When it comes to DAWs, it would be impossible to talk about digital recording without talking about Pro Tools. Designed by Avid to be the industry standard, the DAW has come a long way and today we are going to explore every feature that makes it unique.
- Pro Tools: The Industry Standard?
- The Beginning of Pro Tools: How it All Started…
- Different Versions of Pro Tools: From Past to Present
- Standout Features and Applications of Pro Tools
- Mixing & Mastering Tools
- What is Dolby Atmos?
- Hardware & Peripherals
- From Novices to Professionals
- Genres and Applications: Exploring the Musical Horizon
- Critical Considerations…
- Wrapping Up: The Verdict…
Pro Tools: The Industry Standard?
Pro Tools has firmly established itself as a pioneering force, revolutionizing the realm of music production, recording, and audio engineering. Pro Tools has continually evolved, setting industry standards and shaping the sonic landscapes of countless musical compositions.
If you have been following the world of music production for many years, then the “industry standard” was Pro Tools and a Mac. Apple made very powerful computers, that could handle the multi-tracking recording process in the early days of digital recording.
Avid, the maker of Pro Tools, came from two designers that attended UC Berkeley in the 80s. Evan Brooks and Peter Gotcher started with electrical engineering in school, and the two friends spent a lot of time playing around with synths, sound cards, and drum machines.
From that, the two friends also studied MIDI sound design. Like most people in the late 80s and early 90s, it was clear to them that analog recording was taking a new direction. Everyone from Nine Inch Nails to pop radio hits were becoming “hybrid” projects.
Just like most of the first DAWs on the market, Pro Tools started as a tool to control drums, and other MIDI elements to be recorded to analog tape. This is the same story we hear from every DAW company, but somehow Pro Tools came out on top.
From the mid-90s until the late 2010s Pro Tools was the industry standard in most studios. While that has changed quite drastically with the beginning of home studios becoming the norm, with more DAWs to choose from. Pro Tools is still relevant, and offers a ton of features. Today we are going to look at every aspect of the famous DAW.
Let’s embark on a journey to unravel the multifaceted world of Pro Tools, exploring its origins, evolution, standout features, and diverse applications across the music industry.
The Beginning of Pro Tools: How it All Started…
Pro Tools, developed by Avid Technology, emerged in the early 1990s as one of the first digital audio workstations, heralding a groundbreaking shift from analog recording to the digital domain. Its early iterations laid the foundation for contemporary music production, offering users an unprecedented level of flexibility, precision, and creative control over their audio recordings.
Over the years, Pro Tools underwent significant advancements, integrating cutting-edge technologies and innovative features that propelled it to the forefront of the professional audio industry.
Most DAWs started in the late 80s and early 90s as MIDI controllers, and this story is no different. The difference is that Pro Tools was the first real digital DAW that worked well, and it even used specific hardware to give your computer a “boost”.
While other DAWs were struggling to work on the current computers of the 90s, Evan Brooks (creator) was making outboard computer gear to get the DAW working. But we are getting way ahead of ourselves, as this story actually started much earlier.
Evan Brooks and Peter Gotcher started as students at UC Berkeley in California. While they both studied computer science, their hobbies were music and instruments. The arrival of the Fairlight CMI blew everyone away, as it was the most impressive sampler to ever hit the market.
The Fairlight is responsible for many sounds you know from the 80s. The soundtrack to “The Terminator” was mostly done with the famous keyboard-based sampler. Evan and Peter took note of this trend, and started designing drum software and replacement chips.
This lead to the first product by the two new engineers, Digidrums. Five different upgrade chips were available, offering different alternate drum styles. The chips, easily switchable with the original ones, enjoyed remarkable success between the Drumulator users, selling around 60,000 units overall.
With the release of the first Macintosh Computer in 1984, the two decided to start taking advantage of the new graphical interface to design more products. The pair engineered the “Sound Designer” software for keyboards and synths. It was the first software shared over the internet as well!
The problem with making a full recording system digital at this time, was the computer hardware. The two innovators moved on to creating the first “tapeless recording studio” with added computer components. The program was called Sound Tools, and it was bundled with Sound Designer software which is still available today.
This was the beginning of Pro Tools, and many digital options started to pop up in the market. The problem, was computer storage. Even powerful home computers had limited storage, so the need for analog tape was still prevalent into the 90s.
The first Pro Tools system was launched on June 5, 1991. But it relied on Motorola hardware, and several other components that were still experimental. To have effects like reverb and time control, you need more DSP and storage, and external parts provided this much needed power.
This plan was revised several times, and Evan and Peter merged with Avid, which added more funds to the company to get a final working product. For most of the 90s added hardware cards and DSP elements were needed while computer technology started to catch up.
