chapter 2 Getting Started
This chapter covers Pro Tools software activation, downloads and installation. We’ll take a look at Pace Antipiracy’s iLok License Manager and how to use it. We’ll cover the Pro Tools Dashboard, the Playback Engine dialog and the file and folder structure of a typical session. Finally, We’ll examine the menus and tour the main windows in Pro Tools and offer tips on navigation.
Pro Tools Tiers
As of Spring 2022, there are three tiers of Pro Tools subscriptions:
- Pro Tools Artist
- Pro Tools Studio
- Pro Tools Flex (which includes Pro Tools Ultimate)
This guide focuses primarily on features available in all tiers of Pro Tools. Occasionally, we’ll cover some features only available in Pro Tools Studio and Pro Tools Ultimate. There have been features previously exclusive to the top tier version of Pro Tools that have made it into Pro Tools studio so some of those topics might apply to most users at some point. At the time of publication, if something applies only to Pro Tools Ultimate, we’ll call it out as an Ultimate-only feature. Otherwise, any features discussed apply to Pro Tools Artist and Pro Tools Studio.
iLok License Manager
Pro Tools uses the iLok system for license management. Before you can register your copy of Pro Tools, you’ll need to create an iLok account at ilok.com/#!registration and download the iLok License Manager software. While it’s not required for account creation, an iLok USB key is highly recommended.
Warning About Using iLok Cloud
Note: While it’s theoretically possible to run Pro Tools using iLok Cloud authorization (where licenses reside in the cloud rather than the iLok USB key), there have been issues reported where Pro Tools and VoiceOver become sluggish, unresponsive or even unstable. It’s recommended that users activate their licenses to a local iLok key for best results.
General Notes About Using iLok License Manager
When using the iLok License Manager with a screen reader, the most important thing to remember is that virtually all of the interaction with the software beyond standard menu navigation is accomplished by pressing either Tab, Shift+Tab, Space bar and the arrow keys or some combination thereof. While screen readers might detect some groups of controls, attempting to interact with the user interface via standard screen reader commands will result in unexpected behavior.
- Local Locations View: Command+L
- Available Licenses: Command+2
- Redeem Activation Code: Command+Shift+R
- Activate a license: Command+Shift+A
- View Licenses on a location: Command+6
- Add Previous/Next License to Selection: Shift+Up/Down Arrow
If you haven’t already done so, create your Avid account by visiting My.Avid.com/account. Once you’ve successfully created an Avid account, you’ll need to register your copy of Pro Tools for it to show up under the “My Products” section of the Avid web site. Visit https://my.avid.com/products/redemption and follow the instructions on that page.
Downloading Pro Tools
Once you’ve successfully registered Pro Tools, you can find your product download links by visiting my.avid.com/products#MyProducts. There you’ll find your software download links and product details. The web site is fairly accessible but it has a couple of quirks at the time of this publication. See the demonstration below. Once you get the hang of how the site works, it’s pretty easy to navigate.
That said, some users have reported that, on occasion (perhaps after some predetermined period of time), the Avid site might require a user to verify billing information which leads to a situation where either a checkbox or some confirmation button seems not to be visible. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s probably best to have some sighted assistance to get beyond this slight hurdle. If you’ve purchased your copy of Pro Tools through a retailer such as Sweetwater, it’s possible that they can remote into your system to help in such a situation.
Once you’ve downloaded your software, proceed with the installation. Decompress any zipped files, mount the disk images and launch the installer packages.
Now that you’ve downloaded and installed Pro Tools, the process illustrated in the above demonstration can be followed for any subsequent Pro Tools updates. Pro Tools does use something called Avid Link which is a utility for keeping track of software installations and updates. It’s currently only somewhat accessible so it won’t be covered here. You’ll probably find that downloading the installers from the web site and running them on your local system is a bit easier and more reliable.
Locating Pro Tools
You can find the Pro Tools application in your Applications folder. There’s also a folder named “Pro Tools” which, by default, resides in your Documents folder. It contains various settings files as well as documentation PDFs.
Starting Pro Tools
The recommended sequence for starting up a Pro Tools system is to start with everything turned off. First, turn on any peripherals using external power such as computer displays, external hard drives, keyboards or other MIDI input devices, control surfaces and MIDI and audio interfaces. Make sure any bus-powered devices are plugged in and then boot up the computer. Finally, turn on any powered audio monitors or amplifiers and, if necessary, unmute them.
Launching Pro Tools
Find the Pro Tools application in your Applications folder and open it. There are several ways to launch applications in macOS. Whichever method you use, once Pro Tools is running it’ll appear in the Dock. It might be a good idea to check the option for keeping Pro Tools in the Dock for quick access whenever you need to launch the application.
The first time you launch Pro Tools, it will most likely use either the computer’s built-in output or the Pro Tools Aggregate I/O. Use the Playback Engine dialog to choose your audio interface and optimize system performance. Open the Playback Engine dialog by choosing Setup>Playback engine… Here you can adjust hardware buffer size among other host-based processing settings.
- Dismiss the Dashboard: Command+. (period)
The Dashboard is where you define the parameters when creating a new session file. It can also be used to open existing sessions stored on a local drive. By default, the Dashboard automatically appears after you launch Pro Tools. If Pro Tools is running and you don’t see the Dashboard, you can open it by pressing Command+N.
Session Folder File Structure
When creating a new session, Pro Tools creates a folder based on the name of the session file which contains several folders along with other files associated with the Pro Tools session. The session folder contains everything needed to move the entire session to a different computer if necessary. Among the items in a typical session folder would be the Pro Tools session file itself (with a .ptx extension), an Audio Files folder, a Session File Backups folder and a Wavecache file (with a .wfm extension). If necessary, Pro Tools may automatically create other folders like Bounced Files, Clip Groups and Rendered Files to accommodate exported files as well as frozen or committed tracks.
Pro Tools Menus
Below is a brief description of the main menu items in Pro Tools:
File Menu: The File menu contains commands for creating, opening and saving sessions as well as importing and exporting data.
Edit Menu: Aside from standard cut, copy and paste functions, the Edit menu contains commands for manipulating clips by trimming, duplicating, shifting as well as fading, crossfading, splitting clips, healing separations and other such actions.
View Menu: The View menu controls the appearance of windows in Pro Tools. By checking or unchecking items within the View menu, one can show or hide specific controls and various elements.
Track Menu: The Track menu contains options for track creation and maintenance such as duplicating, grouping, committing, freezing and deleting.
Clip Menu: The clip menu includes commands for grouping, warping, arranging and modifying clips.
Event Menu: The Event menu contains options for modifying the timing and tempo of events within the timeline as well as various operations for editing the properties of MIDI and audio events.
AudioSuite Menu: The AudioSuite menu provides access to the currently installed AudioSuite plug-ins which offer file-based processing of clip and timeline selections.
Options Menu: The Options menu contains choices for altering the behavior of functions such as playback, recording, editing and monitoring.
Setup Menu: The Setup menu contains items (each of which opens a new new dialog.) that allow you to configure various hardware and software parameters. Among the choices are settings for interfaces, Playback Engine, I/O Settings and Peripherals as well as the main Pro Tools Preferences.
Window Menu: The Window menu contains options for showing and hiding numerous windows within Pro Tools.
Avid Link Menu: The Avid Link menu lets you launch the Avid Link application directly from within Pro Tools.
Help Menu: The Help menu contains links to important documentation and online resources.
Main Pro Tools Windows
- Note that the following sections give an overview of some Pro Tools windows. There’s no accompanying example session file. If you’ve followed along thus far, you can simply use the session you’ve created or open any existing session file to follow along. If you haven’t already done so, you might consider downloading one of the Pro Tools demo sessions found in the product download section of my.avid.com.
The two windows in which you’ll spend most of your time in Pro Tools are the Mix and Edit windows.
Closing all Windows
Pro Tools includes a menu item to hide all floating windows and flo Tools also includes a similar command. When these commands are issued, however, it excludes the Mix and Edit windows. Thus, virtually all the time, you’ll have either the Mix or edit windows or both at least open if not in focus. It should be noted, however, that it’s possible to separately close the Mix and Edit windows, leaving no windows visible. Therefore, it’s possible to have a Pro Tools session open and active but with nothing visible except the main menu.
- Open/cycle mix/edit windows: Command+Equals
- Close All Windows (except for Mix/Edit): Command+Option+W
The Mix window resembles the layout of a traditional mixing console with tracks organized from left to right with controls within each track oriented in a vertical column much like a mixer’s channel strips.
The Edit window displays audio and MIDI clips within a timeline. Tracks in the Edit window are stacked in a vertical fashion with the clips appearing from left to right in the timeline. At the top of the window, there’s a toolbar with several clusters of controls and displays. Both the Edit and Mix windows include the Track List and Groups List tables and the Edit window has an additional table known as the Clips List with its own Show/Hide control.
While the Edit window is capable of displaying the same controls as the Transport window, it might sometimes be helpful to quickly open the Transport window itself with its dedicated keyboard shortcut. For example, if you’re in the Mix window, rather than having to switch to the Edit window first then navigating the toolbar to get to the Transport controls cluster, you can press Command+1 on the numeric keypad and immediately interact with the transport controls.
- Open/Close the Transport Window: Command 1 on the numeric keypad
A few other windows you’ll use often while working in Pro Tools are the Plug-in Window, the Automation Window, The Memory Locations Window and the MIDI Event List window.
- Open/Close the Automation Window: Command 4 on the numeric keypad
Memory Locations window
- Open/Close the Memory Locations Window: Command 5 on the numeric keypad
MIDI Event List
- Open/Close the MIDI Event List Window: Option+Equals
Special Notes on Navigating the Mix and Edit windows
VoiceOver has the ability to “see” or gain access to UI elements that might not necessarily be visible on screen. This has its advantages as well as disadvantages. The important thing to remember is that this may affect the order in which some controls are displayed and whether or not you might be able to perform certain functions like modified clicks or dragging.
VOCR is a free utility developed by Chi Kim to apply optical character recognition to the frontmost window. It can come in handy in some cases where UI elements and text are not visible to VoiceOver. VOCR was used occasionally within a couple of these audio demos. If you’d like to download and install vOCR, follow the instructions at:
Another method of identifying positions of certain elements is to use flo Mouse (part of Flo Tools) to speak and copy mouse coordinates in X,Y values. If your mouse pointer is set to follow the voiceOVer cursor, enable Flo Mouse by pressing Command+Forward slash. When you encounter an element or text whose point coordinates you’d like to know, press Command+Option+Shift+C. Flo Mouse will speak the coordinates and copy them to the clipboard.
- Scroll Tracks Vertically in the Mix Window: Page Up/Page Down or Home/End
- Scroll Tracks Horizontally in the Mix Window: Option+Page Up/Page Down or Option+Home/End