Getting to know Pro Tools

Hi, I’m Dave, and I’m a DAW junkie  (DAW is a digital audio workstation, or software version of a mixing console for all the non computer music people)  I’ve worked with several different DAWs over the last 20 years or so… First Cakewalk / Sonar, then Logic, then Studio One, and back to Logic X.  I’ve usually stayed away from ProTools, as the hardware requirements / copy protection and perceived complexity have always been issues for me. A couple of years ago, I purchased an Avid MBox 3 Pro which included a copy of ProTools.  I didn’t really think much about it, but was able to get Version 10 and 11.  I plunked around with ProTools, but quickly went back to Logic, as Logic X came out.  For the most part, I’ve sat out all of the drama surrounding Avid and their upgrade policies, as I really wasn’t interested in upgrading…

That was until about 3 weeks ago…  A band I’m with recorded a live video at a studio, but we tracked all of the audio to a ProTools session.  I wanted to see what I could do.  After working with the guy who did the recording to come up with a mix for the 6 songs, I wanted to see if I could do a different job.  Since I knew I might need to bring the session back, I went ahead and did my upgrade to ProTools 12, and opened up the session.

From this point on, note that all of my statements are going to be subjective and not based upon comparisons.  I did no null testing, I didm’t try to duplicate my mixes in every DAW; i’m just going off of my memory, so take this with a grain of salt…

The first thing that I noticed was how open the sound was.  This may be due to the fact that the recording was done inside of a big room, not the normal small studio, but I’ve done a bunch of live band recordings and worked with Logic, and none have started off with the openness that I was hearing in Pro Tools.  The second thing that I noticed was that the meters in Pro Tools were REALLY good.  I feel like in Logic, there’s a bit of a ‘fudge factor’.  With the ProTools meters, i was able to see the peaks really well.

I started off my session pretty simply, just using some Waves plug-ins.  That didn’t get me exactly where I needed, so I brought in a couple of tools that turned out to be critical to me getting through my mix.  The first set of tools was the FabFilter Pro Bundle from FabFilter.  I used every plug-in in that bundle.  All of these plug-ins are incredible.  The spectrograph on the EQ is very helpful for ‘seeing’ problem frequencies, and dealing with them.  All of their plug-ins show you what they are doing to the sound, so you can really understand what is happening.

Second tool that I would not use ProTools without is Melodyne.  I’m no fan of doing ‘fixing’ vocals and guitars with plug-ins like Melodyne and AutoTune, but, there are times when it’s useful.  I was able to take a song that didn’t sound very good to pretty rockin’ with Melodyne.  Given the time and budget constraints, Melodyne worked REALLY well 🙂  Sometimes, you just have to make it sound good, and darn the ‘how’.

Finally, the last thing that got me to really like Pro Tools was the mix down.  Normally, when I do a mix down in Logic or Studio One, especially to MP3, it feels like the MP3 doesn’t sound very good compared to playing the audio out of the DAW.  With Pro Tools, I FELT LIKE THE MP3 SOUNDED AS GOOD AS THE DAW.  To re-iterate, this is VERY subjective, I did no testing.  I just know that with Logic and Studio One, my MP3 mixes never sounded as good a the DAW mix.  With Pro Tools, the MP3 equaled the DAW.  That ALONE is reason to use it.

In the end, my final result came out pretty good.  I definitely had a couple of ‘oopses’ that I wish I’d been able to fix at the time. I’ll probably do more learning about Pro Tools, and hopefully getting faster.

One last thing that I think is very telling… Graham from The Recording Revolution constantly tries different DAWs, but he always seems to come back to Pro Tools.  I know that he knows what he’s doing, and I’ve seen him do awesome mixes in Garageband, Reason, and definitely Logic, but he has always returned to Pro Tools.  I can assume that part of that is comfort factor, but I also assume that there is something more.  I certainly can see why Pro Tools is different, and I hope to learn a lot more!

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My guitar rig…

In all the ‘year of gear’ posts, I don’t really think I’ve discussed what has worked and what hasn’t.  I figured it might be a good time to go over what’s working for me for my guitar playing, and what hasn’t…

First up, pedals…

Things I can’t live without now:

One of the best pedals I’ve picked up lately is the Wampler Ego Compressor.  This is an awesome compressor that is very quiet, and has some great features.  One of the best features is the parallel compression dial.  This allows the original signal to go through unaffected and to be mixed in with the compressed signal.  This allows the pick attack to still come through while the rest of the signal is compressed.

Second ‘can’t live without’ pedal is the ISP Decimator II G String. This is a great noise gate pedal that has a very unique feature.  The pedal has two inputs and outputs so that you can run the pedal in two places in your signal chain.  I have the noise gate first in my effect chain, right after the guitar, and also as the first thing in my effects loop on the amp.  This setup eliminates almost all noise when I’m not playing.

