Pro Tools for M-Audio

With the recent purchase of M-Audio, AVID, a well known presence in the TV production and best known in the audio world for the Digidesign line of Pro Tools turnkey systems, has released a line of ProTools software called M-Powered aimed directly as some of the most popular M-Audio interfaces. A master compatibility chart is here and the M-Powered specific compatibility chart for OSX/XP is here. The street price for the software seems to be hovering around $300.

Why do we care?

I don’t have the facts and figures but it is safe to assume that not a lot of professional recording studios have Fruity Loops. Almost every one has a ProTools system.

Here’s a very typical scenario that is used in the recording world: A singer will use a cheapo ($400) M-Box Pro Tools system on their laptop to record basic tracks (guitar, vocals, a drum box, etc.) — basically a high scale demo. In the recording studio, the engineer will take that exact project and load it onto their big-ass billion dollar ProTools setup and recording session continues with big expensive mics and rack of toys. At the end of the session, the singer takes the project back to her bedroom/tour bus/BART to tweak and make changes. Repeat. Rinse. Release.

This is how DJ’s do it too. They plug their MPC’s and Tech decks into the M-Box in their garage but otherwise it’s the exact same process.

No doubt Avid/Digidesign/ProTools folks saw the writing on the wall (and the recording studios’ hard disks) and saw more and more SONARs, Cubase, Logics, etc. and in possibly the only move left decided to snatch up one of the biggest home-recording interface customer lists in the world. So while SONAR was reaching up into the recording studios, ProTools would reach down into the bedroom.

This is a very long term play (with potentially short term tactical gains as well). We’ll see in 5-10 years how much impact it really has — or how relevant recording studios even are in the intervening years.

Again, who cares?

I like charts. Here’s the VT SONAR/ProTools comparison chart you might find helpful (if not informative or accurate):

ProTools is a fancy multi-track tape deck recorder but without the tape. Makes sense for a recording studio to latch onto a virtual tape recorder because they are, well, a studio for doing recording. It doesn’t host soft-synths or do MIDI and it doesn’t even do things that are no-brainers for software that less than 1/100th the price (e.g. auto-cross fading clips). SONAR has every feature everybody has ever (and never) asked for. It does everything ProTools does plus a billion-kajillion other things.
Pro Tools only works with one vendor’s hardware. SONAR interfaces with your Braun coffee grinder to start your Toyota Prius.
I’ve never heard of a Pro Tools session that “crashed” and lost data.

I’ve never heard of SONAR installation that didn’t.

When a recording artist is paying $1000/hour it doesn’t matter if SONAR can give you a multiple orgasm in 30 seconds if you can’t count on it for doing that for 20 hours straight and no-reboots. For six weeks. ProTools is Viagra. Tantric flavor.

One last time, who cares?

There are two scenarios that make this interesting to me:

I’ve spent the last three years getting all kind of tracks from all kinds of digital recording sessions that I’ve used in many remix projects. I feel as if I have run into every possible setup out there. By far the cleanest tracks (best isolation, best recording, best levels, etc.) have been dumps of ProTools projects.

For everybody reading this web site for “tips” and shit about recording in your bedroom I can’t tell you how much more productive (if expensive) it would be for you to spend just four hours in a real recording studio. You don’t even need to be all that worried about getting some music done (although if you do all the better). Just treat it like a hands-on tutorial and you’ll get more out of those four hours then you would 1000 times that at KVR-audio or Virtual Turntable. Even a $70/hour local studio will teach you an enormous amount so switch from latte to drip for a few weeks and do it.

I then have to re-assemble them. (You know the recent NIN “Garageband” remix project that’s all over the web? Actually that was a ProTools dump they imported into Garageband.) If I had a ProTools setup I could just load their projects “as is” and decide what I like based on the real mix on my way to the remix. I could export them myself to use in FL Studio or Live or whatever I want.

But the biggest reason is that every couple of years I go into the recording studio and I’m heading there again in the next few months (see the sidebar for an important reason why). I’ve done it both ways now and nothing is smoother than exporting your FL Studio (or ACID or Cubase or whatever) project into ProTools at home and walking into the recording session with a ProTools project ready to go. Look, even if they have a dedicated PC with SONAR or ACID they don’t have your plugins or anything else in your environment and it’s a huge waste of everybody’s time (and your money) to try and make their setup look like yours — assuming they are amenable to even attempt it — which they won’t be.

Of course take your MIDI keyboard and iMac with the outboard interface if you think that’s essential — but I would claim even that is not a maximal usage of what a recording studio has to offer. Chiefly they have an engineer that, if nothing else, knows how to use the toys of the trade to get a semi-professional sound. Watch them work, ask a LOT of questions, take notes. Take a CD of your favorite artist, a project you think is close and ask them to make you sound like the CD. (If they tell you they can’t put lipstick on a cow consider that an even greater lesson because you can learn a lot from knowing what to AVOID.)

So for me, spending $300 on software that will pay for itself in terms of hours of studio time waiting to import/export from ProTools seems pretty reasonable.

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