ProTools Tutorial For Beginners -by Catherine Marshall

March 9, 2010  |  Articles

Catherine Marshall

Getting started as a professional voice-over artist is thrilling and confusing at the same time. All of a sudden you have to become a pro at voice-over technique, a marketing expert, and a tech-savvy Pro Tools guru. I trust that you got your professional voice-over training, and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of social media marketing tips to help you get started. Pro Tools LE takes a bit more time to get used to, so here are some beginner tips to help you figure out the rest.

The Hardware

We’ll start off by looking at your Mbox. There are many different variations of the Mbox, which is the hardware required to operate Pro Tools. Most of them connect to your computer via USB, but some also connect via firewire. Your Mbox must be hooked up to your computer in order to operate Pro Tools.

Make sure that your mic is connected (with your XLR cable) to mic “input 1” on the back of your Mbox. Check your microphone instructions to determine if your mic requires phantom power. Phantom power means that your mic will need to be provided with power through the mbox. If your mic does require phantom power, you’ll need to click the button on the Mbox labeled “48v” in order to power your mic. If you’re still not sure if your mic needs phantom power or not, this can be determined when you’re setting up to do your first sound check.

Your headphones should also be connected to the headphone output. If you would like to use speakers instead of headphones, you may do so by running 1/4″ stereo cables from the “Mon Out” (Monitor Outputs) on the back of your Mbox. Visit Radioshack or your local music store in order to find cables that can run from the Mbox into the speakers of your choice.

What Settings to Use for Your New Session

1. After installing Pro Tools LE on your computer, open the program by clicking on the icon:

2. The Quick Start Box will pop up. Get started by selecting New Session from the File drop-down menu at the top of your screen. You are shown a screen that allows you to set some parameters for your session, which can be confusing. Under “Audio File Type” it is best to select a wave file because it is a high-quality setting, and it is both Mac and PC friendly.

Bit Depth is a measure of the quality of the recording you are about to make. A 16 bit is CD quality, whereas the 24 bit gives you a little bit better recording but takes up twice the space. The 16 bit is the way to go because you don’t want to make a client spend too much time downloading your file in order to hear your audition or demo.

Under I/O Settings select stereo mix if this is your first time using Pro Tools. After you use Pro Tools a few times, it will automatically remember this setting as last used. Click OK and save the session somewhere on your computer.

3. A blank session opens, and you can see your Edit window, your Mix window, and your Playback Transport.


The Edit Window is the large window on the left hand side of the screen.

Your Mix Window is the tall window on the right hand side of the screen.

The Transport is the playback controls on the bottom of the screen.

4. The first thing to do now is to create an Audio Track. To do that, go up to the File menu “Track” and select New. On the menu that pops up, select 1 — mono — audio track — samples, which is the standard format to make a track. Click Create.

5. Once you have created your mono audio track, this is what your screen should look like:

(Note: the edit window on the left side of the screen and the mix window on the right side of the screen now show your mono audio track.)

A tip to make the audio easy to follow and edit is to click on the ruler bar on the left hand, vertical side of the track, and select jumbo size.

6. Label your audio tracks to help keep your sessions organized by double-clicking on the white area of the edit window that says “Audio 1” and type “Voice” (or whatever your project name and date is).

7. You are now able to set up to record your track. Under “Audio 1″ (or the new title that you gave it) on the left side of the screen, click on the Track Record Enable button, which will start to flash red after you click it.

8. Click the Record Button (the button with the small red dot) on the transport in order to record-enable the transport.

The button should now be flashing red.

Note: You are record-enabling in two locations because there are often multiple tracks recording at the same time in Pro Tools. The program is designed for complex music recording sessions, and the system needs to know what track(s) you are recording onto.

9. On the track in the mix window, double check to make sure that the input is set to “In 1” (where your mic is plugged in to the Mbox). The output should also always be set to “Out 1-2”, which routes a stereo signal to the outputs of the Mbox. “In 1” and “Out 1-2” tend to be the default settings, but it’s good to be aware of this in case those settings happen to change for any reason.

10. Now are you able to do a sound check. Adjust the audio level on your M-Box and gauge the level of the audio on your Pro Tools screen by looking at the green, yellow, or red line that spikes when you speak into your microphone. Check the sound by reading the copy that you are about to record, and make sure to speak into the mic at the same distance and volume that you will when you record. Ideally, you want your audio to check in about three-quarters of the way up. If you are “red lining,” then you need to back off a bit.

