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Creating a beat & Composing Music in Pro Tools

Learn how to use MIDI and Audio Samples in music production
David Hughes
339 students enrolled
English [Auto]
Setup a Pro Tools session
Record MIDI & audio into the Pro Tools workspace
Setup tempo changes and arrange MIDI notes to sync with the tempo
Import audio samples to arrange within a mix
Use the Grid feature in Pro Tools with confidence
Create custom samples and trigger them with MIDI
Add effects to the samples and sounds being generated by Pro Tools

Welcome to creating a instrumental beat or musical score from scratch within the Pro Tools DAW. This course will cover everything you need to know from start to finish for composing music with MIDI and analog samples within the Pro Tools work space. We’ll start with the session setup and how to organize your tracks to create a template. This will allow you to quickly and easily create new compositions regularly to keep your creative ideas flowing. 

At the start of this course, we’re going to cover some essential basics that are fundamental in your workflow production. You may already be aware of these crucial steps to production, but just in case you missed something, I’m going to review how to optimize your system for a professional workflow in Pro Tools.

This course is perfect for anyone interested in learning how to use digital software to compose music. We’ll take a look at the stock plugins that come with Pro Tools and then explore some 3rd party plugins that you can add to your system if you need to expand your sound library. You’ll be able to customize your sounds and learn the basics for creating an engaging mix.

Finally, I’ll give you some advice on how to distribute and market your music so that you can turn your passion into a source of income. I look forward to sharing this course with you and I welcome any questions you may have about the lectures.

Setting Up Pro Tools & Templates

Shine On Audio Community

Join our audio community and get more feedback, insight, and advice on all things audio. This is a great networking opportunity for you to connect with like-minded professionals that are working in the audio industry. You'll be able to ask questions and get answers from the whole community. There will be contests that you can join and win audio gear, plugins, or 1 on 1 mix reviews with one of the engineers that works here at the studio. This is just another perk for signing up and joining this course.

Come on over and join us when you're ready: https://www.facebook.com/groups/453306619136519

Sample Websites

When you need samples, there are some great websites out there that have everything you may or may not need. Here are just a few of the websites that I use on a regular basis. If you really need something unique, I recommend that you create the sound yourself. When you don't have the time do make your own samples, here are some places you can go to find new sounds.

Working with Samples

Adding samples to your project can help you get going on the right path. Now I'm not saying you should build a beat strictly from samples because that doesn't really give you the creative power that you should be using. It is a great way to get your creative thoughts moving and start you out on the right foot. I'd even suggest that as you get deeper into a mix, you should remove the samples and try to recreate the structure of the beat with you own instruments or virtual software.

Pro Tools as a DAW

Choosing a DAW can be over whelming. I prefer to use Pro Tools as my main DAW because it offers many options for recording, mixing, composing, and audio routing. Just my thoughts about why I'm using Pro Tools in this course. 

24 bit vs. 32 bit float

Knowing what the bit depth of your audio recordings really means is extremely valuable information. This short video will give you a solid understand of what really happens when you record audio files at 24 bit vs. 32 bit float. 

Getting Started with Pro Tools

Starting from scratch, we examine the start up window for Pro Tools and cover what settings are best for optimizing the session. 

How to setup Pro Tools Quick Start Dialogue

A quick review of how to setup your Pro Tools preferences so the Quick Start Dialogue Box appears when you start up Pro Tools. 

Hard drive setup & system optimization

It is important to have your system optimized for recording and playback. This lecture reviews the specifications for your hard drive setup and how to prepare your session for production. 

Creating Instrument and MIDI tracks

Creating and setting up the instrument track + MIDI tracks to route the MIDI notes to the XPAND2 sampler. 

Edit Window Zoom Features

Basic zoom settings will help you edit and navigate the Pro Tools Edit window. Here we just cover some of the very basic features of the zoom parameters. I've also attached PDF files for the Mac & PC keyboard shortcuts. This way you can reference all the quick key commands for zooming and all the other features that we will cover in this course.

Memory Location Selection and Zoom settings

The Memory Locations feature in Pro Tools does offer quite a few options for screen settings and zoom controls. One of those features is the selection option. This will allow you to make a selection in the edit
window and then recall that selection at any time. This is extremely handy if you're bouncing around the edit window from section to section and don't want to keep scrolling back and forth.

Plugin Recommendations

Please join our Facebook Community for current information on audio equipment, software, and plugins that are on sale or free. https://www.facebook.com/groups/453306619136519/

Basic Pro Tools MIDI quiz

Understanding fundamentals of MIDI within Pro Tools.

