Industry standard session management and workflow guidelines

The importance of accepted industry guidelines have become more and more important now that we are stepping into the domain of online cross-collaboration creative projects. The guidelines that I will be talking about are the Producers & Engineers Wing Pro tools guidelines, however, these guidelines provide crucial insight into how a project should be managed. After reading this document, I was already thinking of ways to incorporate a lot of these guidelines into other DAW’s and other aspects of projects, like file management. I have taken it upon myself to copy the guidelines into this blog, in their relevant sections for quick reference (for myself). Please read the full document from the link below, as it elaborates on the dot points. I must add that my own dot points below have extra noted information that I find important for some of them.

http://www.soundcurrent.com/PTGuidelines.pdf

The P&E Wing Guidelines are broken up into 4 sessions, these being:

  • Master session
  • Slave sessions
  • source sessions
  • mix master and mix slave sessions

The Master session is the main and central session for the entire project. Everything that gets recorded must be transferred to this master session, and the session itself holds a MST label at the name. Slave sessions are usually reduced track versions of the project (like overdubbing sessions etc). Source sessions are usually retired sessions that contain all the original source tracks. Mix master and mix slave sessions are prepared for mixing or are in the mixing phase.

Master session guidelines:

  • There should be only one master session that is clearly labeled.
  • The final result of work done in other sessions should be imported into the master session.
  • Always label audio tracks before recording, and rename all audio files recorded before the track was labeled
  • Use comments section liberally. Very important. Will assist future engineers in understanding the producer’s intentions. Something I should do more often.
  • Always label internal busses in I/O set-up. Very big time saver for the next engineer when tracking the routing of the audio.
  • Label inputs, outputs and inserts in the I/O set-up. This helps when recreating patching from a previous session.
  • Confirm that computer’s date and time are set correctly. This insures that all fire’s date created and date modified information is correct. This helps resolve issues if two files have the same name, the newest can be chosen.

Creating a new session:

  • Master session should be labeled “Song Title-MST”. This way everyone working on the session understands that this is the master session.
  • .WAV is the recommended audio file type for compatibility with all DAW systems
  • Enforcing Mac/PC compatibility is recommended to improve session interchange between all pro tools systems.
  • Make sure you save the session to a level on your audio hard drive where you and future operators can locate it.
  • Confirm that VSO setting is un-checked in the Session Set-Up window when using SYNC I/O or USD. Not setting this properly means that systems without VSO capabilities will play back at the wrong speed.
  • Create some form of tempo map in the conductor track for appropriate music styles. This should be one of the first things done during the basic tracking session, or at the earliest stage possible, as editing in bar|beat grid mode is one of the biggest time saving aspects of pro tools.
  • Always include the Click plug-in on an Aux Input, or create an audio click track, for appropriate music styles. Keep at top of session if possible (shown or hidden).
  • Create Memory Location markers of song’s arrangement. This allows all operators after you to quickly understand the structure of the song and easily move about.
  • Include key and modulation information in File > Get Info
  • When using Auto Delay Compensation make a note in File > Get Info… so users of software earlier than Pro Tools 6.4 will know to compensate.
  • It is highly recommended to include a tuning note on its own track at the beginning of the session. Keep at top of session if possible (shown or hidden). This helps resolve the question of whether the initial session was clocked to an external source that was not the same sample rate as the session setup setting.

Cleaning up:

  • Clean all edits and punches, make sure there are no clicks and pops with the Auto Region Fade In/Out Length (TDM only) set to “O ms”, and put in crossfades if necessary.
  • Consolidate tracks into solid audio starting from the beginning of the session when you are completely finished editing them.
  • Always print tuned tracks to another track when finished tuning them. This is important because auto-tuning plugins do not tune identically on each pass. The only way to get consistent results is to print them. Also the next system to open the session may not have the plugin or enough DSP power. You may also leave a clearly labeled copy of the un-tuned track underneath the playlist of the tuned track.
  • Delete all tracks no longer needed in the session.
  • Periodically delete redundant or unnecessary playlists.
  • Remove unused audio files before closing session.

