That's not a question. Its a statement. It's an honest mistake to be sure, but maybe its a sign that you should start spending more time thinking about how you might improve yourself and a little less time nitpicking every little detail of any given website.
Avid Pro Tools - The End of the Recording Studio
So I've been getting back into songwriting which is infinitely easier if you have the ability to lay tracks down. Even if it's just a tape recorder taking a horrid live recording of a jam session, songs will always turn out better if you can listen to them as you write them. It allows them to evolve much faster than they ever could floating around in your head or written down on paper. So completely agreeing with myself on everything I just said, I decided I needed an up to date solution for recording.
I used to have a Roland 8/128v Mini-studio recorder. I lent it to my brother a couple years ago and to be honest, wasn't that excited to get it back. It was an impressive piece of equipment no doubt. It had a built in mixing console with 8 faders that could be assigned to any of 128 virtual tracks. So it was fairly easy to mix down so long as you kept the track number low. It had a nice effects collection, but was limited to 2 effect channels which could be used on any track...but just whichever 2 you chose. Another problem, the interface was not intuitive. I personally felt there were better ways it could have been done, but in the end with a static control board, you are going to have a hard time finding where this is sending, where that track went, where this is returning. etc etc etc. Dialing around with the equivalent of an iPod interface was...tough. So I figure I'll just let my brother keep that thing. I am sure some garage band somewhere would kill for it, but for the most part it's antiquated garbage. I can see the Craigslist add now: Preloaded with The Emo Song!
So with my decision to not return to that thing, I decided to explore a software solution. I had previously worked with some software circa 1999. I tried both cakewalk and n-track studios. Cakewalk at the time was simply to complicated for the simple tracks I was trying to record. I had seen other people use it and I know it was powerful for the time, but everything it was capable of was in your face all at once. It was extreme overkill. I found n-track studio on some shareware site. It had a trial mode that let you record like 4 analog tracks. This was all I needed for writing some demo songs to present to the band. It used direct-x plugins for things like reverb, chorus, drive etc. The direct x-lag was ridiculous but so long as you didn't mind recording everything clean and adding the effects at mix-down, it was pretty useful. Still, it was limited - even beyond the track restrictions of the trial version. The interface was not incredibly responsive due to a couple of tracks really taxing the limit of the CPU. So ultimately, while I was able to create some tolerable stuff with this thing, the truth was plain. This technology wasn't ready yet. The ADAT based studios were safe at the time.
That was 1999 though. 2011 is here though and OMG look out, professional studios.
I wandered around Best Buy's little 'I wanna be in a band' section and found the digital recording area. They had a few demo setups. One was a logic Pro setup which I had read good things about but it was exclusive to Mac. Since I own a real computer instead of a 14 year old girl's toy, I had to go another direction. I found an audio interface module called a "mobile-pre" from M-Audio. I look it over. It has a USB jack to plug it into a computer and it allows for 2 analog mic or line inputs, phantom power for high end microphones and outputs for studio monitors and/or headphones. For 150 bucks, it includes Pro Tools SE. SE is short for special edition which typically means cripplingly limited in features but this actually wasn't the case.
It took me all of an hour to have the hardware and software installed and ready to go. I plugged my guitar in and made some attempts to record some jammin little progressions and it worked...mostly. I will say that recording was quirky but it was inconsistent and really pointed to buggy software. I updated to the latest drivers and it helped a little but some problems required restarting the software. Tracks that were not designated to be recorded on were catching bleed over from tracks that were in record mode and stuff like that. It was frustrating, but the interface was very easy to use and I understood what I should expect even if the bugs were getting in the way. I also played with some of the built in loop libraries. This made dropping drums extremely easy. You find a simple 1 or 2 bar drum riff you like, drag and drop it onto the editing window and bam, you got drums! That was huge for me because 10 years ago I was futzing with programs like fruity loops and rebirth doing analog loop-backs through the computer to drop a drum track. This drag and drop functionality was huge. It was as easy to use as a metronome and minus the extreme repetitiveness of the loops (which can be overcome with a little elbow grease in the editor) the loops are well recorded and add instant depth to the recordings.
