Preparing the DAW Session File
Carlos Lellis

   By Guest Contributor   Categories: GeneralRecording

 Following the alignment of the recording equipment, technicians should prepare the DAW project file. The session plan should be consulted at this stage as it should specify:

    • If a click track is necessary (and its tempo)
    • If a backing track or sequence will be used
    • Whether samples will be incorporated into the production.

Alternatives to Click Tracks

Some drummers may find the sound of a traditional click track uninspiring or annoying. In such cases, session engineers may:

  • Add a beat-related, e.g. crotchet, delay to the sound of the drums in the cue mix only (which will help drummers detect when they are drifting out of time).
  • Use a looped sample of a steady percussive ‘groove’, e.g. congas playing a few bars, as a guide to help the drummer keep a steady pulse.
  • Use a track of cowbell, woodblock, tambourine, etc. played ‘live’.

Time-Stretching and the Click-Track

Whenever possible, operators should record the audio signal used for time keeping with their relevant sessions, as such files may be invaluable in the case of a DAW or platform change (which could require the remapping of tempo, etc.). When using advanced time stretching, e.g. Elastic Audio, Flex Time, etc., recordists can easily alter the tempo of audio files used for time reference, by making these ‘tick-based’ and not ‘sample-based’.

Sample and Tick-Based Timescales

Current DAWs allow for the position (or ‘address’) and length of regions to be given in samples or in bars, beats and tick values. When a sample-based timescale (timebase) is used, audio regions are positioned according to sample value, e.g. in 44100 Hz, a region placed at ‘address’ 44101 will play one second after the start of the session and this position will remain fixed regardless of tempo changes.

A tick-based timescale allows for the placement and speed of playback of MIDI and ‘elastic’ or ‘flex’ time audio regions to be automatically updated according to tempo, e.g. a region placed on the second quaver of the third beat of bar four and lasting for two bars will play at its given music-related position and for its full length at any selected tempo (speeding up or slowing down accordingly).

In a tick-based scale, region positions are described in bars, beats and ticks, which correspond directly to the following musical note values:

  • Semibreve (whole note) = 3840 ticks
  • Minim (1/2 note) = 1920 ticks
  • Crotchet (1/4 note) = 960 ticks
  • Quaver (1/8 note) = 480 ticks
  • Semiquaver (1/16 note) = 240 ticks
  • Demisemiquaver (1/32 note) = 120 ticks.

Using a previous example, in common time or 4/4 and with the DAW ‘division’ set at 1/4 note, a region placed on the second quaver of the third beat of bar four will have the address 4|3|480.

Session File Templates

Recordists can benefit from the use of templates by not having to create multiple tracks, assign track inputs and outputs, create busses (cues, effects), assign buss inputs and outputs, etc. for each song to be recorded. DAWs allow users to save session file templates, which can be very useful when numerous songs with similar set-ups will be recorded in succession.


Recordists should enable ‘auto-backup’ or any other automatic background saving function of their DAW as soon as possible and ideally before sessions. This may allow some work to be salvaged in the case of an application or computer crash.

Labelling Folders and Files

It is important for DAW users to be sensible and remain consistent when labelling folders and files. As a suggested approach, folders and sub-folders may be organised in the following hierarchical manner:

  1. Main client, e.g. a record label or producer (top folder)
  2. Artist (sub-folder of ‘Main client’)
  3. Album or project (sub-folder of ‘Artist’)
  4. Song (sub-folder of ‘Album’), e.g. Song X
  5. Session Files (sub-folders of ‘Song’), e.g. Song X_01JAN13_A or Song X_010113_A (following the format Song_Date_Version).

Slating the Recorder

It is important to document the operating level used for each recording session, as this may vary between productions. The process of ‘slating’ the recorder, i.e. the recording of tones at reference level, is arguably seen as less important since the introduction of digital recording, although this procedure still plays a vital role in the alignment of devices during the subsequent stages of production.

In cases where slating is not possible, e.g. if an oscillator or signal generator is not available, DAW operators should at least note down the selected standard for each session, e.g. + 4 dBu = − 18 dBFS.

Audio File Types

It is recommended that recordists work with or generate (data) uncompressed audio files with wide support, i.e. files that are known for their resilience and mobility. Currently, the Broadcast Wave (.bwf) format is considered to be the most universal, being supported by a variety of platforms and applications. Other acceptable file types include: .aiff and .wav, while compressed or not currently supported file types, such as .mp3, .m4a, .m3u, .wma, .ra, .sd, .sd2, etc., should be avoided during production.

Excerpt from Music Production: Recording by Carlos Lellis. 

About the Author

Carlos Lellis Ferreira holds an SAE/Middlesex University MA in Creative Media and a diploma Summa Cum Laude from Berklee College of Music. He has worked as an engineer and producer with artists such as Rosabella Gregory, Joby Talbot and Grammy Award winners Sir John Tavener and Thomas Dybdahl amongst many others. He is currently the Audio Production programme leader at SAE Institute, UK.


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