The late 90s saw the migration of most studios to digital, as finally computers had caught up to the ambitions of creators. The first Billboard Top 100 single to be done with Pro Tools was “Livin’ La Vida Loca” in 1999. This was the beginning of fully digital studios, and Pro Tools was the name to buy.
Between 2001 and 2012, Avid released a ton of different versions of Pro Tools, both for computers and Native hardware systems. At the time, it was the only DAW that could mix surround sound, and it made every other DAW pale in comparison when it came to user functions.
These days, computers have no issue running Pro Tools, and it is a huge player in the DAW realm. Avid has also kept up with the hardware that allows you to control the DAW. Pro Tools can be a huge investment, but it is also a powerful tool.
Different Versions of Pro Tools: From Past to Present
Pro Tools 1-6: Pioneering the Digital Revolution
The initial versions of Pro Tools introduced fundamental recording and editing capabilities, enabling users to manipulate audio tracks with unprecedented precision and efficiency. With its innovative non-linear editing system and comprehensive mix automation tools, Pro Tools quickly gained popularity among recording studios and professional musicians, setting a new standard for digital audio production.
Pro Tools 7-10: Expanding Creative Horizons
Subsequent iterations of Pro Tools witnessed the introduction of advanced features, such as improved MIDI sequencing, comprehensive virtual instrument libraries, and enhanced signal processing capabilities. These updates facilitated a seamless integration of digital audio and MIDI production, offering users a versatile platform for crafting intricate compositions and intricate sonic textures.
Pro Tools 11-2021: Embracing the Future of Audio Engineering
With the advent of Pro Tools 11, Avid ushered in a new era of audio engineering, introducing groundbreaking advancements in audio processing, mixing, and virtual instrument technology. The integration of 64-bit architecture, advanced metering options, and comprehensive signal processing plugins elevated Pro Tools to unprecedented heights, solidifying its position as an industry-leading DAW for professionals and enthusiasts alike.
Current Version: Pro Tools 2022
The latest iteration of Pro Tools, Pro Tools 2022, represents the pinnacle of Avid’s commitment to innovation and excellence in audio production. With its state-of-the-art audio engine, immersive mixing environment, and a comprehensive suite of creative tools, Pro Tools 2022 continues to redefine the boundaries of digital audio production, empowering users to bring their creative vision to life with unparalleled precision and depth.
Standout Features and Applications of Pro Tools
Advanced Editing Capabilities:
Pro Tools’ robust editing capabilities, including its intuitive waveform display, comprehensive clip manipulation tools, and streamlined editing workflows, enable users to achieve precise control over every aspect of their audio recordings. From precise waveform editing to intricate crossfades and dynamic time-stretching, Pro Tools provides users with a comprehensive toolkit for shaping and refining their audio compositions with unparalleled precision and finesse.
Powerful Mixing and Signal Processing:
Pro Tools’ integrated mixing and signal processing capabilities offer users a versatile platform for crafting immersive and dynamic audio mixes. With its comprehensive range of EQ, dynamics, and modulation plugins, along with advanced automation tools and immersive surround sound capabilities, Pro Tools empowers users to sculpt their sound with depth, clarity, and unparalleled sonic richness, ensuring a professional and polished final product that meets the highest industry standards.
Seamless Integration with Industry Standards:
Pro Tools’ seamless integration with industry-standard hardware and software solutions makes it a preferred choice among professional studios, producers, and audio engineers. Its compatibility with a wide range of audio interfaces, control surfaces, and third-party plugins allows for seamless collaboration and workflow optimization, facilitating a cohesive and efficient production process that meets the demands of modern audio engineering and music production.
Third Party Plugin Support
Pro Tools was probably the first DAW to really support 3rd party plugins. The DAW itself has a full suite of instruments, effects, and mastering tools. Many producers prefer using outside sources, however. This feature is even more prevalent today, as many studios use amp sims and drum programs.
All together, Pro Tools offers everything you could want in a DAW system. The editing options were above and beyond anything on the market at the turn of the digital age. These days, most DAWs have these features, but Pro Tools did it first.
Mixing & Mastering Tools
This is a big one, especially with the trends these days aiming for Dolby Atmos. Now Dolby Atmos isn’t just about movies. It’s an immersive new way to listen to and experience music, where every sonic detail surrounds your senses, putting you inside the song. You don’t just hear it—you feel it. And Pro Tools empowers you to make it, expanding your production possibilities.
With that being said, Dolby is still king when it comes to commercial production. This means producers that make commercial music for clients can definitely benefit from learning how to mix in surround sound. There are many 3rd party plugins that can accomplish this task, but it is so much easier if the capability is built-in.
What is Dolby Atmos?
