Batch renaming was introduced into Pro Tools at the end of 2017, with the 12.8.2 version. Since then, I haven’t had much of a chance to use this feature since most of my work has been mixing and sound design. Nevertheless, after some recent days of voice acting recording and all the editing associated, I have been looking a bit into this feature.
So this is a quick summary of what you can do with it with some tips and examples.
There are two batch rename windows in Pro Tools, one for clips and another for tracks. They are, for the most part, identical. You can open each of them with the following shortcuts:
Clips: CTRL + SHIFT + R
Tracks: OPTION + SHIFT + R
Both windows also have a preset manager which is great to have.
As you can see, there are four different operations you can do: Replace, Trim, Add and Numbering. As far as I can tell, the different operations are always executed from top to bottom, so keep that in mind when designing a preset. Let’s see each of them in more detail:
Replace (CMD + R) allows you to search for any combination of letters and/or numbers and replace with a different one. The “Clear Existing Name” checkbox allows you to completely remove any previous name the track or clip had. This option makes sense when you want to start from scratch and use any of the other operations (add and numbering) afterwards.
For example, let’s say you don’t like when Pro Tools adds that ugly “dup1” to your track name when duplicating them. You could use a formula like this:
Original names New names
FX 1.dup1 FX 1 Copy
FX 2.dup1 FX 2 Copy
FX 3.dup1 FX 3 Copy
You may realise that this would only work with the first copy of a track. Further copies of the same track will be named “…dup2, ...dup3” so the replace won’t work. There is a way to fix that with the last checkbox, “Regular Expressions”. This allows you to create complex and advanced functions and is where the true power of batch renaming resides. More about it later.
Trim (CMD + T) is useful when you want to shave off a known amount of characters from the beginning or end of the name. You can even use the range option to remove characters right in the middle. This of course makes the most sense when you have a consistent name length, since any difference in size will screw up the process.
So, for example, if you have the following structure and you want to remove the date, you can use the following operation:
Original names New names
Add (CMD + D) lets you insert prefixes and suffixes, pretty much doing the opposite of Trim. You can also insert any text at a certain index in the middle of the name.
We can add to the previous example a suffix to mark the takes that are approved. It would look like this:
Original names New names
Finally, Numbering (CMD + N) is a very useful operation that allows you to add any sequence of numbers or even letters at any index. You can choose the starting number or letter and the increment value. As far as I can tell, this increment value can’t be negative. If you want to use a sequence of letters, you need to check the box “Use A..Z” and in that case the starting number 1 will correspond with the letter “A”.
If we are dealing with different layers for a sound, we could use this function to label them like so:
Original names New names
As you can see, in this case, we are using letters instead of numbers and and underscore to separate them form the name. Also, you can see that in the case of clips, you can choose wether the order comes from the timeline itself of from the clip list.
Regular expressions (or regex) are kind of an unified language or syntax used in software to search, replace and validate data. As I was saying this is where the true power of batch renaming is. In fact, it may be a bit overkill for Pro Tools but let’s see some formulas and tips to use regular expressions in Pro Tools.
This stuff gets tricky fast, so you can follow along trying out the examples in Pro Tools or using https://regex101.com/.
First off, you need to decide what do you want to find in order to replace it or delete it (replace with nothing). For this, of course you can search for any term like “Take” or “001” but obviously, you don’t need regex for that. Regex shines when you need to find more general things like any 4 digit number or the word “Mic” followed by optional numbers. Let’s see how we can do all this with some commands and syntax:
[…] Anything between brackets is a character set. You can use “-” to describe a range. For example, “[gjk]” would search for either g, i or k, while [1-6] means any number from 1 to 6. We could use “Take[0-9]“ to search for the word “Take” followed by any 1 digit number.
Curly brackets are used to specify how many times we want to find a certain character set. For example ”[0-9]” would look for any combination of numbers that is 5 digits long. This could be useful to remove or replace a set of numbers like a date which is always constant. You can also use ”[0-9]” to search for any number which is between 5 and 8 digits. Additionally, ”[0-9]” would look for any number longer than 5 digits.
