Gear Questions: Pro Tools running loops

KC asks a question about running loops and programming:

“Are you running these (loops and programming)from your laptop on stage or from front of house . . .

We have been using Reason a lot, but you can’t run them in sequence . . . and we use alot of loops and tracks. . .

Any thoughts . . . we record our services to ProTools, any way you can simultaneously run your tracks and record at the same time . . . ?


Well KC, thanks for the question, and I hope the rest of the Sunshine Band is doing well.

(Sorry – had to… πŸ˜‰

Theoretically, playing and recording at the same time out of one system is possible. Desirable? No. Possible, yeah. I’ll explain how at the end of this post. But first, let me give you a look at what we do…

– – – – –

We’ve got 2 separate Pro Tools rigs, both with entirely different tasks.

One is the STAGE LAPTOP, the other is the Front of House VENUE system.

Let me talk about the (Digidesign) Venue console and Pro Tools system first, since it’s not necessarily the answer to your question. Digidesign makes a Front of House (FOH) mixing console that is completely digital, complete with plug-ins for all your desired effects, compressors, EQ’s, delays, etc. that you desire at FOH.

If you choose (and why wouldn’t you!), you can add the functionality of a Pro Tools recording system to the tracks you’re receiving at FOH. The purpose is to RECORD the dry, unaffected tracks of a rehearsal or performance, and then, after the band’s done, PLAY BACK those tracks from Pro Tools. The dry band tracks are fed into the Venue, and you can tweak your FOH mix until your ears fall off without the band present.

For us, that means recording rehearsal on Wednesday night and getting a decent start on a mix, and then during the day on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, our Audio guys and/or volunteers can spend as much time as they want working on their mix.

And like most digital consoles, the Venue also adds the functionality of scenes and snapshots, which – with the touch of 1 button – can instantly change all the desired levels and effects from one song to another, including delay tempos, EQ’s, etc…

For more FOH talk, check out


There are lots and lots of ways to run and/or trigger tracks and loops for a performance. But what has, and continues to work best for the North Point campuses, is a Laptop on stage running some form of Digital Audio Workstation software.

A lot of that comes down to personal preference.

For example, here at North Point in both the East and West Auditoriums, we have an Apple Mac laptop running Pro Tools 8 LE (their latest version) through a Digi 002R (a rack-mounted unit with 8 separate outputs).

During the week, I’ll program any new (non-existing) loops and/or programming on my laptop using Pro Tools 8 LE, usually using a bunch of plug-ins (some of them are included with Pro Tools 8, and some of them are third party, such as Stylus RMX). I’ll then bounce those individual loops and/or tracks to basic stereo Wav files.

I then create a “master” Pro Tools session each week and import all the needed files for the entire day (set list). I also create a Click Track using a mono audio track and the included “Click” plug in.

Next, I insert song markers, tempo changes, meter changes, and click subdivisions in chronological order of the set.

After that, it’s just a matter of lining up each Wav file to the appropriate song marker.

Lastly, it’s a matter of assigning the files a desired output:

Output 1 & 2 – Stereo (percussion/drum based) loops

Output 3 – mono click & count-off (note – you need to record and create your own verbal count-offs when/where needed)

Output 4 – specialty mono track, such as an extra acoustic or electric guitar

Output 5 & 6 – Stereo Tracks, such as strings or synth programming

Output 7 & 8 – whatever is yet to find a home πŸ™‚

Now we do use click every week, and almost always have a loop or two (or three). However, channels 4 – 8 are not used nearly as frequently.

Here’s a screenshot of a pretty normal week. There’s a click track routed to output 3, two songs have loops, and I included the original recording (“DEMO”) of one of songs for reference (to be soloed as needed).

Songs can be selected by clicking on them in the Memory Locations window. Advanced users may choose to click on the Markers timeline and tab between markers (option-tab for going back).


  Picture 6.png

And at North Point, we’ve found the most success having the drummer control the laptop – that way they know when the song is starting, and there’s room on their risers for the rack with the 002R and the laptop on top.


At Buckhead Church, they have the same gear, but with the capability of the laptop being on the keyboard riser, giving the keyboardist the start / stop task. So that’s a nice, added flexibility that we don’t have at NP.

