Is Pro Tools worth it for home recording studio?
“Is Pro Tools worth it?” or “should I get Avid Pro Tools for my home recording studio?” – two questions every audio enthusiast, home recording studio owner or even random full time professional comes up with sooner or later.
If you’re searching the internet for right answer whether you should buy Avid Pro Tools for everyday use in your home recording studio, the short answer is NO.
I’ll provide you with several reasons why you shouldn’t build your studio based on this DAW as well as explain why people are still coming up with “is Pro Tools worth buying?” dilemma.
My intention here is not to depreciate Pro Tools, but to encourage people to not give it advantage over other DAWs just because it is considered “industry standard” by tradition and historical circumstances dragged to us from the last millennium.
Let’s break down what is a DAW?
DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation – piece of software empowering its users to import, read and manipulate audio data be it single stream (channel) or a multi-channel project.
A DAW allows you to:
- Capture data coming from your AD converter and present it to you as a wave form.
- Edit recorded or imported audio data files.
- Write all sorts of parameter automation.
- Adjust levels and stereo placement of sound sources.
- Apply REAL-TIME processing that messes with and analyses dynamic, spectral, temporal and spacial aspects of sound.
- Play back video files.
- Perform all multi-track mixing and mastering tasks.
- Compose and program your music using built in or third party virtual instruments triggered by MIDI data.
- Render / bounce / export your work to most popular audio formats.
Every decent DAW on this planet can perform all of these tasks, otherwise it couldn’t be called a Digital Audio Workstation.
What separates one DAW from the other one(s)?
DAW is a set of actions stuffed under a GUI, so the user doesn’t need to use command line and can just concentrate on audio production, recording, editing, mixing, mastering and delivery.
Most major differences between DAWs are represented by relatively minor features and GUI layout solutions, that are supposed to enhance and speed up your work-flow. However there is no fundamental process one DAW can do, while the other can’t.
This leads us to a fact – whatever DAW you choose, you’ll be able to go from point A to point B. Only difference will be how fast can you get there and this will mostly depend on you learning skills.
With that being said it is naive to think that Pro Tools will make you work faster or give you better (what is better?) results than Reaper, Ardour, Cubase, etc. It all comes down to your knowledge, experience and skills.
Is Pro Tools worth buying to improve your mixing skills?
No DAW including Pro Tools will help you be better at what you do and you should drop this idea once and for all. Depending on your will and learning abilities a DAW can improve your turnaround time per project, but not the quality as in “bring your mix to the next level”.
- If you’re a mixing engineer, then your mixes are defined by the amount of knowledge you’ve gained and experience you have utilizing that knowledge. You can eventually get faster in Pro Tools as in any other DAW but if you don’t know the fundamentals and ways to implement them – speed won’t matter.
- If you’re a recording engineer, then how much of a difference does it make where the “rec” button is located and how colorful are the wave forms? Acoustics of your recording space and number of input channels on your audio interface as well as microphone count and variety is all that matters.
- If you’re a music producer or a composer you’ll most definitely benefit from a new instrument be it hardware or software and a comfortable MIDI environment in your DAW. Pro Tools lack it by the way. Oh, and I bet you won’t be using bundled virtual instruments and go get yourself pack of NI or something more fancy like EW.
Let’s put it like this: if you don’t know fundamentals of whatever skill you’re after, there will be no difference IF the DAW of your choice is used by industry’s pros from the last millennium like Pro Tools, or it’s free and no one has ever heard of it like Ardour.
And vice versa – if you know what you want to achieve, you’ll do it with whatever tools you have.
Can Pro Tools contribute to your studio expansion?
Be it voice over, acoustic duo, five piece rock band, an orchestra or else – as long as your DAW can record and graphically represent everything that’s being thrown at it, you’re good to go. And as you already know every DAW can do the job at the highest level, including Pro Tools (not Pro Tools First – only four inputs there…). However, by no means should you go and get an expensive DAW yet.
As a home recording studio owner you must do your best to first of all invest into improvement and expansion of following aspects:
- Studio acoustics and separation panels.
- Microphone locker.
- Cable and microphone stand resources.
- Physical input count, microphone pre-amplifiers and D.I. boxes.
- Monitoring system for yourself and a really comfortable one for your performers. Fact – if musicians can have a luxury of personalized mix in their headphones – that’s what will make your business and name grow.
- Computing power be it stationary or mobile.
- Air Conditioning and ventilation system (this one’s BIG).
Once you’ll cover every aspect mentioned above, you’ll realize how small of a contribution your DAW of choice makes to the expansion of your business or hobby.
Is Pro Tools worth having because of great bundled plug-ins?
Yes, it is! But so does every other DAW, as all decent DAWs come with high quality plug-ins so you can start getting your hands dirty right away.
And in case you’re caught by all the “analog saturation” hype, since you most likely can’t tell the difference between saturation added by a plug-in vs hardware unit (I can’t), it’s the last thing you need to care about.
In pro audio world we are convinced we love things. But in reality if someone claims to hear micro level subtle differences between two sounds – that is pure BS in 99% of cases. Put him/her on a blind test and they’ll choose C01 mic over C12. Because this is all subjective, it’s all Placebo, it’s all marketing and it’s all what others make us believe.
If home recording studio folks decided to finally trust their ears, major part of audio software and hardware companies would go down, because most of them are making different looking & similar sounding things.
Why Pro Tools is still an industry standard?
Back in the day Pro Tools was the first decent digital solution to replace tape based production workflow. Obviously it got a strong position, because all big studios acquired revolutionary digital systems, which at the time did cost insane amounts of money.
