Commit in Pro Tools—Bridging the Gap from Writing to Mixing and Arranging

By in Music Creation, Pro Mixing

Hi everyone, this is Connor Sexton. I’m a product designer on the Pro Tools team and I’m very excited to bring some insight and workflow discussion to Avid Blogs for one of the rendering features we’ve delivered since launching Pro Tools 12: Commit.

 

Why Commit?

I can’t say I remember bouncing down tracks on tape. I grew up with trackers and DAWs and only had some classroom time and a few tape-only sessions as an assistant to get the picture, taste the evolution, hear legend of ops who could cut in single track edits on 2-inch. I caught enough to be compelled by the principle that limitations inspire creativity and ingenuity. “We’ve only got 4 tracks” didn’t mean “we’d better stop there” for the Beatles and their contemporaries, it meant “let’s make some decisions and move on.” Practical, effective, and decisive production, or maybe just that good old necessity, maternal as she is. Getting a bit dramatic here, but I think it’s important to convey that we consider the backdrop when deciding what a feature should do, and what it means for workflow. We’re not so limited today, not like our all-analog predecessors and like what many of those still in the game first came up on. So it’s not just about a quick way to free up resources, it’s about providing a solid transition from one stage of work to the next, speeding up existing workflows, and opening doors to new ones.

Commit is Bounce to Disk with a razor blade and splicing tape, rendering direct-out audio on a track by track basis and setting up new tracks to continue work from. Freeze, which we’ll talk some more about in a future post, and Commit are very complimentary workflows but we wanted to start by delivering what we believe brings the most power and flexibility to the table. Where Freeze primarily solves the “free up resources” problem and reduces system delay, Commit bridges the gap from writing to mixing and arranging, and from final mix to delivery or archival, and has already been saving Pro Tools users hours of time. As a reminder, here’s the feature set at a high level from the 12.3 Release Notes :

 

  • Commit runs an on or offline bounce of post Plug-In audio from selected Instrument, Aux Input, MIDI*, or Audio Tracks and automatically drops rendered audio “in place” on a new Audio Track. (*MIDI tracks can only be committed if they feed a Virtual Instrument or other internal MIDI node)
  • Commit up to any point in the plug-in processing chain so that only certain inserts are processed into the rendered audio and others are copied as-is to the committed track
  • Commit a specific edit selection or entire tracks from first clip to the last processed sample
  • Optionally commit a single consolidated file or process clip by clip with auto-tail logic to extend clip boundaries only as long as needed to capture signal above -144 dBFS
  • Optionally render in Pan and/or Volume and Mute automation when committing audio to create pre- or post-fader and pre- or post-pan renders
  • Optionally copy Sends and Group assignments to committed tracks
  • Source track options allow the source tracks of a commit operation to be Hidden and Made Inactive, just Made Inactive, Deleted, or kept active.
  • Easily commit all used outputs of a multi-out virtual instrument with intelligent detection of all tracks receiving the split audio signals
  • Midi clips can be dragged from an Instrument track to an Audio track of the same width (i.e. Stereo Instrument to Stereo Audio) to automatically render a recorded MIDI performance to audio

 

There’s a lot here. Let’s peek under the hood a little bit and then we will explore operation.

Bit-Depth and Accuracy

First things first: It all has to sound right. Since Pro Tools 10 we’ve had a 32-bit floating point mix engine, which translates to practically endless internal headroom and heralded simplicity in gain staging workflow and sound quality. Yet, we mostly work in 24-bit when it comes to the recorded file and we’re primarily printing down audio at “the end” of the signal flow, where we’re more careful about returning to fewer-bit domains. Now with Commit you may be rendering a track pre-fader right from the source where a 24-bit file would clip. To avoid this, Commit defaults to print 32-bit audio files, preserving a what-you-hear-is-what-you-get experience. If you have to enforce a particular format there is a new Pro Tools preference in the Processing tab where you’ll see the 32-bit default and an option to follow the session format.

Then, you should be able to flip your committed tracks against the source and expect cancellation. It won’t be news to those who have done their on- or offline bounce homework, but the only time we can’t totally cancel is if there are non-deterministic modulations in signal processing like oscillating filters or shifting delays that are “run” by plug-in algorithms from a starting point whenever you start the transport. Virtual Instrument features like round-robin sample allocation, or other intentional randomization or humanization in an instrument plug-in create the same effect. All of that applies to Commit as well so if it cancels via normal bounce it will cancel with commit.

 

Clip Handling

The next piece of the puzzle is getting the right length clips out the other side of a render feature like Commit. Depending on your source material and signal processing, we will either

A) simply maintain clip boundaries for sparse clips, or

B) make correct new ones by determining

1) when we’ve reached sample silence or

2) a minute passes with signal above silence but no new samples to process

     Whichever comes first. Then, we trim to that cut off point.

