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Commentators talk about music production software as if using it was a doddle. Like my remarks about Auto-tune recently such comments belie ignorance. It took me forever to command ProTools. It was a while before I didn’t have to stop every five minutes to ask why the damn thing wasn’t complying. Constantly the flow was broken. Many hours were lost sometimes just trying to complete one small innocuous task. And then there were the compatibility issues i.e. getting everything in the system to talk to everything else. Just recently we spent three days trying to hook ProTools up with a digital mixer before giving up. Maybe we’ll come back to it. Maybe not. The will to live soon drains from your soul. At that point I want to kill these people, the designers who didn’t try hard enough, the ones who weren’t Steve Jobs enough to push for a higher resolution in order to arrive at that promised land, the place where stuff “just works”.

It’s true that increasingly there are software tools where first base can be achieved more easily. Apple’s Garageband is one such. But to go to any level of complexity, to be able to use these programmes like musical instruments in a full-spec professional way, is a whole other thing. First base isn’t enough. You need complete command just as you do with any musical instrument. The instrument itself needs to be transparent. Thousands of hours of dedication are required to achieve that no matter how fast you are on the pick-up.

And just to be clear, I’m talking thousands of hours AFTER you’ve struggled with the bullshit from bad design. By that I mean everything from hellish configuration trials to the obtuseness of the operational aspects. ProTools particularly is full of eccentric nonsense that should’ve been long since fixed. The company are also monumentally slow at bringing in crucial features that lesser applications had going a decade ago. I suppose having the biggest market share affords that kind of complacency.

I read some guy the other day telling about the amazing things his four year-old was doing with Garageband. While that is interesting in itself, it creates a false impression. The fact is that studio instruments, traditional and contemporary, are tough to master. The idea that you buy a rig, press a few buttons and like magic have a beautifully produced album is ridiculous. ProTools, once tamed, is an incredible instrument but achieving mastery over it is no mean feat.

ProTools is an incredible instrument but

achieving mastery over it is no mean feat



music • 12.09.11