Do you use playlists in Pro Tools? Do you know what they are?

Playlists are very cool and can be quite useful. Basically, each track in Pro Tools can have as many playlists as you want. These playlists are basically different “versions” of that track.

1. Recording Takes

The most common use of playlists is keeping track of takes. Let’s say you’re recording a vocal and you want to record several different takes. You have two options, you can create a new audio track for each take, or you can use playlists.

The way it works is by clicking the drop-down menu on the left-hand side of the track in edit window and selecting “New…”

Playlist Menu

You can create a new playlist for each take, and simply switch between them all, or copy and paste (“comp”) the best parts to a new playlist.

But wait, there’s more!

Using playlists for takes is an obvious feature. However, my favorite thing about playlists is that they allow you to store or hide regions that you may not have use for in your mix, but you want to be able to refer back to them later at the click of a button.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

2. Editing

Between the recording stage and the mixing stage is the all-important editing stage. What that involves for me is primarily fixing timing issues and improving the overall “tightness” of the tracks.

For example, there may a be a few notes on the bass part that come in a bit early, I’ll go in and edit those. This, however, involves chopping up the audio. This is where playlists come in handy. I’ll create a playlist of the original audio, then do all my edits on a separate playlist. That way I can quickly revert back to the original recording for comparison purposes (to check to see if I’ve done too much editing).

3. Destructive Processes

Sometimes you may want to do off-line processes to an audio region. In Pro Tools, these processes are found in the AudioSuite menu. Basically, all you’re doing is applying a specific effect to the audio file, rather than applying it in real time with a plug-in.

Whatever destructive process you’re performing, whether it’s simply normalizing the audio or adjusting the gain of the audio, it’s important to be able to get back to the original file in case you change your mind later. What do we do for this, class? That’s right. Playlists. Create a duplicate playlist with the original audio file…just in case.

4. Mixing

Here’s another way I use playlists – during the mixing stage. You may remember from my article/video on the Master Fader that I route all of my tracks through an Aux track (labeled “Submix”), and then I route that submix out the main outputs/master fader. (I explain this a bit further in my video on Record to Disk.)

I do virtually all my mix-downs to a stereo track in Pro Tools by routing the output of the Submix track to the stereo mix-down track. Here’s where playlists come in handy. I will obviously do many versions of a mix before the final one. I’ll create a new playlist for each mix, that way I can quickly switch between the various mixes as I finish them and compare one to the other. This is a huge time-saver, especially once you’ve done four or five mixes on a song.

Video Demonstration

I thought it would be good to do a quick video on these four different uses of playlists. Here it is:

So, do you use playlists?

  • Sara

    Hey Joe, Is there an equivalent feature in Studio One 3.2 pro?

  • Hi Joe, one quastion, If I have 3 takes on the same track, lets say Take 1 on messures 3 to 7, take 2 on messures 10 to 14 and 3rd take on messures 17 to 21. How Can I merge this takes into playlist mode?

    • It’s called comping. It depends on which version of Pro Tools you have, but do a youtube search for comping in Pro Tools and you’ll see how it works.

  • sacredbassist

    Hey Joe I had a quick question. I have four playlists for my drum track. Ideally rather than cut and paste out the best parts of each take, i’d like to tell protools what measures to play what playlist. Just making up an example i like the first 20 measures of take one, but the drum fill in take 3 is better from 21-22 and then the rest of the song is better in take 4. Is there a way to tell protools to switch to those takes in those specific measures without having to copy and paste into a new “golden playlist”?

    • I think you just need to copy and paste. It’s super easy and less complicated than what you’re trying to do. Pro Tools has a comp feature, but I don’t use PT anymore so I don’t know how it works now.

    • Jamie

      What you’re describing is “swipe comping” from Logic Pro X (and maybe 9?). In Pro Tools, you select a section of a take and click the [up arrow] button to send it to the main take. Search for comping in PT10/11 on youtube.

  • dSalat

    Hey, Joe! Great info about playlists, they’ve been very useful to me since i knew them and i find myself using this methods more and more each day. Just have a quick question. I’ve been remixing some old songs that i didn’t record in playlists, and i have, let’s say, two different tracks for each drum. Is there any way i can put them together into a playlist? Thanks a lot, love your blog!

    • Yup. You can create new playlists on one set of tracks and drag and drop the other tracks over to it.

  • I never got in the habit of using playlists, but that’s a great idea — to duplicate the original before editing or applying processing. I’ll do it! Thanks.

    HOWEVER, I can’t believe you have to go thru all that to do a new take. There is an option to “Auto create a new playlist in Loop Record”, but why not just “Auto create a new playlist when audio exists on the track” or something similar?

    • Yeah, there’s a loop record feature, but I hate loop recording. I like to stop, regroup, and start recording again. So I stop recording, click “new playlist” and I’m ready to record. It’s not a lot of work. Literally one click.

  • That’s interesting, because I hate the drag down thing precisely because you have to ‘engage’ a key to keep the regions in time vs. the “error proof” playlist method… (Earlier DAWs like SADiE had a lock-in-time feature which made the dragging thing a bit easier…) I also find switching playlists much faster than dragging for doing quick playbacks. Although I do miss having all the takes visible at all times…. That was the hardest part of the transition for me! ;+)
    That’s what makes great software *great* because it can be used effectively in so many different ways! ;+)
    Can’t wait to check out the new comp feature… Should be cool…

  • Cool article. One of my fave uses of playlists is for doing a ‘comp’ of one or more takes on the same track. You kind of touched on this… But in the “old days” of DAW comping (forget about the bouncing thing off tape to a new track!), you had to have all of your source takes lined up one over the other, and drag down the different bits to audition or add them to a destination track. With playlists in PT, you simply highlight the part you want to replace, scroll through different playlists/takes, and the highlighting remains, so you can audition, and when you’ve found “the one”, simply copy (still highlighted), choose your ‘comp’ playlist, and paste – it goes right in the original highlighted destination.
    Saves time/tendons/etc ;+)

    • Yep! That’s a great way to do it. I’ve found that I actually like having all of the takes on separate tracks (sometimes). That way I can see them all, select a region, and hold down CTRL-OPTION to drag that section to a comp track. It keeps the audio lined up perfectly, and you don’t have to keep switching between playlists.

      However, the new comp feature in Pro Tools 8 will probably replace both of these approaches.