settings, using virtual instruments, grouping, looping, and using RTAS plug-ins.

201 delves even more deeply into things like audio buffers, file management, TDM processing, and the Smart Tool (a personal fave), as well as introductions to keyboard shortcuts and automation.
210m: Music Production Techniques is really the class that turns up the “fun meter” with more “real-world”-type stuff, like comping multiple takes using playlists, in-depth Beat Detective coverage, sampling, sound replacement, arranging, advanced mixing and automation, and a more thorough investigation of the time and sanity-saving ProTools keyboard shortcuts.

My personal experience was actually quite gratifying and a lot of fun! Every course was laid out quite intuitively and each moves along at an invigorating pace, yet each instructor made themselves available to every question and insight, so that the actual learning experience was as organic as it was well-organized. That direct one-on-one communication that I feel is so crucial to gaining a clear perspective and really retain what’s being learned was always abundant and available.

As the program continues, its pace seems to quicken along with your comfort level within ProTools. By the end of the 210m course it almost felt like a dead run! This is to say that a bit of homework and a lot of focused concentration on each student’s part is required to keep pace and truly get the most from these courses but really, that’s the case with any educational endeavor, is it not?

Considering my years of recording experience, I was pleasantly surprised that in addition to the knowledge gleaned specific to ProTools, there were lots of little tips, tricks and techniques I picked up along the way as well. These will undoubtedly apply to my day-to-day work, regardless of what software I’m using.
For those serious about a career in recording or those who desire to master the industry standard tools required to create high-quality, professional-sounding recordings, I highly recommend calling the Recording Arts Center at Studio West (858-592-0556).

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to back to my homework!

Sven-Erik Seaholm is an award-winning independent record producer (www.kaspro.com). He performs at the Songwriters Acoustic Nights Third Anniversary Concert on November 20th at Swedenborg Hall with Gregory Page, Robin Henkel, and LA wunderkind Brad Carter. And yes, Sven does ProTools!

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