Once you decide to pay that amount, you just need to stick with it for it to pay off. You are then tied to this system, because obviously there are constant updates and upgrades. Even Avid’s support costs money.
To increase the addiction, Digidesign and Avid used and are still using same indoctrination techniques all big software companies (Adobe, Autodesk, Foundry, Sony etc.) use to this day – they “bribe” soon-to-become-profesionals while they’re still learning by giving educational versions of their products for free (or at a small fraction of full price) to schools and students, so that after they graduate, they know nothing more, but, say, Pro Tools workflow and become advocates to the software they are used to.
Combine this marketing tactic with awesome looking advertisements and slogans like “bring your mixes to the next level” and you have one huge bubble of artificially created awesomeness.
Despite the fact that more and more professionals are using alternative DAWs to accomplish everyday tasks requiring highest levels of quality and speed, because of above mentioned marketing tactics there’s still a strong belief that if you want to get into a pro studio, you need to know your way around Pro Tools. That’s why a question “is Pro Tools worth having?” is so vivid in all sorts of home recording online communities.
In reality they, me and you sure understand, there are tons of better options, but at the same time there’s this strange feeling of “Pro Tools will bring your mixes to the next level” levitating around.
This shows how deep the indoctrination sits in all of us and this is how strong Avid marketing works to keep the dogma active and make us forget that it is only our hard work and strive for knowledge and experience can bring our mixes to the next level and not a piece of software that is only one of many.
So what if BIG NAME recording studio hires me???
Is Pro Tools worth having as a safe pass or some kind of back-up in case you get hired by a BIG NAME studio some day? Nope.
If someone will eventually hire you, it will definitely not be because you worked with Pro Tools in your bedroom, but because you’re good at what you do (as opposed to what you do it with).
If you’re good at one DAW, you will learn a new DAW in no time. But the DAW is only a tool. If you produce great piece of content be it music, animation, movie or copy, no one cares what tools you used to get there.
I’ve been hiring people for my company myself, and believe you me – software they use is the last thing I care about…
Before I got to hire people to work for me, I got hired by a professional studio. And it used Pro Tools 3 (1994 system) in 2008!!! I made sure to trash that clog in our production pipeline as soon as I got some authority there. After it was gone, the speed at which we were delivering final products to our clients increased tenfold. I was happy, my boss was even happier.
Yes, the system was old, but from what I experienced later with newer versions of this software, I know I would have trashed it anyway no matter what version it was on. Obviously, we were still using it because of same reason this DAW is still lurking around: studio invested crazy amount of $ to get the HD system in 1994 and then wouldn’t want to let it go hence the investment. They were so used to it that despite the fact that it wasn’t adding any quality to their productions in 2008 any more, they used it because it was a big difference back in the 1994.
And I bet major part of studios still using Pro Tools feel the same. Only difference being larger amounts of money thrown away because of upgrades and expansions.
So is Pro Tools worth a look or should you avoid it?
Once you clean your mind from all the prejudices and dogmas, and ask yourself “is Pro Tools worth looking?”, the answer will be – yes, Pro Tools is definitely worth looking just like any other DAW out there just because:
- You want to try as much of them as you can before you settle on one.
- You want to be familiar with an “industry standard” even if it’s only a big fairy tale and is soon going away.
But is Pro Tools worth buying if you’re only starting your audio recording or music production journey, or already have a small home recording studio in your garage or basement and are looking to attract more clients or bring your mixes to a higher level? I’d go with NO. Because:
- There are tons of things you should be eager to improve quality or quantity wise.
- No piece of software be it a DAW or a plug-in will help you get better (provide more quality) at what you do.
- Lots of audio professionals like Eduardo Vaisman or David Farmer are starting to swap Pro Tools to alternative DAWs.
Because Avid is interested in keeping their “industry standard” crown, Pro Tools HD is stuffed with features tailored at pleasing multi-billion industries be it music or film related. Surround, Dolby Atmos, AAF/OMF export and similar are all features intended to enlighten a work-flow of $$$ studios, but is more than overkill for a home recording studio of yours. Plus most of these features can be found in other DAWs as well as provided as third party add-on or plug-in.
By no means should you give Pro Tools an advantage only because BIG NAME studios are using it. You should choose a DAW that you feel you might be most productive in. Then learn the DAW inside out.
Once and if you’ll ever decide it’s bad for your work-flow (or you’ll want to really bring your mixes to the next level) you’ll switch to another DAW in no time, like I did once the studio running Pro Tools hired me. And they obviously wanted me not because I knew my way around Pro Tools; I was efficient and could provide great results in short time spans.
Same applies to your dream being hired to mix next Justin Bieber’s album. If someone will want YOU, it’s because you are able to provide high quality results no matter what DAW are you on. That’s why you should try out lots and choose to use what best fits your work-flow and personality and not what biased industry pros and software or hardware companies are telling you to buy.
And most importantly (for closure), if a question “is Pro Tools worth having in my studio?” got into your head – you most definitely don’t need it at least yet. When the time comes, you will KNOW you you NEED Pro Tools, because someone or something will be forcing you to acquire a copy. Be it a good paying project, an arrogant partner / client, or indoctrinated employer.
I promise you whatever that will be, it’ll be closely related to bigger than usual $$$. Because either the demand will be based on ignorance and pure lack of knowledge, or the requester must have responded YES to a question “is Pro Tools worth the investment?” back in the day an is now sucked into the circle.
That’s all I had to say. Thank you for reading. I wish you to not be sucked in! Hope I was able to help you make a decision. Was or is Pro Tools worth it for your home recording studio?