Let’s talk about “industry standards” for a minute. Here are a few arbitrary standards for big boy robo studios I just came up with off the top of my head without any real thought put into them.
Bull Crap Industry Standards
Studio Design and Construction $2,000,000
Studio Monitors $5,000
Mic Collection $100,000
External Mic Preamps $30,000
Pro Tools HD3 Rig $30,000
Coffee Machine $500
These are examples of what you can expect to pay for “pro studio” items. In fact, I’m positive there are studios who tremendously exceed the amount of cash laid out here. The Coffee machine at many big boys studios is in the thousands, for sure! The coffee machine at Soundstage Studios in Nashville is impressive!
Just for a second forget about the studio construction, console, huge mic collection, and all the other stuff you can barely dream of. A full blown Pro Tools HD3 rig by itself without any regard to all the other links in the chain costs about the price of a new car. So is Pro Tools the industry standard for home recording? A bigger question: Should we use what the big boys are doing as a gauge for us home studio guys? Is the pro studio world in any way relevant to what us home recording guys are doing?
What Do Home Studio Guys Have In Common With The Big Boys?
Regardless of the budget of the project, we are all trying to make the most intense recordings we possibly can. It matters not whether we are working in a garage or at Electric Ladyland. Beyond this, the similarities come to a screeching halt. I can list the differences between a big boy recording and a typical home recording, but I’ll save you the burden. Let’s just say I serve my own coffee (no assistant is brewing my coffee), and I use a $40 Mr. Coffee machine. (This coffee pot is a huge upgrade from my $15 generic coffee pot I previously had. This ultra-luxury was given to me as a gift for helping a dude with a website. I would never spent $40 on a coffee maker, let alone the astronomical R2D2 coffeemakers in the average big studio.)
Do Big Boys REALLY Have A Standard?
Before we jump into the issue about Pro Tools being the “industry standard” let’s talk about the big boys and what they are using to record platinum records. No doubt, most of them are using Pro Tools HD, but certainly not all of them. Some guys aren’t using a computer at all. Some big boys are still cranking out hits using analog tape machines. It worked well for decades and there is no real reason you can’t make a hit song using analog tape these days. Many big boys are using RADAR. Many consider it to be a superior way of working. While certainly less common these days, that damn Alanis Morissette album was tracked on ADAT. It’s up there in the top 10 or 20 albums sold of all time. They still play the crap out of it in bars and on the radio. It’s very common to hear about users of Logic, Cubase (Nuendo), and many other recording programs cranking out tunes and albums that end up being hits. You can’t forget digital tape machines that have existed for as long as I’ve been around. Michael Wagener told me he quit using analog tape in 1981 and switched to digital tape. When I attended his workshop, he was using a Euphonix system (I think, my memory is fuzzy.) and he was about to switch to Nuendo. So you can see that there are many, many options out there for cranking out social significant music.
So where does this put us? The way I see it, if a hit song can be recorded on a particular format, that format is ALWAYS capable of cranking out hits. I see absolutely no reason why an incredible album would be any less of an album if it were tracked on an ADAT. If this ADAT technology really did suck the life out of recordings, maybe it could suck Alanis Morissette right off the radio. That doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon, unfortunately. (I’d LOVE to tell you that ADAT sucks and you respond with “Alanis who?” but if the latter isn’t happening, I can’t really say the former is happening either.) Now ADAT is not my weapon of choice for home recording but that has more to do with features and personal preference than the ability to crank out great recordings. I’m positive I could make a very good recording on an ADAT machine. I just don’t want to. I could walk, but sometimes I’d rather ride a bike. You get the idea.
The notion that big boys MUST use Pro Tools to crank out “effective” recordings is baloney. You would be better served to figure out WHY so many big boys lean towards Pro Tools and find out if those reason would benefit you.
Do Home Recorders Need A Standard?
I don’t need a standard. What? Yes, you heard me. I really don’t give a damn what the guy 50 miles away is using. I do almost all of my work in house. When I do track drums elsewhere, it’s not exactly rocket science to get from X format to Y format. The computer is the easiest thing in the world to transfer files to and fro. Making a big deal about this is ridiculous. We could argue that the “world standard” is driving on the left side of the road, but no one in America seems to care. I can’t say that it has ever crossed my mind that my Honda Civic is not approved for driving in the UK. Adhering to foreign driving demands is about as foreign to me as adhering to recording “industry standards”. Why should I care? What is gained from taking a worldly view of my recording software? I can’t even see the sun in my studio!
