Why a working musician uses Pro Tools for audio production

Been doing lots of stuff lately – mostly related to Ivory Drive.

Van, my musician son, wants to experiment messing around with composing using some of the synths for real instruments. Van uses Vegas for his video stuff, and has made some very good audio mixes, too. But it really it doesn’t have comprehensive support for all the synths. We’d used Cakewalk Sonar in the past, but wondered just what was really the best now.

I’ve recently become friends with a working musician who is also very good with computers. So I asked him what he thought. So, here his answer. Sure beats all the wishy washy reviews you can find on the web!


Hey Bruce!

Van has good taste!  🙂  I actually started using Vegas all the way back since version 1.  I originally began using it for audio production, back in the day.  But, I no longer use it for audio, but it is still my video editor of choice.  I love it over anything else for video work.

I also started with Cakewalk very early on.  I went to Cakewalk after moving on from Vegas and I liked it very much.  It has a bunch of stuff right in the box that is very useful, and the MIDI capabilities are really great.  My younger brother (who is extremely talented and produces a lot of local bands) also started on Vegas and later migrated to Cakewalk.  It can also be a fairly cost-effective way to get going.  Both Cakewalk and Vegas, as I’m sure you know, are PC only.

Now, all that being said, for audio production now I ONLY use Pro Tools LE (fully upgraded with the music production toolkit, etc).  I’ve got to tell you that I resisted making the move to Pro Tools for a very long time because I’m not one to jump on bandwagons.  I liked what I was using and found it to be very good and everything I needed to do what I needed it to.  And, frankly, even though Pro Tools has had the market share, it wasn’t always necessarily the best program.  (That has changed in the last few years, though.)  Plus, I’m just extremely loyal and kind of like not doing things just because everyone else is.

But, I found that it was becoming very difficult to work with studios who are ALL on Pro Tools because the session files between programs are not compatible.  Working in Pro Tools now is so convenient because I prep demos (temp tracks) and have an entire song laid out with all the sections marked and tempo adjustments, ritards, etc pre-mapped so that any recording that is done in a pro studio is done directly into my session files.  This is VERY convenient.  I just show up with a hard drive with all my files and they open it up on their system.

Also, the last two upgrades for Pro Tools have really put it at the top of the field in terms of functionality.  They have VASTLY improved their MIDI functions, and they are now as good or better than Cakewalk in that regard.  One of the best things about Pro Tools is that it is designed to alleviate most of the issues that plague those doing music production on computers (with dropouts and weird glitches, crashes, and so on).  If you set up your system to match their approved specs, you will have an efficient and much more stable system than you would with other software.  It takes a bit of getting used to if you’re coming over from Vegas and/or Cakewalk.  But, it was well worth it.  I have found it to actually be much more intuitive and I can work MUCH faster in it than I could in the other programs.  (Oh, and my brother finally switched to Pro Tools and said that he will never go back.)  Another nice thing about Pro Tools is that it can be used on a Mac or PC.  (It’s actually one of the very few that can be.)  I am running a boot camp on an 8-core Mac.  I have Pro Tools installed on both the Mac and PC side.  But, I only use it on the Mac side.  Though, I originally started with Pro Tools on a PC and it worked just fine there.  I’m just a Mac guy at heart, and its just more stable there, so that’s where I spend most of my time when doing audio production.  But, one can get started using it on a PC now, knowing he could always have the option to move to a Mac in the future.

I’ve been fortunate to work with several composers, arrangers, orchestrators, producers, film scoring guys, etc and most of them are using either Pro Tools, Logic, Digital Performer, or Cubase.  (In that order.)  These are definitely the tools of choice for professionals.  It’s not that Cakewalk can’t be used for pro-level work, but these guys are gravitating toward industry standard apps for ease of file-sharing, etc.  I’m seeing Cubase used mostly for guys doing programming and electronic types of music.  Logic is used by a lot of television composers as well as electronic-based genres.  Film composers and orchestrators tend to gravitate toward Pro Tools and Digital Performer.  For more traditional acoustic music, I’d definitely recommend Pro Tools LE, though.  It is especially cool because of its integration with Sibelius (notation software) so you can instantly convert your midi score material into a printed score for musicians.  (I used to use Finale, but won’t touch it now since Sibelius is now just as capable and much easier to use.)  And, you can find some reasonably priced PT systems to get you in the game, without breaking the bank, and that come with a bunch of extras that give you some great features right off the bat.

One last thing about Pro Tools that I love is that it has a host of virtual instruments that are designed specifically to run in PT, and will not run in any other application.  For instance, they have the most realistic Rhodes and Wurlitzer emulations on the market (Velvet).  I use it and have played the original instruments and absolutely love it (and highly recommend it).  Here’s a link to Velvet at Sweetwater:  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Velvet

Just so you know, many of these programs have academic discounts.  I like academicsuperstore.com as they have a good selection of audio stuff and tend to have the best deals.  Though, there’s also studica.com and journeyed.com.

For acoustic piano, that’s such a highly subjective thing because every piano sounds so different and opinions vary amongst pianists as to what sounds good to their ear.  I will say that I record all my piano tracks from an actual acoustic grand.   That being said, I’m not opposed to virtual acoustic pianos, but have never found one that I felt was “it”.  So, here’s a link that kind of gives a rundown of a few options:  http://digidesign.com/index.cfm?langid=100&navid=108&itemid=5202 (I have one called “Acoustic Piano” from Native Instruments, but I never use it because it is not genuine enough for my tastes.  However, my brother owns it as well and has gotten some very amazing results from it.  Most good piano emulations should sound perfectly acceptable in a mix.  But, when doing solo piano stuff, Van will probably be much more picky – as I would be.)  Oh, and I’d stay away from GigaStudio.  I’ve had nothing but problems with it.  I made a pretty big investment in it years ago, but I won’t even touch it anymore because it was so buggy.

Finally, for symphonic stuff, I’m using Kontakt by Native Instruments.  I love it.  It is also very reasonably priced (especially at the educational discount).  http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Kontakt4Edu/ I’ve found it more than adequate for most production needs.

But, I plan in the future on upgrading the sampler in Pro Tools (called “Structure”) to use one or both of these amazing libraries


(Oh, and here’s an amazing, but extremely expensive acoustic piano: http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/VIImperial/)

Anyway, hopefully all of that helps in some way.  I’ve spent too much time learning software and technologies that end up going the way of the dinosaurs that anymore, I just want to stick with what I know will be around for a while.  Fortunately, Pro Tools lives up to the hype, and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone.


So, there you go. Some real reasons to use Pro Tools.

About brucewampler

I've had a long and varied careen in the computer industry. I taught computer science at the University of New Mexico for nearly 15 years. I founded two successful computer software companies. I wrote the first spelling checker and first grammar checkers for personal computers. I've lived in Glenwood Springs for 10 years. My wife, Trina, grew up here, and I've been coming to Glenwood since 1977. My kids have attended the local public schools, and have had a great experience. My son, Van, will be attending the University of Colorado starting in the fall of 2007, and my daughter is a Sophomore at Glenwood Springs High School. I've been on the Roaring Fork School District Board of Education for almost 5 years. Working with our kids, teachers, schools, principals, administrators, and the Roaring Fork community has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life.
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