11. Become familiar with the basic tools that you’ll be using in Pro Tools. You’ll find them at the top of the edit window, and when you scroll your mouse over them, they will be defined for you.

From left to right you’ll find the Zoomer, Trim, Selector, Grabber, Scrub, and Pencil tools. I recommend that you stick with the Trim, Selector, and Grabber tools for now.

With the Selector tool highlighted, click inside the track somewhere near the 5-second mark. This will be where your recording will begin.

12. Optional Step: The Pre-Roll

Because you will most likely be both the recording engineer and the voice-over talent, some people find it helpful to have a little bit of extra time to prepare to switch from recording engineer to voice talent.

Pre-Roll means that Pro Tools will roll or play a specified amount of time before it actually starts recording. To activate your Pre Roll, click on the button on the transport labeled Pre-Roll. The button will become white, which means that Pre-Roll is active. Then, select the length of your pre-roll. The time count shown is minutes: seconds: milliseconds. Next, click on the seconds, and type in how many seconds of Pre-Roll time you would like. Finally, hit enter or return on your keyboard so that the new Pre-Roll time registers.

I entered a 3-second pre-roll, so that Pro Tools will roll for 3 seconds before where my cursor is placed (5.294 seconds) when I start my actual recording. It will not begin recording any audio until it reaches my cursor.

13. Now that you have your track and mic level set up, you are ready to record! Either tap the space bar on your keyboard or click play on the Playback Transport to start recording, and then tap the space bar or click stop to stop recording. When you play back the recording, turn on your speakers, and turn off your microphone so that you don’t get feedback.

Note: You’re rarely going to be happy with your first take. But the good news is that re-recording in Pro Tools is fairly easy to do.

About Catherine Marshall

Catherine Marshall is PR & Social Media Marketing Director at Such A Voice, a highly respected and innovative voice-over training and demo production company.

2. The Quick Start Box will pop up. Get started by selecting <em>New Session</em> from the File drop-down menu at the top of your screen. You are shown a screen that allows you to set some parameters for your session, which can be confusing. Under “Audio File Type” it is best to select a <em>wave file</em> because it is a high-quality setting, and it is both Mac and PC friendly.

<a rel=”attachment wp-att-2330″ href=”http://www.voiceemporium.com/archives/03/protools-for-beginners/quickstart/”><img class=”alignnone size-large wp-image-2330″ title=”quickstart” src=”http://www.voiceemporium.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/quickstart-580×528.jpg” alt=”” width=”580″ height=”528″ /></a>

<strong><em>Bit Depth</em></strong> is a measure of the quality of the recording you are about to make. A 16 bit is CD quality, whereas the 24 bit gives you a little bit better recording but takes up twice the space. The 16 bit is the way to go because you don’t want to make a client spend too much time downloading your file in order to hear your audition or demo.

Under <strong><em>I/O Settings</em></strong> select <em>stereo mix</em> if this is your first time using Pro Tools. After you use Pro Tools a few times, it will automatically remember this setting as <em>last used</em>. Click OK and save the session somewhere on your computer.

3. A blank session opens, and you can see your <em>Edit window</em>, your <em>Mix window</em>, and your <em>Playback Transport. </em>

<em><a rel=”attachment wp-att-2333″ href=”http://www.voiceemporium.com/archives/03/protools-for-beginners/sessionw/”><img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-2333″ title=”sessionw” src=”http://www.voiceemporium.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/sessionw.jpg” alt=”” width=”580″ height=”366″ /></a>
</em>

The <strong>Edit Window</strong> is the large window on the left hand side of the screen.

Your <strong>Mix Window </strong>is the tall window on the right hand side of the screen.

The <strong>Transport</strong> is the playback controls on the bottom of the screen.

4. The first thing to do now is to create an Audio Track. To do that, go up to the File menu “Track” and select <em>New</em>. On the menu that pops up, select <em>1 — mono — audio track — samples</em>, which is the standard format to make a track. Click <em>Create</em>.

<a rel=”attachment wp-att-2336″ href=”http://www.voiceemporium.com/archives/03/protools-for-beginners/newtrack/”><img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-2336″ title=”newtrack” src=”http://www.voiceemporium.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/newtrack.jpg” alt=”” width=”579″ height=”111″ /></a>

5. Once you have created your mono audio track, this is what your screen should look like:

<a rel=”attachment wp-att-2337″ href=”http://www.voiceemporium.com/archives/03/protools-for-beginners/audiotrack/”><img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-2337″ title=”audiotrack” src=”http://www.voiceemporium.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/audiotrack.jpg” alt=”” width=”580″ height=”367″ /></a>

(Note: the edit window on the left side of the screen and the mix window on the right side of the screen now show your mono audio track.)

