Sharing Pro Tools 10 / 11 Sessions with Users of Older Versions
By Phil O'Keefe |
How to share sessions and collaborate with those who haven't upgraded to one of the latest versions
By Phil O'Keefe
Pro Tools 10 and 11 are great programs, but not everyone has made the transition to one of the latest versions. Occasionally you may find yourself needing to save a session in an older version - either for a client who wants to take the session home to add some overdubs, or for a bandmate or songwriting collaborator who is using an older version of the program. Recently I ran into just this scenario and needed to save a session file in a version that could be opened by a Pro Tools 8 user. Since Pro Tools 7 (released in 2005) through Pro Tools 9 are the most likely versions you'll find people still using, and all three use the same session file format, we'll limit the discussion to those versions; the instructions for saving session files in a form that they can open are the same for all of them, and it's easy to do, but there are some things to be aware of…
Converting to Different Session File Types
Pro Tools has used various different session file types and extensions over the years. The current file extension, as used in Pro Tools 10 and 11, is .PTX, while Pro Tools 7 / 8 / 9 used the .PTF file extension for session files. Users of Pro Tools prior to version 10 won't be able to open a session with a .PTX file extension. Because of this it's important to ask the studio (or your collaborator) to save a copy of the session in the .PTF format if you use an older version of Pro Tools and want to be able to access it on your computer.
If you use Pro Tools 10 / 11, saving a copy of the session that can be opened with an older version is quite easy.
- Connect the external hard drive you want to use for storing the session copy to the computer
- Alternatively, if you want to share the session with a collaborator online with the help of a service like Dropbox, you can store the session copy to a directory on one of your local drives prior to uploading it
- Launch Pro Tools and load the Pro Tools 10 / 11 .PTX session
- Select File -> Save Session Copy In from the menu
- A Save Session Copy dialog box opens up
- Select the Pro Tools 7 -> 9 Session option in the Session Format field
- The Audio File Type, Sample Rate and sometimes the Bit Depth will default to the same rate as the source .PTX session, but remember that you may need to change these (and sometimes they may change automatically for you), depending on the source settings and the capabilities of your collaborator's system and version of Pro Tools.
- In the Items To Copy area, be sure to select Audio Files, as well as the Session and Root Plugin Settings folders, and if needed, Movie and Video files.
- Click on OK, and a warning dialog box opens up telling you about what will be different in the version you're about to save compared to the source .PTX session, and asking if you would like to continue. Click Yes, and a converted copy of the session is created in the drive and directory you select.
- The steps are basically the same when saving sessions for use with even older versions of Pro Tools (and you can save back to version 3.2 this way if needed), although the older the version you select, the more changes you can expect.
Beware - Some Things Won't Make the Transition
Pro Tools 10 and 11 add several new capabilities such as the ability to adjust the volume level of individual clips as well as the ability to handle larger file sizes, so there are some things to be aware of when converting or saving to an older session file format.
Here are some of the changes you can expect when converting a Pro Tools 10 / 11 .PTX session file to a Pro Tools 7 / 8 / 9 .PTF file:
- The selected Bit Depth will automatically change from 32 bit floating point (if used in the .PTX session) to 24 bit, and if your .PTX session used mixed bit depth and audio file formats, they will all be converted to the same rate and file type
- Any Clip Gain data in the source session will be dropped in the copy since that feature didn't exist until version 10. If you want to keep that in the copy, you'll need to render the Clip Gain before saving
- If the source session has more than 256 audio tracks, those tracks will be inactive in the copy
- WAV files larger than 4GB in size will be offline
- Clips after 811:35.774 on the timeline will be dropped
- Interleaved audio files will be split to mono
Since that data is lost when saving the session in an older file format, when you bring the overdubs or contributions from your collaborator back into the original session (on the computer running the later version of Pro Tools), it's a good idea to import only the recently added material using the File -> Import -> Session Data menu; that way, you retain the clip volume data and higher resolution for the other tracks in the original Pro Tools 10 / 11 session version. Of course, if you have not used any of the new features, you can load the entire .PTF session instead if you wish.
What About Plugins?
Plug-in compatibility between versions can also be an issue. Pro Tools 10 introduced the new AAX plugin format, but allows users to also run legacy RTAS plugins. Owners of HD systems can run legacy TDM plugins too, so even if a session is using those older plugins, you can still run them in Pro Tools 10 right alongside the newer AAX plugins. However, Pro Tools 11 uses the AAX plugin format exclusively, and no longer supports the older TDM and RTAS plugins. Obviously, with the exception of Pro Tools 10, older versions of the program are incompatible with AAX, so any AAX plugin instances won't make the transition if you save the session as a .PTF file and attempt to open it with Pro Tools 7 / 8 / 9.
How can you get around this? Well, if your collaborator did something brilliant with a couple of old RTAS plugins using Pro Tools 7 and you need "that sound" in your Pro Tools 10 / 11 session, your best bet is to have them use the Audiosuite versions of the plugins to process a copy of the track, or use aux sends to route the processed audio from that track to a new track and record it there, then export the new processed audio file and import that into Pro Tools 10 / 11. Or, if you also have the plugins in question and a copy of Pro Tools 10, you can open the session in that version of the program, process it and export it yourself, or even use Pro Tools 10 to complete the remainder of the project.
It is an unfortunate but unavoidable side effect of the move to a 64 bit version of Pro Tools that makes it impossible to use the old plugins with the new version of the program, and one we're all going to just have to work our way through. Fortunately Pro Tools 10 and 11 can coexist on the same computer, and that, along with Pro Tools 10's ability to run both AAX and the older legacy plugins does make things a bit easier.
Regardless of which version of Pro Tools you use or your collaborators use, the importance of having a system and keeping things organized can not be over-stated. Always back up your sessions someplace besides the version you have on your internal hard drive. Remember, when it comes to digital data, it doesn't exist if it doesn't exist in at least two places! Work on copies of playlists or duplicated tracks instead of the originals - that way, you can revert to the original later if you feel the need. It's also a good idea to keep the date as part of the session file name - that way, you'll be able to tell at a glance which version of the session is the most recent. Don't forget to always name your audio tracks before you record - that way, the audio file names will include the track names too.
If you're still using audio hardware, a computer, or operating system that is no longer supported by later versions you may need to stick with an older version of Pro Tools for now, but there are advantages to upgrading to a more recent version of the program beyond the latest session file format, and many cool new features come along with upgrading. Pro Tools 10 in particular offers the bridge between old a new, so if you're able to do so, upgrading to that version as a minimum is definitely recommended. If you're unable to and still stuck on Pro Tools 7 / 8 / 9, in the meantime hopefully these tips will allow you to continue to collaborate with others with as little pain as possible.
Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines.