Lesson 6

Sends, Returns, and Busses In Pro Tools

One of the really cool things about using Pro Tools is the ability to route audio signals anywhere within the Pro Tools software, or in your outboard gear that is connected to Pro Tools.

In the audio recording world, there are several terms that you need to be familiar with before we can start to work with routing audio signals.

Bus. You can think of this just like a bus in the real world. A Bus carries audio signals somewhere else. Usually carrying several audio signals, or audio outputs, down a single path to one input. Much like a bus carries several people down a single road to the same destination.

A Send is like a bus or train station in the real world. A send routes the audio signal to a specific destination. At a train or bus station, you would find out which train, or which bus you would have to get on to arrive at your desired destination.

An Aux or Auxiliary Track is usually where the bussed audio signal or group of audio signals arrives and is processed. This processing usually involves plug-ins that are included with your Pro Tools software. There may be a reverb plug-in, a compressor plug-in etc.

A Return returns the audio signal to you after it is processed. It is the output of the Aux track allowing you to hear the processed audio signals.

There are several uses for
busses, sends, and returns when you are recording. They may include:

Routing an input through a Pro Tools Plug-in or through one of your outboard effects processors. This will allow you to hear the effect in the monitor mix when you are recording. Guitarists and vocalists especially like to hear a little reverb on their track when they are recording. I always try to give a vocalist reverb on their headphone mix while I am recording the track dry. Remember you can always add an effect to a track during mixdown, but once an effect is printed to a track, you are stuck with it!
You can also rout your input through an effects processor before it gets recorded onto a track in Pro Tools. When I am recording my saxophone onto a Pro Tools track, I will set up a compressor plug-in so that I can control the dynamics of my saxophone before it gets printed onto the audio track in Pro Tools.

When you are playing through a plug-in into Pro Tools you can’t use Low Latency Monitoring because Pro Tools will automatically bypass the plug-in and it won’t work. Just select a low Hardware Buffer Setting. Usually 128 samples will get the job done.

Putting The Same Effect On Several Tracks

For this example, we are going to put the same effect on several tracks at the same time. This will save us processing power, and if you want to use the same effect on a number of tracks, you don’t need to create a plug-in for each track.

We do this by using a bus to send all of the tracks that need delay to an aux input that contains the plug-in with the desired effect. The bus takes all of the tracks needing the effect to the aux input, where the effect is processed using a plug-in. The tracks with the effect are then sent to the main stereo outputs of Pro Tools where you can now hear the desired effect on all of the tracks.

Confusing? Let’s set this up in a Pro Tools session to see how it works.

Click on the following link to download files you will need for this tutorial:

Pro Tools Course Files

Download the folders for your specific computer type (Mac or PC). Find the file Effects 1 Folder and copy it to your hard drive. Make sure that you copy the whole folder and all of its contents. In fact, to save time later, copy the entire course Pro Tools sessions onto your hard drive.

Launch Pro Tools and from the
File pull down menu select Open Session. Find Effects 1 Session in the folder and open it.

Once you have opened it, go to the
File pull down menu and select Save Session As.. and save your session as your name Effects 1. That way you won’t overwrite the original session. I would save my session as Pfenninger Effects 1.ptf.

Listen to the session and notice that all of the tracks have no effects on them. We are now going to put reverb on 3 of the tracks.

Adding Reverb To 3 Tracks

Make sure that the
Mix Window is showing for your session.

Go to the
Track pull down menu and add a new Mono aux input track to the session and title it Delay.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.30.58 PM

After your aux verb-track is created, you will need to place a delay plug-in into the Delay track’s Insert Bus. Make sure that you have checked All from the Mix Window Views in the View pull down menu.

At the top of the verb track insert a plug in by single clicking on the open bar located at the
Inserts A-E on the top of the Delay channel. This will allow you to place a plug-in into the track.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.31.21 PM
Select the Medium Delay II (mono) plug-in

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.31.55 PM

You will now see the plug-in dialog box appear with the following default settings:

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.32.16 PM
The Medium Delay default settings will work just fine for this project.

We are going to put delay on the guitar, horn, and vocal track. So we need to activate a send on each track that we want to put delay onto.
Select a
mono bus output on the guitar track and assign it to Bus 1 Mono located in the Sends F-J section of the channel strip just below the Sends F-J button.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.32.56 PM

Now you will also notice that another fader has also popped up that allows you to adjust the volume and panning of the send. For now, keep the pan centered and the volume about 1/2 of the way up. Your fader may look a little different than mine, but it is the same concept.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.33.22 PM
Guitar Send fader.

Repeat the above steps to add sends to the horn and vocal track.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.33.50 PM
Guitar, Horn, and Vocal tracks all assigned to Bus 1. Don’t forget to adjust the faders on the sends.

Now that we have routed the sends to
Bus 1, we need to create a bus path into the delay aux track.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.34.05 PM

Select Bus 1 as your input for your Delay track. Make sure that the fader is 1/2 way up. Remember that you control the amount of delay that is going to the tracks with the fader on the Delay track.

Play back the sequence and experiment with the amount of delay going to the tracks. Remember that you can also boost the send fader located on each of the
Bus 1 sends to the Delay Aux Track.

To view a brief tutorial on Sends, Returns, and Busses click on the following link:

Clip 7

Pro Tools Project 8: Sends, Returns, and Busses

Use the Save As command to save your Effects 1 Project.

Experiment with other effects and bussing. Use the Effects file or create one of your own. The best way to master Sends, Returns, and Busses is to do a few of them! Pro Tools is like an instrument. You need to practice using it so that you will get better.

Recording Through An Effect Into Pro Tools

Many times when you are recording, you may want to record into an effect before it is printed to a track in Pro Tools. This is a great use for a compressor. If you are recording an instrument that has a wide dynamic range, like drums, saxophone etc., you will want to record into a compressor before the audio gets printed onto a Pro Tools track. That way, the compressor can kick in and control the dynamics before the audio goes into Pro Tools.

When I am recording my saxophone, I always insert a compressor into my recording chain before the audio goes onto a Pro Tools Track. The compressor will even out the sound and print a robust (but not too robust) audio file into Pro Tools.

Inserting A Compressor

Create a new Pro Tools session and title it your name-compressor.

Make sure that you are in the
Mix Window and create two new tracks:
A Mono Aux Track titled Aux Comp for your inserted compressor.

A Mono Audio Track titled Voice. This is the track we are going to record a compressed audio signal into.

You should now be looking at your two newly created tracks. In the
Mono Aux track, insert a compressor plug-in into the channel insert slot located at the top of the channel strip.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.35.29 PM
Go to Plug-in, Dynamics, Compressor/Limiter Dyn 3 (Mono).

You will also see the compressor plug-in window pop up. Keep it open so that you can see the compressor working.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.35.52 PM
Compressor Plug-in window.

Once your compressor plug-in is inserted into the
Aux Comp channel, you will need to assign the output of that channel to bus 1.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.36.32 PM
Routing the output of the aux comp track to bus 1.

Set the input to your Aux Comp track to interface, Built-in Microphone 1 (mono) assuming that you have your mic plugged into channel 1 on your interface.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.39.01 PM
We are going to be sending our compressor output to our vocal track input. That way the recording chain looks like this:

Mic ----------Compressor-------Vocal Track.

Once you have assigned the
Aux Track’s output to bus 1, you will now need to assign the Vocal Track’s input to bus 1.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.39.34 PM

Now you need to
record enable the Vocal track and also move the slider about 1/2 way up on the Compressor Aux Track. Remember, that you can control how much of the compressor is being bussed by moving the slider on the Aux Track.

When you have done that, your Mix Window should look as follows:

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.40.10 PM
Aux Compressor Set up, going to a vocal track.

Make sure that you have a microphone plugged into the correct input. In my case, I am using Mic/Line 1 into my
Aux Track.

Now talk or sing into your microphone and notice the compressor kicking in. Experiment with different compressor settings. In the Course Handouts Folder on your WebCT homepage there is a handout on basic reverb settings. Note that these are just starting places, feel free to experiment and use your own settings.

Save your session, you are going to add a reverb aux track to it.

To view a brief tutorial on inserting a compressor, click on the following link:

Clip 8

Pro Tools Project 9: Insert A Compressor/Delay Plug-in

Now I would also like you to create an aux track for delay. That way, you will have a compressor and a reverb plug-in going at the same time. Follow the steps above and add reverb to your recording chain. Work directly from your Compressor session and save it as your name Project 9.

Pro Tools Playlists

Playlists are an important part of the Pro Tools software, having several different functions at the same time.

An Edit Playlist contains a group of regions that are arranged on an audio or MIDI track.

An Automation Playlist contains data on volume, pan, mute, and plug-in information.

Playlists are great for bouncing tracks together. This saves hard disk space and when you are limited to a finite number of tracks. You can really do some creative things using Playlists.

You can also use Playlists to record multiple takes on top of one another using the same track with different Playlists.
When I record my saxophone, I will often record multiple takes on the same track using different Playlists. When I am done recording, I simply choose which take, or takes, that I like, I then combine them, edit them, and try to end up with a better performance. Ahh, the wonder of editing!