Organization:

  • Leave tracks organized in an order that makes sense when closing session.
  • Keep Aux Input returns of submixed tracks (e.g. BG Vocals) adjacent to the source tracks.
  • Generally keep FX Returns (Aux Inputs) and the Mix Bus (Master Fader) preferably to the right and bottom, or optionally to the left and top of the session.
  • Create a blank track labeled “—UNUSED—” to place between the used and unused tracks.
  • Keep all tracks still being used in the session showing and essentially above/to the left of the “—UNUSED—“ marker.
  • Deactivate, mute, hide and generally move below/to the right of the “—UNUSED—“ marker all tracks no longer being used in the session. Label in the comments section why they are not being used.

Additional Items:

  • Keep a recent rough mix labeled with song title and date on a pair of tracks at the top of the session. This is used as a reference to how it sounded previously.
  • Use Mute Regions instead of muting with automation to mute audio tracks.
  • Label Aux Inputs with direction (to/from) and name of outboard gear used. Also document settings in comments.
  • Using send and return routing (Aux Inputs) for reverb, chorus, and delay effects is generally preferred instead of inserting them on the audio tracks.
  • Comment tracks can be created using blank MIDI tracks and renaming blank regions that will be easily visible on the timeline of the Edit window. Different tracks for comments, lyrics, key or tempo info can be created and placed anywhere in the session. Set Track View to blocks and use Edit >Consolidate Selection to create blank regions. Rename by double clicking with the Grabber tool. Display Name In Regions (Display menu) must be on.

Slave sessions – Outgoing:

  • There may be many Slave sessions.
  • Slave sessions should allow receiving users to playback the elements of the Master session on substantially fewer tracks.
  • Master session elements should be submixed into similar groups (Drums, Keys, etc.) or individual tracks (Bass, Lead Vocal), and are often printed with effects.
  • The receiving users should easily be able to hear the mix of the Slave tracks exactly the way you hear them. The stems (submixes) should be printed so when their faders are all set to the same level (e.g. all set to –5 dB) they can hear your mix. Otherwise, use a single volume automation breakpoint to show the intended balance. The level can also be noted in the comments.
  • The submixes should allow the receiving users to hear the parts blended so they can make proper musical decisions for overdubs.

Creating a new slave session:

  • The session should be labeled with the song title, a description of its purpose, and the abbreviation “SLV” (e.g. “Song Title-String SLV”).
  • Consider the receiving system so the Slave will open properly. Enforce Mac/PC compatibility and keeping the track count at 24 or less, your session will open on all Pro Tools systems.

Make sure you have these elements from the master session:

  • The start time and frame rate must be the same as the Master’s.
  • Include the tempo map. “Import session data” will import it to the slave session
  • Include the Click plug-in track, or the audio click track. Keep at top of session if possible (shown or hidden)
  • Include the Memory Location markers.
  • Include key and modulation information in File > Get Info
  • Include separate reference tracks of the instruments the session is being sent out to have overdubbed if applicable.

Slave sessions – Returning:

  • The final results of all work done in the Slave sessions should be transferred back to the Master session.
  • Return all the tracks that were in the Slave session when you received it.
  • Make sure the session start time and frame rate are the same as when you received the session, or note in the Session Info Document if not.
  • Clearly label in the comments and list in the Session Info Document all tracks to import back into the Master session.
  • Make note of changes or edits done to the original tracks of the Slave in the comments, as well as the Session Info Document, so they can be imported or reproduced in the Master.
  • Include your name and contact information in the Session Info Document incase the receiving studio has any questions.

Source Sessions:

  • There may be many Source sessions.
  • The session should be labeled with the song title, a description of the tracks removed from the Master, and the abbreviation “SRC” (e.g. “Song Title-Ld Vox SRC”).
  • The session should be saved to the Source Sessions folder.

