Using Pro Tools and ICON for Live Mixing with Snapshots

For many years now live event mixers, FOH, Monitors, and Broadcast/Record, have relied on snapshot and scene recall automation to make shows go smoother and have performances as consistent as possible.  I've used lots of snapshot/scene systems, but the better ones all rely on some kind of combination of storing the present state of the console and then recalling that state on the fly.

Pro Tools, on the other hand, was not designed as a live mixing platform.  It is a powerful recording and mixing system meant for the recording studio and not the stage, and Digidesign recognized this when they rolled out the Venue series.  If you do happen to own an ICON, however, you already have a powerful live mixing system that you can set up to emulate a Yamaha or Venue.  Here's how:

1.  Gather all of the tracks that will be involved in a recall into a group--let's name it Guest for now.  Open Modify Groups (Control-Command-G in Mac) and uncheck Follow Globals.  In Attributes uncheck all the Main boxes (Volume, Mute, Pan, LFE). In the Mix Attributes sub window on the bottom check Record Enable, Input Monitoring, and Automation Mode.

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What you have done here is make a group that when enabled the faders and mute buttons are all independent, but changing automation modes, input switching, or record enable on one track will change all the tracks.

2.  If you haven't already, open Preferences/Mixing and enable Allow Latch Prime in Stop and Plug-In Controls Default to Auto-Enabled.  Make sure automation is enabled.  My personal preference here is to enable all the boxes in the Automation window except Mute since I frequently use mutes to audition different balances, and I don't want those moves stored.

3.  Make sure Guest is enabled (highlighted) in the GROUPS window, then toggle one member track into Latch mode.  All members of Guest should change to match.

4.  Set up your initial balances, inserts, send levels, etc. as usual.  Any touched fader will drop into active Write mode and the Latch light will flash.  It's not a bad idea here to occasionally hit Write To All, which will switch all the Latch lights from flashing back to steady.  As you adjust things, a quick glance at the flashing lights will tell you which tracks have been modified and which haven't.

4  In the GROUPS window click to the left of Guest   All members of Guest should now show that they are selected.

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Click on the black dot to the left of the group to Select all members of the group.

5.  Press Snap on the ICON soft key pad to open the Snapshot buttons.

6.  When you have a starting balance, hold Shift/Option on the keyboard and press the CAPTRE soft key.  What you have just done is to write all selected channels into the snapshot buffer--note that only the channels that are selected go into the buffer--any tracks that aren't members of Guest will not go into the buffer, and hence, will not be subject to a future recall.  Pick one of the soft keys below, and press and hold the key until the window says Stored.  (If you're in Select mode and not Focus you can now double-press the soft key you just stored to open a naming dialogue for that snapshot.)

7.  As you modify your balances and settings, keep overwriting that soft key by loading the buffer with the Shift/Option/CAPTRE combination and press-hold on the target soft key.

8.  When you need to store a different snap, choose a new soft key.  There are four available on the first page and another 44 available on succeeding pages.

9.  When you're ready to recall a snap, press the soft key of the scene you want (which pops it into the buffer) and PUNCH CAPTRE to execute the recall.  You will note that all tracks that are members of Guest will go into active Write mode instantly, and tracks that aren't members of Guest aren't affected at all.  This behavior will not be affected by whatever channels you happen to have selected when you recall the snapshot.  The concept to get here is that the channels that are selected when you store are the channels that will be affected when you recall.

You now have a system that can reliably store and recall 48 snapshots on the fly.  I know it seems like a lot of keystrokes, but really, once you have things set up the important moves are the left-click to select all members of the group and the key combinations to store the selected tracks into the buffer and subsequently the soft key.  Note that you can have more than one SCENE group--I use this to have separate recalls for the house band and guest artists on Arsenio.

I would avoid using VCA Masters when doing this.  The Coalesce options can make the behavior of slave channels somewhat unpredictable on recalls.  The exception is VCA groups where you never change the internal balances (FX returns, for example).  You can emulate VCA spill by making Custom Fader layouts for any logical groupings (drums, strings, horns, etc.) with only the members of the group in the layout.  Then assign the members of the group to a bus and re-enter the bus on an Aux Input on the main layout (also a great way to pop a limiter across a bunch of like instruments).

Keep in mind that this is an automation-only recall, and as such has no effect on bus assigns and plug-in selection/ordering.  If you need a different snaps to use different bus paths, all needed paths must exist throughout the whole session.  If you need different plug-ins at different times they all need to be enabled throughout the entire session and brought in and out with mutes or fader moves.

One last tip--get into the habit of hitting Write to All until you actually roll the transport for the first time.  From that point on, use Write to End to save all your previous moves.  Once you're finished, you now have all your original live moves intact and you can use them as the basis for quick touch-ups to the mix.

Good luck,

Peter


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