And at Browns Bridge, it’s a whole different ball game. They’ll create whatever needed files ahead of time and then trigger them (start/stop) via a laptop beside the drummer using Ableton Live software and an M-Audio Trigger Finger. Great gear and a powerful piece of software. However, in my opinion, there’s a much higher learning curve with Live and the Trigger Finger. But that’s OK, because it works great for them since there’s only 2 or 3 drummers that play at that campus on a regular basis.

– – – – –

So, KC, hopefully that answers some of your questions….

Also, if you’re still using Reason, I’d strongly suggest the following for your live performances, assuming you’re using your laptop’s stereo output:

Create a “song” that is 6 minutes of nothing but your loop panned all the way to the right and a click track (quarter or 8th note cowbell pattern) panned all the way to the left.

Then bounce out the song and play it using Quicktime or iTunes. Simply start/stop with your spacebar, then double click on the next song when you’re ready for it.

The outputs from your laptop then need to go through a simple stereo 1/8″ to L and R 1/4″ splitter cable (under $10 at your local Radio Shack). Those 1/4″ ends simply each go into a direct box and are treated as two separate channels. Feed the loop channel (right) to FOH, and both channels (loop and click) to the band.


– – – – –

OK, so here’s my theoretical solution to playing tracks and recording a stereo track of the band at the same time.

First off, you’d need a DAW (like Pro Tools) that has an audio interface with multiple inputs, such as a 002R or the newer 003R.


#1 – Set up a session like I showed above, with click, tracks, loop, etc – but leave at least one stereo output pair open (so nothing out of, let’s say, 7 & 8).

#2 – Plug in a stereo pair of inputs that are coming from the Front of House mix. How you do that is up to you, such as a Tape Out of the master mix, or an aux out or send out from the FOH. Something like that – it all depends on you FOH console and your ability / creativity. πŸ™‚

#3 – Record enable those inputs from FOH – but make sure you route their outputs to the unused outputs, like 7 & 8. You don’t want to hear the FOH mix of what you’re recording while you’re playing – that’d mess up your brain, big time!

#4 – Instead of pressing PLAY, press RECORD and play along. The tracks and click should play back through the desired outputs, fed to the band and FOH, while the FOH mix gets recorded to the record enabled tracks and are routed to a different, unused output.

#5 – See if it worked! Route the recorded FOH tracks to a used output (1 & 2) and give a listen. You can then splice the FOH stereo track into individual songs (cmd-E) and export the regions as tracks. Drag those into iTunes, burn a CD, listen on the way home, sleep well… πŸ™‚

Now that’s just a theory – I have no idea if it will truly work as you desire – but it’s a good guess! I would not, however, even think of doing that during a live performance with a real crowd. You never know what can go wrong. CPU’s love to override at the most inconvenient times…


8 thoughts on “Gear Questions: Pro Tools running loops

  1. So I have been using Reason extensively at Timberline Church and we’ve used both methods of output: 1) Split the audio output from the latpop left and right 2) Use a firewire MOTU to have multiple outs. The way I’ve gotten Reason to work for live play is to have seperate reason files for seperate songs. Since we do at most 4 or 5 songs during a service, it’s not too hard (I didnt’ say its easy) to switch from Reason file to Reason file.

    We want to have consistency from week to week in the songs we sing, regardless of who’s playing and having the same Reason files for a certain song enables us to do this. For example, we introduced “Lift High” by Steve Fee about 3 months ago, and I created a loop in Reason that had almost every component from the Fee album (strings, pianet sounds, splash drums in intro). Anyways, I digress.

    So for a typical weekend, regardless of who is playing the keys that week, we’ll throw up a folder on the Mac desktop that has the reason files for the songs for that weekend. They can load them up, and just switch from window to window for each song. This does however put more “burden” on the keyboard player (or drummer or whoever controls the loops), to start the loop/click, stop the loop and start the next one in a timely manner. Most of the keyboard players have ramped up and have begun to get comfortable with this. Most of them will still use a seperate keyboard for sounds, some appreciate the wurli sounds and organ sounds that we get through reason (we hook up a M-Audio Axiom to the laptop for a controller), but we have stapled reason as the tool for loops/clicks during our services.

