Musicians, Producers and Mixers Talk Pro Tools 9
Perhaps the biggest news to hit the recording industry in more than a decade came last week when digital audio company Avid announced Pro Tools 9, the first and long-awaited software-only option for what’s become an industry standard workstation. Firmly entrenched in the day-to-day workflows of musicians, editors and mixers, from creation to broadcast, almost anywhere you hear sound, Pro Tools was likely involved. It’s how someone like Adam Young (a.k.a. Owl City) was able to construct an entire album from his bedroom, and also how a massive facility like Skywalker Sound produces audio tracks for some of the world’s biggest films.
But because of cumbersome and exorbitantly expensive hardware, which was a requirement in all eight of its previous incarnations, that couldn’t work with any third-party hardware and crippled feature sets forcing users to pay for options that other programs offered for free, complaints and criticisms have been mounting for years. Facing pressure from innovations adopted by other software and hardware developers, (like Apple's Logic, the professional version of Garageband, which comes with every Mac) and a changing media environment where content creation has shifted toward everyday consumers, it looks like Avid finally listened to its base and gave the customers what they wanted at a price they can afford ($599 for the full version).
What does this mean? We asked six producers, engineers and working musicians -- some of whom could barely contain their excitement -- to break it down for us.
Adam Young, Musician-Producer (Owl City)
"Pro Tools is an absolutely critical part of my creative process. I tend to write, produce, engineer and mix as I go via nonlinear sequences, and the ability to go back and change things within Pro Tools when necessary is unbelievable. I'm quite impressed that Pro Tools no longer requires a dedicated Avid (or literally any) hardware interface to operate. Which means I can toss my laptop into my tour bag, hit the road and record, produce, engineer and mix from anywhere in the world. I foresee it saturating every aspect of my workflow, whether that be sequencing the beginnings of an idea on my laptop backstage at a show in Tokyo, to tracking final vocals in my home studio in Minnesota, to handing off a mix session to an A List mixer and letting him put the icing on the cake... Pro Tools is a tremendously inspiring environment that allows my music to write itself, and like a wonderstruck fisherman, and all I have to do is stand on the shore and wait for something big to happen." [www.owlcitymusic.com]
Damian Taylor, Producer-Engineer-Programmer-Mixer (Björk, U.N.K.L.E., The Prodigy)
"It's hard to explain how significant this is without going into nerd-land, but a good analogy could be that, previously, you had to either wear jeans and a T-shirt OR a tuxedo. Now you can wear anything and everything in between. It used to be that you either had to have the ultra expensive High Definition system, or an effectively "crippled" version with limits that were only there to differentiate between market segments. For me, the main thing is that it opens up the flexibility of Pro Tools to integrate into a far broader range of music production situations.
"I think this update has come along at the perfect time for the music industry. Certainly the "traditional" business model for both music production and music marketing had been massively eroded, with a huge number of amazing big old studios closing down. What people don't hear about so much is that there are a huge number of new studios opening up, but they tend to be smaller, more flexible spaces built specifically for the owner's needs, both technical and lifestyle.
"After a decade working in top-flight studios in London, I'm just wrapping up construction on my own room in Montreal and Pro Tools 9 came along just in time to help me set up my studio the way I want it. It should allow my clients and I to "interface" more easily; a lot of artists like recording themselves simply in their own space before teaming up with someone like myself to sprinkle a bit of fairy dust on their project, and this new version of Pro Tools allows you to open up the same file on the humblest or most extravagant system out there. This is also an emerging paradigm in the modern music industry; I've worked on a lot of projects now where artists are happy to just send me a file over the internet and let me do my thing in my own space in my own time." [www.damiantaylor.com]
Ari Levine, The Smeezingtons Production Team (Bruno Mars' 'Just the Way You Are,' Cee Lo's 'F--- You,' B.O.B's 'Nothing On You')
"It enables any person to build a professional recording studio anywhere they like for moderate costs and it enables me to create at speeds that would have never been possible with tape machines. I'm sure in the future it will continue to get faster so that you're always able to capture that initial spark of inspiration. It also makes the recording industry much more competetive because essentially a teenager with a little bit of knowledge has the same chance of creating a hit song as a professional doing it for years in a million dollar studio." [Smeezingtons at Myspace]
Butch Walker, Singer-Musician-Producer (Pink, Avril Lavigne, Weezer)
"I'm stoked to get Pro Tools 9 because they are finally making it compatible with other platforms like Logic (which I use a TON) and it was always a disaster trying to transfer files from one software to the next because Pro Tools never wanted to play nice with others. I guess they can't afford not to now with Logic kicking so much ass for way less money. But we use Pro Tools as our main platform and I love, love, love it. Can't wait for the new features in 9!" [www.butchwalker.com]
CJ Eiriksson, Producer-Engineer-Mixer (U2, Phish, Matchbox Twenty)
"For the pro users, it takes away issues of compatibility with different platforms, and offers numerous other stunning visual editing automation features that make things just plain easier to use. One of the biggest aspects for me is mobility. I travel a lot for work, so the new "software only" feature -- meaning no bulky external hardware box to carry around -- is great . I can be anywhere now: working on a mix, doing some editing, anything that I need to do with only my laptop. This is huge for me, but probably the biggest impact will be on the home users. There are so many new features that were only available to the people who spent the money for a professional ProTools HD system, which could run as much as $15,000." [CJ at Myspace]
Evan Taubenfeld, Musician-Songwriter-Guitarist
"Pro Tools is one of the most essential tools I have. Trying to make music for the biggest of the industry without it is like trying to play in the NBA without tennis shoes. It allows me to go head-to-head with the best (I don't always win but at least we're competing on even ground now). For instance: I'm sitting at Starbucks on my laptop mixing a track I just co-produced with a friend of mine. This latest release allows the software to essentially scale up and down based on what your setup offers at any given moment.
"For me, this is pretty huge. I hated having to carry around dedicated Avid hardware to open Pro Tools while traveling. It pissed me off so much that in the past I'd actually used Apple's Logic Pro to write and start ideas on the road and would bring them into Pro Tools when it was time to produce them on a larger scale. Now I'm able to have one streamlined software set that will go with me everywhere. This also massively changes the facilities required to edit and produce. I can edit, tune, and make beats on airplanes, coffee shops, malls, or even in cars (not while driving) and have that be full quality, usable, transferrable progress I use on even the biggest and most intense records I'm making." [www.evantaubenfeld.com]