Top 5 Reasons Film Composers Love Pro Tools

By in Audio Post, Music Creation, Pro Mixing

Hi! I’m Hal Rosenfeld: equal parts drummer/percussionist and composer/orchestrator/producer from South Florida, living in Los Angeles. I’ve been very fortunate to be apart of some fun projects such as “The Greatest Showman,” “Zombieland: Double Tap,”  “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” “The Sun is Also a Star,” “The Daytime Emmy Awards,” and most recently FX’s “Fosse/Verdon” (alongside Alex Lacamoire). 

As a film composer, there are certain key features in Pro Tools that I find just indispensable. From working with MIDI and video to importing session data and conforming to changes, these are the top 5 reasons I love Pro Tools.

 

“Grid Independence”

This is a term I use to describe being able to have your Edit window set to display a particular grid value (let’s say quarter notes) while also having the ability to set your MIDI Editor to an entirely different value simultaneously (such as eighth-note triplets). Because I’m constantly worrying about more than one rushed task at a time, I have my MIDI Editor open on one screen and my edit window on another. Having “Grid Independence” makes it so easy for me to work fast: adjusting MIDI on a triplet grid while also working out audio/MIDI region edits locked to a quarter note grid. It’s quite shocking that almost no other DAW has this capability. Huge time-saver, and much easier on the eyes!

The Timeline

Working with film is an entirely different beast when it comes to setting up a “virtual workspace,” or canvas to create. Pro Tools makes it effortless to work in a variety of scenarios, whether it be records, film, TV, or post-production audio. Since I host video/picture inside Pro Tools when I’m scoring (so do the majority of other film composers… even those using other sequencing software), I like to see the entire video clip in relation to the scene I’m working on. Setting your “Bar 1/Song Start” in the middle of a video clip in Pro Tools without having to edit/trim the video? Three clicks (maybe two, if you have a macro shortcut). Doing this same task in any other DAW? Welp… the milk I left out on my kitchen counter probably expired by the time I figured it out.

Inserting and cutting time is incredibly intuitive. Not only does this help the creative process move along (“Oof, I don’t need this eight-bar section anymore… done!”), but when video edits are changing by the day or hour, the “conforming” process is quite a breeze in Pro Tools: re-jiggering your music to a new edit of a scene; a few seconds added here, a bunch of frames cut there, music starts 17 seconds later…have I mentioned how easy it is to move your entire piece of music up and down the timeline?!

Automation

Pro Tools does a great job with user interface. It’s actually logical and simple. The ability to view and edit multiple automation lanes—not to mention you can save you preferred layout as a “Window Configuration”—is marvelous. Pro Tools not only comes in clutch matching your MIDI notes to your track color, but executes your automation exactly how you intended; no hang-ups or stutters. And last but not least, viewing multiple selected MIDI regions in the MIDI editor isn’t stress-inducing. A definite weak-point in other software.

“Import Session Data” & “Match Tracks”

This is an absolute game changer, life saver, and essential part of my workflow (and any other fellow Pro Tools user I know and love). In the media scoring world, the likelihood of a very condensed work schedule/timeframe is high. Something that media composers do to enhance their hastened workflow is compose suites, themes, and ideas that can be referenced, pulled from, and rearranged as those particular scenes come up in a project (for example: a love theme, or motif for two of our main characters.) “Import Session Data” and “Match Tracks” comes in super handy when I’m pulling in material from other music I’ve written for a project, creating tempo maps, preparing Pro Tools sessions for recording, bringing in recorded material from the aforementioned recording session files, etc., etc., etc. This is about as vital as brushing your teeth (but to be clear, dental care is most vital).

 

Pro Tools Treats MIDI Like Audio

Pro Tools is highly acclaimed for the way it handles audio. I personally love how this carries over to MIDI. You can utilize the same tools and tricks, which allows for flexibility and mental ease when editing and dealing with MIDI. Some of my favorites: “Tab to Transient”, “TCE Tool” (time stretching), “consolidate” (the good ol’ option/alt+shift+3), pencil tool, chopping, and… BACKWARDS DUPLICATING (control+option/alt+command+click a region. This trick will absolutely impress all of your friends and family).

Bonus: Key Commands

Whenever you touch a Pro Tools rig, you know exactly what you’re stepping into. The universal key commands are a wonderful thing. Not only the “greatest hits” (command+E to edit, command+D to duplicate, F for fade, A and S to chop, D and G for fade in/out), but the new MIDI commands are extremely useful:

 

↑/↓ to move a MIDI note up or down by a semi-tone,

shift+↑/↓ to jump up/down octave,

control+↑/↓ to move diatonically in the key to which your session is set to,

option/alt+↑/↓ to duplicate a note up/down a semi-tone, and

control+option/alt+↑/↓ to duplicate a note up/down diatonically.

 

Did I forget to mention the “Cascade Inputs/Outputs” feature (select more than one track of the same type, shift+option/alt+command+select an input/output)? Crucial for routing (GIF below)!

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Hal Rosenfeld is a composer, arranger, orchestrator, and Grammy award-winning drummer/percussionist, whose work can be heard in over 70 films, television shows, and video games. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he once made prolonged eye contact with Emma Watson at a party.