How to control the playback of a Pro Tools session when on stage? I have previously used an iPad that “wireless” controls the Pro Tools system and our “backing tracks”. The downside is that the iPad solution can do a lot more than just select a song (memory location) and start the song, which makes the screen full of unimportant details.
The fact that these buttons on the iPad can be difficult to read in the dark for a drummer who normally needs reading glasses is another problem. I started to search for other solutions and found the Elgato Stream Deck which is a relatively cheap “controller” and is available in different sizes. The one I went for is the one with 15 buttons which was enough for us. With that said, you can easily make “layers” of macros/key commands and are not stuck with only 15.
To get it to work properly with Pro Tools, I combined the controller with Keyboard Maestro, which is a type of software where you can build up your own macros (my macros are available for download below).
The script I put together is quite advanced and will not take any credit for it as I got a lot of help from Keyboard Maestro’s user forum, that’s also why I share it for free.
How I want it to work.
We have a number of songs in our setlist that we want to be able to easily jump between. Normally we use a fixed setlist and don’t really change the order of the songs. So we start at song one (1) and work our way up.
To make it easy to see where you are in the set, each song has a number from 1 to 12, but it is of course possible to have more buttons. In order to have control over which song is being played, the icon on the button/song being played for the moment changes to a speaker icon (see pic). When song 4 (as in this example) is played, the drummer just pushes button 5 and that song starts immediately.
How to build your Pro Tools Session
All songs are in the same Pro Tools session and they are positioned a couple of minutes apart, we never have longer breaks between songs, usually rather short ones. The reason for the space between the song is very simple, once we finish playing the first song, we don’t stop Pro Tools, we let the session continue to play as it just plays silence or nothing in the background.
When song two is about to start, the drummer just presses button two on the Stream Deck, and as Pro Tools is already in “play mode”, Pro Tools jumps to song two and the song starts at once, without having to press play… as Pro Tools already are in play mode.
My thinking of this is that the fewer button to press for the drummer, the better. However, I have a separate play/stop button at the bottom right as a backup, it feels good for the drummer if he happens to start a song a little too quickly.
Our In Ear “count-in” is always built up like this; a voice starts saying which song it is and then a count-in for 8 bars. Sometimes our drummer actually does a live count in the last 4 bars, that’s why we always have 8 bars count-in. It also gives us a few seconds to be in the right place on stage.
So in short, if you’re on a Mac and want the same functionality as we have, just download the Key Maestro Macro below and try it out.
Extra info regarding the macros & actions
Song number one is the only one that starts the song when hitting the button while standing still. If you stand still and push button 5 for example, you need to push the start button at the bottom as well as buttons 2-12 only moving the “playback cursor” to a new time or memory location. That’s how the script is set up, you normally start with song one.. then it just keeps rolling.
Any questions about In-Ear, backing-track, the macro & actions, etc… you’ll find my contact details at the bottom of the About Me page.