Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

Located in Portland, Maine, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies offers a 15-week immersion program for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in documentary writing, photography, or radio.
This blog is an update of current Salt students insights and musings.


Learning the Equipment or, How to Bake a Cake

A big part of the radio program here is learning to work with Pro Tools, a professional audio editing system. Prior to coming to Salt, I was using a free program called Audacity, which didn't have a lot of bells and whistles and was overall kind of clunky, but got the job done in a pinch. The best way to describe this editing upgrade is to say that I was fairly comfortable driving a Yugo and now I’m learning to drive a Ferrari. The first Pro Tools class wigged me out a little bit, but now I’m getting used to it, and there have been a few moments in the last week or so when I began to realize that Pro Tools is actually growing on me. Like, I might even want to ask it out and take it to the prom.

That’s not to say that Pro Tools is not without its quirks. During our first class the tutor told us, “once you save a file, don’t move it - you need to keep it safely within the file where it’s stored.” That is what he said.

What I heard was, “don’t do anything crazy, but once you save it you can keep copies of it wherever you like and nothing bad will happen.”

So this is what I did: I finished my project and saved it to the main file drive, where it had been since it was created. THEN I thought, but what if something happens to this file? I should open up the file again, click ’save as’ and save a second copy to my desktop. I am nothing if not cautious.

Now, a single finished Pro Tools file has lots of bits within it - it has not only saved your finished piece, but it has saved every change, every cut, every deletion, and (this is the beauty of Pro Tools) it will allow you to go get that information back if you ever decide that you really want that bit of audio after all. All of those ‘bits’ are saved within a larger file, of which your finished piece is just a single tiny bit. In order to allow your finished piece to stand on its own you pretty much need to export it out of Pro Tools as an .mp3 file or a .wav file or whatever, and then you can save it wherever you like. (I could be wrong on that, but I’m just a fifth week radio student, so you’ll have to forgive me on this one.)

When I took just my finished piece and saved it to my desktop, I did something bad. Here is the best way to explain it:

Go into your kitchen. Bake a cake from scratch. Mix together all of the ingredients and stick it in the oven. When it’s done, take it directly out to your guests in the living room and endeavor to serve it. Now imagine that when you put this cake down you discover that you no longer have a beautiful finished cake….now you have a cup of sugar in the living room, two cups of flour in the bedroom, a dollop of frosting on your nose, and three eggs somewhere else. Maybe in the bathroom or at the end of the driveway, it's hard to say for sure. OH NO.

When I clicked on the saved file on my desktop Pro Tools said something like, “wow, all your files are now completely scattered, you really screwed yourself on this one, would you like me to fix this by baking your cake back up again, and do you promise never to do this again?”

I said yes, Pro Tools re-linked all my files, and I got my cake back. It was all just a wee bit stressful, however, and while I’m not going to let this interfere with my growing crush on Pro Tools, it does mean I might wait another few dates before endeavoring to get to third base.

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