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Fixing Drums with Beat Detective in Pro Tools
Mike Watkinson on Tue, June 21st 0 comments
The Beat Detective window in Pro Tools is a really useful collection of tools and processes, which comes onto its own when you need to '˜fix' the timing of recorded audio, especially drums.

The Beat Detective window in Pro Tools is a really useful collection of tools and processes, which comes onto its own when you need to '˜fix' the timing of recorded audio, especially drums. It is a modern obsession that all drummers should sound "perfect", and it is not the aim of this tutorial to discuss these merits, or otherwise making drummers sound better than they are. But being able to modify the timing of recorded drums is a must-have skill for anyone recording and mixing popular music. 

Step 1 - Divide into Usable Sections 

This task becomes much more manageable when the session is divided up into meaningful and manageable sections. In this example I have divided the session into 8-bar sections. Note however that the division in the screenshot below is not on the 9th bar line. This is because at this stage the tempo is '˜wrong'. 

Dividing the session into manageable sections will really help the editing process

Dividing the session into sections will really help the editing process.

Step 2 -  Set the Tempo(s) 

You are probably going to be dealing with one of two scenarios: either the drums were played to a click track so you have a tempo and it is the same throughout, or they were not, in which case you need to find the tempo for each section. If you have scenario one you can skip to Step 3. Otherwise:

Open Beat Detective. Choose Event > Beat Detective (shortcut: Command-8)

With the separated regions selected for the section you are working on, choose Bar | Beat Marker Generation in the Operation section. 

Note: Beat Detective can work on a single track or across multiple tracks.

Ensure that the Selection section states the intended number of bars and beats and the correct start and end points; this can usually be entered by clicking '˜Capture Selection'.

In the Detection section, under Resolution, click the '˜Bars' radio button and move the Sensitivity slider to the left until you get as few beat triggers as possible showing on the regions (the purple lines); you are aiming to have only one at the very beginning of the regions but may not be able to reduce sensitivity low enough to leave only this one.

Click Analyze

With the Grabber tool, Option-click on unwanted beat triggers to leave only the first one at the start of the regions

In Beat Detective click '˜Generate' and a tempo event will be created'"in the Tempo ruler'"that matches the session tempo to the audio.

Bar | Beat Marker Generation selected in the Operation section

'Bar | Beat Marker Generation' is selected in the Operation section.

Track Timebase 

By default, the timebase for audio tracks is samples, in which case the above process has no effect on the relative timing of audio events. If for some reason you have audio tracks with ticks as their timebase, you will get the following warning dialog when you click '˜Generate' in Beat Detective:

You will get this warning if you attempt to create a new tempo event when audio tracks have a tick timebase

The 'Realign Session' dialog box opens when audio tracks have a tick timebase.

Choosing '˜Preserve Sample Position (Don't Move)' means that any changes of tempo will not affect the absolute position of regions following the tempo change. If 'Preserve Tick Position (Move)' is clicked, audio regions will change their absolute position (in time) following any tempo change. The former is therefore the obvious choice in this situation. So generally speaking, keep the track timebase of audio tracks set to samples unless you want to work with Elastic Audio (stay tuned for a future Feature Tutorial on Elastic Audio here on The Hub).

A new tempo event has been created for this section

A new tempo event has been created for this section.

For subsequent regions, repeat steps 1 and 2, each time checking that the Selection section of Beat Detective has the correct intended Start and End points.

Step 3 - Separate Each Transient Event into a Separate Region

  • Select the region(s) to analyze
  • Choose Region Separation in the Operation section
  • Ensure the Start and End points are correct in the Selection section (you can quickly change these to the correct values by clicking '˜Capture Selection')
  • Choose the appropriate setting for the Subdivision Setting drop-down menu in the Selection section; this is usually the fastest rhythmic value in the selection to be analyzed
  • Click 'Sub Beats' in the Detection section
  • Click 'Analyze'
  • Adjust the Sensitivity slider so that all transient events have a Beat Trigger

Note: the Trigger Pad can be a value (0'"50 ms) in this field to pad region start points and defines where the separation point is located in relation to the beat trigger. This will create a space between the region start point and the region sync point, which ensures that the attack portion of the audio event remains intact.

  • As before use Option-Grabber to delete inappropriate Beat Triggers
  • Use the Grabber to click in Beat Triggers where they are required but have not been created by the automatic process
  • Click Separate in Beat Detective's Operation section

An individual region will be created at each Beat Trigger.

Beat triggers created at each transient, before division

Beat triggers created at each transient, before division.

Step 4 - Conform the Regions

In Beat Detective, what we normally refer to as Quantize is called Conform. Click 'Region Conform' in the Operation section, followed by the 'Conform' button.

Depending on the value chosen in the Subdivision Setting drop-down menu in the Selection section, selected regions will be moved to the nearest grid value.

The other way to do this (with a lot more control over values and behavior) is to choose Event > Event Operations > Quantize...

The gaps created by conforming the separated regions

The gaps created by conforming the separated regions.

Step 5 - Smoothe the Edits

When you have conformed (or quantized) the regions you will see'"and worse, still hear'"gaps which can sometimes cause audible clicking. To rectify this:

Choose 'Edit Smoothing' in the Operation section of Beat Detective.

In the smoothing section which now appears you can choose to just '˜Fill Gaps' which fills all gaps with underlying audio, or 'Fill and Crossfade' which adds a crossfade at each region boundary.

Sometimes, when Region conforming creates large enough gaps, the underlying audio that fills the gap when smoothing can have audible audio in it that is undesirable, so do check your results when using this method!

Before and after filling the gaps and adding crossfades

Before and after filling the gaps and adding crossfades.

There are quite a few steps, I'm sure you will agree, but after you have run through the routine a few times you will find the sequence of actions straightforward and logical, so that they can be remembered quite easily! Once you have tried this out on drum tracks you might also like to try it with other audio files or regions, but remember it will always be most successful where the material includes clear transients, and where those transients are intended to be on beats or subdivisions of beats, otherwise you will be spoiling the natural human timing that gives the music its particular feel.

Check out our full range of Pro Tools Video Tutorials to learn more. If you're interested primarily in Beat Detective, the Pro Tools 204 - Beat Detective will get you slicing beats like a pro.

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