Dolby Atmos is an advanced audio technology developed by Dolby Laboratories that revolutionizes the audio experience by introducing a three-dimensional audio format. Unlike traditional surround sound systems, which are primarily based on channels, Dolby Atmos transcends the confines of channel-based audio, offering a more immersive and spatial audio experience that envelops the listener in a multidimensional soundscape.
It introduces a more precise and realistic representation of audio, enabling sound engineers and content creators to craft dynamic and lifelike sound environments that transcend the limitations of conventional audio formats.
The key feature of Dolby Atmos lies in its object-based audio approach, which allows sound engineers to treat individual audio elements as distinct sound objects that can be precisely placed and moved within a three-dimensional space.
Dolby Atmos supports a wide range of playback systems, including home theater setups, cinemas, and mobile devices, enabling consumers to enjoy immersive and spatial audio content across various entertainment platforms.
But so far, Pro Tools and Logic are at the top of the game. Many producers feel that Dolby Atmos is the future of mixing, since more headphones and devices support the format. If you have a recent Samsung phone, then you probably have Dolby built in, and can be used with streaming services.
Hardware & Peripherals
Pro Tools began by having extra hardware added to computers to make it run smoothly and efficiently, and this has not changed at all! You can still buy physical products that will seamlessly integrate into your studio setup.
Products like the Avid S4 act as a bridge between analog studio desks, and fully automated digital desks. Avid offers everything from small, two input interfaces for your home studio all the way to the Avid S6 full studio desk.
These products often come with their own sound cards, memory, and other boosts for your actual rig. Sure, your computer can still be the biggest part of your setup. But the Avid products can add a lot to your studio’s workflow.
These are very useful tools that come with the audio cards that you will need to mix and master in surround sound. While your computer rig can probably do most tasks that you would expect from a DAW, as you progress further there is no limit to hardware options from Avid.
From Novices to Professionals
Pro Tools caters to a diverse spectrum of users, ranging from novice enthusiasts and aspiring musicians to seasoned audio professionals and established recording studios. Its intuitive interface, comprehensive feature set, and robust performance capabilities make it an ideal choice for users seeking a versatile and reliable platform for audio recording, editing, and mixing.
Learning a DAW can be very intimidating at first, since the advanced features can be very confusing if you are brand new to recording. This is the case with any DAW on the market, and none are really “easier” than the others.
Something like Pro Tools can also grow with you as a producer. It is easy to get started, and jotting down musical ideas in a multi-track format. You will get used to that quickly, and maybe move on to programming MIDI instruments.
The fact is, the advanced functions will be there when you eventually need them. The mixing and mastering tools may not be important when you are just getting started, but these features will be paramount once you gain experience.
Whether you’re a budding artist exploring the world of digital audio production or a seasoned audio engineer working on complex and intricate projects, Pro Tools offers a comprehensive suite of tools and functionalities to accommodate a wide range of creative pursuits and professional requirements.
Genres and Applications: Exploring the Musical Horizon
Pro Tools’ versatility and adaptability make it a preferred choice across various musical genres and production styles. Its comprehensive virtual instrument libraries, advanced MIDI sequencing capabilities, and immersive mixing environment enable users to explore diverse musical genres, ranging from electronic and pop to classical and orchestral compositions.
There is a reason that Reaper and Pro Tools are taught in art schools. This prepares the student for the industry they will be entering. These two DAWs are used for every genre, and every style you can imagine.
Unlike other DAWs like Ableton and FL Studio, which appeal to certain genres and styles, Pro Tools does not cater to any specific genre. It can be used for MIDI-heavy electronic sounds just as well as recording a full band of live instruments.
With its seamless integration of analog audio and MIDI production tools, Pro Tools serves as a creative canvas for musicians, producers, and composers, offering a dynamic platform for realizing their artistic vision and translating their musical ideas into captivating and immersive sonic experiences.
When it comes to using Pro Tools as your digital audio workstation (DAW) of choice, several key considerations can significantly impact your experience and workflow. Whether you’re a novice exploring the realm of music production or a seasoned professional navigating complex audio projects, being mindful of these essential factors can help you optimize your usage of Pro Tools and streamline your creative process.
Yes, Pro Tools is still somewhat considered as the “industry standard” in many circles. But there are also reasons why it is not used by everyone, and this is mostly due to extremes. What we mean by extremes, is that you have to pretty much commit to Avid’s ecosystem entirely.
