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Investing the time to break old habits (quit mousing around!)

Only published comments... Mar 07 2011, 12:00 AM by Dan Sheehan
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Sometimes, when we’re working on our music, we are so anxious to keep moving and doing all the cool things we already know how to do with Pro Tools and our other audio gear that we forget to stop and take a minute to figure out that new thing we’ve been meaning to try out.  We’re so comfortable with what we already know that we forget the importance of learning the new thing.


As an audio educator at Bergen Community College in Paramus, NJ, I see this all the time with students.  After my first class introducing the tools of Pro Tools, I’ll see students spending weeks or even months going back and forth with their mouse between the trimmer, the grabber, and the selector, knowing all along that there is a wonderful thing called the smart tool, not to mention a few handy function keys, that would make all this mousing around seem like driving a car with no power steering and only an A.M. radio.  But they just haven’t gotten used to quickly placing that smart tool where they need it to be for the tool they need, so rather than investing a few days awkwardly maneuvering the smart tool and then becoming it’s master forevermore, they stay in the comfort zone of poking around with the mouse and waste time and energy for the rest of the semester or until I clamp down with my iron fist and show them the way.



Yet I myself have been guilty of this.  Having done a lot of work in a project studio with no faders to be had, I recently found myself sitting in front of a D-Command control surface moving virtual faders with a mouse, then struggling to dial in an EQ setting with said mouse in hand when I had beautiful rotary EQ knobs inches away.  Catching myself in the act, I took the time to look over the D-Command’s EQ section, figure out where the frequency, gain, and Q knobs were for each band, and dialed in that darned EQ setting with much more precision than before.  Boom!  Beautiful.  Except that the next time I had to EQ a track in the session I opened the plugin and caught myself mousing around all over again.  Why?  Because although I knew the control surface was king, I still wasn’t around the learning curve of instantaneously knowing which rotary to grab for this and for that, and had to look the section over again whereas I knew this plug-in’s on-screen layout inside and out.  The point being, I had to stop, look into the new and better way of doing the action for the long term, and understand that my initial clunkiness with the board was a temporary right of passage towards becoming a D-Command EQ guru, laughing at my past days of mousing around on the screen as I dial in perfect EQ settings at lightning speed on the board.


What I’m getting at here, folks, is that although there are times when you’re sitting with a high profile client and you need to look like you know exactly what you’re doing without hesitation and therefore might stick with what you’ve got down pat, we should all take the time every now and then to explore the new way of doing things.  Learn that new beat detective feature.  Figure out the ins and outs of those different fade shapes, of those elastic audio algorithms.   Right click on that virtual instrument knob and assign it to your MIDI controller.  Pull down that menu you’ve pulled down a thousand times, and look up the shortcut you should have been using all along.  Stop and smell the roses.  Teach your old dog self some new tricks.  Sooner or later it will come in handy.  Resistance is futile.






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About Dan Sheehan

I am a recording musician, producer, and audio educator who has been using Pro Tools since 1999. As a musician, I've performed throughout the United States as singer and guitarist for the bands Banter ( and The Dan Sheehan Conspiracy (, and about to release my fourth album of original material with The DSC. I have taught audio production at Emerson College, the City University of New York, Five Towns College and currently at Bergen Community College in Paramus, NJ. A certified Pro Tools operator (, I have worked on productions by Macy Gray, the Stereophonics, poet laureate Robert Pinsky, and countless independent artists as well as creating audio/visual content for the Motorola, Sam Adams and AT&T websites.

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