Recording: Creating and Importing a Drum Track in Pro Tools

As the saying goes, there are a million ways to skin a cat. And I’m thinking a lot about that expression right now, ‘cause there’s a certain cat living in my house these days that I would very much like to skin.

I’m holding back though, and have instead just locked it in a bathroom until the doctor appointment later this week at which the unsuspecting little demon will be expensively altered so as to make it unable to proliferate. And hopefully, as a bonus, ending its reign of terror on our household, the details of which I won’t go into.

As much as I would like to save the money and just skin the thing, I have decided doing so would probably negatively impact my 12-year-old daughter’s attitude -- already bad as it is -- toward loading and unloading the dishwasher on a regular basis. So, like I said, I’m holding back on the skinning.

But as for getting killer drum tracks into Pro Tools, well, just like skinning a cat, there are (probably) a million ways. I just needed one, and I figured it out last night. And you can follow my steps.

Drums Before Guitars, So...

In any serious studio session, you would be laying down drum tracks before you busted out the guitars and amps, so let’s get the percussion rolling.

If you’ve read my previous columns, you know I’m using Pro Tools 12 and, for my drum tracks, EZdrummer 2. I won’t go into detail in this column about how EZD2 works, but I’m really happy with the ease with which I can make pro-sounding drum tracks with the program.

EZdrummer 2For this exercise I opened EZD2, then opened up one of their “Add-On” or “Expansion Packs” (basically add-ons to the program that feature different styles of drumming, such as blues, reggae, Nashville, etc.). The expansion pack I chose is called “The Rock Warehouse,” and, like all their expansion packs, it includes dozens of different drum grooves organized into verses, choruses, bridges, etc.

I chose a suitable midtempo category labeled “Straight 4/4” which opened up several “songs,” each containing folders labeled “verse,” “chorus,” “pre-chorus” etc. I chose the “song” “Fire Woman 132 BPM” and previewed and then dragged several different drum loops from there onto the EZD2 timeline to make a song out of it all.

Each loop was about 8 measures long, so I put together about a four-minute drum track that basically went Verse/Pre-Chorus/Chorus two times, then hit an 8-measure bridge, then wrapped up with multiple runs through the chorus again. Just a basic song layout.

EZdrummer 2 Song Creator TimelineNote: I like to have a two-measure click track at the beginning of each of my songs. When I dragged the first loop into EZD2’s “Song Creator” timeline, I actually placed it at the beginning of measure 3, so that I could turn on the click track in Pro Tools and hear my two-measure count-in. Maybe I could have done this some other way -- like inserting measures once I was in Pro Tools, but, hey, my way worked. Cat skinned.

From there I saved the song as a .wav file to my computer hard drive. Pay attention to where you’re saving the file so you can find it later.

Bringing the Drum Tracks into Pro Tools

When using Pro Tools and EZdrummer, I could have opened EZD2 on its own, or from within Pro Tools, then created and saved my drum track. Either way works fine, but opening it in Pro Tools actually creates extra steps, so -- though that is what I did -- I’m going to skip that in this particular column.

So let’s say you’ve already got your .wav file of your drums.

Here are the steps to take in Pro Tools:

  1. Import Audio in Pro ToolsIn Pro Tools, from the menu at the top of the screen, Choose File>Import>Audio
  2. Pro Tools Audio Import OptionsWhen the Import Audio dialog box opens, use the drop down menu to “Look in” the correct folder where you saved the .wav file (Pro Tools and/or EZD2 seem defaulted to your My Documents folder, which isn’t where I prefer to save things. You may feel differently about that, so just pay attention where you save your .wav file.)
  3. Double click the correct .wav file. This will then populate the two boxes to the right of your “Look in” file list.
  4. Hit Done
  5. The Audio Import Options dialog box opens. It should be defaulted to “New Track.” If not, choose “New Track,” then hit OK.
  6. Pro Tools immediately creates a new track and populates it with your .wav file. Your drum track is now in Pro Tools and ready to play.
  7. Add a click track. From the Pro Tools menu on top of the screen choose Track>Create Click Track
  8. Pro Tools Channel StripThe default click track is an obnoxious beeping click. You can adjust the sound of the click track by leaving the Pro Tools “Edit” screen and going to the Channel Strip screen (holding Ctrl+= toggles between these two main screens).Pro Tools Click Track
  9. Once you’re in channel strip view, locate the strip labeled “Click,” then look at the top of the strip for “Inserts A-E.” Click on “Click II,” and you’ll be presented with options to adjust the first beat and subsequent beats with separate sounds, so that beat one is obvious to you. You can see in the image that I chose “Shaker 3 Acc” for beat one and “Shaker” for beats 2 through 4.
  10. Now hit the play arrow on the Pro Tools “transport” and you should have a two measure click track, followed by your drum track.

You've done it! Hit Ctrl+= to get back to the "Edit" view of Pro Tools, where you can watch the beats and measures scroll by as you listen to your track, and hit the play arrow on the transport.

Until next time, I hope this helps either instruct or inspire you to get going with your own home recording. If you have any questions, start a forum discussion on this article by clicking “Discuss” at the top, and I’ll answer you ASAP.


Find Out More:

Pro Tools Website 
Toontracks EZDrummer 2 Website

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