Mix master and mix slave sessions:

  • There should be only one Mix Master and optionally one or more unique Mix Slaves for each mix.
  • The Mix Master should be labeled “Song Title-MIX” when there are no Mix Slaves, and conversely “Song Title-MIX MST” when there are Mix Slaves.
  • The Mix Slave(s) should be labeled with the song title, the abbreviation “MIX SLV”, and if applicable the Slave number (e.g. “Song Title-MIX SLV 1”).
  • Use comments section for notes to mixer. including producer’s suggestions for effects and processing on specific tracks.
  • Label any unlabeled Busses, Inputs, Outputs and Inserts in the I/O setup
  • Label Aux Inputs with name of outboard gear used and document settings in comments.
  • Make sure some form of tempo map is in the conductor track if appropriate for musical style.
  • Make sure there are Memory Location markers of the song’s arrangement.
  • Make sure the key and modulation are in File > Get Info
  • Note in comments if a track (or a copy for effect) is slipped.
  • Print “Final Rough Mix” labeled with song title and date on a pair of tracks at the top of the session. It is a standard to send a rough mix out when sending multitrack masters out to be mixed.
  • At the end of the mix, always label final mixes with the song title and type of mix (e.g. “Song Title-Voc +1”, “Song Title-Inst”) when printing or bouncing to disk.

Plug-Ins:

  • All essential (i.e. special effect) plug-ins should be printed to another track.
  • You may leave clearly labeled unprocessed versions of the above printed tracks. Keep plug-ins and settings. Deactivate, mute, hide and generally move them to the bottom/far right.
  • Leave in only nonessential plug-ins the producer would like the mixer to reference and remove the rest.

Automation:

  • If volume automation is used to fade-in or fade-out of regions, it is best to replace it with created audio fade-ins and fade-outs.
  • Use Mute Regions instead of muting with automation to mute audio tracks.
  • Leave any automation the producer wants the mixer to use (e.g. BG vocal blends, panning) and label it clearly in the comments.
  • If possible, contact the mixer regarding whether you should leave the remaining nonessential automation in the session or delete it.

Make sure you have these elements:

  • Every track is in session that is supposed to be.
  • All parts are on each track that are supposed to be.
  • All flys (copied and pasted parts/sections) have been completed.
  • All comps (composite tracks) are completed and clearly labeled.
  • The correct lead vocal is there and VERY clearly labeled.
  • All tuned tracks have been printed to another track and are clearly labeled as tuned.
  • If the lead vocal is tuned, it is recommended to leave a clearly labeled untuned version of the vocal on another track.
  • Optionally, you may leave un-tuned versions of other important tracks that were tuned. Label clearly.

Cleaning up:

  • Clean up tracks by going through them and deleting loud noises and other extraneous elements you don’t want in the mix.
  • Check that all edits and punches are clean, make sure there are no clicks and pops with the Auto Region Fade In/Out Length (TDM only) set to “O ms”, and put in crossfades if necessary.
  • Consolidate tracks into solid audio starting from the beginning of the session when you are completely finished editing them.
  • Delete all tracks not needed for mix.
  • Delete all playlists not needed for mix.
  • Remove all unused audio files before closing session.

Organization:

  • Arrange tracks in logical order from top to bottom (e.g. drums, bass, guitars, keys, vocals).
  • Keep the Aux Input returns of submixed tracks (e.g. BG Vocals) adjacent to the source tracks.
  • Place FX Returns (Aux Inputs) and the Mix Bus (Master Fader) preferably to the right and bottom, or optionally to the left and top of the session.
  • Leave any optional tracks showing, but de-activated and clearly labeled in the comments as to their status.
  • Place a blank track labeled “—UNUSED—” between the tracks to mix and the unused tracks.
  • Keep all tracks to be mixed showing and essentially above/to the left of the “—UNUSED—“ marker.
  • Deactivate, mute, hide and generally move below/to the right of the “—UNUSED—“ marker all tracks not to be used, but being left for reference.
  • Leave comments showing for mixer to see when opening the session.