Now the Pro Tools SE I am working with at that point was version 8 SE. One of the big differences in the full version vs the SE version is the lack of a mixing interface in the SE version. The editing interface doubles as a mixing interface with very difficult to use volume nobs located on the left side of each waveform in the editor. But you can for the most part mix to the same degree in SE albeit harder. Anyways, I had a few guitar tracks down so I start playing with the relatively intuitive effect inserts. SE comes with a few useful plugins for reverb, delay, chorus, distortion and compression. I was able to add I think up to 5 effects to any track independently and was getting some reasonably interesting sounds out of my clean guitar tracks. Some basic distortion didn't make the guitar sound like it was mic recorded, but it was pretty damned close and more than served my purposes so I moved on to MIDI.
The MIDI instrument library seemed pretty useful (before i got the full version). It had anywhere from 50 to 80 instruments you could create tracks with. I really had no experience drawing in a MIDI editor, so I went out to guitar center and spent 40 bucks on an ALESIS Q25 key MIDI controller. When I got it home, I started putting some basic piano progressions underneath the guitar and I was amazed at how it really injected life into the overall product. A quick duplication of the same midi track allowed me to quickly add another instrument mirroring the original but with a different voice. I know this is nothing new for people familiar with MIDI technology, but holy jesus at how this was a game changer for me. We spent so much time and money in the studios, there was no time to really explore different sounds. There was time to get some tracks down with whatever instruments were available and hopefully have enough money left over to mix. Unlimited time for these 60 different MIDI sounds completely altered how I will write songs forever. This change expanded drastically when I made the decision to get the full version of Pro Tools.
I started doing a lot of reading online to see what the overall impression the software had on the people who were using it and it was all extremely positive. I couldn't find a lot of info on what to expect as far as differences between SE 8 and Pro Tools 9 though. I knew it had a mixing interface and something called Xpand but other than that I really didnt know. But I am really enjoying what I am using and I want to go to the next level so I figure ef it. I drop 600 bucks on Avid Pro Tools 9. I am so glad I did.
The Pro Tools 9 interface is familiar as far as version 8 was concerned but clearly had more options and was more complex. The learning curve was a tad higher and I feel like I would have had an even harder time with it if I didn't have some of the simpler interface / vocabulary down before using it but it could also be a little comfort with the older software was biasing me too. who knows.
This time I went right for the loops to get at some of the drums. The loop library supplied with Pro Tools 9 was ridiculously larger than the SE version. In fact the software is split into 2 DVDs. One is the program, the other is the loops library. So I had a fun time rummaging through the new library listening to all the stuff they have from rock drums to techno type house crap that people like Lady Gaga thrive on. Anyways I found a nice little rock kit loop that included a few fill loops from the same kit as well and I started a project. I decided to take a song that I had previously recorded in a really nice and expensive studio 15 years ago and see what I could make of it in Pro Tools 9. After I get the drums in place, i decide to do a bass line. But I can't find the bass line. I created a midi track and then i looked for the instruments and I dont see any of the 60 instruments that were provided in the SE. Instead I see like 5 options, one of them says xpand. I had read something about that in my research so I figure ok, lets see what an xpand instrument sounds like. Then I got it. I saw the light. The xpand isnt an instrument its an instrument module with what looks like thousands of instruments prebuilt in. Each of these instruments can be tweaked with all the knobs and buttons and effect gizmos you can think of realistically creating an infinite number of instruments. So i start futzing through the instruments and find like 100 different preloaded electric bass guitars. I bet 30 percent of the time I spend recording is just browsing through instruments to see what I want to use. My advice to anyone starting out now however would be to use very generic instruments to lay your stuff down and then find the sound you want later. Its so easy to switch a track to a different instrument, there's no reason not to wait until you can hear it in its entirety. So thanks Xpand. Now I can use my little 25 key piano to drop in any instrument i can think of and way more than that.
So if that's Xpand, what is this other option under instruments called Vacuum? Vacuum as it turns out is a Vacuum tube synthesizer emulator preloaded with about a thousand different sounds and arpeggiators. I have always always always wanted a moog and not just to own a moog cause its cool but to be able to add that sound to my music. But the low end moogs cost like 1400 dollars and I cant justify that kind of money for a hobby so yeah I am never getting one. But the Vacuum Midi module plugin does pretty much exactly what a moog does...so now I have a moog. =] There were a few other instrument modules on the list. 1 was like its own modifiable piano but it didnt seem to be able to do anything the xpand couldn't do so I imagine anyone who uses it is due to familiarity or preference but whatever these other modules are there if you want them.
