Pro Tools Plug-In Management

In this article, Avid Instructor Nelson Oliveros shows you how to manage your plug-in library in Pro Tools.

With the ever increasing number of plug-ins available for Pro Tools, managing your workflow has become a very important reality in modern session work. It's common in today's DAW rich world that you might wind up with a massive collection of plugins. Understanding how to organize and manage you plug-in library can help you for mixing, music creation, composition, post-production, etc...

One of the main caveats of having a lot of plug-ins is that it can lead to less time creating and more time searching for settings. To help you gain a better understanding of where to start with plug-in management we will take a look at the different preferences you can set to organize your plug-in list. Go to 'Preferences' in Pro Tools and we’ll explore how this works. You can find Preferences under the 'Pro Tools' and 'Setup' menu.


Once inside the 'Preferences', click on the 'Display' tab at the top left. In the area labeled 'Basic' you will notice the option: 'Organize Plug-In Menus By'. When selecting the drop menu, you will notice that Pro Tools organizes plugins in four different categories: Flat List, Category, Manufacture and both Category and Manufacture combine. Pro Tools will organize and displays your Plug-ins base on the selection you choose in this drop down menu.


To see this in action, lets create a new session. Go to File > New Session or Command + N


The first option under the drop menu is the Flat list. This option is useful when searching for plug-ins in alphabetical order, regardless of what "type" of plug-in it is. We see this preference used very rarely due to how long the list can be top to bottom. This will force to scroll down to find a particular plug-in and that process can take away valuable time in the production process. For people that have a lot of plug-ins this organizational method can actually cost time and frustration.


The second option under the drop menu is the 'Category'. This is the default setting in Pro tools which organizes plug-ins based on what type it is, EQ, Dynamics, Pitch Shift, Reverb, Delay, etc. This management flow is very similar to the way analog studios were laid out, all EQ's together, dynamic processors together, fx processors together, etc... It allows for easy compartmentalization of processors based of what 'Category' they fall in, helping the engineer stay organized.


The next option available is to organize via 'Manufacturer'. This option shows the names of manufacturer followed by all the plug-ins made by the manufacturer. This can be useful when you need a particular plug-in made by, for example, McDSP. All plugin will be grouped together under the McDSP section. While this can be useful for certain plug-ins that are hard to find, it can also be a challenge. The plug-ins are organized alphabetically, making it hard at times to distinguish what type of processor they are.

The final, and most used, option is 'Category and Manufacturer'. This is the best of both worlds, with the top-half of the list being organized by 'Category' and the bottom-half being the 'Manufacturer' list. This setting is the most widely used by Pro Tools users as it is the most convenient for finding the correct plug-in efficiently.


When I am working with in Pro Tools, I select a specific set of plugins when I’m mixing. In the past, I used to go into the plugin drop down menu and repeat the process again and again. In order to make the process of selecting your 'Favorite' plug-ins easier, you'll glad to know that there is a hidden shortcut in Pro Tools that allows you to define which plug-ins you want easy access to.


The benefit of using this schotrcut is that you can isolate your go-to plug-ins and access them from a separate list at the top of the plug-in menu. This will save you the time from a repetitive process and gain back that time to be more creative.

To achieve this, press the “Command” key first, then click on the track insert button and choose (while still holding "command") your favorite plugin that you intend to add the list as your favorites. You would repeat the process to continue adding other plugins. As you do this, notice that every time you go to the plug-in pop-up menu, you will see your 'Favorites' appear at the top of the list. In addition, Pro Tools will organize your favorites in alphabetical order! Notice that the plug ins on this list start with the letter D, for example, D-verb etc, follow by E for EQ.


This technique can also be applied for AudioSuite plugins. Notice the favorites list is organized from the top, similar to the plugin selection menu. For both on inserts and Audio Suite, plug-ins will be arranged as a “flat list”.


In the picture above you will notice how the plug-in menu looks when the preferences are set to “Category and Manufacture”, as well as the addition of 'Favorites' (1), 'Category' (2) and 'Manufacturer' (3).

To remove the plugin from the list, just repeat the same operation as you did before. Press the “Command” key first, next click on the track insert button and choose (while still holding "command") your favorite plugin that you intend to remove from the list in your favorites. Pro Tools will remove the plugin from the list.

Having an excellent collection of plugin can help spark ideas and increase your creativity. Now a days it is easier to wind up with a dense collection of plugin that can lead to endless tweaking and frustration. Understanding how to organize your plugins can facilitate your creative process, likewise, setting them as favorites can speed up your workflow. Which of these preference settings works for you? How would these techniques help you in your everyday projects? Drop a line and share any other ways you find this useful.

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