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Banish System Draining Plugins and Improve Performance in Pro Tools
G.W. Childs IV on Mon, July 4th 1 comments
Let’s face it, some of the most popular instrument plug-ins out there these days are some of the biggest system hogs you’ll ever encounter. Let me list a few...

Let’s face it, some of the most popular instrument plug-ins out there these days are some of the biggest system hogs you’ll ever encounter. Let me list a few:

I could keep going but let’s talk about why these products are such hogs in general: they are sample-based instruments that use tons of your system's RAM to bring a realism that is startling. And that’s what makes them cool.

However, I need to direct you to one thing that is of serious importance if you’re using Pro Tools, as many people are... You don’t have enough resources to run all of these at once... Even if you have the latest, 8-Core, 16-core, 200-core, or whatever, Mac Pro or other. 

Why? Because Pro Tools itself can only access a maximum of 4 GB of system memory. So, even if you have 16 GB of RAM, Pro Tools can only allocate 4GB of memory for your resource hogs, and that's it.

Step 1 - Let’s do the Math

Let me make a quick example of what I mean. Let’s take one of the bunch above: Superior Drummer.

The default drum kit for Superior Drummer, hailing directly from the NY Avatar expansion that comes with Superior Drummer loads up at 596 Mb. This 596 Mb is loaded into RAM. 

If you only have 2 GB of system memory to work with, you now only have 1452 MB of resources remaining.

Let me put it in to an equation (1024 MB = 1 GB)

  • 2048 MB= 2 GB
  • 2048 MB - 596 MB= 1452 MB

If you load another iteration of Superior Drummer, you are now down to less than a half of your system resources. And if you were to load up Vienna Symphony which can take up well in to the several GB of data, you will most likely have no resources left. See how fast it can be eaten up?

Even if you are running a 64-bit OS, Pro Tools is still a 32-bit application... 

[Ed -  And bear in mind that your OS requires some of the available RAM as do any other applications which are currently running in the background/foreground. So 2 GB of RAM can get eaten up pretty quickly, indeed!]

Step 2 - Bouncing

Now, if you’d like to defy this particular rule of Pro Tools, go ahead. You will eventually meet with suspect performance, hitches, and strange behavior from your instrument plug-ins. But, I’d like to offer another solution that may actually serve you better.

Bouncing is a feature that has been in Pro Tools since the beginning. In other applications it’s simply referred to as an ‘Audio Export’. Personally, you can call it whatever you like, but its purpose is to convert whatever is going on in Pro Tools in to actual audio. 

This audio, once created can be either used as a final product of all your hard work within Pro Tools that is burned onto a CD, converted to an MP3, or whatever. Or, you can actually re-import audio back in to your project to run along your other tracks.

One important thing to note about audio tracks is that they are mostly streamed from your hard drive and do not impact your system resources the way virtual instruments do. And because of this, you really can run several tracks of processor-intensive plug-ins without having to worry... As long as you do some bouncing.

Step 3 - Some Things to Know

First off, before you start bouncing, make sure that you isolate the parts of your mix that you want to bounce. This can be done by simply soloing the parts that you want, and also positioning the loop locators at the beginning and end of the instrument data.

It’s important to remember that if you solo two parts together, or bounce with no parts soloed at all, you will get a recording of everything together which does you no good. You want isolated audio!

Step 4 - Setting Up

Most plug-ins, especially drum plug-ins will allow you to send multiple audio outs to separate channels. When doing this with Superior Drummer, I found it easiest to set up Auxiliary tracks and solo them when I wanted to bounce the particular drum track that they were assigned to. 

Note: With Auxiliary tracks, you will not see audio appearing in the track lanes, you will only see audio in the meters. When you bounce, however, you will then see waveforms in the newly created audio track. The most important thing is that you set your loop locators in the right position! If you know that the drum part starts at measure 1, and ends at measure 16, have the loop locators directly on each measure. Also, be careful that you zoom in and make sure they they are exactly on these measure locators, or you will have to edit later.

When you’ve finally soloed the part that you want to convert, go to File > Bounce to > Disk... (keyboard shortcut: Option-Command-B) 

You’ll then be presented with a menu of possibilities:

The main settings to take note of are:

Format: Is your targeted track Stereo or Mono. 

*Hint: if it’s vocals, or guitar, and in most cases an individual drum, it’s mono.

Bit Depth and Sample Rate: Make sure these settings match your Session Setup, or you re-imported audio will not play back right. These must match! Access the Session Setup by going to Setup > Session Setup.

Import After Bounce: This should be checked so that Pro Tools knows to bring your exported audio file back in to the session.

Alright, now it’s time to create this audio file. I’ll solo my Toms track, which is my source, and name it appropriately:

Now, you’ll hear the audio in action and a countdown will tell you how much time is left.

When Pro Tools has finished bouncing, you will get a menu asking whether you want a New Track, or whether you want the audio in the Region list. Choose 'New Track'.

When you press 'Ok', you’ll get a new audio track next to, or within your arrangement window with an audio file version of the drum you targeted. From here you can mix as you like, add effects and enjoy. 


Once all of the drums, or whichever instrument you soloed, have audio counterparts, get rid of that hog of a plug-in, and enjoy the extra resources. You can always bring it back if you need to!

Learn more about Pro Tools with these Pro Tools Tutorials.

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