RECORDING TIP: You don’t need Pro Tools! Don’t believe the hype.

I know the term “Pro Tools” has a tendency to mean “the only recording software that you need if you want to be taken seriously as a self-recording musician.” What a bunch of crap. Please, don’t believe the hype.

I bought Pro Tools recently, after using it a lot in 1999 when I used to work in radio broadcast imaging (sound effects and background music for radio commercials and call letter tags). I bought the M-Audio MobilePre Pro Tools bundle (it was $150, and came free with an iLok2, which was pre-configured with a license for Pro Tools MP9). It was a great value, especially considering the MobilePre interface alone costs the same, without Pro Tools MP9 and without an iLok2 (it’s funny.. why would M-Audio/Avid be selling both interfaces for exactly the same price… who the hell would buy the one WITHOUT Pro Tools MP9 and the free iLok2?)

So anyway. Sure, a great deal. Here are some things I hate about Pro Tools:

1. It takes 30 seconds to a full minute to open on a decently-fast duo-core desktop with 4GB of ram. If I want to work on a song idea, I have to wait forever, THEN pick a template which adds another 10 seconds or so to the loading time as it “builds” the session, just to get into the program and start recording. I find that stupid.

2. I got it to crash once (I don’t even remember what I did) and, unlike most programs, I needed to FULLY RESTART my computer just to restart Pro Tools after the crash. Really?

3. It will not host instrument plug-ins in the extremely common VST format. Instead, it uses a specific Pro Tools-specific plug-in type, called RTAS (Real-Time Audio Suite). To host VSTs (such as all the amazing free ones out there like Superwave P8, Togu Audio Line’s entire collection, and Crystal by Green Oak… you need to buy a $100 “VST-to-RTAS wrapper”. No thanks. One of my favorite VSTs is the MPC-style VST POISE by One Small Clue (I blogged about them a few weeks back). It won’t work in Pro Tools since it’s VST-only. Poise works in all other recording programs.

4. Here’s the biggie– you cannot disable automatic input monitoring. So basically, when you record vocals, you have to mute your active track, and then either un-mute it before playback… or move it to an adjacent track. This has been complained about for the past several years and something Avid/Digidesign have yet to address. I think it’s stupid. All other programs allow you to disable input monitoring, so you don’t hear doubled versions of yourself when you’re recording (the “live” version, and the post-processed computer version of yourself, a few milliseconds later). Annoying, and stupid.

5. You can’t customize the menu or layout of Pro Tools. I find it annoying to always be stuck with the same look even though I don’t use or need most of the tools and icons I see at the top of the screen.

6. You HAVE to go into the mixer/console view ALL the time, especially if you want to use plug-ins, or effects. Most other recording programs allow you to change routing or add effects from the track view AND from the console view, if you’d like.

Those are just a few of the reasons I hate Pro Tools. Also, I don’t think the effects are any better than any of the better, fully free plug-ins out there. People just freak the hell out over Pro Tools, and I just find it funny.

It’s better than Garageband, sure. And the price is right for the MP version (which is tied specifically to M-Audio hardware, which I like a lot and always have)… but really…. Reaper ( is basically the same thing, and opens in two seconds (yes, really. I’ve proven this to at least five different people who were skeptic about it, vs. Pro Tools). Reaper is fully functional, despite the nag screen asking you to buy it every few times you open it), and if you wanted to buy it, it’s only $60…. less than Pro Tools, and ten times better.

I’ll say one nice thing about Pro Tools— it looks really pretty. The track colors are always pleasant to look at. I created a very similar track color theme for Sonar X1 Essential, and Reaper. Took a little time, but worth it.

Don’t buy into the Pro Tools hype. Save money and be as frugal as possible. The only thing that really matters is a well-written song (with great lyrics), and even more so: an album’s worth of them. It doesn’t matter what you record on.

Hell, I just built a home studio system to sell locally on craigslist using a 7-year old Dell tower with Windows XP, Reaper 4, and the built-in soundcard (using the ASIO4ALL driver) plus a $50 mixer with phantom power, which runs faster and is a lot more efficient, workflow-wise, than Pro Tools MP9 running on my 8GB Dell tower. I couldn’t even install Pro Tools MP9 to that system, since it needs so much resources.

It just makes me wonder why a teen looking to get into home recording would invest in Pro Tools, especially a teen who has basically no money, and a perfectly capable desktop computer (over 5 years old). Use what you have, and save money. A little research goes a long, long way.

And yes, I do realize that Avid/M-Audio already got my money, and could care less about me bashing Pro Tools (especially with their very loyal (and arguably brainwashed) fanbase)….. but hey. I was curious, and gave it a try.

Never again will I support Pro Tools. Give Reaper a try.

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  1. Having used REAPER for the last year or so (on a 6-year-old laptop), I can say that you’re spot on. REAPER is the most stable piece of software I’ve ever used. At this point, I’m quite far from being an expert on home recording and computer music production in general, but I really don’t see myself outgrowing REAPER.

  2. Smurf

    The ONLY reason PT MP9 is on my system is that now that my studio is getting more work I needed it for file compatibility. Other than that this slow piece of un-intuitive garbage would NOT be on my system!

    I have been a Reaper user since the .045 days (yes, WAY back!) and it also has it’s problems, mostly being way TOO flexible, all of it’s choices get’s in the way a lot…we call it the Linux of DAW’s around here.