Well I get all my tracks down for the song. I think I ended up with like 6 or 7 analog tracks - specifically guitar and vocals and the rest MIDI tracks - Bass, Piano, some analog synth sounds and some arpeggios from the xpand module. Then I go to the mixing board to mix it all down and wow at how much easier it is to use than the SE version. You can patch effects directly into tracks or bus tracks into auxiliary effects tracks. Stuff I never understood at the studio made perfect sense with the pretty easy to use Pro Tools mixing interface. I was able to find a lot of tips and tricks on using the board on Youtube. There are a lot of ghetto thug hip hop producers showing how they make they'z badass jams and while the music is lame, the methods they use on the board are transferable to any kind of music so I recommend running a pro tools search on youtube and having a look.
Some easy to use compressors made basic "mastering" of the tracks easy to add and I bounced (so far as I can tell a fancy industry term for export) the tracks to disk. The Pro Tools 9 full version allows you to dump directly to mp3. The SE version only allows you to create wav files. You will have to find your own MP3 encoder if that's your ultimate goal. Quick TIP: I was bouncing to MP3 from my mixes and getting really annoying volume fluctuation in the tracks. It was driving me insane because I figured it was something I didn't understand in compressors ( my recording knowledge is negligible at best ). I gave my old friend and studio engineer extraordinaire Leo Codias a call and asked him for advice. He told me to bounce to wav first then bounce it to mp3 from the wav file. This sounded so stupid to me. Why would it make a difference. According to the Pro Tools documentation, it creates the wav file before it creates an mp3 anyways, but Leo said to do it and he was absolutely correct. Bouncing directly to mp3 encodes it differently than bouncing first to wav and then to mp3. So now I know and now you know.
So far I have created a bunch of short highly over produced (for funsies) loops and 2 complete songs with Pro Tools 9 and all of it sounds an entire order of magnitude better than anything I have created in a full service recording studio or with any other equipment. The fast access to so many instruments and effects (the effect library for Pro Tools 9 isn't a whole lot bigger than the version 8 SE library, but the quality and options on the Full version plug ins are an extreme improvement) has allowed me to take my song writing from words and music on to concepts, sounds, feelings, vibes that can all be changed on the fly while listening in real time. It opens up the creative process in a fun and easy way and if you have ever paid for studio time, I am here to tell you, this software pays for itself. To record an album in a studio will cost a minimum of 800 dollars and that's really cutting it both time and money wise. My total cost for my pro tools studio? The laptop which I had anyways was 700 bucks. I paid 150 for the audio interface, 600 for the Pro Tools 9 software, 40 bucks for a basic MIDI controller which you don't even need. I don't even use mine anymore as I quickly figured out how to use the MIDI editing interface and I find it easier to just draw notes onto the track instead of trying to play them. I also bought a pair of low end M-Audio studio monitors for 130 bucks and an AudioTechnica condensor Microphone for 100 bucks. So roughly 1600 bucks? Sorry, I didn't feel like adding it up but you get the point. For 1600 bucks I now have infinite studio time and an unlimited margin for error. I can play guitar a bit but I would not claim to be a guitar player. I can play keyboard a little bit, but I would not claim to be a keyboard player. I can sing a bit but I wouldn't claim to be a singer. What I would claim to be is a songwriter but adding Pro Tools to that has made me a one man band and producer. It just doesn't make any sense to pay for a professional studio anymore.
I hope reading about my experience as someone with limited knowledge exploring a software recording solution has helped anyone who doesn't know if this path is right for them. All the research I could find was from guru type engineers saying things that I didn't get at the time. I strongly suggest considering Pro Tools 9. It is versatile, has no bugs to speak of ( I found no evidence of the SE 8 bugs in Pro Tools 9). Overall its freakin uber neato.
Here are some songs I recorded with Avid Pro Tools 9. Each one represents about 6 hours worth of recording and mixing:
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