First Impressions: The Pros on Pro Tools 7 Software

Pro Tools 7 software is packed with a bevy of new and improved features geared toward helping artists and engineers realize their creative vision more quickly and easily. But what do some of the top mixers, editors, remix artists, and producers think of Pro Tools 7? How will they use it to produce the music that you’ll hear on the radio and in movie theaters? DigiZine asked Carmen Rizzo, Tal Herzberg, Richie Hawtin, Valgeir Sigurdsson, and Scott Spock for their first impressions of Pro Tools 7. It might not surprise you that they were pretty excited about features that will let them do more within Pro Tools while also enabling them to work much more efficiently.

Carmen Rizzo

Pro Tools software has long been at the center of Carmen Rizzo’s creative world. For someone whose career encompasses producing, mixing, and programming for major-label artists, in addition to composing for his own solo and band projects, Pro Tools software offers a full set of capabilities plus efficient operation. (For more on Rizzo’s career and current gear, see the M-Audio M-Pulse section of the print version of DigiZine.) According to Rizzo, Pro Tools 7 is now a true “one-stop shop” that lets you do more with audio and MIDI than ever before — all within a single, industry-standard platform.

“For me, the most important new features are the MIDI enhancements,” says Rizzo. “I’ve always used MIDI in Pro Tools and have been able to do whatever I need, but now, with Pro Tools 7, everything is just spot-on. The real-time editing, for example, is crucial. You can do everything in real time and monitor what you’re doing.”

“The new features simplify
my life and let me
concentrate on the creative
aspects of my work.”
Rizzo also appreciates some of the other new time-saving MIDI editing capabilities. “The Select/Split Notes feature is brilliant,” says Rizzo. “I do a lot of drum programming, and I like to program a lot of patterns with two hands in real time. But then of course, you wind up with a kick, snare, and hat all in the same track. Being able to split out those parts in a snap is very cool.”

In Rizzo’s busy world, it’s often the small things that add up. “One small thing that’s making my life easier is being able to use the Color Palette to color-code markers,” says Rizzo. “You can quickly see that the verse is green, the chorus is yellow, one particular break is blue. That’s just a little thing, but it can make a big difference.”

Will Pro Tools 7 mean better efficiency? Greater creativity? “Both!” says Rizzo. “Being able to work with a REX or ACID file without having to go through another application, or being able to drag and drop a MIDI file from the desktop — these things simplify my life and let me concentrate on the creative aspects of my work. That’s what a lot of the new features are about for me.”

Tal Herzberg

A classically trained guitarist and professional bass player, Tal Herzberg had played on more than 60 albums by age 22. After moving to LA in the 1990s, he developed his audio engineering chops on fledgling DAWs — mainly Pro Tools systems. Herzberg is now a highly in-demand producer, engineer, editor, mixer, and programmer who has worked with artists ranging from Black Eyed Peas, Vanessa Carlton, Queen Latifah, Pussycat Dolls, and Mary J. Blige to Green Day, Counting Crows, Goo Goo Dolls, and Motley Crue. Herzberg’s work has yielded four personal Grammy nominations and many more artist- and song-specific nominations since 2001.

For Herzberg, it’s the time-saving features in Pro Tools 7 that are most appealing. “The less time you spend managing your workflow, the more you can devote to the creative parts of the work,” says Herzberg. “That’s what I like about Pro Tools 7. A lot of the new features have to do with workflow — they are ‘set-and-forget’ features.”

Region grouping will be a major time saver for Herzberg. “The fact that I can take a multi-tracked drum performance and just make it into one big region, then fly it around, dragging and dropping to and from the Region List, is not only a huge time saver, it’s a concentration saver. Once you set up a Region Group, you don’t need to think about its individual components anymore. It frees your mind and lets you be more creative.”

“Pro Tools 7 lets me
experiment more easily.
That’s what it’s all about.”
Other time-saving features include the Separate Regions on Grid and Separate Regions at Transients commands, which simplify the process of splitting up regions by beats. “When you’re cutting loops, like a live drum loop, it used to be when you were doing it on the fly and under a time crunch, you could easily clip the first note too early or too late,” says Herzberg. “Now that you can separate at the transient, you don’t have to worry that you’re going to clip off the attack of a kick drum.”

Overall, Pro Tools 7 will let Herzberg capture inspiration quickly. “It’s not just about saving money and time. It’s more about having an idea in your head and wanting to hear it quickly.

The less time it takes you to set up for it, the easier it will be to capture the initial spark of the idea. Pro Tools 7 lets me experiment more easily. That’s what it’s all about.”

Richie Hawtin

Richie Hawtin provides prime examples of how Pro Tools systems can bring new creative tools to DJs and electronic musicians. The English-born, Canadian-raised DJ made a name for himself as part of Detroit’s techno wave of the early 1990s. Even before he moved to Berlin, he had become a performer on the world stage, performing in clubs and at festivals around the globe.

He’s also managed to produce numerous recordings and build the Plus 8 and Minus record labels. His latest production, DE9: Transitions, is the third installment of a sonic exploration that began in 1998 with Decks, Efx & 909 [DE9] — a DJ-styled mosaic comprising scores of overlaid tracks, drum machines, and a range of effects. For DE9: Transitions, a combined CD/DVD release, Hawtin used Pro Tools and Ableton Live software to create a shifting — transitioning — collage of sound.

