With all the raw materials of a song, composition, or other digital audio
project in place, the next step is to assemble those materials into a finished
form. Part of the appeal of digital audio software is the flexibility with
which you can creatively manipulate a project’s structure. Traditional com-
posers like Beethoven littered their studios with sketches and scraps of
notation on paper. Even a couple of decades ago, arranging with analog reel-
to-reel tape involved cutting the tape apart with a razor blade. Digital audio
software, in contrast, offers nearly endless “what-if ” scenarios. Far from
being limited to the structure you created when you recorded your tracks,
you have a great deal of compositional control in rearranging materials,
from making minor adjustments to radically recomposing your music.
Arranging music can mean adjusting a wide range of different elements,
including bass lines and harmonies, chord voicings, and instrumentations.
All of these are vital to music, but they’re well beyond the scope of this
book. What we’ll examine here is how you’ll assemble audio and MIDI ele-
ments into your finished music, arranging them on the timeline of a project
in your digital audio software.
Mix Project Files
A digital audio mix project is a collection of audio files and/or MIDI data.
These chunks of sound and notes could include a range of different kinds
of content, like looped MIDI patterns and looped audio (as in Chapter 5),
recorded vocals, spoken word, instruments, and field recordings (Chapter 6),
or MIDI-recorded phrases and soft synth lines (Chapters 8 and 9). The
mix project file, or simply “the project,” brings all of these pieces together
and organizes them into a finished piece of music.
When you make a new multitrack file in your DAW, whether you’re
starting a new “session” in Pro Tools or creating a new “set” file in Live,
you’re creating a project file. It’s the file that will hold (or refer to) audio
files and note data, your arrangement, mix information, and other edits.
You’ll notice that the size of this file is relatively small, often less than a
megabyte. That’s because recorded audio data, whether you recorded it
directly into your project or imported it from another source, is stored in
separate files. (MIDI data is stored in the project file, but, as we’ve seen,
it’s very compact.)
10: P
: A
Project File
Audio Files
Nondestructive editing
Audio files you record or import into the mix project are stored in files on
your hard drive, independent from the project file. That way, when you
move the audio as represented graphically on the screen or process the
track’s output with effects plug-ins, you don’t directly impact the original
audio files. The rectangular blocks you see on the screen in an arrangement
view, which act as pointers to the underlying audio files, are called regions
(Figure 10.1).
When separate copies of audio are kept on the hard drive, independent of
and unaffected by any edits you make, your manipulations of the audio are
called nondestructive editing. Editing the audio in the project files has no impact
on the original audio files. Your software reads the audio files from your
hard drive, so that you hear the audio edits in the mix project. But if you
need to go back to the original audio for any reason, you’ll find that the files
are unchanged.
Certain edits do require modifications to the file. For these, most DAWs
automatically make duplicate copies of the file. Automatic duplication can
sometimes create redundant files you don’t need, so you might routinely
take a look at the file window in your audio editor to see if there are files
you can delete (see “File management,” next page).
Figure 10.1 The rectangular blocks (regions) you see onscreen in your DAW (1) act as
placeholders for audio files (2) stored on your hard drive, as seen here in Pro Tools.You
can slice up, alter, and move the regions without damaging the associated file.Your
DAW then plays back the mix by streaming the audio from the files on the hard drive
or by preloading them into RAM prior to playback.
Underlying audio filesNondestructive regions

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