Finally, my TC Electronic pedals.  The main one is the ‘can’t live without’, which is the PolyTune 2 pedal.  This is an amazing tuner that I’ve never had any issue with.  I *might* switch it up for the new PolyTune 2 mini pedal, if all the features are there :).  I also use the TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb, the Transition Delay, and the Gravy Chorus.  Great pedals that are easy to dial in and get a good studio sound.

More to come!

Jammin’

This is kind of a zen post, a bit of train of thought stuff, but I wanted to capture the moment…

I picked up an interesting guitar book recently, Introduction to Jazz Guitar Soloing.  In the first couple of pages, the author made an interesting statement, ‘Most key centered solos can be compared to pointless conversation’, and that really hit home.

Ok, gotta back up and explain what that means before moving forward…

When playing a solo over chord changes, there is usually a specific ‘key’ of notes that can be used over the whole chord progression.  One can play any note in the key, and it will work with the overall tonality of the chords, and sound OK.  Personally, I don’t think that there is much wrong with this, but it amounts to ‘noodling’ (something I do a fair amount of! 🙂 )

What the author is point out is that without some idea of where you are going, or what you are trying to achieve with a solo, it can be just kind of a ‘random note’ thing.  Of course, he has his ideas of how to not have ‘pointless conversation’, which is interesting to absorb.

One of the first exercises in the book is to play over a progression, and record it.  This is great practice, as it gives one a better idea of how one REALLY sounds 🙂  Tonight, I decided to create my own backing track to play over for the exercise.  I decided to play around with Logic X, as the new drummer piece is incredible for doing good backing tracks.  I recorded a couple of bass lines to add some basic definition, and then proceeded to jam out on the guitar.  I didn’t even dial in a fancy sound or anything, just used Amplitube’s default patch of a nice clean sound.  Wow, did I have some fun.  My little backing track had enough dynamics for me to switch up a bit on, and I tried a bit of the different techniques from the book.  That turned into some very cool stuff.  I haven’t played like this in a while, and, boy, did it feel good to have some nice melody and dynamics, and it was pretty much effortless.

It just all comes back around to having fun making music.

Ok, Zen off… 🙂

Correction on something I said about Logic X

I have a correction to make to one of my posts about Logic X.  In this blog post, https://dscheidt.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/decisions-decisions-decisions-personal-daw-comparison-of-logic-x-studio-one-and-pro-tools-11-with-industry-thought/ I incorrectly stated that Logic X only did strip silence destructively on the audio file.  That is incorrect.  There is a ‘Strip Silence’ command that works on the clip in the Arrange view.  The menu item is hidden on the toolbar.  That is exactly what I was looking for.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions… (personal DAW comparison of Logic X, Studio One, and Pro Tools 11 with Industry thought

It was bound to happen… Apple hasn’t released a major version of Logic in 4 years.  The MOMENT I install Pro Tools 11, Logic X shows up.  (You can thank me at ANY time 🙂 )

So, what does one do with 3 DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation software)?  Why compare and contrast them, of course!

First off, I’m not a pro.  I *might* fall in the pro-sumer category, but I think I fall into the ‘talented amateur’ column.  So, any thoughts here will be from that point of view.

My DAW journey has been interesting, to say the least.  In my PC days, I only used Cakewalk Pro Studio and Cakewalk Sonar.  I had some success at learning to record with it, but never ran projects like I do now.  In ’07, I switched to the Mac, and have basically never looked back.  I did mourn the loss of Sonar, as there is no Mac version, but instead switched to Garageband and then Logic.  I was mainly doing very basic stuff with Logic 8 & 9, just trying to learn my way around a DAW, still in the newbie stage for a long time.  I really didn’t push my learning of the software too much.  Both were good, but not exceptional, as Sonar had been, but as I wasn’t really doing too much recording, it really didn’t matter too much.

Then, Studio One happened.

Somehow, I had started working with a church on doing their sound.  They got a Presonus 24.4.2, and started recording all of their services.  I ended up using Studio One to mix the weekly worship and create the pastor’s podcast.  To say that my knowledge and understanding grew would be a VAST understatement.  Week in and week out, we had problems, difficulties, and challenges that had to be overcome.  I learned a LOT during those three years.  I learned what *I* needed a DAW for, and what the challenges were for a small personal+ studio.  I’ve helped record, mix, and master a couple of EPs for other people, plus my own band’s material.