    Studio One V2 has really stepped up it’s game, and is now a serious contender while keeping things drag & drop easy…PLUS they have a free demo now to try out….no VST-VSTi’s, you are stuck with their VST-VSTi’s, but they are totally fine. They are not to PT level (I feel PT’s Native fx & instruments to be very nice, thank you) they kick Reapers native fx’s rear…

  3. Wow. Pro Tools is a fantastic tool! Some of the ‘cons’ stated above, aren’t true.

    I’ve never come across any VST plugin my Pro Tools rig can’t use. I’ve got a good 200-300 VST plugins at my disposal.

    Yes, it’s a bit slow to start up. If that’s the crux of which software you decide to use, then a fantastic Producer you are!

    Bugs? Yes. I’ve used Reaper, Sonar, Garage Band, ProLogic, Ableton, Reason… They all have their quirks (yeah, try comparing a chevy with ford). If you are blessed enough to understand fully the Pro Tools’ editing/recording system, you might have a different opinion.

    Yes, you can change the layout. You can re-organize the ‘toolbar’, even take some of it out that you don’t want to stare at.

    You want to see more of the ‘Mix’ window content (plugins, volume and such) in the waveform edit screen. Sure! You can change that. Or, better yet–learn the shortcuts and you will understand how Pro Tools was designed to function, as professional editors/engineers use it.

    Yes. You can change the ‘Input Only’ monitoring. Anyone here understand that you have full control of Input Monitoring between your DAW and INTERFACE?

    Just because you don’t have the diligence, or passion to learn a program, understanding its true use, doesn’t mean we should bash it. It’s the most used, professional-grade DAW available. Those statistics don’t lie. So quit your lying and relax. If you don’t have the money (or don’t want to send it), then go with a third-rate recording software and get down to recording business. Learn to the fullest any software you like, or use, and best of luck to you all! It’s more-so about knowing how to use the DAW you’ve chosen.

    Don’t like Pro Tools? Good. Just don’t spend your time hacking it because you’re to lazy/ignorant to learn about the software.

  4. Paul, valid statements, all. If you could provide a link describing how to do all of these things, I’m sure my readers and I will greatly appreciate it. I know the stuff can be done. Re: the input monitoring… yes, often it’s done from the interface, but with live monitoring, you also introduce the “bathroom effect”, because of the latency. You either hear yourself and the echoed version of yourself, or you do not hear yourself. I find Pro Tools simply creates extra work that is unnecessary, while tracking. If you could provide a video showing an easier way to use it, by all means.

    Re: VSTs – no. You need to first “wrap” them into RTAS format. This costs an extra $100, and Fxpansion is the only company that makes that software. So freeware VSTs do not just simply work. You need to drop $100 to make them compatible.

    And the post wasn’t directed so much at the pros making a living in professional studios using Pro Tools… the blog is called Songwriting and HOME Recording Tips for a reason. I’m trying to save people money wherever I can.

    All of the programs get you to the same place… having fun, layering tracks, sharing your songs with the world. In my opinion, Reaper just does it faster and without problems. That’s why I wrote the post.

  5. Emmanuel

    6. You HAVE to go into the mixer/console view ALL the time, especially if you want to use plug-ins, or effects. Most other recording programs allow you to change routing or add effects from the track view AND from the console view, if you’d like.

    You really don’t know how to use Pro tools then, really. I mean Go into View, edit window, and select the Inserts. Now in your edit window you will see all your inserts, you can do the same with the buss. That has been there for a looong time before pt 9.

    Also the reason you can’t disable auto input, is simply because mp 9 is a watered down version of the HD, and in HD you can. Also you can do it when you have an interface that has an integrated mixer. And no it doesn’t create latency with those since it’s at the interface level. Just mute the track in PT,and use the interface to listen to what’s being recorded from that track.

    • Emmanuel

      Oh and a little bit of advance techniques too. You can save multiple windows configurations, including track size, hide show tracks (if you only want to see your audio track for instance an no midi or vice versa) Side by side windows, Fully zoomed in track, of half zoom or what ever zoomed out you want to see the whole tracks at the sample level or the whole session with all tracks included.

      All of that are accessible once saved by the marker selection ( . # . enter). IT works by session so make a template and when you start a new session use that template.

      • Emmanuel

        Forgot to mention that you can also set with those windows configuration, all your Plugins windows, so they can appear open in the order that you want them and placed exactly where you want them on your computer screen/s.

  6. thekidj

    UM, i stumbled on this blog. Interesting read. I started my career with logic, “upgraded” to protools. Use that for a couple years and loved it. Then i started working with a production team using reaper, both on a niko, and laptop (for 3yrs). And i must say, Reaper, is good for the value, free. But you get what you pay for. It is way less stable than protools. And saving recordings, if you are not focused, your tracks could end up anywhere. Protools, everything neatly in one folder. So much unpredictability with reaper. Could shut down one moment, next moment your bounces come out with pops and glitches, ughh. I was so happy to get back to protools. No matter the version and new features, its like riding and old bike. But i guess it all comes down to your personal experiences and how comfy you are with a particular program. So shout out to all protools and reaper heads., because i can get busy with both. its the man behind the machine hahahahah!

  7. I have been struggling with the RTAS, VTS pro tools limitation and despite using a converter programme, the success ratio of the plug in conversion is about 50%. Not too good. Plus Pro Tools crashes quite a bit, but I guess its maybe my computer. I decided to give reaper a try, hope it’s more reliable. For me reliability and no glitches is a number 1 priority in recording software.

  8. shawn earle

    I’m right there with you! It has done nothing but crash since I installed it on windows 7! Plus you need to be some kind of rocket scientist just to set up the I/O settings. I have never heard of Reaper, but Cubase is a good stable program for Windows I use that now!

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