A tip to make the audio easy to follow and edit is to click on the ruler bar on the left hand, vertical side of the track, and select <em>jumbo </em>size.



30 Comments


  1. Hi Catherine!

    That’s a wonderful article you’ve put together. I will certainly add that to my “Resources” page on our website. I teach a Pro Tools for Voice-over workshop in Los Angeles for those who need hands-on learning. We go into more detail on exporting to MP3, installing and troubleshooting Pro Tools, but your article is an excellent primer.

    • Hey George,

      Thanks for the note! I’m glad to hear that you find this article a valuable resource, and I hope it helps your beginner students. Yes, Pro Tools can definitely get more complicated from here, but if you don’t know the basics — you’ll never figure out the complex things!

      Best regards,

      Catherine

  2. Wonderfully written tutorial with clear visuals for ProTools, Catherine! I only wish I had it when I was first starting out a few years ago! I do have one important ProTools LE question. How best to cut out breaths from a longer VO? I have cut breaths out in both the slip and shuffle mode individually, but I’m not always happy with the chopped results or the laborious process.

    Recently I began to experiment with gating the breaths out by using the pull down menu in Audio Suite-Dynamics-Expander/Gate Dyn3-Simple Gate or Vocal Expander. I feel there might be a better adjustment method, maybe to change few of the HF, LF, or attack or release settings, but I just haven’t found the right combination yet. Any advice?

    • Hi Linda,

      Thanks for the props! I hope this will be useful for people just getting started with voice-overs. We’re not all born talented and tech-minded, after all.

      Deleting breaths can be painstaking and annoying, but I actually don’t recommend that you use a gate/expander or any plug-in to eliminate the breath sound. Maybe the next person would disagree, but I think:

      1) When you start using gates and expanders or de-breathers to eliminate the unwanted noise, you lose an awareness of what you are actually cutting out. You will probably end up cutting into the sound that you actually want to keep. The voice is a much more dynamic sound than a bass or a tom tom, which gates are great for.

      2) When you edit out the breath between phrases or words, you can also adjust the rhythm of the phrases or words as well. If you take a breath at a comma before continuing with the sentence, it’s going to sound awkward and unnatural if there’s just a silence. If you pull the phrasing together, it’s going to sound more natural and flowing.

      Yes, editing can be a laborious process, but it needs to be done surgically in order to be done right.

      I hope that helps, and I would be happy to hear other opinions to the contrary. Thanks!

      Best wishes,

      Catherine

      • Catherine,

        Thanks for your comments on editing out breaths. It is certainly a kind of art in itself, and I’m glad to know I’m totally off-base in how I’ve been approaching that task.

        • Hi Lloyd,

          You’re welcome. What’s been your approach in the past, and have you been unhappy with the results? If so, post them here so that we can all learn from it!

          Best regards,

          Catherine

        • Oops! I just noticed that I left out a “not” in my original comment. I meant to say that I’m glad to know I’m NOT totally off-base in how I’ve been editing out breaths. I’ve just been listening for each breath or bit of mouth noise, expanding the graphic representation of the sound waves as much as necessary to work with it easier, and using the “slip” mode to edit out the breaths. I may then use “shuffle” mode to adjust the rhythm, as you mentioned. Usually this works quite well, though there are times when it’s hard to get the edit to sound smooth for reasons that aren’t always clear to me.

    • Great article!

      To take out breath sounds and mouth noises I use Adobe’s Soundbooth. It is fantastic for cleaning up the audio for the final product.

      -David

  3. Catherine,

    You were so kind to give a detailed explanation as to your reasoning to hesitate to use gates to eliminate breaths. Each time I’ve experimented, I end up with the 2 situations you described, which makes the plug-in gate feature ruin the read. I’m wondering if the threshold could be adjusted to a very low level in order to do a combination of applying a tiny amount of gating and physically editing out the breaths.

    It’s true I haven’t found the perfect combination yet for my voice, but I’ll keep experimenting.

    Thanks,
    Linda

    • My pleasure, Linda!

      If you figure something out in the process, let us all know! It’s nice to support each other and raise the bar for talent in this industry. If that means raising the quality of demos and voiceover work that is being produces, then I’m all for that!

