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Stop Wasting Time In Pro Tools - Ditch the VCA

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

Are you looking for a serious time saving technique in Pro Tools? If you work with VCA’s it’s time for you to “Ditch the VCA” and use Folder Tracks instead.


This approach saves me hours and gives a session that’s super easy to navigate. Let me explain.

 

The Viscous VCA

You’ve probably been there. That late night grinder, the track count keeps stacking up, and the session layout is quickly becoming an all out mess. Your only hope is for a quick bounce and to never open the session again - only to find that your client requested 7 more revisions.


The VCA is designed to help you navigate & mix these large grouping of tracks quickly, but in my experience the ongoing management of these control groups is too much of a time-sucking process. Here’s why:

  • Confusing Assignments: All VCA members must be assigned via the "Modify Groups" dialog. Now which buttons do I need to press again?

  • Assigning New Tracks Sucks: Any new tracks created in your session need to be manually assigned to the VCA Control Group. Not a quick process.

  • Track Count Stack: The VCA adds to your total track count and pollutes your edit window. Creating a more bloated session, and with no organizational benefits.

  • Volume Control Only: VCA’s only provide volume control for its members. Wouldn’t it be nice to also provide audio processing and full automation control?

Well… we’ve found a much better solution that you need to give a whirl!

 

Enter Folder Tracks


Pro Tools 2020 introduced Folder Tracks. Should we say “ABOUT FREAKIN’ TIME?” I guess a simple “Thank You” will do. I’m gonna assume by know you’ve had a primer on folder tracks but if not check out this video:



Now on the surface these Folder Tracks may just look like a fancy way of organizing and navigating your session. But I propose to you the bold statement that these Folders can effectively replace your VCA’s all-together and 1up your workflow.


How to Win With Folder Tracks


The secret here is that you want to always be using “Routing Folders” and not “Basic Folders” in order to get the double bonus: Organization and Processing. Here’s how:

  1. Select your group of tracks that you want to live inside of the Routing Folder. Right Click - and choose "Move To" - "New Folder".

  2. Under "Type" select "Routing Folder". Choose your preferred "Format" & "Name" for the folder - and select "Route Tracks to New Folder".

Pro Tools

I like to put the ƒ symbol (Option+F) on every Folder Track for easy identification.


Now your Routing Folder is functioning much like a souped up VCA for mix control. But we ain’t done yet… these little puppies give us some amazing additional benefits.

  • Orginization: I can quickly expand and contract these folders to view the members. Often I will keep a group of audio tracks or auxes in collapsed folders that don’t need to be in my view at all times.

  • Goodbye Track Groups: I’m no longer messing with the ridiculous "Modify Groups". If I need to group any tracks, I simply drop them into a Folder Track.

  • Editing: You can globally edit all members of a Folder by making a selection in the folder track edit view.

  • Processing: I can add plug-ins on the Folder Track for global processing of my folder members.

  • Mixing: An old school VCA gave me volume control. Folders give me all automation control.

Avid S6
  • EUCON Support: I can spill folder members on any EUCON enabled control surface. On my S6 I keep all my main folder tracks on one side, and can quickly spill the members to the other side of the console. Talk about mega fast session navigation.




 

Give it a Try


VCA's have been kicking around on consoles for more than 35 years. Maybe it's time you innovate and try something new. It may very well increase your workflow and get you home just a little bit quicker.


I’ve been able to trash the VCA’s with this method and I'm working faster than ever because of it.


Is there any reason you just can't live without a VCA?


Let us know in the comments below.

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