We will also preserve source clip names whenever we can, unless we have to merge clips in which case the first clip name is used for the whole clip. We also allow committing of Aux tracks which of course have no local clip information. To accommodate, we pass clip boundary information in the same direction signal flows and use that data from the complete set of tracks feeding the Aux, through any amount of submasters, to know where to start and end. This includes MIDI clips feeding an Instrument on an Aux track. All of this then interacts with whether you are committing entire tracks or just an edit selection and consolidating or not. Let’s look at some examples of this. The original clips will appear in yellow and the clips on the committed track will appear in blue.

1. Notice on this lead vocal how the muted clips and internal clip boundaries are ignored

2. Here you’ll see a selection-based commit of an aux track fed by a set of background vocals. The selection remains on the original aux track to indicate in and out points. Note how the committed track uses clip boundary information from all of the source tracks feeding to aux to know when to render.

So between bounce accuracy and clip handling the results you’ve seen from Commit should be making even more sense now.

 

Basic Operation

The following sections cover the fundamentals of the Commit operation.

 

Commit Type – You will either be committing Selected Tracks or Edit Selection. Using Selected Tracks will Commit from the the first clip to last sample length of any active Audio, Instrument, Aux, or VI-bound MIDI tracks in the current track selection. Edit Selection will do the same but for whatever committable tracks fall within the edit selection and for only the duration of that selection. Edit Selection is a perfect way to surgically extract individual parts of one or more tracks. You could extract clean 4 bar loops, individual syllables, or commit stems for just one reel in a 6 reel super session.  Edit Selection also works with the Object Grabber to select intermittent clips across the timeline and only commit those elements.

Accessing Commit – If you enter Commit from the Track Menu or by right clicking the track name plate we default to Track Selection. If you right click on an edit selection to start Commit, we default to Edit Selection. If you take your hands off the keyboard as little as humanly possible, Shift+Alt+C will bring up the dialog, which defaults to the last used Commit type. We also provide some navigation of the dialog via Cmd+Up and Down (Ctrl for Win) to switch between Selected Tracks and Edit Selection and Cmd+Left and Right to navigate the Source Tracks menu.

Consolidate – With the rules I mentioned earlier about clip handling in mind, use the consolidate option to merge sparse clips from the first clip to the last processed audio sample when committing an entire track. When used with an Edit Selection commit, we’ll render the entire length of the selection instead of just going clip by clip through that same amount of time. Consolidate is also an important tool for forcing a render during a period of time when there is no local clip information feeding an Aux which may be the case when using ReWire in certain configurations.

Rendering Automation – The options to render Volume and Mute, and Pan automation amount to interleaved render pick off points. Post Elastic Audio, Clip Gain, HEAT (if it’s pre-insert), and Inserts, these two options allow you to bake in fader and mute automation, easily create a track and file that matches the track output width with rendered pan, or do both at once.  If you choose not to render these parameters, we copy them over to the new track.

 

Optional Track Data Copied – We always copy over some core track data, make sure to see the What’s New in 12.3 Guide  for a full list. Optional, but on by default, are the options to copy Sends and Group Assignments. Sends is kind of no brainer to leave on (think fx returns or Cue sends) but sometimes you may want to just quickly double up a dry version of an element for different panning or other processing while the original stays active and is sent to an fx return. Group Assignments offer some great workflows including the basic need for committed tracks to still slave to the same VCA. You could also set up edit groups with single tracks in them so that, once committed, both the source and the committed track are edited identically in case you want to return to the source track later to tweak processing but have your edits kept all along.  Some important things to know:

  • We cannot always copy sends depending on your render options. We’ll notify you before the commit that we will not be able to keep your sends on the new track if:
    • Pan automation is rendered resulting in a width change and FMP is not engaged
    • Volume automation is rendered and the send is set to Pre Fader
  • Also, rendering pan automation for a mono track will always cause a track and file of a greater width to be created depending on the width of the bus you’re panning to.

 

Source Track Options – As part of the commit operation you can cause your source track to be hidden and made inactive, just made inactive, deleted entirely, or left completely alone. In any of these cases, the commit operation is undoable, allowing you to restore the source track as it was and remove the resulting tracks if you want to change settings.

 

Commit to Insert – By right clicking on an insert on a track and choosing “Commit Up to This Insert,” you will invoke the commit dialog with virtually all the same options but during the render, any plug-ins after the insert you’ve chosen will be made inactive. When the render completes and Pro Tools is setting up your new track, all the plug-ins that were deactivated during the render will be copied over to the new track along with any plug-in automation. The only option that is prohibited during Commit to Insert is the rendering of Pan automation as this would almost always cause the track width to change, preventing inserts from being moved. Commit to insert will work across multiple tracks simultaneously if you use the do-to-selected modifier while invoking the command.