Learn how to control your sound

Using a Gate

Using a gate can help you control a sound within your mix. You don't have to spend a lot of time editing if you know how to use a gate. Here I just go over the features of the stock Pro Tools gate and show you how I use it to control a High Hat that has too much hiss and has a long tail. I'm using the gate to cut off the hiss and tail to help the High Hat fit better in a mix.

Using a Gate Quiz

Let's see how well you remember the topics we just discussed about gates.

Layering Sounds

Using multiple layers to create sounds is a technique used by all of the great composers. When you blend sounds, you have the ability to create new sound textures. I'm a big fan of new sounds and so are most people that listen to music. If you can get good at layering your sounds then you will start to stand out and develop a reputation for having unique compositions.

Layering Sounds Quiz

Let's see what you learned from the last lecture.

Composing the Beat

Routing MIDI through the XPAND2 sampler

XPAND can be a very versatile tool for creating and composing music. Knowing how to route audio through the sampler can be very useful and this video will give you some insight on how to use this software as a virtual Swiss army knife for your production. 

Basic concepts of beat building

A brief discussion about the concept process of building a beat. 

Create your own 808 Bass Tone

Create your own 808 bass tone and stop messing with samples or triggers. It's really simple and once you do it, you can save the files in your library for later use. This is a tutorial that will show you how to route and record a sine wave. Then you can shape the length and fade to customize the perfect bass tone for your mix. 

Adding MIDI notes to the Instrument tracks

Adding MIDI notes can be quite simple once you know and understand some basic principles of how Pro Tools works with MIDI. Here I show you how to adjust the track views and then add MIDI notes on a Tempo Map Grid to keep your rhythm in sync with the current session tempo (BPM) of the song.

Adding Samples to the Mix

Samples are a great way to add some new layers and dynamics to your mix. There are a bunch of sample websites and I personally work with http://samplephonics.com. This lecture will cover how to locate your samples with the workspace window in Pro Tools and then add the samples to your session. We'll also cover how to edit and conform audio samples that were tracked at a different tempo then the current tempo of the session. 

Adding Delay to the analog samples

Now we cover how to create an AUX send channel for adding some delay to an analog sample that we've added to the composition. This technique can be used for any audio track in the session. You can apply any effect as a side-chain to the original audio and give it more texture. This lecture is really where you start to set yourself apart from the amateur world and start to become more professional with your music.

Working with Arpeggiated Synth sound inside the XPAND2 workstation

Now we are going to add some arpeggiated synth sounds to our mix. XPAND2 is an extremely versatile synth station that gives you a multitude of parameters to control for your music compositions. This lecture is going to cover how to set up the arpeggio trigger to get more movement and texture into your music. 

Setting up Structure to sample audio

Setting up Structure is quite simple. The interface is drag and drop, so all you need is an audio file to import into the Structure window. 

Recording MIDI with Structure + Adding FX in Structure

Placing MIDI notes on the timeline to trigger our sample within the Structure plugin. I also cover how to add FX within the Structure sampler to create motion and give the sample some more texture within the mix. 

Adding Distortion to the Structure Sample w/ Sans Amp PSA-1

Raw samples can feel out of place in a mix or just not fit at all. By reshaping the sample with some harmonic distortion or modulation, we can find a better feel for the sample within the mix. This video, I use  the Sans Amp PSA-1 plugin that is stock with Pro Tools. Just by tweaking the settings a bit, I am able to get a tone that sounds more along the lines of the song. Simple adjustments like this one can really shape your music and give your beat a unique sound. 

Getting deeper into the options within Structure

Adjustments should always happen. It's good to hear what changes will do to your mix. Sometimes a happy accident will occur and it will take you in a completely different direction. This video goes over some of the areas you can explore within the Structure sampler and how you can adjust the pitch of your samples within the "notes" view on the edit window of Pro Tools. 

Composing the Beat Quiz 1

Now it's time to review a few things you've learned.

Composing the Beat Quiz 2

Let's see how well you remember some of the concepts we just went over.

Mixing & Automation in Pro Tools

Adjusting Volume & Manual Volume Automation

Adjusting volume is crucial to a good mix. Being able to control the volume levels throughout a song can greatly impact the power and movement of a mix. This lecture will show you how to view and adjust the volume levels on a track manually. 

Writing automation to your volume levels

Sometimes it is easier to write automation on a track to give it a more natural or smooth sound. This lecture covers how to enable and write automation to volume on a track. We cover the 'write' & 'touch' features within the automation menu. Plus, I'll show you how to quickly suspend all automation on a mix to help you A/B your changes. 