Using Playlists To Record

Create a new Pro Tools session and title it your name—Playlists.

Add a new mono audio track titled Voice. You would think that I could be a little more creative with the track titles at this point!

Record your voice onto the track for about 2-3 measures. This should be quite easy for you to do at this point.

Make sure that you are now in the
Edit Window. We are now going create a new Playlist for your voice track.

Click on the down arrow located to the right of the Voice name in the
Edit Window to create a new Playlist for your voice track.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.41.26 PM

You will now see the
Playlist dialog box. Name your new Playlist Voice 02 and click OK.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.41.50 PM
Playlist dialog box.

Notice that the voice track now appears empty. Record a new voice track for your Voice 02

You can repeat this process and record as many takes as you want onto the Voice track. Notice that for each take you record, the audio file appears in the Clips Window located to the right of your Edit Window.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.42.09 PM
Clips Window

Selecting Your Playlists.

Once you have recorded multiple takes on the Voice track, you can now listen to each take and choose the best one.

Make sure that you are still in the
Edit Window and click on the down arrow located to the right of the Voice name in the Edit Window. To show your Playlists for your voice track, simply select whatever Playlist you want to hear from the list.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.42.24 PM
Selecting a Playlist.

You can also combine
Playlists into a single track by cutting a pasting the best parts together from several Playlists. We will spend more time on editing audio in Pro Tools later in the course.

To view a brief tutorial on creating playlists, click on the following link:

Clip 9

Bouncing Tracks With Playlists

As I already mentioned, another great use for Playlists is for bouncing several tracks down to a single track. This will open up more tracks for you to record on, especially if you are limited by the number of tracks that are available to you.

I will often bounce multiple drum tracks down to one or two tracks. If I am happy with the mix of the drum set, bouncing the tracks down will open up some more recording space for me.

From your
Pro Tools Course Files, find the file Drum Loop Folder and copy it to your hard drive. Make sure that you copy the whole folder and all of its contents.

Launch Pro Tools and from the
File pull down menu select Open Session. Find Drum Loop Session in the folder and open it.

Once you have opened it, go to the
File pull down menu and select Save Session As.. and save your session as your name Drum Loop. That way you won’t overwrite the original session.

Notice that we have four drum parts in the session. We are now going to bounce all four of them down to a single track. First, change the volume of each drum to create a balance that you like. Make sure that you are in the
Mix Window.

Once you have come up with a good balance for the drum kit, add a new
Mono Audio Track titled Drm Mix. This is where we are going to bounce our 4 drum tracks.

Now assign a send for each of the four drum tracks. We will use
Bus 1 Mono for each of the drum track. Also, remember to put the fader up on the Send Channel for each track about 1/2 way.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.43.25 PM
Bus 1 and Bus 1 Fader.

Next, assign the output for each drum track to
Bus 1 Mono.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.44.24 PM Bus 1 Mono Output

Assign the input for the
Drm Mix track to Bus 1 Mono. This is where we are bussing our four drum tracks into a single mono track.

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.44.48 PM Bus 1 input for Drm Mix track.

Record enable the Drm Mix track, so that it will be ready to record our bussed signals from the drums.

The correct routing setup should look as follows:

Screen shot 2012-04-18 at 3.45.28 PM

Make sure that the sequence is at the beginning.
Record enable the Record Button in the Transport Window, hit the Play Button and record the four drum tracks into a single mono track. You should now see audio in your Drm Mix track. Note that you will not hear any sound until you actually record the track using the transport controls.

If you like you can mute, the four drum tracks and listen to the drum mix on your Drum mix track.

So, how does all this fit into our
Playlists? You can record different drum mixes into your Drm Mix track by setting up different mixes and creating different Playlists within the Drm Mix track.

To view a brief tutorial on Bouncing Tracks, click on the following link:

Clip 10

Pro Tools Project 10: Creating 3 Different Drum Mixes

Use the Drum Loop session and create 3 different drum mixes in the Drm Mix track with 3 different Playlists.

Save your Drum Loop Project and email it to me as an attachment. Don’t send any audio files. Just send the Session file. For example, I would send Pfenninger Drum Loop.ptx

Recap: Lesson 6

You should now be more familiar with:
Sends, Returns, and Busses in Pro Tools
Placing the same effect of several tracks at the same time.
Recording through an effect into Pro Tools
Inserting a compressor into the recording chain.
Pro Tools Play lists.
Using Playlists in your recordings.
Bouncing Tracks with Playlists.
Creating different stereo mixes using Playlists.

l arrow To Lessons Page