Pro Techniques 7.2003


Pro Techniques from Jimmy Douglass

By Randy Alberts


"Flip it and reverse it — ti esrever dna ti plif."
- from "Work It," by Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott


Jimmy Douglass

Can a simple Pro Tools move like reversing a vocal phrase lead to millions of additional record sales and massive media coverage for a client? Yes, according to Jimmy Douglass, who recorded, edited, and mixed "Work It" and several other records and albums for Missy E. The hip-hop queen needs no gimmickry to make great music, but this simple move with the Pro Tools DigiRack Reverse plug-in has created quite a stir.

"There were radio station contests to guess what Missy says in that part where her vocals are reversed,'" says the New York-based Douglass, who works frequently with Missy, and has also spent time in the studio with Ludacris, Bubba Sparxxx, Jay-Z, Nas, and the Neptunes. "It's easy to think back and hear what she's saying — in fact, she says it right before the reverse: 'Flip it and reverse it.' The easiest moves are often the best."

Pro Tools|HD: So Addictive
For Douglass, the intuitive nature of Pro Tools and its interface negates any need to crack open the owner's manual. He goes on instinct alone when it comes to audio. And why not? He's worked on the most expensive digital audio workstations ever made, including being weaned on the New England Digital Synclavier Post Pro post-production system. His intense work-week has never left time to waste on manuals.

"There's at least two or three different ways to do anything in Pro Tools," Douglass says. "It's that versatile. To me, that's a great thing. I go to diff erent studios where these Pro Tools wiz kids are saying, 'But you can do this and that,' and I'm like, 'Yeah, but I might be done before you get done going by the manual.' But I do pick up a few things about Pro Tools from them every time I go to a studio."

Douglass says he depends most on what he calls the "manual method" of working with Pro Tools. "I find that guys who do the fanciest things with Pro Tools don't know the most basic moves that I do just by instinct. If you approach Pro Tools like a tape machine, and don't even open up the manuals, you and the whole system think differently. I'm approaching it intuitively."


Jimmy Douglass, Carlos Bedoya, and Missy E take a quick Digi photo op break



Douglass, who shared Pro Tools duties with Bedoya for Missy Elliott, has also worked with Aaliyah, TLC, and Timbaland & Magoo."

Is Missy into Pro Tools? "Oh, please — she wouldn't think of working any other way," says Douglass. "She knows what's up with Pro Tools and what she can do with it. She doesn't want to be there with her hands on the screen, but she knows what we can do with it."


Pro Technique 1 —
Living in punch-in mode
As part of his inventively intuitive production style, Douglass remains in Auto-Punch mode when tracking. Though many engineers might prefer to highlight a specific region before hitting "record," he prefers the hands-on sureness of Auto-Punch.

"I live in punch-in mode, even though a lot of people don't do that," says Douglass. "They look at me like, 'Why don't you just highlight the area you want and record it?' Well, what if they sing a little longer this time, or come in earlier than the last pass, and really hit something before that region can record? What if Missy does an ad-lib after the selection, and suddenly you didn't capture that moment? No way. I'll tell Pro Tools when to punch in and punch out by hand."


Pro Technique 2 —
Creating something from almost nothing
Douglass recalls a recent session where he asked the guitarist to just play some stuff while Jimmy found some good tones at the board. As often happens, his punch-in deftness caught what he needed while the guitarist jammed away. The group's composers liked the little loop he had going with the guitarist's one-bar riff, and asked Douglass to build an entirely new song off this short, but inspired, musical moment.

"The guitarist was gone for good, so I made a basic tempo map — I added a little basic grid to the riff that he'd played. I found a tempo that kind of fit the range of the piece. He played less than a bar, in fact, so I took a little piece of the attack of the guitar and made that my click. I marked those clicks as the grid, and found the right tempo before looping it to the grid map."

The drummer liked the riff a lot, says Douglass, "but it needed to be a little faster. The guitar was originally done at 87 bpm, and he wanted it to be like 91. So I redid my Pro Tools grid to 91 bpm, and used DigiRack TC/E [Time Compression/Expansion] to shorten the guitar loop to the appropriate length. There was the whole loop in the right tempo, and we had the whole song start from just that guitar part."

  1. With a piece of audio (for example, a short guitar riff) on one track, grab a tone or anything able to provide a good click sound source.

  2. Tap the tempo into Pro Tools to approximate a beat the drummer may want on the grid.

  3. On another track, lay out the click/guitar attack on every quarter beat. Then create a grid at the tempo of the guitar riff.

  4. Go back to the tempo map and set it to the new desired tempo. If the source riff is longer than the faster tempo in the new grid, shorten it to the correct length with TC/E, then copy and duplicate it down the length of the track.

Douglass concludes: "The guitar is now sitting just a little outside the 2-bar grid set to 91. So, I grab the end of the guitar part with the TC/E tool, pull it in to where it stops at 91, and then duplicate that down the whole song. When I play it back, the guitar is now in perfect tempo with 91. And it stays at pitch, of course, because the TC/E tool doesn't change pitch. "