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Pro Tools… An Exploration (2024 Update)

It's currently April 2024, and Pro Tools is available again as a standalone purchase! Hooray! I hope more companies backtrack on the subscription-only model, considering there are people (like me) who will, reluctantly, move on to other software instead of signing up for a recurring payment.

So, the current version is "Pro Tools 2023". I'm very happy I can access my old PT projects again, of songs/demos I recorded over a decade ago. Yet, man, oh man, trying to get started with this software is a real pain...

First of all, I purchased the software from Sweetwater during the weekend. It should have been an instant download, but an email came through saying "Your order has been delayed... Something about your order didn't verify correctly." I had been planning on jumping into a new recording project with a friend that weekend, so this wasn't the sort of email I wanted to receive. After waiting a few hours and not hearing anything more from Sweetwater's Customer Service team, I emailed every one one of their "Sales Engineers" who had sent me a message in the past, and one of them responded. Thankfully/fortunately, he quickly fixed the issue. The order was help up because too many people order the wrong version of Pro Tools. That isn't surprising... You initially have to decide if you want Pro Tools Artist, Pro Tools Studio, or Pro Tools Ultimate. Then, it's a matter of deciding between a perpetual license, a monthly subscription, or an annual subscription. If you previously owned version 9 or newer, you'll want to buy the upgrade, rather than the full-price version. If you're a teacher or student, there's a discounted version just for you. It's a lot to consider - probably too much. When I upgraded from PT 10 to version 12, I thought I was buying a perpetual upgrade... it wasn't, and I completely lost the ability to pull up my song files after a year.

Getting the purchase sorted out and the software downloaded was a relief. It took a while, but installation was pretty straightforward. Getting up and running, though, is another story. Pulling up one of my tracks, I was able to set up the audio output just fine. For the life of me, though, I couldn't get Pro Tools to recognize my guitar signal. Finally, I emailed AVID and, working our way through it, this response came through:

I think that you might be missing just the I/O assignments.

With Pro Tools open, click the Setup menu, then I/O.

Click the Inputs tab, then Default. Do the same for the outputs and busses tabs.

Close the I/O window, go back to your Edit Window and check that you can now assign inputs and outputs for each track.

That worked! Now that I'm re-reading this, months later, I think Greek makes more sense to me, and that's frustrating. My basis for comparison is GarageBand. If you're a Mac user, maybe you've played with that software, which is included for free on every iPad, iPhone, and Apple computer. Over the years, that program has come a long way.... it's powerful and, compared to Pro Tools, it's amazingly intuitive.

Remember how I was talking about how difficult it was to set up the guitar input on Pro Tools? If I'm using GarageBand and plug in my guitar (using a 1/4" to USB cable), the software prompts "Do you want to use this input?" Why yes, yes I do... that's why I plugged it in. The Input/Output settings in GarageBand are a breeze. If it's not right, go up to GarageBand -> Settings -> Audio/MIDI -> and change the Input or Output Device. In Pro Tools, root around for a couple hours, then email Customer Support because you haven't crossed every "t" and dotted every "i". It's weird. GarageBand's bigger brother is Logic, and I've considered trying that software more than once.... but I'm still locked in with Pro Tools because of all my old recordings I wanted to pull up again.

Now that I have PT 2023, anytime I'm feeling inspired to record, I just pull up GarageBand. It's so much easier to get going, and so much cheaper.


The original post:

Spending the day troubleshooting…. I recently upgraded my primary audio software from Pro Tools 8 to PT 10. Unfortunately, I have long been stuck in this cycle of writing, editing, and mixing music on an archaic setup, which is centered around an old Dell XPS computer running Windows XP. Growing up using both Windows AND Apple computers, I can tell you that they both work great for simple tasks… but once you get down to business, Windows systems are completely inefficient while Macs take the gold medal.

With Pro Tools, a lot of things are happening at once. You have things moving and scrolling in the mix and edit windows, plugins are doing some processing, and information is being consolidated and sent to the sound and video cards. Windows XP has just never been able to handle those tasks well while running Pro Tools 8. The output emitting from the speakers randomly becomes completely distorted and is only solved by either: 1) stopping and restarting the playback 5, 6, 7 times, sometimes more or 2) getting into my settings and changing how much information the computer buffers before it’s translated into an audible signal.

Being a little behind the times here computer-wise, Pro Tools 10 isn’t supported on my old XP system, so I just have it installed on a Macbook Pro… well, the MBP doesn’t have two, big fancy displays to show what’s going on in both the edit and mix windows, so I keep going back to Pro Tools 8 to work with. Well, today I just had enough, as I kept running into that distorted signal roadblock on the Windows system over and over and over again, while mixing a song called “Don’t Look Down.”

I moved the project over the Mac, and the process of setting up an audio interface just isn’t as easy as it seems it should be. If there is a weakness I have when it comes to all this techno-nerd audio world stuff, it’s dealing with signal routing, bussing, and optimizing auxiliary channels. Mixing boards can be complex creatures, and I impressed many-a concert goer when I was standing behind a 40 channel sound board, fresh out of high school almost a decade ago. It kind of looks like the cockpit of the space shuttle, but you learn how it all works… and then the technology changes.

What really trips me up is digital routing. I never had to deal with MIDI addressing, syncing a dozen synthesizers to do different tasks all at once. Only once did I program a light show via DMX addressing, and I just typed in the codes the lighting director relayed to me. And only a handful of times have I had to route a digital audio console. I have a feeling more of that will be coming soon, though, considering some upcoming plans...

As for now, though, it’s time to play around with PT 10 a little more. I will update if I make any breakthroughs.


"Pro Tools… An Exploration"

Written by: Justin Kilmer

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