There are also certain special instructions to search for specific sets of charaqcters. “\d” looks for any digit (number) type character, while “\w” would match any letter, digit or underscore character. “\s” finds any whitespace character (normal spaces or tabs).
When defining searches, you can use some modifiers to add extra meaning. Here are some of the most useful:
. (dot or full stop) Matches any character. So, “Take_.” would match any character that comes after the underscore.
+ (plus sign) Any number of characters. We could use “Take_.+” to match any number of character coming after the underscore.
^ (caret) When used within a character set means “everything but whatever is after this character:. So “[^a-d]” would match any character that is not a, b, c or d.
? (question mark) Makes a search optional. So for example, “Mic\d?“ would match the word Mic by itself and also if it has any 1 digit number after it.
* (Asterisk) Also makes a search optional but allowing multiple instances of said search. In a way, is a combination of + and ?. So for example, ”Mic\d*” would match “Mic” by itself, “Mic6” but also “Mic456” and, in general, the word Mic with any number of digits after it.
| (vertical bar) Is used to expressed the boolean “or”. So for example, “Approved|Aproved” would search for either of these options and apply the same processing to both if they are found.
Managing multiple regex in the same preset
You sometimes want to process several sections of a name and replace them with different things, regardless of their position and the content around them. To achieve this, you could create a regex preset for each section but is also possible to have several regex formulas in just one. Let´s see how we can do this.
In the “Find:” section, we need to use (…) (parenthesis). Each section encompased between parenthesis is called a group. A group is just a set of instructions that is processed as a separated entity. So if we want to search for “Track” and also for a 3 digit number we could use a search like this one “(Track)(\d)“. Now, it is important to be careful with what we use between the two groups depending of our goals. With nothing in between, Pro Tools would strictly search for the word track, followed by a 3 digit number. We may want this but tipically what we want is to find those terms wherever in the name and in whichever order. For this, we could use a vertical bar (|) in between the two groups like so: “(Track)|(\d)“ which is telling Pro Tools: hey, search for this or for this and then replace any for whatever.
But what if you want to replace each group for an specific different thing? This is easily done by also using groups in the ¨Replace¨section. You need to indentify each of them with “?1”, “?2” and so on. So the example on the right would search for the word “Track” anywhere in the name and replace ti with “NewTrack” and then it would search for any 3 digit number and replace it with “NewNumbers”
Here is a more complex example, involving 4 different groups. If you have a look at the original names, you will see this structure: “Show_EpisodeNumber_Character_LineNumber”. We would want to change the character and show to the proper names. We are also using a “v” character after the line number to indicate that this is the approved take by the client, it could be nice if we could transform this into the string “Approved”. Finally, Pro Tools adds a dash (-) and some numbers after you edit any clip and we would want to get rid of all of this. If you have a look at our regex, you would see that we can solve all of this in one go. Also, notice how the group order is not important since we are using vertical bars to separate them. You will see that in the third group, I’m searching for anything that comes after a dash and replacing it with just nothing (ie, deleting it), which can be very handy sometimes. So the clip names will change like so:
Original names New names
Other regex functions that I want to learn in the future
I didn´t have time to learn or figure out everything that I have been thinking regular expressions could do, so here is a list of things I would like to reasearch in the future. Maybe some of them are impossible for now. If you are also interested in achieving some of these things, leave a comment or send me an email and I could have a look in the future.
Command that adds the current date with a certain format.
Commands that add meta information like type of file, timecode stamp and such.
Syntax that allows you to search for a string of characters, process them in some way, and them use it in the replace section.
Deal with case sensitivity.
Capitalize or uncapitalize characters.
Conditional syntax. (If you find some string do A, if you don´t, do B).
I hope you now have a better understanding of how powerful batch renaming can be. With regular expressions I just wanted to give you some basic principles to build upon and have some knowledge to start building more complex presets that can save you a lot of time.