Monthly Archives: May 2012

RECORDING: You don’t need Pro Tools! Don’t believe the hype.

I know the term “Pro Tools” has a tendency to mean “the only recording software that you need if you want to be taken seriously as a self-recording musician.” What a bunch of crap. Please, don’t believe the hype.

I bought Pro Tools recently, after using it a lot in 1999 when I used to work in radio broadcast imaging (sound effects and background music for radio commercials and call letter tags). I bought the M-Audio MobilePre Pro Tools bundle (it was $150, and came free with an iLok2, which was pre-configured with a license for Pro Tools MP9). It was a great value, especially considering the MobilePre interface alone costs the same, without Pro Tools MP9 and without an iLok2 (it’s funny.. why would M-Audio/Avid be selling both interfaces for exactly the same price… who the hell would buy the one WITHOUT Pro Tools MP9 and the free iLok2?)

So anyway. Sure, a great deal. Here are some things I hate about Pro Tools:

1. It takes 30 seconds to a full minute to open on a decently-fast duo-core desktop with 4GB of ram. If I want to work on a song idea, I have to wait forever, THEN pick a template which adds another 10 seconds or so to the loading time as it “builds” the session, just to get into the program and start recording. I find that stupid.

2. I got it to crash once (I don’t even remember what I did) and, unlike most programs, I needed to FULLY RESTART my computer just to restart Pro Tools after the crash. Really?

3. It will not host instrument plug-ins in the extremely common VST format. Instead, it uses a specific Pro Tools-specific plug-in type, called RTAS (Real-Time Audio Suite). To host VSTs (such as all the amazing free ones out there like Superwave P8, Togu Audio Line’s entire collection, and Crystal by Green Oak… you need to buy a $100 “VST-to-RTAS wrapper”. No thanks. One of my favorite VSTs is the MPC-style VST POISE by One Small Clue (I blogged about them a few weeks back). It won’t work in Pro Tools since it’s VST-only. Poise works in all other recording programs.

4. Here’s the biggie– you cannot disable automatic input monitoring. So basically, when you record vocals, you have to mute your active track, and then either un-mute it before playback… or move it to an adjacent track. This has been complained about for the past several years and something Avid/Digidesign have yet to address. I think it’s stupid. All other programs allow you to disable input monitoring, so you don’t hear doubled versions of yourself when you’re recording (the “live” version, and the post-processed computer version of yourself, a few milliseconds later). Annoying, and stupid.

5. You can’t customize the menu or layout of Pro Tools. I find it annoying to always be stuck with the same look even though I don’t use or need most of the tools and icons I see at the top of the screen.

6. You HAVE to go into the mixer/console view ALL the time, especially if you want to use plug-ins, or effects. Most other recording programs allow you to change routing or add effects from the track view AND from the console view, if you’d like.

Those are just a few of the reasons I hate Pro Tools. Also, I don’t think the effects are any better than any of the better, fully free plug-ins out there. People just freak the hell out over Pro Tools, and I just find it funny.

It’s better than Garageband, sure. And the price is right for the MP version (which is tied specifically to M-Audio hardware, which I like a lot and always have)… but really…. Reaper (www.reaper.fm) is basically the same thing, and opens in two seconds (yes, really. I’ve proven this to at least five different people who were skeptic about it, vs. Pro Tools). Reaper is fully functional, despite the nag screen asking you to buy it every few times you open it), and if you wanted to buy it, it’s only $60…. less than Pro Tools, and ten times better.

I’ll say one nice thing about Pro Tools— it looks really pretty. The track colors are always pleasant to look at. I created a very similar track color theme for Sonar X1 Essential, and Reaper. Took a little time, but worth it.

Don’t buy into the Pro Tools hype. Save money and be as frugal as possible. The only thing that really matters is a well-written song (with great lyrics), and even more so: an album’s worth of them. It doesn’t matter what you record on.

Hell, I just built a home studio system to sell locally on craigslist using a 7-year old Dell tower with Windows XP, Reaper 4, and the built-in soundcard (using the ASIO4ALL driver) plus a $50 mixer with phantom power, which runs faster and is a lot more efficient, workflow-wise, than Pro Tools MP9 running on my 8GB Dell tower. I couldn’t even install Pro Tools MP9 to that system, since it needs so much resources.

It just makes me wonder why a teen looking to get into home recording would invest in Pro Tools, especially a teen who has basically no money, and a perfectly capable desktop computer (over 5 years old). Use what you have, and save money. A little research goes a long, long way.

And yes, I do realize that Avid/M-Audio already got my money, and could care less about me bashing Pro Tools (especially with their very loyal (and arguably brainwashed) fanbase)….. but hey. I was curious, and gave it a try.

Never again will I support Pro Tools. Give Reaper a try.

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SONGWRITING: Chord “moods” and emotions

Most people think of chords as something to put together in a certain order, to make your song sound like a song. But there’s a science behind it all… an emotional science. Here are the emotions I “feel” when hearing and playing certain chord types:

MAJOR – happy/poppy

MINOR – sad/melancholy

7th – bluesy, or “needs to move elsewhere” (Dominant chords always need to “move”, usually back to the tonic chord)

min7 – jazzy… sad, but less sad than minors… “sophisticated” sound

maj7 – dreamy, romantic, really pretty, thoughtful

add9 – “radio” – Cadd9 is one of the most radio-hit-song-friendly chords, ever. These are happy chords but with a little something extra (of course, duh… the 9th scale degree!). When majors just aren’t cutting it, use an add9.

sus – Both sus4 and sus2 have that “neutral” sound… they don’t sound happy or sad… they just kind of hang out. They’re some of my favorite chords. Lots and lots of indie rock bands use sus chords generously. Don’t forget about the 7sus4 chord, too… sophisticated and works great as a chord at the end of a sequence.

Minor added 9 – the saddest-sounding chord, ever. A little creepy, too. Awesome chord, do not ignore it.

maj9 – dreamy like the maj7, but with an extra push of epic-ness (I think of a lot of M83’s older music when I hear a maj9 chord)

Don’t be afraid to experiment… chords can take you anywhere, just as your emotions can. Connect them in the same way you connect your emotions or if you’re telling a great story and using lots of adjectives and voice inflection while you’re telling it.