Pro Tools is a big name in Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software, for professional film scoring and composition, and sound production for film, TV, video, and broadcast.
Formerly developed by Digidesign, and now part of Avid, Pro Tools is available in a variety of versions with integrated audio interface hardware – from Pro Tools HD with dedicated DSP accelerators and professional control surface consoles, to Pro Tools LE with Mbox personal recording studio interfaces, to Pro Tools M-Powered with M-Audio MIDI, keyboard, and guitar interfaces.
Avid has now brought Pro Tools to first-time Pro Tools users and music creators interested in musical composition, editing and production. These three Avid Studio systems provide what you need to create and record music at home, with new Pro Tools SE software and bundled M-Audio hardware.
Music Creation Systems
The three Avid new music creation systems are Vocal Studio with USB microphone for $99, KeyStudio with keyboard for $129, and Recording Studio with a USB interface box for $129 – all for Windows or Mac. That’s a much more accessible starting point, for example, than the new full Pro Tools HD Native starting at $3,495.
- Avid Vocal Studio includes the M-Audio Producer USB microphone and stand to capture vocals for songs, soundtracks, podcasts, or voice-overs. The mic includes a headphone connection for monitoring the input sound and the output from Pro Tools.
- Avid KeyStudio includes the M-Audio KeyStudio 49-key, velocity-sensitive, synth-action keyboard, to play music with the included library of virtual instruments, from piano, organ, and synth, to guitars, bass, strings, and percussion.
- Avid Recording Studio includes the M-Audio Fast Track USB interface box, with XLR input for microphone and vocals and a 1/4 inch input jack for electric guitar, bass, and other instruments.
These systems are designed for music creation and expression – for creative hobbyists with an interest in musical composition, editing, and production. You choose the appropriate interface to record your instrument (vocal, keyboard, guitar), and then can leverage the power of the Pro Tools interface to edit and mix, compose and instrument your compositions.
Getting Started with Pro Tools SE
The Pro Tools SE software included in these systems is more limited than the fuller versions, but still supports mixing up to 24 tracks (16 audio tracks and 8 virtual instrument tracks), with 20 audio effects, 256 MIDI tracks, over 100 virtual instruments, and 3 GB of audio loops.
The initial Quick Start screen offers Learn About basic instruction that steps through though the editing tools with short videos (also available in context with right-click), and Interactive Projects, 10-step video tutorials though common workflows. The tutorials cover topics from the basics of getting started and making a mix to workflows for recording different instruments, adding loops, comping multiple takes, fixing timing, guitar amp effects, and creating video soundtracks.
The Quick Start also offers a list of some 30 Demo Songs in 10 styles that you can preview to check your hardware setup, and then use as starting points for a new sessions. You also can start with new empty session, or use presets for different editing purposes (e.g., working with instruments like piano or guitar, or loops or podcast or soundtrack).
As you begin a new session, you then can apply the studio-grade Pro Tools composing, recording, editing, and mixing features. Using the M-Audio USB hardware interfaces, record up to 2 instruments at once into a track, with live audio or software instruments from a MIDI device, or with one person singing and another playing the guitar with the Fast Track interface. To record in sync, start recording while playing an existing mix. Then assign virtual instruments to the MIDI tracks.
Pro Tools provides several rulers and tools to further organize and arrange your sounds. The Time ruler shows Bars/Beats or Min:Secs, and the Markers ruler helps to set markers at bar or time positions to navigate while editing and arranging. The Music ruler shows Tempo, Meter, Key, or Chords to set associated change points within the session.
Then you can edit in each track, with tools to select and trim regions and to transpose and adjust tempo. Apply up to 3 effects per track, to clean (compressor/expander, filters) and enhance the sound (delay, reverb, distortion, EQ, lo-fi), and to apply guitar amp and distortion effects (fuzz-wah). Use the effect presets, or tweak as desired. As you assemble your track, adjust the audio mix with track controls, including automation lanes for dynamic mixing (mute, volume, pan, effect controls). There’s also a master track for the overall sound level, also with automation.
Pro Tools SE also supports one movie track, so you can import a movie to preview the video as you mix in a soundtrack synchronized to the movie. When you are done the final mix, you can export the movie with a mixdown of the audio.
Beyond the track editing and mixing tools, Pro Tools SE also provides three additional composition tools. Use the Loops window to preview and select from gigabytes of audio loops in 8 styles plus software instruments, to add drum, bass, percussion, keyboard or other lines. And for software instruments, use the MIDI Editor for sequencing and production, composing with individual notes, virtual instruments and sound modules.
Then, even better, use the Score Editor to view, edit, arrange, and print MIDI data as music notation, so you can print out scores for other musicians and even edit notes directly on the score.
These Avid Studio products can get you going quickly for recording your own audio and then mixing your own musical compositions. Starting at $99, you get both the M-Audio interface hardware and the real Pro Tools experience, so you can learn the interface as you grow. And your Pro Tools SE projects will open in the more advanced versions when you are ready to move up.
As a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), Pro Tools SE is great for recording, editing, and mixing with clean audio, working with waveform regions and MIDI notes. You’ll also want a separate waveform editing tool, for example, if you need to clean and sweeten noisy or distorted recordings by manipulating the waveform samples.
Minimum System Requirements (Mac): Mac OS X 10.5.8 or greater, or Mac OS X 10.6.1 or greater, 1.8 GHz multi-core processor, 5400 RPM hard drive, 1 GB RAM, 1 available USB port for included hardware, Adobe Flash Player 10 (free at adobe.com)
Minimum System Requirements (PC): Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, or Ultimate; Windows XP Home or XP Pro (SP3 or greater), 1.8GHz multi-core processor (Intel or AMD), 5400 RPM hard drive, 2 GB RAM for Windows 7 64-bit; 1 GB RAM for Windows XP and Windows 7 32-bit, 1 available USB port for included hardware, Adobe Flash Player 10 (free at adobe.com)
- All-you-need bundle with Pro Tools software and audio interface hardware
- Low-cost entry point to the power of the Pro Tools line
- Helpful tutorials with video
- Interface and options not overwhelming
- Requires hardware to run software (not for mobile laptop editing)
- Not designed for extensive audio cleaning / enhancement
- Limited support for working with video
This is a great way to expand from playing your own music to recording, editing, and mixing your own productions.
Avid Technology Inc.
Avid Technology Park, One Park West
Tewksbury, MA 01876
Doug Dixon covers digital media at Manifest-Tech.com.