Having said all that…  🙂

I’ve only started to learn Pro Tools 11.  I recently upgraded (sorta) my audio card to an MBox Pro 3.  That’s the subject of another blog post, though.  Since I bought it after the Pro Tools 11 announcement, I was able to get the Pro Tools 11 version.  Woo-hoo!  My initial impression has been interesting.  I’ve spent a lot of time reading the Avid forums, and it seems like there are a lot of people who missed out on the announcement information.  Pro Tools 11 is a complete rewrite of the audio engine.  Avid dropped all 32 bit support, and went 64 bit, new plugin format only.  For some reason, the community didn’t understand that, and have been upset with Avid.  From what I’ve seen, that’s been a great move.  Sometimes, the legacy code will kill you.  Ask Microsoft… 🙂  Users have dismissed some of Pro Tools 11’s features, like the faster than real time bounce.  What isn’t clear is how MUCH faster than real time it is.  I saw some posts stating that 90 minutes of audio were being rendered down in under a minute.  Folks, that’s an AMAZING number.  Rendering the church’s audio usually took me 10-15 minutes, and that was for a measly podcast.  The one thing that the prosumer / consumer market doesn’t get is that tools that people make money are are usually designed to do one thing only… and that is let the user get something done as quickly as possible, with money rarely being an object.  Why do you think the studios buy high end computers, converters, boards, effects, etc?  You can get the same sounds with much less, but at a huge cost of time.  Pro Tools is centered around workflow, and using the least amount of anything to get the job done.  Watching someone do drum replacement on Pro Tools is insane, it’s that fast.  Unfortunately, the cost is that Pro Tools has a high learning curve.  Nothing that can’t be overcome, but one must live with it day out and in, trying to get as much done at once to get the real benefit from it.

The new Logic X is very interesting.  It feels like it’s definitely trying to get back into the race.  So far, from just a couple of days of puttering around on it, I really like the new version.  Look and feel are awesome.  It always bothered me that Garageband looked good, while Logic seemed to be stuck in the 90s 🙂  That certainly has been fixed (well for the most part).  Just playing around, the new workflow looks good.  One issue I did run into is that certain things in Logic are destructive.  I’d thought that destructive audio edits were long gone.  Unfortunately for Logic, working directly with the audio files can be surprising if you are used to Studio One.  The example I ran across is the strip silence command.  In Logic, that works directly on the audio file.  Frankly, that’s a bit scary, and probably VERY unneeded in today’s world with 1 TB hard drives.  Correction:  Logic X has non destructive edits for Strip Silence.  Hooray!!!  One other thing about Logic X has been that it is completely 64-bit only.  I think that’s a great move, and long overdue.  Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to come from any code clean up, more like just not enabling the 32-bit build flag in XCode 🙂  I do expect that there are going to be ongoing updates with Logic, just like Apple did with Final Cut Pro.  Which brings up one of the major cons about Logic… Apple itself.  Apple has been VERY tight lipped about updates the last couple of years, even more so after the Final Cut Pro X debacle that happened two years ago.  There were rumors floating round that Logic had been rewritten the same time as FCP.  My guess is that the ‘next’ version of Logic was done, but just like FCP, did not have feature parity with the current version.  After the FCP backlash, I think that Apple decided to modify the current Logic instead of coming out with a completely new version, hence the 2 year delay.  It would be nice to get a *bit* more warning that a new version is coming out than a text saying ‘Logic X is out’.  Pro communities usually like a *bit* more interaction than the current Apple silence.  I bet the FCP people have the same issues…

Still, my go-to right now is Studio One.  Even though it is being updated constantly, it feels like it’s falling a bit behind.  The look and feel from v1 to v2 seems to be a bit of a step backward, but the usability has been excellent.  One of the things that I like is that Studio One is making changes with each and every release.  v2 added a lot of features that people had been asking for.  When some of them didn’t exactly work like people expected, the updates changed the functionality in a pretty timely manner.  Studio One feels like it falls between the uber-Pro-ness of Pro Tools, and the simplification of Garageband / Logic.  Are there some pro level features I’d love to see?  Sure.  But, one thing that Studio One has that neither Logic nor Pro Tools has is unlimited track count.  Again, in this day and age, why should track count even *remotely* be an issue?  My laptop runs circles around my old Mac Pro.  Plus, the 100% non-destructive editing (unless you tell the DAW to do destructive editing) REALLY rocks.  I don’t know how many times I’ve clipped something short, then just been able to lengthen the clip to get the rest, even across projects.

All three have a different focus group.  Since I’m not doing as much church work and needing to be under the gun, I’ll probably switch back to Logic.  All of my plug-ins work in Logic, and I’ll be very interested to see how often Apple updates it.  My guess is that there are a couple of extra features on deck, just like the FCP updates.  The major issues I had with Logic are pretty much gone.  Get to 100% non-destructive editing and update the look and feel of the plug-ins, and Logic is a pretty much slam dunk for me.  The songwriting tools look VERY strong, which is where I’m going to be living for a bit.  Not as much audio production work going on right now.  For that, though, it will either be Studio One or Pro Tools.

It’s GOOD to have choices!

The good…

I has been a good week, aside from the car accident.  I sold my GT-6, and replaced it with a Boss GT-8.  For all you guitar players out there, the GT-8 is UNBELIEVABLE!  Also, I had a wonderful dinner with a friend of mine that I used to work with.  Work has been productive, there’s a new Star Wars trailer out, and Robots opened today.  I know what MY weekend plans are going to be.