“There’s a lot of interest in Pro Tools in this underground, electronic music, or techno world that I’m in,” says Hawtin. “Some of the new features in Pro Tools 7 are perfect for that crowd.”

The new real-time MIDI capabilities are among the most important new features for Hawtin. “For me — and I know it’s the same for other electronic musicians — I try to plan out as little as possible. But when something happens, I want to record and capture it quickly. Having the ability to modify things in real time is a huge improvement for me.”

“I can save minutes
or hours in the studio.
That is a blessing.”
The new looping functions are another serious draw. “A lot of my work in the last few years has involved taking compositions, cutting them down into small loops, and rebuilding them from scratch. A lot of that is done by using huge amounts of repetition of similar samples. The way [Pro Tools 7] works now, I can save minutes or hours in the studio. That is a blessing.”

Hawtin also points to the new organizational features of Pro Tools 7 software — such as the addition of a tempo column in the DigiBase browser — as essential for managing increasingly large sessions. “Some of my projects have hundreds of loops and samples,” says Hawtin. “On the DE9: Transitions album, there are 110 different tracks in all, and all of those tracks are broken into thousands of loops and samples. So the new organizational improvements in Pro Tools 7 are really helpful.”

Anything else? “You know what I found that was amazing: The ability to audition files from the desktop.” With Pro Tools launched, you can double-click on an audio file in the Windows Explorer or the Mac Finder and audition the file from within the DigiBase browser window. “I did this yesterday. I was able to go through a directory structure, find a file I wanted to hear, click on it, have it open in Pro Tools, and everything else that was audio in that folder came straight up and was accessible in Pro Tools. I was able to audition possible samples really quickly.”

Valgeir Sigurdsson

Iceland’s Valgeir Sigurdsson has been Björk’s main co-conspirator since 1998, contributing his talents as programmer, engineer, and mixer. (See the cover story about their most recent project, the soundtrack for Drawing Restraint 9.) Together, their compositions blend acoustic instruments and voices, unique collections of audio samples, and vintage synths with a full range of MIDI-based virtual instruments and external sound modules.

For Sigurdsson, it is the MIDI features of Pro Tools 7 software that are most alluring. “I do all my MIDI within Pro Tools,” says Sigurdsson, “so I’m quite excited about the new MIDI features in Pro Tools 7. The new MIDI features are going to encourage me to do even more MIDI sequencing and programming.”

“I do all my MIDI within
Pro Tools, so I’m quite
excited about the new
MIDI features in
Pro Tools 7.”
In particular, Sigurdsson, who also works on sound for film projects, likes the addition of sample-based MIDI tracks. “That’s really useful,” says Sigurdsson. “When I work with songs that are not in a locked tempo, or if I want to change the time signature or the tempo of a session, I now can just leave the MIDI where it is on the timeline. It’s going to be particularly useful for film work. When something changes or something gets moved, the ability to lock parts to time code is going to be very useful.”

Though Sigurdsson does a fair amount of work in his native Iceland, he also travels quite a bit. So he definitely realizes the benefit of being able to use RTAS plug-ins on Aux Inputs and Master Faders on Pro Tools HD sessions — that feature makes it even easier to exchange Pro Tools sessions between a mobile rig and a full-on Pro Tools|HD studio. “I use a 002 with my laptop, and I notice that you can now port better between Pro Tools LE and Pro Tools|HD — that’s going to be really useful. It’s going to let me do more when I’m traveling. I can take a project from the studio on the road, and bring it back again, without having to worry about changing plug-ins.”

Scott Spock
Scott Spock and Assistant Engineer Chirs Holmes
Chances are you’ve heard Scott Spock’s work. As one third of the in-demand, Grammy Award–winning writing and production team known as The Matrix, Spock, along with co-members Lauren Christy and Graham Edwards, has helped both young and established artists hone their pop music voices. After co-writing and producing a string of Avril Lavigne hits, The Matrix has gone on to work with KORN, Shakira, Britney Spears, Liz Phair, Jason Mraz, and Christina Aguilera — just to name a few.

What are the most appealing features of Pro Tools 7 for Spock? “The Instrument tracks are an amazing addition,” says Spock. “In the past, my Pro Tools session template got to be so big — I had 40 MIDI tracks and then 40 Aux Input tracks. Scrolling across the page was a nightmare. Now I can really save some screen space.”

The addition of Instrument tracks and a range of other MIDI features will also help Spock keep a singular, simple set-up. “I know a couple of guys who have a dual setup, with Pro Tools for audio and another application for virtual synths. But my whole setup is customized so I can control my synths and everything from one rig. It’s conducive to getting ideas out quickly — that’s what I like. And when you guys make things easier for me, man, I’m excited!”

“When you guys make
things easier for me,
man, I’m excited!”
Chris Holmes, The Matrix’s assistant engineer, was also eager to share his impressions on Pro Tools 7. “Working with REX and ACID files is something we’re really interested in,” says Holmes. “We’re excited to go out and buy a bunch of ReFill packs so we can just have thousands of loops that we can drop in.”

Real-time MIDI capabilities will also be welcome new features. “We really like being able to use a groove template and quantize in real time — slowly moving notes around until you find that pocket,” says Holmes. “The same is true for velocity. Being able to change the velocity of certain notes until you find the right sound — especially when they’re multi-layered — will be way easier now because you can do it all on the fly.”

How will the new features in Pro Tools 7 affect how Holmes and Spock work? According to Spock, “These changes are going to save me hours and hours of time.”