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Old 08-28-2013, 09:43 PM
Kenny Gioia Kenny Gioia is offline
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: New York, NY USA
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Default Pro Tools 11 Tips and Tricks - "Comping Vocals"

To celebrate my newest tutorial release “Pro Tools 11 Tips and Tricks”, I’m going to be writing out some of my favorite Tips and Tricks from the series. Hopefully adding a few per week here on the forums until they’re all eventually documented.

This first one is “Comping Vocals”. The idea of “comping” or “compiling” vocals is to record many takes or passes of our vocal tracks using “playlists” in Pro Tools. These can easily be switched on each track using the little tab to the right of our track names. Simply record a vocal pass, switch to another playlist and record another pass. Do this as many times as necessary until you think you have the best possible pieces or “takes” to work with. I tend to use between 4 and 8 takes for my method. But there’s no rules here.

Pro Tools added a playlist feature back in Pro Tools 8 for comping and while it’s a pretty good system, I, unfortunately, never use it. Here’s my issue with it. There’s simply no easy way to hear the takes we’re going to choose from, in “context”. In other words, as we move through the song picking out our choice takes, I want to hear the previous keeper line “flow” into our newer options. This is a huge deal for me and I assume is is for others as well. At least it should be.

The human brain can and will easily confuse a good take for a bad take (or vice versa) if it’s following a sub par performance option that will never even be in the final product. If it’s not going to be in the final comp, why are we listening to it?

Now we could “try” to use the playlist method to hear our options in context, but that will involve hitting the solo button exactly as the next take is coming up. Unfortunately, there’s a slight delay before Pro Tools reacts to switching audio tracks so it’s close to impossible to get this perfect. And more importantly, we’re supposed to be listening for a great vocal performance at that moment. Not trying to switch takes during the playback in perfect sync. It’s unusably distracting.

Before Pro Tools 8, I devised a system using the “voice stealing” option in Pro Tools HD. It used to allow us to choose just one voice for many tracks, and only the highest track (in order from top to bottom) would play. Unfortunately, this doesn’t exist in the Native versions of Pro Tools so I’ve come up with an equally useful workaround.

This method requires two tracks. One will be our “Comp” track and the other will be our “Takes” track. The “Takes” track should contain all of our takes but not be expanded to use the playlist feature. Just the standard “waveform” view should be used. The “Comp” track should be set up the same way. In fact, we should duplicate the “Takes” track so that the “Comp” track is exactly the same. Volume, pan, plugins, sends etc. But don’t duplicate the Active or Alternate playlists. Uncheck those boxes. We won’t need the audio to be duplicated. Just an empty track with all the same settings.

Next, we’ll place the Comp track right above the Takes track so that we can easily move the best pieces to the Comp track, as we find them. Now the problem with this method is that we’re going to hear both vocal tracks playing back at the same time. That’s not going to work. We need to find a way to make sure that we’re only our hearing our “Takes” track, in the sections where there’s no audio on our “Comp” track. When audio is present, the “Takes” track needs to be muted.

The solution to this is to use “Side-chain Compression”. On the Takes track, insert a compressor. It doesn’t really matter which one we choose although the free one in Pro Tools (Dyn 3) works really well. Create a new send on the Comp track and name it “Side-Chain”. Make this send “Pre-Fader” and set it’s volume to 0vu. Go to the compressor plugin and set the ratio to 100:1 (or the highest it goes), set the Threshold to the lowest possible setting and set the attack and release as fast as they go. Now set the side-chain input on the compressor to be our “Side-Chain” buss that we just created and make sure that we turn on the side-chain function on the compressor. This compressor is now triggered by the audio on the Comp track. Even though it’s on the Takes track and that’s the audio that will be affected by it.

With this in place, whenever the Comp track has an audio clip on it, it will compress the Takes track during that time period to such an extent that it will be effectively inaudible. When there is no audio clip on the Comp track, the compressor will do nothing because it’s not receiving any side-chain signal. So it’s not being triggered to compress anything. The Takes track will play back normally.