      Best of luck,

      Catherine

  4. I’ve never worked with Adobe Soundbooth before. Does it have all of the same capabilities as Pro Tools? If so, do you prefer it to Pro Tools?

    • I’ve actually tried Adobe Soundbooth. It’s a stripped down version of Adobe Audition. I am used to the Audition interface so soundbooth was both familiar and yet a little too basic for me.

      Taji

    • I record with ProTools LE. It’s much easier to handle any cut and paste stuff that needs to be done (plus it’s easier to do multi-track).

      Soundbooth can do simple recording and multi-track files, but it’s kind of a pain. Soundbooth has great tools for cleaning up audio, removing unwanted sounds, adding effects, and a bunch of other post production bells and whistles.

      You can view the waveform (like in ProTools) or you can view something called a Spectral Frequency Display – which is a really cool way to see what’s actually going on in the audio. You can easily see where breath sounds are and remove them. I prefer to decrease their volume level to keep the read feeling natural without the breath being too heavy.

      Taji:
      I wanted to try Audition, but Adobe doesn’t make a Mac version. So Soundbooth was the next best thing.

      -David

  5. another method for editing breaths is to highlight the breath, use the Gain plug in the Audiosuite menu, then use the preview feature to \audition\ the breath…when you have the amount of volume subtracted from the breath, just hit \process\…a great deal of the time, simply reducing the volume of the breath maintains the natural flow and rhythm of the VO…

    • That’s one way to make the breath not as audible, but a lot of the time you’ll still need to take out some of that space. I find that just takes too long and there’s often a necessary second step involved.

      There are definitely multiple ways to get the same result, and it’s always good to hear what other people are doing!

      Thanks!

  6. not quite following you…..if you preview the selecting breath with the Gain plugin, then hit “process” that takes all but less than :10

    if you need to make the breath not audible at all, take the Gain down to 0%

    if you need to take out some of the space, highlight in shuffle mode and hit “delete”

    I do this all day long and that little process takes guaranteed less than :10..maybe even quicker with key commands.

    Now, if you try to take out some space of an existing breath, you’re probably gonna need to add a crossfade somewhere…I would consider that process an unnecessary step

    I also work with Audition, Sound Forge and Logic. ProTools is by far the quickest for eliminating or reducing breaths.

    • Great — thanks for your feedback! Like I said, it’s wonderful to hear what works best for different people.

      Best,

      • The issue is not really what works best for different people, it’s pointing people in the direction of maximum efficiency and getting them up to speed on getting the most out of the program by using the tools in the manner for which they were designed

  7. I love it. You made everything so clear and easy to understand. More More.

  8. Thanks, Queen E — I’m glad you found it useful!

    If you’re looking for a more in-depth coaching, we still have room in some of our Pro Tools for VO Actors Workshops!

    For more information: http://www.suchavoice.com/default.aspx?section=Page&page=Pro_Tools_Workshop

    I hope you can make it!

    Best, Cat

  9. HI Catherine,
    As everyone else has said, thank you for putting this on the web.
    I am having a technical issue that I haven’t been able to solve, am hoping someone here has some advice.
    My microphone is …too good. I have an Audio Technica 4040. It picks up EVERYTHING…as I live in a condo and don’t have a proper sound booth yet, it can be an issue, especially since it picks up my dogs breathing while I tape auditions. A colleague of mine suggested, either I get a less good mic, one with the cardioid pattern, or use my protools to run the input to an auxtrack, add inserts to …expand the sound or track (?) and then feed the aux track back to the audio… does this sound familiar to anyone?
    Thanks in advacne Catherine!
    Suzy

    • Hello Suzy,

      I kinda went through the same thing you went through but with a cardioid condenser mic called the MXL Studio 1 (its a USB mic) the mic was brilliant, warm and smooth but it picked up a fly’s fart at 20 paces.

      One of the solutions I found for this issue is to lower the computer’s gain. That is the level at the computer end that accepts the digital input from your mic.

      I usually do that by going to (if you are on a PC) Control Panel > Sound > Recording (then highlight your input device) > properties.

      I found that my input level was at like 100… so I kept lowering it until I found a sweet spot at 7.

      After that when I recorded the mic wasn’t as sensitive but on another note… I just read up on your mic here and it is in fact a cardioid mic so it isn’t recording anything behind it.

