The Complete Pro Tools Guide For Beginners

8 9 Pro Tools Techniques Every Artist Should Know

How to use pro tools 101

I use pro tools because it’s the easiest platform to learn, It’s free with many different inexpensive soundcards, but most importantly, it is the industry standard. No one in a professional studio is going to turn down a pro tools session.

Im going to start at the very bottom and work our way up to a session with the hook copied and pasted along with the autotune plugin setup correctly. Lets get to it.

  • Create a session
  • Import the beat
  • Setting the tempo
  • Finding the key
  • Creating tracks
  • Recording vocals
  • Setting Levels
  • Setting Up Autotune
  • Copy and paste your hooks

Create Session

Open pro tools and select the create tab.

Select your but depth at 16 and your sample rate at 44.1 so you have the most resources available to your pc and system. Name your new song and click create.

Import the Beat

Next up you want to find and import your instrumental.

In The menu bar go to File->Import->Audio.

Next we will navigate to the folder containing your beat.

Once youve located the track, click the “Convert File” button, then click “Done”

This will bring up the next window, simply click “Use Current Folder” and it should begin converting and importing your beat.

After the conversion process is complete, you will get a popup asking do you want to imprt into the playlist or a new track. Choose New Track and click OK.

Not too complicated right?

Setting The Tempo

Setting your tempo is probably the most important step of setting up your session. The tempo allows you to record your hook/chorus and perfect its mix, then copy and paste it in perfect time across the song. You dont have to manuall copy and paste trying to get it just right , getting frustrated because the timings slightly off , or even recording it 2-4 times over! Do Not Skip This Step.

First off we are going to trim the silence off the beginning of the beat, or trim the beat to the first bassdrum on the one count.

When We zoom into the beat (lower arrow), we see a good second of silence before any audio starts. I click the three button edit section, on top of all three , which turns the cursor into a 3 function edit tool , instead of one function (see top arrow). Hwen the beat drops is where we want to trim too, remember the first kick on the one right?

This arrow shows our first downbeat with all the drops and silence rolled back. Move this trimmed beat all the way to the ZERO , the very beginning (check the smaller arrow up top).

Now we are ready to set the tempo. You see the tiny “+” sign right next to “Tempo 120”? Press the space bar, or play to begin the beat, then while playing it click the “+” sign next to the tempo. Now you can start tapping the “T” key on your keboard and you will see the tempo updating itself, tap at least 8-16 times until the tempo reading stabilizes.


That it, you should now ahave a correct tempo for your session. Later in this article, I will show you another method to check your tempo too.

Finding The Key

Whats a “key”? The songs key is what notes are used in the chords/melody/harmonies. You actually know every key by heart , instinctively. If you sit down in front of a computer, you can find the 7 notes in each key, staring from anywhere on the keyboard. Its built into your ears from years of listening to western music.

Im not here to teach you each of the 12 keys or their related minor keys, this isnt a piano lesson. Just understand every song has a key , and if you are going to use autotune ever, you must set the autotune to the correct key or it will sound like SHIT.PERIOD.

Ok , so here comes the quick and dirty and free way to get your key and your tempo.You will need the internet because we’re going to use for this quick job. Head over to the site…

Drag and drop your mp3 over into the upload section. Wait for it to finish uploading then scroll down and you will find you beats key signature AND the tempo. There is software we use for this in my major studio computers, we like “mixed in key” but its not free.

This beat is in the key of f minor and we confirmed the tempo at 87bpm.

Creating Tracks

You have the tempo and key set , now you need something to record into. Press “ctrl”+”alt”+”n” or to bring up the new tracks menu.

For the hook, I recommend 3 to 7 tracks (1-2 mains and 2-6 backing tracks for your stereo field or harmonies). Choose mono , type in the number of tracks then hit the plus sign to the right and add at least 2 STEREO Aux Tracks and ONE STEREO Master track.

Record vocals into mono , but you need aux tracks stereo and this is where your reverb and delays go. The master track is where everything comes together and goes out.

Recording Vocals

When you start recording your vocals, you must pay attention to your levels, or gain staging. Start by setting the beats mixer level to peak at no more than -6dB. See the lower arrow?

Next you want to setup your inputs from the mic/interface. If you have your mic plugged into “1” and you are using a good condensor mic, you will need to make sure your mic has its “phantom power” turned on for it to work. Phantom Power is a 48 volt power source sent through your mic cord from your audio interface to power the circuits of the microphone. If it is not on , you wont get a signal.

Set your new tracks inputs to the proper input (top arrow) and click the record (arm) button. Its in the group of four buttons aboove the fader in dark red. Once you are armed, it wil begin flashing in bright red.

Setting Levels

Now set your levels as you do a test pass or two while recording. You want to turn the dials on your interface either up or down until the very loudest passages hit no more than a peak of -6dB. Once you have your intial gain staging set you should be ready to start tracking!

Setting Up Autotune

So you wanna be a sanguh huh? Or maybe you are a singer or just wanna sound like ol T Pain. This isnt all that hard since we know the key of the beat right?

So this is the modern Autotune Interface.

Im not going to run through all this shit, you just wanna get to work and sound decent to get started right?

So These are the most common settings i use for a male rapper/singer.

Starting at the top left , set your input type to the source, ie a male rapper is usually a low male, a female is an alto and a singer with a higher voice is a soprano. Moving over to the key tab, set it to the key you are in , in this case , a minor key so set it to F , then instead of “Major” , use “Minor”. This is IMPORTANT.

Moving down to retune speed, I prefer a 12-20 range, but the faster you go the harder the t pain effect will come out.

Correction style i set to 10-20 depending on the quality of the source (how well the vocals are performed and how close to the proper notes they actually are). Finally the humanize function is used to add some errors back into the performance (humanizing the results to sound , well…. more human) Adjust these setting to fit your song the best.

I can show you how to make a shitty performance a really decent one using autotune, leave me a comment below if you are interested in learning how to REALLY use Autotune to perfect bad performers and people who just caint really damn sing.

Copy & Pasting Hooks

Ok so you have your hooks laid down , youve added some autotune and a few effects and got it jumping. Now we get to the main reason for setting the tempo FIRST. This eliminates timing issues when copying hooks out.

Set your edit area in the top left corner to “GRID” no select a spot of silence a couple beats before your hook starts, then select all the different takes and highlight them all.

Now depending on how long your verses are (8-12-16 bars), simply type the length into the length area in the center black time area. For example an 8 bar hook with a 12 bar verse is 20 bars (8+12=20). Now that the area highlited is exactly 20 bars long , use the shortcut “ctrl” + “D” once or more until you have all the hooks you need.

If you set your tempo correctly, each hook is now perfectly aligned and locked in time!

Wow, that was alot of info but I think that should get the complete beginner started on their journey to that first hit single!

Lemme know if you want more articles like this ,if I made a mistake , or what You want to learn about recording mixing next!


-Dj Smuv

Your Main Producer