    It would be GREAT if we could some how use the Rewire in Reason to hook up to Pro-Tools and chain all of the Reason files in one Pro Tools sessions, this would be great for recording too. We also have the Digidesign Venue for the FOH. Any ideas Reid?

    • David,

      Sounds like you’re already almost where you want to be. So that’s good!

      Lots of guys who are on a budget use Reason a ton, and I still use it a bunch as a Rewire plugin with Pro Tools. So here are my thoughts about that. I think you’ve got a couple choices…

      #1 – Sure, experiment with Pro Tools as the host using Rewire, but I believe you’ll need all your Reason programming (and instruments) on just 1 file. My guess is that you’d just move the actual sequenced parts in the Reason sequencer farther to the right down the timeline, like bar 300 for song 2, bar 600 for song 3, etc…


      #2 – Well, heck. If you’ve already gone to all that trouble to get Pro Tools (or Live or Logic or Cubase or some other D.A.W.), why not save yourself all that Rewire hassle in the first place. Just solo and bounce (export as song) each track you’ve sequenced in Reason. Then create a PT session and import the audio files (AIFF or WAV) straight into the session. Boom – bye bye Rewire!

      Basically, I’d say, that if you’re just going with PT for Rewire capabilities only, it’d be like hiring Kobe Bryant just for his accounting skills. πŸ™‚ There’s a whole lot more under the hood…

      I think Reason is great for a lot of different (say it with me now…) “reasons”. But add to that the audio functionality and enhanced MIDI editing in Pro Tools 8, and that’s a pretty sweet combo.

      I’m not preaching PT, I’m just sharing my experiences. A couple guys I know still love to (or at least choose to) do sequencing with Reason only. That’s cool. But personally, that’s not for me.

      I’m a fan of PT as the host, taking advantage of PT’s user interface and significantly beefed up internal sounds and instruments, it’s MIDI and audio editing capabilities, having Rewire options (like using Reason as a plugin/sound source), and the ability to add on countless third party plugins (like Stylus RMX).

      The 2 big PT bummers for me are 1) having to bounce MIDI programming and effected audio tracks in real time (you can instantly export non-effected audio tracks though) and 2) needing to have some form of their hardware hooked up to your computer in order to even open the software.

  2. We do the same thing with recording practices and playing back to tweak EQ, dynamics, FX, etc. It really resulted in quite a quantum leap forward in quality when we started doing that! Plus, it allows me to be on stage and still get my hands dirty in shaping the mix at FOH.

    Reid — you should do a post sometime about the plug-ins you use to create loops and accompaniments. I’d definitely be interested in finding some more cool sounds to add to my arsenal.

  3. Reid, you’ve helped me before with my Pro Tools questions – I always enjoy your posts dealing with Pro Tools and hope that you’ll continue to do them…maybe even more often. πŸ™‚

  4. Hey Reid,
    Thanks for the info. I have a newbie MIDI question…

    Here’s what I want to do as long as it’s possible. Hopefully you can tell me if this will work.

    I want to run 2 different midi controllers in Pro Tools simultaneously I’d use a Triton Extreme for running software instruments live and the Nano Pad to trigger loops.

    I want to assign 4 different software instruments to the 4 assignable knobs on the Triton Extreme so we can layer sounds generated by 4 different software instruments (piano, pad, rhodes, synth lead) by turning the volume up or down on each knob. I also want to trigger our loops with a Korg Nano Pad. Then I would route the outputs out of a 003rack separately.

    If ProTools will allow the above situation to work, then I think we are in good shape. Is this scenario possible?


    • It depends of what software you’re using. If you’re using Pro Tools, you have to use their proprietary hardware (MBox 2, 003, etc). But if you’re using Ableton Live or Reason, or something else, there are a lot more hardware options.

      When I trigger sounds to play keys with, I actually use Reason or Logic as a sound source, MIDI’ed to a keyboard. I can then use either the headphone out of the laptop, or my Mbox2 Mini which has 1/4″ outputs (which is more favorable for audio quality).

      But for the click and loops, along with the rare sequenced string or programming track, we now use Ableton Live, which is on a laptop stationed beside (and operated by) the drummer. We’re using it through our old 002R’s (for their multiple outputs), although there’s probably a cheaper option out there.

      Hope that helps!

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