We all have our favorite DAW. But unless you’re working entirely by yourself, and never passing files to another musician or engineer, it’s likely you’ve encountered a problem: someone else may have the bad taste to not choose the same DAW that you do – egads, how dare they!
Or, even though you may have your favorite DAW, you may keep one or more other DAWs on your studio computer because they offer features or capabilities that your fave doesn’t offer. For example, in my studio, I just installed the new Logic Studio 9, and I can already tell that the new Flex features are going to get a lot of use for drum editing on a CD project I have coming up. But I don’t generally track and mix in Logic, I track and mix in Pro Tools HD.
The problem is the same in both of these cases: how do I get audio data from one DAW to another with the least amount of work? With MIDI data, things are much easier; you can generally save the MIDI tracks as a standard MIDI file in one DAW and open that SMF file in the other DAW.
With audio tracks, it doesn’t work quite that easily, unless you’re purely transferring the raw audio files from application to the other. But as soon as you do an edit, add a fade or crossfade, move something around, or start changing mixer settings, using automation, or adding plug-ins, all bets are off – there’s no way to directly move all that information from one program to another.
In fact, the only way I know of to move mixer settings or automation moves from one program to another is to use the brute force (and tedious) method: get out a pad and pencil, and write down the settings in your first DAW, then try to duplicate those settings in the second DAW – though in all likelihood, the results won’t be the same. All you can hope for is to get a close approximation of the settings from the first program in the second program. If you’re not up for writing down all the settings, then you can try a variation on the old engineer’s trick of taking a photo of the console as a means of recalling settings: take a screenshot of the mixer window in the first DAW, then open it up and try to match it in the second DAW. However you do it, it’s a tough thing to make work.
In some cases, duplicating plug-ins between programs may be easy; in others, it’s impossible. It all depends on where the plug-ins you use come from. For example, if you’re mixing using solely the “stock” TDM plug-ins that come with Pro Tools|HD, and you want to move everything over to a MOTU Digital Performer system running its “stock” MAS plug-ins, then you’re out of luck. The best you can do is to get close to the sounds you had with the new plug-ins; there will always be differences.
However, if you have the same set of plug-ins on each DAW – say, you’re running a Universal Audio UAD-2 card in both DAWs, or both DAWs have SoundToys plugs running – then you should be able to duplicate your settings across the two platforms. I do this by saving the settings for the plug-ins in the first DAW as presets, then loading those same presets into the plug-ins in the second DAW. Voila, you’re there!
Moving the actual audio data from one DAW to another is an easier prospect, though it takes a little bit of planning and work. If your DAWs support time-stamped audio, you may be able to simply import the audio files from the first DAW into the second DAW. Likewise, if you’re just moving the raw tracks from one to the other, and all the tracks start at “0” or some other point in time, then you should be able to import them into the second DAW and line them up at the start point.
It’s when you’ve edited the tracks, added fades or crossfades, or made other changes to the audio that the problems can start – especially if your DAW does everything nondestructively, where none of the changes are actually written to the audio data; the changes only exist as “pointers” that refer back to the original audio data.
In this case, the best solution is to create new audio files that contain all your edits and changes. You can do this in one of several ways:
- Laboriously make notes of where all the edits occur and what you did – this is not a recommended method!
- In some cases, you may be able to use the OMF (Open Media Framework) file format to transfer audio between applications.
- Consolidate all the smaller edited regions in each track to a new, continuous audio file that runs the length of the track.
- Bounce each track to disk, creating a new file.
- Use your DAW’s busing capabilities to route the output of the track with the edits to a new track, and record that track to a new file.
If you’re using one of the last three methods, the idea is to get fresh, clean audio files that represent all the edits you performed on your tracks. That way, you can import those new audio files into the second DAW and get to work on them. Here are a couple of tips:
- No matter how you create your new audio files, be sure to start the process from the same point (I usually choose “0” in the DAW’s timeline as the start point) so that when you import the files into the second DAW, you can just line them up and go.
- Decide in advance (before bouncing or re-recording) whether you want to include plug-in processing or other DSP in the new audio files or not. I generally don’t, preferring to bounce “dry” so that I can start fresh in the second DAW. If you do include processing in your bounce or re-record, note that you’re committed! There’s no way to take it off later, other than to go back to the original DAW and the original audio files.
- Decide in advance if you’re going to include volume and other automation data in the new audio files or not. Once again, I generally prefer not to rebuild the automation in the second DAW as necessary. As with the processing discussed in the last point, once the automation moves are bounced into the new audio file, they’re there!
Whichever method you use, make sure to carefully label all the files as they’re created so that you can tell which is which! If you have a large session with a lot of takes and miscellaneous files, it can become a nightmare keeping everything straight!
Whether you’re transferring one audio file from your main DAW to another for a quick editing session, then transferring it back, or you’re moving an entire session you started on one DAW into another DAW for finishing, these methods will get you there. It’s not quite as easy as clicking a button that says “transfer,” but by being methodical you can get there without too much trouble.