 

Multi-output Plug-ins – If you are running the commit operation on a track hosting a VI with one or more plug-in auxiliary output stems in use, we will begin the operation with a dialog asking if you want the operation to apply to all dependent tracks or not. If you choose Yes, we’ll automatically run the commit with your chosen settings on all tracks that receive signal from the plug-in. This makes complete audio renders of a fully split out VI drum kit as easy as a few mouse clicks

 

Drag and Drop MIDI – This one automatically renders volume/mute and pan since it doesn’t invoke an options window, but you literally just drag and drop MIDI to an audio track. Just make sure they are matching width.

 

Workflows

So what does this all amount to? Some of the most exciting parts of this are probably obvious, but here are some nice tricks to try in addition to the basic. Click on each section header to watch a video demonstration.

Quick Click  – An easy starter, Commit makes it easy to render a plug-in based Click Track into movable editable audio. Simply make an edit selection on your click track for as long as you want your file to be, right click the edit selection, and choose Commit. Tempo changes, meter changes, and all, out comes your metronome. In this case you might even use the Delete source track option, completely replacing the plug-in click track with an audio one.

Commit a Multi-output Drum Kit VI up to Insert  – As you’ve been refining your multi-out drum kit setup you’ve undoubtedly added specific processing to many kit pieces on top of the core filtering and surgery work of a Channel Strip or other go to army knife plug-ins. You’ve got the parts right from the MIDI side and are ready to be done with the Instrument tracks and note views, but you want to keep the specific sweetening virtual to modify as the mix evolves. So Commit the whole kit up to an insert. The easiest way is to just right click on the insert on the VI host track you want all tracks committed to and choose “Commit Up to This Insert.” This will prompt you if you want to commit all dependent tracks or not. Choose yes and all of the dependent tracks will be committed up to the chosen insert. You can also Select all the tracks you want to commit and, using the Shift+alt do to selected modifier, right click an insert in the index you want all tracks to be committed up to and through.

Reverse Reverb or Delay Tails  – It’s never been easier to do this. On the Aux Track that’s returning the delayed or reverberated signal, make and edit selection that will capture the principle and the tail you want and Commit Edit Selection with the Do Nothing source track option. Select the committed audio and Audiosuite > Reverse.

Stems and Printmasters  – If you have multiple reels or spots within a single session we have an interesting way for you to get exact length deliverables on each stem and master for every spot or reel in a single pass. Because Aux’s look for clip boundaries all the way back through the signal chain, you can set up a dummy “boundaries” track with exact length clips for the duration of each set of program material. The best way to make the clips is to select the exact duration of the clip on the boundaries track and make a clip group. This won’t take up any space like a consolidated audio file would, plays back absolute silence, and because it’s a clip group, can be trimmed to any length. If the program length changes and you’ve used a clip group, just trim to match. Then, mult the output of this “boundaries” track to each stem’s master bus. In essence you’ve just made a container for all of the sparse material passing through that bus that will be used as start and end time for that reel or spot. Set this up once in the signal flow, and do a dummy clip for each spot or reel, then you can select the Aux tracks that are receiving all of the stems, as well as the master Aux and Commit Selected Tracks. In a single pass you will have rendered out perfect length stems and printmasters for each piece.

Hardware Inserts  – An extremely effective and time-saving use of Commit is to render out audio for any and all tracks in a session that are passing through hardware inserts. When committing a track with Hardware Inserts the offline option is unavailable because as much as we’d love to find a way, we can’t process digital audio through analog hardware faster than real time. At the end of any mix session you could commit all tracks for archival or delivery. One song-length commit pass is all you will need to have individually printed tracks. Or, If you’re just wrapping up a mix day and need to have a reference clip to use as an AB to validate your outboard recall, just commit a sufficient edit selection across all necessary tracks.

MIDI Tracks  – Committing MIDI tracks works a little differently than the other track types, which all directly pass audio. Committing MIDI tracks is most effective when used with a VI that is playing multiple parts but is not split part by part in a multi-output workflow. Instead of a one-to-one “tracks in” to “tracks out” ratio, we trace forward to the track that’s being triggered by the MIDI but effectively solo selected MIDI tracks to only perform those parts through the instrument during the render. For instance with a single VI loaded with patches to perform a string quartet and a MIDI track for each instrument, you could easily select the two violin MIDI tracks and commit them to render a single file of just the violins without the viola or cello.

That’s all for now. We hope you’re enjoying this feature and would love to hear in the comments how you’ve been using Commit and Freeze. We’ll be back soon to talk about Freeze and the Shared as Frozen workflow it enables in the Cloud Collaboration feature.

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As a designer on the Pro Tools product team I work to make sure our software becomes and remains your DAW of choice. I have an extensive professional background using and supporting pro audio tools from the backpack studio to the dub stage and a passion for sound art and technology.