Based on Pro Tools software and a Digidesign ICON digital control surface console

Whenever you read about bands in the studio, you’ll almost certainly see the words “Pro Tools“. But what are they, what they do and, more importantly, why the palaver?

Pro Tools is a hard disk recording system, the audio and Midi sequencing software that runs on Digidesign hardware (it won’t run on anything else). It comes in several flavours, from the beginner’s budget-friendly Mbox with Pro Tools LE software to a full-blown professional HD TDM system, which starts at around ten grand.

Some Musician are still convinced that digital recording is a cheat that bands only turn to when they’ve run out of ideas. But hard disk recording has been a studio mainstay since the 1980s, and anyway, Pro Tools is hardly a creative life-support machine. It’s simply a brilliant studio tool – a way to achieve effects, edits and arrangement that would otherwise take agonising hours or wouldn’t be possible at all.

Pro Tools can be as simple or as complex as you want. If you just want to plug in, set up some mics, and record a live session, treating it like a four-track on steroids, no problem. If you then want to chop up the recorded audio into single-bar segments, take the best bits and monkey around with each and every notes, you can do that, too. Most user settle somewhere in between – old-fashioned audio recording first with a little computer tinkering afterwards to buff it up.

Pro Tools’ reputation is built on its audio-editing capabilities. It isn’t the only sequencer out there, but it’s the system you’ll encounter in the majority of professional studios, as well as many home and project studios. Musicians can now take home technology that would have cost tens of thousands a decade ago.

The beauty of the Pro Tools environment is that projects – at least before effect are added – can be transfered between large and small systems. Musicians can have a Pro Tools LE set-up at home, demo songs and than take the raw tracks to a studio for more recording and mixing.

Another advantage is that the software interface is virtually the same for the Mbox software as it is for the professionals’ HD system. The LE set-up will do all you’ll need to complete a mix, but if you want to add soft synths and funky new FX, be prepared to pay big.

Still, Pro Tools’s reputation is fully deserved and it’s arguably the system best suited to anyone suspicious of computer recording. There’s even a free version (called Pro Tools free, naturally) so you’ve nothing to lose by downloading it. You never know, you might even like it.

© Jonathon Wilson NME July 19, 2003

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