Beat Detective is a powerful algorithm in Pro Tools which allows you to carefully slice up audio and MIDI clips and align them to the grid. While its functions can be a bit more intricate than that, this is one of the most common uses of the tool. Beat Detective comes in handy and can make the drum editing process much more efficient.
Drums Not Sounding Quite Right? Try Beat Detective
Drum editing is often a labor-intensive task. It requires a lot of time and patience in many cases. Pro Tools does its best to assist with this process, offering Beat Detective as an all-in-one editing tool for drums and instruments with sharp transients. If you’re noticing a lot of timing problems with your recorded drums, it’s a good idea to experiment with this tool.
BD has a slight learning curve, but today we’ll do our best to simplify the process as much as possible. For the best learning outcomes, try opening up a Pro Tools session with some raw drum tracks and following along.
What Is Beat Detective in Pro Tools?
Beat Detective is a conglomeration of multiple tools in a single window. One of its biggest features is the ability to cut an audio clip into smaller pieces of information — typically those with recognizable transients, such as drum tracks. It can then nudge and align the individual clips to the grid for a more in-time sounding track, without any need for time-stretching or manipulation.
The overall tool consists of several different operations, which we’ll cover below. Understanding each of those will help greatly in determining which to choose for your project.
How Does Beat Detective Work?
Here are each of BD’s operations explained:
- Bar/Beat Marker Generation: This operation allows you to automatically generate a tempo map on material not recorded to a click. The Pro Tools grid will begin to match the clip’s tempo.
- Groove Template Extraction: This operation analyzes the selected clip and creates a template based on its groove. You can apply the template to other clips so all of the tracks contain the same groove.
- Clip Separation: This operation chops up a track with clearly delineated transients into individual clips.
- Clip Conform: After you’ve separated the clips with the function above, you can then align them to the grid or session tempo map.
- Edit Smoothing: On separated clips, Edit Smoothing automatically trims and crossfades clips so there are no dropouts, pops, or other anomalies. This is sort of the final step with audio clips in BD. Once you’ve smoothed the edits, you can consolidate your freshly edited drum track.
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How to Use Pro Tools Beat Detective (Step-By-Step)
Now, we’ll do a basic walkthrough of BD’s most widely used feature: the ability to time-align clips efficiently. This assumes one of a few things, but namely that the drummer recorded to a click, and thus, you know the song’s tempo. You can always experiment with BD’s own tempo mapping features, though we’ll explain the simplest use of this algorithm in the steps below.
Step #1: Set Your Tempo
You can set the session tempo from the MIDI Controls portion of the edit window or from the Tempo track. If you recorded the drums yourself, then your session tempo should already be set if the drummer played to a click. For more information, please check out the guide below for more intricate tempo programming in Pro Tools.
Step #2: Separate & Analyze Your Regions
Now you’ll want to make a selection on the clip you want to align and open BD. You can access BD using the keyboard shortcut [Command] + numeric “8,” or by accessing it from the Event menu.
With BD open, you’ll want to first choose the Clip Separation operation from the bulleted list. Move over to the Selection box where you’ll find the Start Bar, End Bar, and Time Signature values. If the session tempo is correct, these values should be good to go. Next, you’ll want to choose a note value from the Contains dropdown menu. Choose the smallest value in the given clip selection, and check the “3” box if there are any triplets. Finally, you can click Capture Selection to ensure the selection you’ve made on the clip registers correctly in BD.
The third box over is the Detection window. This section lets the Pro Tools algorithm detect transients based on user input values. First, you can choose an analysis type depending on the track. High Emphasis works well on cymbals/overheads, Low Emphasis on kick or toms, and Enhanced Resolution is the best all-around.
You can then hit Analyze and begin adjusting the Sensitivity slider to add trigger points. Trigger points, appearing as purple bars in the clip, are locations relative to transients where the audio will be split. You can select the Resolution, such as Bars, Beats, or Sub-Beats depending on the material. When you’re satisfied with the trigger points, click separate to chop them into individual clips.
Step #3: Conform the Regions
Once we’ve separated the individual hits from the overall clip, we can time-align them using the Clip Conform operation. The Conform box includes three adjustable parameters:
- Strength: The overall quantization level in Pro Tools. Selecting 100% would stick every transient right on the grid.
- Exclude Within: For hits that fall within a certain percentage of the grid, you can ask Pro Tools to ignore them.
- Swing: Swing introduces or retains a human feel while quantizing.
Before conforming, make sure the track’s Timebase Selector is set to ticks. Then you can verify your chosen Conform values, and click the button to quantize the clips.
Step #5: Smooth the Edits
Last but not least, Beat Detective automatically edits the quantized clips to make sure there are no gaps or audio drop-offs. Choose the Edit Smoothing operation and select whether you want BD to fill any gaps between edited clips or fill the gaps and add crossfades. You can also set the crossfade time value if you’ve selected that option.
Click Smooth and consolidate the new clip using [Shift] + [Option] + “3.” You’ve now edited and quantized a drum track using Pro Tools Beat Detective!
Final Thoughts on Using Pro Tools Beat Detective
As you may have noticed, Beat Detective is an incredibly powerful and useful function in Pro Tools. Many users are deterred by its seeming complexity, and it’s true that the process is far from being totally automatic. BD requires lots of human input to work appropriately, but by reviewing this easy, step-by-step guide and experimenting with it yourself, you’ll find that lots of the mystery is gone after a short time. Happy editing!
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