How’s Your File Management?

Depending on your organizational skills, working with a lot of files and folders can either be a cinch or a struggle.

If you’re one of those types that keeps your pens in one drawer and your pencils in the other, you might not think it’s too hard. But if your one of the normal folks, it can trip you up now and again.

That’s why we’re going through the basics of file management with your DAW today. You’ll never lose an audio file or a session again!

I first realized the necessity of proper file management many years ago when working with Cubase. If you have worked with Cubase before, you understand that the file management is much more difficult to organize, as it does not create a new Audio Files Folder for each new project. After recording and entire 11-track album, I needed to go back and clean up the audio files, as they were filling my hard drive. When I opened the single Audio Files folder and saw about 328,430 “Audio 01_01” files, I decided to just dump it onto an external drive and be done with it!

In Cubase, it is necessary to create your own folder hierarchy, which means that proper file management is completely up to you! While it is a pain to learn this the hard way, it forces you to work on what it should look like, which is something like this:

Screen shot 2013-01-12 at 9.29.27 AM

As you can see in this Pro Tools session hierarchy (which should be used as a model for folder hierarchy, Logic also has a similar set up), the top folder, which I created before saving the session, is titled Song Title-MST, per NARAS guidelines. The reason that I like to create the top folder before setting up my session is so that I now have a place to put other elements of the song later on (lyrics, stem prints, etc.). The second column from the left, with simply Alone-MST in it, is where the hierarchy starts when first saving a session in Pro Tools. From here on out, all information should be kept in this folder so that you don’t run into “Missing Audio Files” later on.

Pro Tools creates certain file types and folders within this folder, including:

  • .ptf/.ptx file (The main session file that you open when working on your project)
  • Audio Files (where all of the audio should be kept for the session. It automatically writes audio there, but you must be sure to keep imported audio here as well)
  • Fade Files (if your session includes fades)
  • Plug-In settings (for storing any plug-in specific settings it may need to reference)
  • Rendered Files (when working with Elastic Audio)
  • Session File Backups (a customizable amount of saved backups along the way that Pro Tools automatically keeps)
  • WaveCache.wfm (generates the waveform images for the session)

These basic folders and files are all kept in one place for a reason – easy access and ability to locate at any point. For now, we will focus on the Audio Files folder, as it seems to give people the most trouble. We will look at how it works and how to keep it clean.

First, we must understand how it works. When you first record arm your tracks in your session and record the first audio of the project (NOT MIDI, as it is not actually audio. MIDI files are embedded in the .ptf/.ptx file). Once you finish recording your audio, Pro Tools automatically names the “Regions” and “Files” to be named after the track that they were recorded on. This is why it is so important to name your tracks before recording audio to them. Otherwise, you’ll end up with 328,430 audio files named Audio 01_01! This is basically how Pro Tools handles audio, and the way to avoid confusion is to name your tracks!

One good practice is to use the “undo” feature after recording a pass that you are not going to keep (mistakes, bad performance, clipping, etc.). This will actually erase (undo) the audio completely from your session and the Audio Files folder, meaning that you will use less space on your drive as time goes on – always a good idea! If you don’t do this (and even if you do), you may end up with way too many regions in your session, and you’ll have to clear them out. This is easy enough, and is a great way to keep your session organized! Here’s how to do it:

Look at the “Regions” sidebar in Pro Tools (very similar in Logic, also on the right-hand side of the screen). If you don’t see it, simply hover your cursor over the right edge of the screen until you see the “vertical-line” cursor, then click and drag to the left to see the sidebar. Once inside the Regions sidebar, you will see a small downward arrow to the right of the word “Regions”.

Screen shot 2013-01-12 at 9.53.37 AM

Upon clicking on this arrow, you’ll see all sorts of file management options that you can use to better handle your regions. Mouse over “Select” and click on “Unused”. This will select all of the regions that you are no longer using in the session, and the selected regions will become highlighted, like this:

Screen shot 2013-01-12 at 9.57.15 AM

To remove these unused files from your session, simply right-click on any highlighted file and “Clear…” the audio regions.

Screen shot 2013-01-12 at 9.58.55 AM

After clicking on this, Pro Tools will ask you if you want to Remove the regions from the session or Delete them from the disk. Removing the regions is almost ALWAYS the way to go! If you choose to Delete them from disk, it will ask you before each and every file if you are sure, which for larger sessions, can be over 100 times! Not only is this a waste of time, it’s always a good idea to keep all of your files backed up somewhere, just in case you need them later!

Screen shot 2013-01-12 at 10.00.04 AM

Once the regions are out of your session, and if you are attempting to save hard drive space, you can save a new copy of your session with only the used files included. To do this, go File – Save Copy In…

This will bring up some options as far as how you would like to save your session, as well as what you would like to copy. You will generally want to keep your File Type, Session Format, Bit Depth, and Sample Rate the same. If you are not sure what your session currently is, go to Setup – Session to find out!

Screen shot 2013-01-12 at 10.06.25 AM

Be sure to check “All Audio Files” under Items to Copy. Have no fear, this will only include the files in your current session, and so as long as you cleared all of the unused files, you should be good.

From there, select a new place to save your copy, and name it properly! After just a short while, you should have a much smaller version that includes all of the necessary files. I strongly recommend keeping your full session, either on a backup drive or elsewhere, just in case.

Using this system, you should be an expert of file management before long! Want more training? Become a Platinum Member and get access to ~1,000 videos and download pro session files to work with!

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