Routing outputs:

  • When session will be mixed through a console route outputs as you’d like them to come up on desk if possible.
  • When session will be mixed inside Pro Tools route tracks and submixes to Outputs 1-2, or route internally through a stereo bus (Aux Input) and route Aux Input to Outputs 1-2.

File Management, Storage and Documentation:

Management and storage:

  • When sending a session out, the current Master, Slave, or Mix session should be the only session file showing on the top level of the session folder.
  • All other session files should be stored in folders (see below) to prevent confusion about which is the current session.
  • We suggest using these folder names to keep your session folder
  • organized:
  • Session History – for all non-current sessions.
  • Source Sessions – for all retired source tracks sessions.
  • MIDI Files – tempo maps, MIDI sequence files, etc.
  • Notes
  • Rough Mixes
  • Final Mixes
  • When using a single drive, the current Master, Slave, or Mix session’s audio files should all reside in a single Audio Files folder at the top level of the session’s folder.
  • When a session’s audio files are divided between drives, there should be only one session folder containing a single Audio Files and Fade Files folder per drive.
  • After following the Pro Tools Session Guidelines to prepare a session to send out (especially to mix) we recommend using the Save Session Copy In… method to save the session.

Follow these steps:

  1. Save a copy of your current session by choosing the Save As… command in the File menu.
  2. Give the session a different name than your original.
  3. Choose Select Unused Regions from the Audio Regions list pop-up menu.
  4. Choose Clear Selected from the Audio Regions list pop-up menu.
  5. Click Remove. Do NOT click Delete.
  6. Choose Save Session Copy In… in the File menu.
  7. Select Enforce Mac/PC Compatibility.
  8. Select Save All Audio Files.
  9. Save the session to a different hard drive than the drive the original session resides on. The CPU hard drive can be used if no other drive is available. If possible, save it directly to the drive it will be sent out on.
  10. Remove the original session’s drive from desktop.
  11. Confirm that the newly created session Opens.
  12. Test playback of the new session from beginning to end to confirm all files play.
  13. If you didn’t save the session to your new media in step 9, copy the

new session folder to the media you’re sending it out on now.

  • If using DigiDelivery to send a session out, it is best to do so directly after saving the session before any files or drives are moved. DigiDelivery will inform you if any dependent media files are missing.
  • When transferring sessions between studios during production we recommend saving session data to CD-R’s, FireWire drives, SCSI drives or (in the near future) DVD-R’s for their universality.
  • Always keep a safety copy of a session and all its files in your possession when sending a session out.
  • For final archiving of sessions at the end of a project see the Master Delivery Recommendations at www.grammy.com/pe_wing/guidelines.

Pro Tools Session Info Document:

  • Use the Pro Tools Session Info Document to keep all information about your session for future users.
  • Always keep the Pro Tools Session Info Document in the same session folder as the session file it is referring to.
  • Only have a single Session Info Document for each set of sessions that share the same audio files and session folder (i.e. one per song). A single Info Document can keep information about multiple sessions of the same song.
  • Always include your name and contact information in the Operators section of the Session Info Document.
  • Always update the Session History section with the dates worked, the work done and your name.
  • When sending a session out for film or video post production work the session recipient should determine the correct pull-up/pull-down settings for the session. The supplier must provide complete documentation concerning synchronization during recording of the session.
  • And remember, you can never have too much documentation.

Well that’s all of it, dot point and ready to reference for future projects. As a side note, I learnt a heap from reading this entire document. I figured that I want to be a professional in the industry and session management and workflow is something well worth getting right. This way it ensures everyone working on the project understands what is going on and what needs to happen.
Thanks for reading!

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