Multiple ways of creating more "space" at the start of a session to allow adding new material to the beginning of a per-existing recording
By Phil O'Keefe
Here's a question that comes up often enough on the forums and in email inquiries that I think it deserves a quick how-to article. Suppose you've created a session in Pro Tools, and started recording right at "0" (or 1| 1| 000) on the timeline, but later you decide the song would sound great with a new introduction added to it. But since you started at 0 on the timeline, there isn't any physical "space" to insert the new intro into. How do you "add space" to the beginning of the session?
There's frequently more than one way to accomplish a task with a DAW program, and this one is no exception. If you're in a hurry, you can go to the Setup menu, select Session, and change the session's start time in the Session Start box. But if you're relatively new to Pro Tools, an alternative approach may be a better idea, because it's going to give you an opportunity to become familiar with some tools you'll be using on a regular basis. This article will walk you through those steps and introduce you to a few of those tools and time-saving keyboard shortcuts.
OPEN YOUR SONG IN PRO TOOLS, THEN...
Pull up the Edit screen. That's the one with the waveform displays. If you're on the Mix (mixer) window, you can toggle over to the Edit window by pressing Control / +. In other words, press and hold the Control key down on your keyboard, then while holding that, press the "+ ("=") key, located right below your F (function) keys. For you Mac users, the keyboard shortcut is Command / + (Command key, plus the + key). Each time you do, the display will toggle between the two main screens in Pro Tools. It will NOT work if you try to use the "+" key on your calculator keypad on the right side of your keyboard.
Once you have the Edit screen displayed, you need to get your Groups displayed. They may be visible already, but just in case they aren't, have a look at the screenshot in Figure 1. The oval in the lower left hand corner is where you need to click to display (or hide) the Track list and the Groups. Try clicking on that spot a few times and you'll see what I mean.
Figure 1: Click where indicated by the red arrow to reveal the Track and Groups Lists. (Click on images to enlarge)
Once you have clicked there, you should be able to see the Track list as well as the Groups. I've used an arrow to show the location of the Groups. "All" is a default Group category, and all you need to do to select it is to click on it. Once you do, it will be highlighted, any edits or changes will affect ALL tracks, not just individual ones.
Figure 2: Selecting the "All" group will enable you to edit all tracks simultaneously.
A quick keyboard shortcut for enabling or disabling the Groups (so that you can edit a single track within the group without affecting others, or so you can go back to editing all items in the group together) is Control / Shift / G. Hold down the Control key, and the Shift key and the G key all together. Mac users, use Command / Shift / G. If you add a new key to the combination one at a time - hold the control key down, add shift and hold both, then add the G key) it works fine, or you can depress all three simultaneously - just as long as all three get held down together for a moment, it will work. Each time you repeat that keyboard shortcut, it will toggle between groups active, and groups disabled (greyed out). To create a new group, use Control / G. If you're a Mac user, hitting Command / G will do the same thing for you. Groups are a fantastic way of editing multiple tracks, such as a multitrack drum kit recording or multiple tracks of background vocals simultaneously. Get into the habit of using them, and you'll save a ton of time when working in Pro Tools.
The next thing we're going to want to do is put Pro Tools into Grid mode so we can move the tracks accurately. To put Pro Tools into Grid mode (where all movement of tracks and events is done based on the Edit Grid), the easiest way, and the one I use regularly, is a keyboard shortcut; Just press the F4 key. Want to go back to "Slip" mode in a hurry? Just hit the F2 key. Alternatively, you can use your mouse and click on the Grid box -- which I have indicated with the red arrow on the LEFT side in the following image (Figure 3):
Figure 3: The arrow on the left indicates the program is in Grid Mode, while the one on the right shows the location of the Grid Value ("grid size") box.
See the red arrow on the right side of the image in Figure 3? That's the box for selecting the Grid size. In the picture, it is set for a quarter note. By clicking anywhere to the right of the word "Grid" within that indicated box, you will see a drop-down menu that will allow you to change the subdivisions of the Grid. Unfortunately, my screen image capture software doesn't want to catch the drop-down menu, but give it a try and you'll see what I mean.
ACTUALLY MOVING THE TRACKS
Now that you have the program showing the Edit window, and have put it into Grid mode and selected "All" in Groups, we're almost ready to move the tracks over and create some "room" at the beginning for our added intro. All we need to do is make sure that our Nudge amount is set to a one-bar increment. Changing this setting is very similar to changing your Grid size, and it is located immediately below the Grid size box -- I've indicated it with a red arrow in the following image (Figure 4):
Figure 4: The Nudge value box (indicated with the red arrow) is set for a one-bar nudge.
The maximum Nudge amount is one bar, which is what I've selected. Again, double-check to insure that you have "All" selected in Groups (lower left hand corner), and that you have Grid Mode selected (F4 / upper left hand corner of the screen). Now use your mouse and click directly on the waveform display - anywhere to the RIGHT of the longest track. While holding the left mouse button down, drag the mouse to the left, over to "0" on the timeline. If done correctly, you should see that you've highlighted the entire range of all of the tracks.
Now we're ready to move them.
There are two ways you can do this. You can simply hit the "+" key on your keyboard's numeric keypad (do NOT try to use the "+" key below the F / Function keys on your keyboard -- it won't work). Since we have changed the Nudge amount to one-bar, every time you press on that "+" key, the tracks will be nudged or moved one bar later in time, and because we've selected "All" in Groups, all of the tracks are nudged or moved simultaneously. Want to move them back the other direction? Just use the "-" key on your numeric keypad.
Here's a screenshot of the same set of tracks after I've nudged them 12 bars later in time (Figure 5). The red ovals indicate the new start time of the nudged tracks (they now start at bar 12) and the Nudge amount (1 bar). The red arrow shows the direction they were nudged, and the 12 bars of new "space" at the beginning of the session that you can use to record your new intro. If you need more than 12 bars, you can obviously add more.
Figure 5: The same set of tracks after being nudged 12 bars later in time in order to create space for additional intro material.
Remember when I said there was a couple of ways you could move the tracks over? Instead of using Nudge, you can just put the session into Grid mode, select "All" in Groups, and then select all the files by dragging over them from right to left as we did with the previous example. Then press F8 to select the "Grabber" tool (the one shaped like a hand), and then click on the waveform display and merely drag everything over. When you do, they'll "snap" to the grid, at whatever resolution you have the Grid set for. To get back to your normal "I Beam" selection tool, just press F7.
Oh, one more thing: Those Function keys on your keyboard are a real time-saver. Instead of using the mouse to switch between different editing tools, you can use the Function keys.
Also, if you click on any of these more than once, you will cycle through the various alternative states / modes of operation for that particular tool. And by clicking on any two of the following - F6, F7 or F8 - for example, depress F7 and F8 simultaneously, you select the "magic" tool. It gives you the functions of all three of those tools (Trimmer / Selector / Grabber), depending on what part of the region (top half, bottom half, end of a region, or region crossfade points) you have the cursor sitting over. That's my favorite tool mode in Pro Tools - I can do a ton without having to change anything... but even if I do need to change tools, since I have all those Function keys memorized, it's automatic for my left hand to just reach up and hit whatever mode I need in order to do something different, such as switch to the pencil tool to fix a click or glitch in a wave file. And that's the key to speed with any program -- getting to the point where you hit the keyboard shortcuts without having to think about them. It takes time, but hopefully this article will show you the benefits and get you started.