We can now listen to each playlist on our Takes track and choose the best pieces for each phrase, line or syllable and cut (or copy) them from the Take track and paste them to the Comp track. If we’re using “command focus” in the edit window (little a…z button in the upper right corner) we can use one key to perform each part of the operation. Select the phrase we like, hit “X” to cut (or “C” to copy) then hit “P” to move up a track and hit “V” to paste it to the Comp track.

Personally, I prefer to use “Cut” instead of “Copy”. It makes it easier to see which take we used (as it will be missing from the section on that playlist) and if we go back to re-comp a line or two, we won’t accidentally be picking the same line again. Also, if we decide to comp a double vocal for certain sections, we can use the unchosen takes to choose from and we won’t even see the keeper takes because they will have been cut out of their playlists. Pro Tools’ comping feature only allows us to use Copy. Not Cut.

As we work our way through the song, we will always be hearing the audio on the Comp track first, unless there’s no audio pasted there. On those sections it will revert to playing back our Takes track instead. So during the comping process, we will always be hearing our chosen pieces flow into the next section that we’re working on. We’re hearing our unchosen takes in context to what will be happening just before. Which is a keeper take.

When we’re finished and we’re happy with our Comp track as a keeper track, just remove (or de-activate) the “Side-chain” send from the Comp vocal track. We can leave the compressor on the Takes track as we don’t really need that track anymore. I usually “hide and deactivate” it so it’s out of our way but can be used again in case we change our mind or if we need to create double vocal tracks from the unchosen lines.

We should also go back and clean up all the transitions from all of the pieces (clips) on the Comp track by trimming and adding crossfades for all of them. Command + F (On the Mac) or Control + F (On the PC) will automatically add cross-fades for us.

And that’s pretty much it. We now have a great vocal track that has all the best pieces from all of the passes that our singer recorded. I hope you enjoyed reading this. I hope you learned something.

The video of this process is on my “Pro Tools 11 - Tips and Tricks” video and I’ll be adding more of these tips in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Thanks for your support.

Kenny Gioia
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Old 08-28-2013, 09:55 PM
Kenny Gioia Kenny Gioia is offline
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Default Re: Pro Tools 11 Tips and Tricks - "Comping Vocals"

Here is the previous "Sticky".

I replaced it with the above post because it explained it with much better detail.

Auditioning the 'next' phrase when Comping Tracks
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Old 08-28-2013, 10:44 PM
Dism Dism is offline
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Default Re: Pro Tools 11 Tips and Tricks - "Comping Vocals"

Great job, man!

When is the Kenny Gioia School of Rock opening?

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Old 08-28-2013, 10:47 PM
Kenny Gioia Kenny Gioia is offline
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Default Re: Pro Tools 11 Tips and Tricks - "Comping Vocals"

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Old 08-30-2013, 08:16 AM
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DonaldM DonaldM is offline
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Default Re: Pro Tools 11 Tips and Tricks - "Comping Vocals"

Thanks, Kenny! Great tip! I was just comping a vocal track 2 nights ago and trying to figure out how to hear the the choices in context! Now I know how..thanks!
"Never believe anything you hear in a song." Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones
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Old 08-30-2013, 04:07 PM
Kenny Gioia Kenny Gioia is offline
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Default Re: Pro Tools 11 Tips and Tricks - "Comping Vocals"

Just wanted to mention that Groove3 is running a Labor Day blowout sale this weekend and this title is only $25.

Get it while you can.

Labor Day Sale!!!!

Thanks for the support.
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Old 08-30-2013, 08:29 PM
Dizzi45Z Dizzi45Z is offline
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Default Re: Pro Tools 11 Tips and Tricks - "Comping Vocals"


Thanks for sharing this tip. I have been a fan of your videos for several years now and I admire your creativity for coming up with practical tips. Your videos are golden.

I just wanted to say that I think that Pro Tools should really consider improving both playlist management and comping workflows and improve them. While your method makes things better, it is still a workaround for something that Pro Tools should consider streamlining into the comping process. For example, I think Logic does a great job at this with their Quick Swipe (See this video for a demonstration)

Logic Also automatically packs multiple takes automatically in a semi-neat way without having to constantly be switching playlists. I wish there was a mode where Pro Tools would do this.

For me, I have been in the search for a neat way to take multiple takes in Pro Tools without creating a million Playlists that have the same take(s) on many different playlists. If you simply just create a new playlist, then you won't be able to punch in from what you already have recorded. If you duplicate the playlist, then all of the current audio clips you have on your track will now be on yet another playlist which can make things complicated when it is time to comp. It would usually take an extra 5 -10 minutes for me to go through and delete all of the duplicates across playlists and sometimes I would accidentally think something was a duplicate even though I understood the numbering system.

After trying tons and tons of methods, I think I have a solution that is the best for now. Pro Tools: Best Workflow for Recording Multiple Takes This method also colors your takes so that if you did decide to comp in the playlist view, you could easily see what take is from what playlist.

My point is that I think Pro Tools could and should improve things in these areas.
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Old 08-30-2013, 10:44 PM
Kenny Gioia Kenny Gioia is offline
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Default Re: Pro Tools 11 Tips and Tricks - "Comping Vocals"

I agree completely.

I also like the way Reaper does it simply because you can do everything with key commands.

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Old 09-04-2013, 05:38 AM
Carl Kolchak Carl Kolchak is offline
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Default Re: Pro Tools 11 Tips and Tricks - "Comping Vocals"

I really don't understand why Avid haven't yet refined "playlists view" mode, in order to make it practical.

The current implemetation is a great starting point, and all they really need to do is one of two things - though I think if the did both, everyone's workflow would be accomodated :

1. Whenever there is a "hole" / or "holes" in the main playlist, audio from the next playlist is heard. If there are holes in that playlist, audio from the subsequent playlist is heard through those holes, and so on (here's a crude diagram *) :

Main Playlist iii-------iiiiiiii ------------iiiiiiiii -----------
Sub Playlist 1 -------------------iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii -------
Sub Playlist 2 ---------------------------------------

The advantage of this first option is that it is very practical and robust. The disadvantage is that it could become a bit of a juggling act triming the holes in the various layers on the fly - though no more so than any other type of rough editing, bearing in mind that you are going to go in an clean up the edits.

2. With "Link Edit & Timeline Selection" switched off, you should be able to play a Timeline selection on your main playlist, but any edit selection on a subsequent playlist should be heard, having priority over the material on the main playlist. This allows you to rapidly make selections on the fly, and use Command Focus mode to navigate precisely between playlists, with the priority audio coming from whichever playlist is highlighted / selected at any given moment (here's another crude diagram **).

Main Playlist (timeline selection) ------[----------------------]---------
Sub Playlist 1 iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii---------------------------------------
Sub Playlist 2 (edit selection) iiiiii----------------{-----}---------------

The advantage of this second option is that it is faster and more fexible on the fly. The disadvantage is that you can obviously only make one edit selection at a time.

In either case, any material "promoted" to the main playlist would have to be automatically cut by Pro Tools, rather than just copied (though perhaps if it were seperated, and made inactive, that would be the best of both worlds).

Kenny, you're a Moderator... run this up the flagpole, and see what Avid can do about it.


* not the sexy kind

** again, not the sexy kind (sorry)
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Old 09-04-2013, 08:58 AM
Kenny Gioia Kenny Gioia is offline
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Default Re: Pro Tools 11 Tips and Tricks - "Comping Vocals"

#2 is very similar to how Reaper does it.

By clicking a take, it's color gets darker and that's the one that plays. No moving anything around or promoting.

When it's done, you either save the "comp" or creat a new playlist that matches what you chose.

But in Reaper, they're not on playlists so it's not as flexible.

Combining the best of both would be perfect IMHO.

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