You can use plenty of 3rd party plugins, but when it comes to hardware, you are almost forced to use Avid products when it comes to running the DAW in a professional environment. You dedicate your studio to Avid products solely, and for some people that is desirable. Here are some considerations…
When it comes to using Pro Tools as your digital audio workstation (DAW) of choice, several key considerations can significantly impact your experience and workflow. Whether you’re a novice exploring the realm of music production or a seasoned professional navigating complex audio projects, being mindful of these essential factors can help you optimize your usage of Pro Tools and streamline your creative process. Here are some critical considerations to keep in mind:
- System Compatibility and Hardware Requirements: Pro Tools is a powerful software suite that demands a robust and reliable hardware infrastructure to operate seamlessly. Before diving into the world of Pro Tools, ensure that your computer system meets the necessary hardware specifications and compatibility requirements outlined by Avid. Investing in high-performance processors, sufficient RAM, and fast storage solutions can significantly enhance your Pro Tools experience and ensure smooth and uninterrupted audio processing.
- Learning Curve and Training Resources: Given the extensive feature set and advanced capabilities of Pro Tools, familiarizing yourself with the software’s interface, tools, and workflows is essential. Be prepared to invest time and effort in learning the intricacies of Pro Tools, leveraging comprehensive training resources, online tutorials, and user communities to hone your skills and grasp the nuances of audio editing, mixing, and mastering within the software.
- Project Management and Organization: Managing complex audio projects within Pro Tools requires a systematic and organized approach to file management and project structuring. Implement effective file naming conventions, create logical session templates, and utilize project organization tools within Pro Tools to streamline your workflow, enhance collaboration, and ensure efficient project management throughout the entire production process.
- Backup and Data Security: Protecting your audio files, projects, and session data is paramount when working with Pro Tools. Implement a robust backup strategy, regularly save project revisions, and invest in reliable data storage solutions to safeguard your work against potential system failures, data loss, or unforeseen technical issues. Establishing a comprehensive data backup and recovery plan can safeguard your creative endeavors and provide peace of mind during intensive audio production sessions.
- Audio Interface and Peripherals: Selecting a high-quality audio interface that seamlessly integrates with Pro Tools can significantly enhance your recording, monitoring, and playback capabilities. Ensure that your chosen audio interface is compatible with Pro Tools, offers low-latency performance, and provides sufficient input/output options to accommodate your specific recording and mixing requirements. Additionally, investing in compatible control surfaces, MIDI controllers, and hardware peripherals can further optimize your Pro Tools experience and streamline your audio production workflow.
- Software Updates and Maintenance: Keeping your Pro Tools software up to date with the latest updates, patches, and firmware releases is crucial to ensuring optimal performance, stability, and compatibility with third-party plugins and hardware. Stay informed about new feature enhancements, bug fixes, and software optimizations provided by Avid, and regularly update your Pro Tools installation to leverage the latest tools and improvements that enhance your overall audio production experience.
But the biggest consideration is The Price: Pro Tools is a fantastic DAW, but recently Avid has made it a subscription-only product. You cannot buy a copy outright anymore, instead users have to “lease” Avid products, at varying different yearly prices:
- Artist Edition: $99.00 a year
- Studio Edition: $299.00 a year
- Ultimate Edition: $599.00 a year
What is the difference? Each edition has a limit for tracks, effects, and plugins. The “Ultimate” version has everything included, while the other variants offer a more essential experience. The more expensive editions are also the only variants that work with hardware from Avid (other than the M Box).
Wrapping Up: The Verdict…
It is hard to deny the impact that Avid has made on the recording industry. There were years of studios switching to digital, and Pro Tools was the best option at the time. It was the best option at the time, and one of the only options that was viewed as “pro”.
DAW software has come a long way since the 90s, with Avid leading the way in most cases. Most other DAWs have taken some features from Pro Tools over the years, but that is not exactly the case in the present. Many other DAWs offer similar experiences these days, so it can be hard to choose.
What used to be the “industry standard” has become a more level playing field over the last decade, and choosing a DAW has never been more confusing. Pro Tools is a brand name that most people can recognize, but it is important to understand who this DAW is for, and who will use it.
If you plan to build a professional studio that will have active clients within the music industry, then Pro Tools is still a great choice. The hardware options alone allow the user to personalize a full studio layout, with every product that you would need for recording.
But for beginners, I think Pro Tools might be overkill for most users. This is a case of a professional product being for… professionals. Personally, I think there are other DAWs that will be a better introduction into recording. If your school forces you to use Pro Tools, then that is how you should learn, but as a home enthusiast… there are better options.
Pro Tools stands as a hallmark of innovation and excellence in the realm of digital audio production, embodying a rich legacy of pioneering advancements and groundbreaking technologies. With its robust feature set, intuitive interface, and unparalleled performance capabilities, Pro Tools continues to redefine the boundaries of creative expression and technical precision, empowering users to unlock their creative potential and shape the future of music production and audio engineering.
As a versatile and dynamic platform, Pro Tools remains a testament to the enduring legacy of digital audio workstations, bridging the gap between artistic vision and technical excellence with unwavering dedication and unparalleled innovation.