In theory, using shortcuts should mean you get to home early (or start late) because you’ve found a way to be more efficient. You don’t need me to tell you that the reality doesn’t quite measure up to that expectation, but the potential shouldn’t be underestimated. I’ve been using ProTools since before v1.0, when it came on three seperate floppy disks: one for the ProEdit program, one for ProDeck and one for DAE. We’re talking the early 1990s & sheesh, those were not the days! Everytime an update arrived I would try recording foley into ProTools, or should I say into ProDeck, & then switch to ProEdit & cross my fingers, because 9 times out of 10 there wouldn’t be anything there… It was only once it became v1.0 (or later) that things that we take for granted now were possible…. But enough crusty nostalgia, the only advantage of being around during the evolution was that I learned ProTools incrementally ie as new features were added I would first learn them for the obvious & immediate uses and then as time went on come up with more esoteric methods. Accordingly its funny hearing people compare ProTools to other (newer) audio programs for they often wear their naievete on their sleeve. I still remember the press hype that went with Apples ‘new’ ProTools-Killer (SoundtrackPro) and to an inexperienced eye/ear ProTools can appear as fairly utilitarian. But just like Photoshop, its depth requires knowledge & that depth has come from the decade and a half of use by a large group of very demanding users. Its depth simply won’t be apparent to a novice. If you sat down to design the spec for a new audio program you would never dream up some of the features & functions that many PT users consider essential, because its only through use that those features have come into existence, and by use I mean working with the program for 50+ hours a week for 50+ weeks a year, for more than a few years….
ProFools? Judge not etc etc… Some people love to hate on ProTools in the same way some people love to hate on PC/Mac & in the end it is nothing more than a fairly public display of ego attachment… and what an odd thing to attach your ego to… I’ve always been more interested in what you can do with the tools you choose to use, rather than the tool itself. But I also know tools take time to evolve, and I welcome the new but I also know there is no shortcut to experience. Accordingly once you are past the beginner stage, how you use whatever tool it is you choose to use becomes an asset, growing in value every day & so you must choose wisely what you invest your time in, because one day it may not exist.
Since very early on I was aware that using keyboard shortcuts is a much faster means of working than relying predominantly on the mouse, simply because the mouse requires eye/hand coordination – you must look at what you are doing. Even something as simple as selecting SAVE from the File menu takes maybe four or five times longer than hitting Command S, so no matter what software you use learning the keyboard shortcuts is an essential part of your means of developing your skills. For ProTools 7.4 PDFs of all documentation is available here while the full ProTools 7.4 reference manual 29MB PDF is here and most importantly Mac keyboard shortcuts 0.2MB PDF here or PC here. There is also an ongoing list of favourite (or newly discovered) ProTools shortcuts slowly growing on a local nzsound.net forum which I host here – have a look & contribute your own; there or in the comments here…. No doubt the same is available for all other platforms, so seek out that information & apply it! RTFM!
INSTANT SLOW MO/BACKWARDS
One ProTools command key functionality that I rely on very often and is an incredibly handy immediate function for exploring the possible design attributes of a sound is via the numeric keypad shuttle controls. I use this function so often I really had to check the key commands as I use them entirely instinctively. But also please note, they only work the way I describe if in the PT Preferences you have set the option for Numeric Keypad to “Classic.”
The shuttle controls basically allow you to play a mono or stereo track in ProTools at various pitches (pitched down or up) and forwards or backwards. So if you want to investigate whether a sound might be useful pitched down an octave and/or backwards you can do it instantly without any processing time whatsoever. Just select the region or put the cursor on the track you want to listen to and hit Control 5 to start playback forwards, Control 4 will slow it down by 3 semitones, Control 3 slows it by 6 semitones and Control 2 by one octave (half speed) while Control 1 slows it to a crawl… Control 5 will take it back to realtime playback and choosing COntrol 6,7,8,9 speeds up playback in steps… Hitting the minus button on the numeric keypad will switch playback into reverse and plus reverts playback to forwards. This maybe sounds more complicated than it is, but eg if i put the cursor at the end fo a region & hit Control 2 followed by minus button then I can instantly play the region backwards at half speed.
The other use of these shuttle commands that I rely on often is when checking sync, as video playback also follows the shuttle speed – forwards & backwards. Sometimes a sound editor will get me to watch some sounds they have cut wanting either my input or approval. If it feels at all weird for sync, I just hit Command 2 & play the suspicious track at half speed & if there is a sync issue it is then VERY OBVIOUS! And if still in doubt whether its early or late for sync I can sit there switching between plus & minus & scrubbing across the sync point. If still unsure crawling across it at Control 1 speed makes it as plain as day or night.
The ULTIMATE SHORTCUT – QUICKEYS
No matter how many shortcuts a software developer adds to their program there will always be some user who wants one that doesnt exist and rather than request it & wait, the other option is to customise your own shortcuts. While OSX already allows the ability to add simple shortcuts, I prefer to use a fantastic utility called Quickeys which allows not only basic shortcuts but also scripting, command loops & inter-application functions. Personally I think Quickeys is an essential utility to own, but it does require a small investment of time to learn how to use (as in 5-20 minutes). But one of the immediate uses I have for it is very easy ie adding key commands to menu times. I like to hit a single keystroke for my most often used AudioSuite plugins to appear (rather than hunt through sub-menus); I have a shortcut assigned to each of AudioSuite Reverse, Gain, Pitch, Waves Q10, Waves L1 & Serato PitchnTime plugins…. heres what the Reverse Quickey looks like & programming it took three simple steps: 1. Tell Quickeys I want to make a Menu command in ProTools 2. Choose the menu 3. Assign a key command. Done!
Quickeys can also do tricky stuff eg whenever I’m in FX Listing mode I have a Filemaker database that I use which has a timecode field, and while in ProTools I can park the cursor at the cue point, hit a command key & Quickeys copies the timecode from ProTools, switches to Filemaker, makes a new record & pastes the timecode into the TC field, and then tabs to the ‘description’ field & waits for me to start typing. Sounds pedantic but if you’re cueing 1,000+ moments into a database, manually entering timecode is RSI inducing… in fact I never want to manually enter timecode again in my life, but thats at least partly because back in the day when we had ProTools v1.0 chasing LTC timecode off a video deck, that process was required every time you wanted a specific sync point. Oh god, he is off on a nostalgia rant again…. and did I tell you about the 1 Gigabyte Digidesign ProStore I have that we bought back in 1992 for NZ$9,000/US$6,700? I just ordered 8 Terabytes of RAID storage for my FX Library for just over NZ$5,000/US$3,700…