Production 212: The Big Argument

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

I have resisted getting into the “which is better” debate for years. Entire websites have been devoted to the premise that MAC is better than PC, and vice versa. Over the years, the arguments have raged on about one DAW being the best or easiest, or fastest, or simplest, or whatever. I’ve always maintained that you need to find the system that works best for you and then get the appropriate platform, regardless of what anyone else says. I have, however, always said that the best system for me was Pro Tools™ on Macintosh, but I’ve never really explained why. This month, I do.

For many, the question was always cost. Your GM simply would not foot the bill for a mega-monster MAC system, let alone a full-blown HD, 92-bit interface. Who could blame them? A rather modestly expensive PC with Cool Edit Pro™ got the immediate results needed. Problem solved, right? But, since the days of SADIE, New England Digital, SAW32 and Orban (none of which survived the marketplace), it’s all come down to Cool Edit Pro’s replacement system Audition™ by Adobe™ versus Pro Tools™. Cost is simply not a factor any more. With some savvy shopping, you can get Pro Tools™, which will run on that modestly priced PC for less than what you would pay to Adobe. While that would not include a 92-bit HD interface, you don’t need one, at least not for radio production. Today’s PT9 uses the computer’s DSP chips, so doesn’t need the interface for most of the advanced features. So, next time you start chafing for an upgrade, impress the boss with your fiscal wisdom. Seriously consider PT9. Here is why.

I received an email from a fellow radio producer from Kuwait named Talal Malik, informing me that he has finally made the switch to Pro Tools from Audition, in spite of the fact that the folks at Adobe are getting ready to release their Mac OS version. He always felt (and rightly so) that he was performing well with the Audition software. But, with his transition to Mac he decided to “come to the dark side,” and see what the Pro Tools fuss is about.

Now that he’s got it, he was asking about an online tutorial for Pro Tools, complaining that the only ones he could find were about music production rather than radio. He was also asking about the mixed reviews the Audio Suite plug-ins that come with Pro Tools keep getting and what my recommendations for plug-ins would be.

A portion of my response, with a few key additions:

First, congratulations on your move to Pro Tools. I think you’re going to find all kinds of new creative doors opening with your move to PT9.

Unfortunately, the music courses you speak of are the only comprehensive courses that I have seen anywhere. However, don’t let the fact that they are music production intensive put you off. The most advanced and powerful techniques I use come directly from the music production playbook. For example, while you probably won’t need much in the mix automation area on your main tracks, controlling sends and other outboard plug-ins makes mix automation something you really need to understand. Being able to turn a plug-in on and off on one track during the mixing process will become an amazingly powerful tool for you almost immediately.

The bussing you’ll need to learn to go with the mix automation will really maximize your skills and minimize how hard you’re driving your system. You might say, “Oh, I have such a strong system, it’ll never be a problem for me.” Guess again. Once you see all the marvelous things you can do with Pro Tools, you’ll start pushing the envelope a lot sooner than you think. I’m producing on a quad-core Intel Xeon system with 64Gb of RAM, it’s the biggest, meanest, fastest Mac Pro made, but on some of my more complex mixes, I push the limits all the time until I start bussing out and reducing the number of instantiations for each plug-in I use.

The main differences between Audition and Pro Tools are their intended design. Audition was designed specifically to produce audio for radio and television, multi-media presentations and other general audio applications. Pro Tools was designed specifically for music production. Most of the people who were there when digidesign™ started were musicians. They all performed with bands or even solo and were designing software that could handle a serious recording environment, much the same way it had been traditionally done in the bigger studios. Gigantic consoles loaded up with sends and returns, individual EQ, insert points, attenuation and other goodies on every pot, all bussed to sub-masters and masters with metering for everything, were the rule. The designs they came up with not only could handle all that, they started to surpass the things you could do in a traditional studio. With the addition of plug-ins (which replaced a lot of outboard gear like reverbs, compressors and parametric EQ) Pro Tools became the new industry standard. And while the old school traditional studios still exist, more and more often, they’ll have that huge Yamaha console pumping through a single signal from a Pro Tools system. (I laughed out loud the first time I saw that at the SONY studios here in New York.)

The people at digidesign™ also recognized pretty quickly that radio/TV production is really just a sub-set of what they had already turned out for the music business. That’s when they started to actively promote it in the broadcast world. I did demonstrations for them several years in a row at the Las Vegas NAB for that very reason. Although they never shared their sales figures with me, I am certain beyond words that they sold a TON of systems to broadcasters based on that show and those demonstrations. (I was not the ONLY demonstrator, so I certainly cannot claim much of that credit.)

I would assume that since you’ve been doing the radio thing with Audition all this time, you have all the basics you need for Pro Tools because in those respects the two systems are not all that dissimilar. I really wouldn’t worry too much that you’ll be missing out on any “radio production skills.” However, once you get into the music production area you’ll start to see how amazing this system really is. So, I would recommend you take the course and just look for radio application. You’re going to learn a ton and start really ripping your work out more accurately and quickly, all at the same time.

The most amazing part though is what it will do to your audio design. As you sit and contemplate what you’re about to produce, all kinds of new ideas will percolate through because your resources have grown tremendously. You’ll start trying more and more ambitious design concepts because you know right away that you can “do that” without even batting an eyelash. The more tools you have available, the freer your mind will become. You’ll make associations and connections you would never have made previously because you know you can.

So, before the big show really begins, let me congratulate you in advance. You’re about to open a whole new vista you never dreamed was there up to now.

Side note to all you Audition users reading this: There is absolutely nothing wrong with your software. I’ve been judging and critiquing production for a long time and I can assure you that I’ve heard many, many prize-worthy pieces produced with Audition, especially since I started writing in RAP Magazine.

Let me answer your other question quickly. I don’t know about the Audio Suite™ plug-ins getting mixed reviews, but my experience has actually shown them to be pretty robust. Some are spectacular. Their D-Verb rivals the Lexicon plug-ins.

There is only one plug-in that is NOT there that I wouldn’t do without, +L1Ultramaximizer from WAVES in Tel Aviv. This is far and away the best comp/limiter I’ve ever found (even better than their later models, +L2 and +L3.) The entire WAVES system is pretty amazing. If you have the cash, get a GOLD bundle. It has pretty much everything you could need or want for radio production. Of course, it’s not cheap, but it IS strong.

One last note I should mention. Having the music industry standards to work with has prompted a lot of radio producers who might never have even tried, to attempt doing their own parody songs and specialized mixes. While the results are (as always) mixed, it’s an entirely new area for many that I credit to Pro Tools.

For my sound this month, I present a pair of what we call at Z100, Digital Music Kicks. Normally, they’re a little shorter and promote things we’re doing on the internet, but when President Obama announced the death of Osama Bin Laden, we decided a salute to our troops was in order and we didn’t want to knock out a regular station promo position. Thus, they became DMKs, playing out of a stopset and into music. The effects and some of the music came from Trynity HD/FX while the rest of the music and the sing at the end came from Microjams. I hope you enjoy.

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