NAMM 2015: Music Creation, Collaboration and Avid Everywhere

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Holy smokes it’s 2015, happy new year to you! If you’re a musician, artist, engineer or producer, there’s a date in January that is likely marked on your calendar that says ‘must go to NAMM.’ Those attending go to see what’s happening in the industry, what ground breaking innovations and new workflows are emerging, and to check out new gear while catching up with old friends. This year’s show is sure to not disappoint!

This will be my 20th NAMM with Avid (wow – time really flies!) and every year seems to bring bigger leaps forward in technology and what we collectively can do to create, record, edit and mix music. This year, I’m even more excited than usual to attend the show…and not just as the Avid pro audio and pro mixing marketing guy working the show, but also as a musician/artist/producer of my own music.

Recently, I’ve been having a ton of fun re-doing and re-recording some of my older ‘hard rock’ songs that I originally wrote, recorded and engineered in 1990 with my old band on a friends analog Fostex 16 Track ½” deck and a TAC Scorpion analog console. It amazes me to think that 25 years later, I own a Pro Tools HD Native rig with 256 tracks and a new Pro Tools | S3 touch sensitive/motorized fader console (a powerhouse home studio). I’m collaborating with some of my very talented Avid colleagues around the U.S. to do so: Dana the Drummer is in Boston, Chris the Lead Guitarist is in Chicago, Gil the Bass Player is in Orlando, I’m in Los Angeles playing rhythm guitar/editing/mixing and finally a friend referred a fantastic singer (the only non-Avid member) who is also in Los Angeles named Rama Duke, (but likely a few hours away in traffic!). We’ve all been sharing Pro Tools sessions, stems and audio files over email/DropBox to create and build the songs—an absolutely un-imagined workflow compared to the 1990 BI (Before Internet!) analog gear in a non-heated old garage in my old hometown of Buffalo, NY.

NAMM 2015: Music Creation, Collaboration and Avid Everywhere

Your author in the studio 1990 - double exposure self portrait on analog film!

My Pro Tools | S3 and HD Native rig 2015

Even with this incredible technology, it’s still a fairly slow and tedious way to collaborate, me being the focal point and aggregator of all the files and versions. But, come to NAMM and see how this will all be improving with the Avid Everywhere vision for audio in 2015. Visiting Avid at NAMM this year you’ll learn how to create, collaborate, and be heard!

So what does the current collaboration workflow look like? Well, two of the most amazing features in Pro Tools that allow moving and sharing sessions around are called Save Session Copy In and Import Session Data. “Save Session Copy In” is focused on simplifying and collecting media to put in one place (to easily .ZIP and send someone). Let me run through the steps and process currently that I followed:

Step 1

Create your tracks: (in my case, temporary MIDI Drums using EZ Drummer, ‘keeper’ rhythm Guitar using my guitar DI’d into the OMNI and the amp simulator Eleven plug-in, temporary scratch Bass guitar also DI’d). I also used Memory Locators to show where the Intro, Verse, Pre-Chorus and Chorus sections are and also included a stereo copy of the original 1990 demo recording. Save your session as “Song Name – V1”.

Step 2

Next, Solo each major group (Drums, Bass and then Guitars) and offline bounce each version (with effects) as a stereo stem audio file. Be sure to check “Import after bounce” – this brings the bounced stem back into your session. Making stems is the best way to send your collaborators all that they need to add their parts (and they don’t need to have the same plug-ins you do). They can adjust levels for their headphone mix without any fuss. You likely won’t be using the stems after that for your final mix purposes.**

Step 3

With the stems imported as new tracks – File>”Save Session As” – a new name: “Song Name – V1 STEMS” and delete all the other tracks except the demo and the stems. This keeps in tact the full, flexible version of the song for you in the other session, but allows you to prep a smaller, new version to send your collaborators with the stems, bar and beat grid and memory locations. Even though you’ve deleted the tracks, the files are still tied to the session in the clip bin. You can remove them by using the small menu in the clip bin and selecting “Select Unused Audio Files” and then choosing to “remove” them – do not delete them from the hard drive! Just remove them from the new stem session. **

Step 4

Now – you are ready to package the new session up into a nice, neat location and that’s where “Save Session Copy In” comes in. “Save Session Copy In” let’s you point to a new drive or location and copy everything that makes this a session into a new place. By selecting to copy the audio files (and movie files if you have them) and choosing save, you now have copied the stems and the Pro Tools Session document into a single location. This avoids you having to manually find all of the matching files and is a big time saver.**

Step 5

The next step is to .ZIP compress that single folder up and upload to DropBox or other sharing service. If you skip this step, the Internet may cause some issues with the session file. My zipped file was roughly 300MB. Once uploaded, you now need to email a link to your collaborators.**

In the clip bin - select unused clips and remove

Step 6

Your collaborators then download the .ZIP, and record their new parts. To do so – they likely would want to import in their customized, pre-named tracking setup into your stem session. (My drummer being the most elaborate and complicated setup with over 20 channels). This is done with File>”Import Session Data” in Pro Tools. It’s a fast and easy way to combine sessions or pieces of sessions that you choose.

Step 7

Once they are done recording – they would repeat steps #3–6 to delete the stems I sent them and only send me the new tracks they’ve created.**

Step 8

Back on my side – I would then download their new .ZIP file and “Import Session Data” the new files, tracks, plug-in settings into my master session “Song Name – V1”. I usually choose to ‘copy the audio files’ so they are copied to the same location as my other master files. I have to do this step for each contributing collaborator. **

Step 9

At various points in the process – I also use “Save Session Copy In” again to make an archive version that is stored on a separate hard drive in case of a data loss or hard drive failure and or for longer term archive.**

**All of this process with the double asterisk listed above will be vastly improved, streamlined and enhanced in 2015 by the Avid Everywhere audio releases for Pro Tools. I for one, can’t wait. Want to learn more? Visit us at NAMM 2015 (Booth 6400) or tune-in to our updates on Avid Blogs for more information on Day 1 of the show! Hope to see you there!

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Marketing manager for Avid Post Audio and Pro Mixing, I am also a veteran engineer/recordist/editor. I've worked on music scores for dozens of feature films, including Ice Age, Collateral, and The Spirit.