Clip Gain

The clip gain feature in Pro Tools is another way to adjust volume levels. Though this feature is more for fine-tune adjustments, It can come in handy if you want to make a global change to a clip region without having to adjust any automation. This feature is pre-processing, so it will impact the behavior of your plugins and sends. Be sure to use caution when adjusting the clip gain. 

Adjusting Volume on Instrument tracks containing MIDI notes

Adjusting volume on an Instrument track has the same features as an audio track, but there are a few extra options for level adjustments. You can use the audio volume automation or you can adjust the velocity of particular MIDI notes to control the sound, texture, and level of the triggered audio. 

Resampling MIDI into an audio file

Sometimes you want to add some more movement or FX to your core beat. In this lecture, I'll show you how to bus the audio from the MIDI instrument track over to an audio track. This will allow you to turn the audio from the MIDI notes into a more workable stereo audio file. This is also great for re-sampling and doing the chop and screw effects. 

Individual Stems

You may want to have more control over the individual sounds within Xpand. This video covers how to bounce out each individual stem from the Xpand plugin. This will give you more control over your effects and mixing levels. 

Volume and Automation QUIZ

Let's review some of the main features covered in this chapter.

Effects and Textures

Adding Delay to your Drum Track

The dry or stock sound of your instruments may sound too bland. There are a lot of beats out there that are dry and sound similar. The best way to stand out is to add your own effects. Here we will take a quick look at adding some delay to your drum tracks to get a bit more motion into certain sections of the drums. This can create more intensity with the drums by giving the drums some depth and allowing them to dominate more of the mix. A simple time-based delay can add layers and depth to your track that will elevate the emotion in the music. 

In this video, I will be using the Sound Toys Echo Boy plugin. This is a 3rd party plugin that can be purchased to use with your DAW.

Side-Chain Effects to create depth in the mix

The order of your effects is very important. By side-chaining an effect off of another effect, you can control the levels in your mix. This allows you to build a few different layers of texture in your music. This short video goes over adding a modulation effect to the delay in the previous video. 

In this video I'm using the Nomad Factory Liquid Mod II plugin. This is a 3rd party plugin that can be used in most DAWs.

Synth Motion: Using an expander to create motion

Synths are fun and they always find a place in music. This is a technique that I started using many years ago to get more motion into my synths and make them pump more excitement into my music. Once you grasp the concept of this technique, you'll be using it all the time. This is also a great way to have quick and easy control over the texture of your synth in the mix. This video will also show you how to use the key input on your expander / gate plugin to trigger the motion of the plugin. 

The Pro Tools Secret Weapon

One of the stock plug-ins that comes with Pro Tools is the Lo-Fi. This secret weapon is virtually untapped by many producers and engineers. The distortion knob on this plug-in will give you punch and texture that can help you place your tracks in the mix. Just a little bit of this distortion can bring a track forward and give it more body. This is a plug-in that I use on virtually every mix and you should take a look at it and see what it can do for your mixes.

Effects and Textures

Let's review what you just learned and make sure you've got a good grip on these concepts.

Mixing the beat (Uploading more videos soon)

Mixing the Beat Part I

Now let's take all that we've done and start putting everything together. Mixing is a key step in the process of making the audio ready for distribution and marketing. Here we'll start with the drums and synths by shaping how they fit in the mix. I'll be using some filters and creating some pockets for the synths to have more character in the mix.

Mixing the Beat Part II

Now let's look at the compression settings for the backing female vocals. I want to bring up the texture of the reverb and space inside the sample. To do this, I'm going to use a LA-2A emulation plugin and squish the signal to increase the output. This technique can be used for any instrument where you want to make the signal more even and uniform in the mix.

Mixing the Beat Part III

I want to use a SSL channel strip plugin to adjust the EQ of the "Yeah" vocals that I recorded earlier in this lesson. This will allow me to use EQ + Compression + Expansion to sit the track into the mix. Then I'll butter up the track with a bit more EQ on the top and bottom. I usually add a 2nd EQ (Maag EQ4) after the compression because I don't want it to impact how the compressor is working.

Mixing the Beat Part IV

Now let's explore some concepts for the overall composition of the beat that has been created. It's good to think about what transitions will be used and how the beat will flow from beginning to end. Think of this as the nails that hold the structure of the beat together. Let's start with the arrangement of the sections and then look at how we piece them together in the mixing phase of this project.

Mixing the Beat Part V

Committing tracks in the newer versions of Pro Tools is a great way to free up CPU and tidy up your session. When you commit a track, you render the plugins and processing to a new track. It basically bounces out the track for you and then creates a new audio file in your session. This is great for tracks that have CPU hungry plugins or if you're tight on RAM memory in your session. It's fairly simple to commit a track and this short video shows you how to do it.

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