With the dust settling from this summer’s release of Pro Tools 11, it’s time we look at how to implement some of these much talked about features into your workflow. With so much talk regarding Audio Engines, new plug-ins, and all the other distractions, many people have overlooked the most useful new feature of Pro Tools 11, Offline Bounce. Actually, there is a whole lot more to the Bounce engine than just the ability to perform faster than real time renders, the entire feature set has been expanded to give you the utmost flexibility as well as time saving features. The ability to Bounce an MP3 simultaneously with a .WAV is pretty freakin’ cool, so is the ability to bounce different outputs simultaneously. As usual, there is a lot more to this new feature than first meets the eye.
As an Audio Engineer, I’m ecstatic about the streamlined Bounce features of Pro Tools 11. I have done hundreds-of-thousands of bounces in Pro Tools over the years, and it was always a multi-step process. At the very least it required two bounces, one for the .WAV file and another for the MP3. For music mixers, an MP3 is necessary especially when e-mailing files to clients. If your work requires you to bounce MP3’s along with the traditional audio file, check the box labeled “Add MP3”. It will create both files simultaneously, regardless of whether or not you’re using the Offline feature.
While we’re on the subject of sharing material with other people, you also have the option of sharing the bounce material with SoundCloud or Gobbler. These platforms provide an easy way to share audio material as well as full session data with other people. SoundCloud is an extremely effective tool that allows music makers to provide content to their fan-base. Personally, I cannot stress enough how widely used SoundCloud is within the Music Industry. Every artist I encounter, whether independent or signed to a major label, has a SoundCloud account.
There are times when you might need to share more than just a 2-track mix, this is where Gobbler comes in handy. It allows you to send all of the session content directly to anyone’s email! You don’t need to worry about the size of the session, how many files you have, hard drive allocation, Gobbler can handle all of the transfer and organization of the session material. For working professionals this allows them to mix or master records and collaborate with artists anywhere in the world, while being able to deliver the final session to the record label. Check out this video of Gobbler in action: Gobbler. My, my, my, how far we have come. The thought of being able to do these sorts of things is mystifying to say the least, but it show how far and deep the changes within the music industry have gone. The fundamental way in which songwriters, artists, musicians, producers, engineers, & record label’s is completely different than it was 10-15 years ago. Marinade on that for a moment.
Following this theme of “professional usefulness”, Pro Tools 11HD introduces the ability to bounce multiple outputs simultaneously. This feature has become extremely useful in the ability to print stems for an entire session at once.
When utilizing HD software a “+” appears next to the bounce source and allows you to add additional outputs for the bounce, up to 16 total. This might sound crazy at first, but any engineer that has had to print stems will tell you, this feature makes life a lot easier.
Many artists and producers require stems as part of the final delivery from the engineer. This serves many purposes in the lifespan of the song, allowing the producer or even the artist to play back those files in any system and always hear the “mix”. Also, this allows for easy delivery of the song material to a remix producer who is almost certainly going to slice & dice the original tracks and not want to worry about which specific EQ plug-in was used on the kick drum.
One of my favorite improvements is the streamlining of the entire bounce process. In the past, once you set all your bounce parameters, you would then see another screen where you would name the file and choose a destination to place that file. This multi-step process has now been consolidated all within the bounce window. Going another step beyond, Pro Tools also now defaults to creating a “Bounced Files.”
While these changes may seem small, they are the type of workflow improvements that make managing the craziness of a session a little bit easier.
Now for the grand-finale, Offline Bounce, the single most requested new feature of Pro Tools 11.
The ability to render a mix in faster-than-real-time has long been the magical unicorn of Pro Tools. Until Pro Tools 11, the reality was that the software engine of Pro Tools would not allow for any kind of “offline” render, at least not one that would work correctly. Hence the complete overhaul of the software and the introduction of the new Avid Audio Engine. It truly is a completely different piece of equipment than any of its predecessors, even though it still looks the same. In previous versions of Pro Tools, there were two different engine’s we dealt with, the Native RTAS engine, and the DSP-based TDM engine. Not only was there a slight sonic difference, the language of the two systems was different as well. With the new AAE, there is a single unified engine across both platforms, Native and HDX(DSP), as well as “True Sonic Parity” between the systems. That’s a whole lot of fancy tech-talk mumbo-jumbo. What this means to normal folks is that the HD cards talk the same language as the CPU of the computer. Why is this important you ask? In order for Offline Bounce to work, all of the processing has to be done on the CPU of the computer, even on HDX systems. The plug-in processing is offloaded from the DSP chips to the computer CPU, basically converting all the plug-ins to run natively, and then rendering the file before loading the processing back to the DSP chips. Ta-da! Magic.
The main variables affecting the speed of the offline bounce are how much plug-in processing there is, as well as the complexity of the mix. I recently had to bounce a 2-hour long mix-show, with only an Avid Channel Strip plug-in on the track, it took a whopping 3 minutes to bounce the entire show.
Even with all this wonderful power, there are a few things that cannot be done via an Offline Bounce. If you are using any kind of external processors or MIDI hardware you will have to bounce the good old-fashioned way, in real-time. There is a dang good reason for this, there is no way for a hardware compressor, eq, or reverb to work without audio signal passing through it. It can’t be processed on the CPU of the computer. Same goes for hardware synthesizers, they need MIDI date fed into them in order to make noise. There are sonic virtues to utilizing various hardware for music production as well as mixing, so we will have to see how widely used this feature becomes in the future.
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Mihai Boloni is a talented engineer and long-time Pro Tools educator who is fortunate to draw from thousands of hours logged in studios around the globe. Mihai is a Certified Expert Instructor who has an array of Pro Tools experience, which ranges from songwriting, post-production, and dropping' big fat bass across the land. As an industry professional he knows first-hand the value of Pro Tools mastery for artists, producers and engineers. Mihai is a dog lover and the proud father of 2 beautiful Irish Setters.