      Try lowering the gain.
      Taji

  10. Taji,
    Thanks for getting back to me so quickly!
    I am on a mac, so how do I lower the gain that way…
    or do you only know pc?
    Is it in protools or on my computer?
    Thanks again,
    You rock,
    Suzy

    • Hello Suzy,

      No I’m primarily a PC person but I did do some research and found an article on microphones and how to adjust the input level … here is an excerpt:
      ______
      No special drivers are necessary for the microphones to operate. When you plug them into your Mac, they appear as an input option in the Sound pane of System Preferences–identified as either USB Audio Codec (for the MXL and Samson mics) or by the microphone’s actual name.

      The gain of the Podcaster and Snowball microphones can be adjusted via the Input Level slider in the Input tab of Sound preferences. This slider is grayed-out with the MXL and Samson microphones; instead, these mics include hardware controls for adjusting gain. On the MXL mic, this appears in the form of a three-position switch marked Lo, Med, and Hi. The Samson G-Track offers a gain knob marked Mic; once you’ve adjusted the gain to your liking, you press the knob to lock it in position. The G-Track also includes an LED that glows green until you over-power the mic, at which point the LED turns red. This is a nice touch as it makes it easy to adjust and test the gain without having to record a long segment, only to realize afterwards that the gain was too hot.
      ______

      The full article can be found here
      So this is the part that we are interested in “the gain can be adjusted via the Input Level slider in the Input tab of Sound preferences”. Give that a whirl and let me know if decreasing the gain improves the sound or not.

      taji

      • Again, Thank you for your help and speed at responding.
        Maybe I should tell you what I am dealing with equipment wise.
        I have an mbox mini, Protools, a mac and the audio technica 4040 which plugs in with an XLR connector, not a USB directly into my mac. I tried the article’s suggestion and that does not work because I have the mbox in between the computer and mic.
        This setup was recommended to me by the company I do voice recordings for.
        It would be great if I had a soundproof room, but I do not. Like I said, a colleague had suggested dealing with it with plug ins.
        I have tried getting in touch but he isn’t responding.
        Do you know how to do this?
        Suzy

        • The mbox connects to the Mac via usb though right? maybe there is an mbox tutorial online that can help you lower the gain… Actually come to think of it the mbox itself has gain control on it so I am sure you can lower it straight from the box itself which you should experiment with and maybe find the sweet spot that doesnt record everything around you.

          A small amount of sound proofing will go a long way… recording with curtains behind you helps, recording with a blanket on top of you helps drastically, the idea is to mute everything around you and minimize the sound reverb and echo. I don’t use protools but I’m sure you can use the soundgate feature though you’ll need to (again) experiment with it so that you don’t lose frequencies from your voice. Honestly if I were you I would look keep looking on the blog circuit for someone who uses a mac and an mbox (half the VO folk out there have that setup). I have the cheapo setup which is Adobe Audition, CEntrance Pro and a Rode Nt1-A.

          Sorry I couldnt be of more help. You should try some of the LinkedIn forums and maybe the voiceoveruniverse.com vo equipment forums.

  11. No, thank you for your help!!!!
    Suzy

  12. Wonder tutorial with great illustrations.
    I have a question however I like to stream music in chat rooms such as paltalk. I purchased the mbox2 and got the mic working however I cant seem to find out how to stream from the mbox into the chat room.
    I am using windows 7 and this is what I have in the recording device of the windows 7 .
    in recording devices all my options show:
    1. digidesign mbox2 analog 1/2
    2. digidesign mbox2 S/PDIF 3/4
    3. microphone integrated HD audio
    4. cd player integrated HD audio
    5. Line in integrated HD audio
    6. stereo mix integrated HD audio

    Which one of these is equavalent to the stereo mix option for the mbox?
    The mic works great I selected the mbox in playback I can hear through the headset but cannot stream or broadcast to chat room? Any ideas? or suggestions?

    Thanks

  13. Your article was a great help. I’m a new protool’s user and after reading your article and followed the steps i was on my way. now i just need to know how to create and edit music.

  14. Hi David:

    I read your comment (below) about taking out breath sounds and mouth noises. I’m using the all new Adobe Audition CS5.5. Where would I find the same tools you have in Soundbooth? I have so much trouble with mouth clicks and heavy breaths. I wind up going through and cutting these noises out, but if there’s is a repair software built in to CS5.5 I need to know where it is. Help! Thanks David.

    Ed

    To take out breath sounds and mouth noises I use Adobe’s Soundbooth. It is fantastic for cleaning up the audio for the final product.

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