I tracked drums in a big St. Louis studio with a Neve (Music Creek Studios) and then came back and tracked the rest of the overdubs in Vegas of all things. It was a non issue. I did have to commit to the drum edits we made. Boo hoo! Good! I ALWAYS prefer committing if I have a choice. I don’t have time to think about drum edits down the road. I’M TRYING TO MAKE A RECORD!!! You may not feel the same way, however. This is where it gets interesting. Pretty much every recording software worth it’s salt can save and open OMF files….but one. Pro Tools LE is the only major recording software that I’m aware of that does not come standard with an OMF export option. You can purchase the OMF export option but it’ll set you back 5 smackers. (That’s $500 just in case my vintage gangster lingo is a bit off.) That in itself is insulting enough for me to say to hell with Pro Tools. You may not feel the same way.
Again, making a big point about OMF is really quite futile. Why? Because I don’t care! I can’t remember a time where I’ve lost money because I couldn’t work with some file format. When bands come to me, they generally expect me to do the whole record. I’m there from day one to day infinity.
Because I don’t need a standard or an “industry standard” I’m free to work with tools that do the job I need them to do. These days, my weapon of choice is Cubase SX3. I’m more than content with it’s ability to be equally at home recording folk music, death metal, techno, or even creating hip hop beats. I don’t feel that Pro Tools LE can say this at least not right out of the box. This article is not about why I prefer Cubase over Pro Tools. This article is about rethinking this bull crap known as the “industry standard”. With just a few exceptions (which we’ll get into later on), there is no reason to buy recording software solely because it is the “industry standard”. That’s not much different than voting on a politician because you think they will win, picking out a dress because some whorish celebrity wore it, or wearing shoes because a famous athlete temporarily adds his name to them after being paid millions of dollars. Screw all of that. Pick the recording software that best fits your needs without any record for what E! Entertainment or any other spawn of Satan may have to say about it. If you need help deciding, the home recording forum is here to help. I’m considering putting together a Home Recording Software Wizard to compliment my Soundcard Wizard.
There are a small minority of people who would probably be best off being intimately familiar with Pro Tools on the merits that it is the most popular big boy format. These are people that plan on working in big studios and interning under big boy producers. As mentioned above, the odds of any one producer using any one format is really a toss up, but a majority of modern hit makers are going the Pro Tools route. It needs to be made very very clearly that this a tiny, tiny portion of the “industry”. The people willing to starve for weeks just for the chance to whipe Mutt Lange’s piss from a urinal is a small percentage. Not exactly what most of think of when flashy phrases like “Industry Standard” are blasted in 4 color gloss magazine print!!
The other exception are those who stand to lose money if they do not have the ability to open Pro Tools sessions. Larger, regional type studios where relatively big bands may stop in to do a vocal overdub in between tour dates would certainly benefit from being able to open just about any file type known to man. It would probably be dumb for these kinds of studios not to be able to open up Pro Tools sessions among all the other formats.
Pro Tools Ain’t Always The Standard
Just because Pro Tools is the overall dominant piece of recording software out there, doesn’t mean it will be in your area. Just ask long time RecordingReview member, Richiebee, about it. After his university shelled out the dough for a high end Pro Tools HD system, they quickly realized that no one around was using Pro Tools. The “industry standard” idea sort of backfired in their case. Then again, they are Canadian. What do they know?
If It’s Good Enough For The Big Boys…..
I think quite a few people jump into home recording and get a little overwhelmed by all the choices out there. I can’t blame them. There is a DISGUSTING amount of options. It makes the process of choosing initial gear very difficult. For those who are completely overwhelmed by the dizzying array of options, there can be comfort found in knowing that Pro Tools is so widely used in the professional community. It’s easy to say “If Pro Tools is good enough for the big boys, surely it’s good enough for me”. There is no debating the “good enough” factor of Pro Tools. With a few expensive gripes aside, Pro Tools is very adequate for recording music.
The problem with this “If it’s good enough for the big boys” mentality is it oversimplifies the process. Instead figuring out exactly what your needs are and find the most economical software that meets those needs, people turn off their brains and pull out their wallets. My biggest gripe about Pro Tools is the price. Pro Tools costs more money to use, upgrade, and add on to than programs like Logic, Cubase, Digital Performer, and Sonar. Pro Tools is infamous for it’s $500 add ons such as the OMF Export or Music Production Toolkit. Ironically, the tools in the $500 Music Production Toolkit are all stock with the big boy Cubase versions and I’d expect the same to be true with Logic.
My point is that simply saying “It’s good enough for X robo producer with 10 billion albums sold” does not help your cause. It makes it worse and you can expect it to cost you money in the long run. If you find that Pro Tools is right for you and you are willing to pay the potential costs, knock yourself out. However, if you are operating on limited funds, you may do better putting less of that cash into your recording software and more into studio monitors, room acoustics, microphones, plugins, or better instruments.
Beyond people attempting to work their way up the studio ladder in big boy land and engineers who run studios where opening Pro Tools sessions is a big deal, I can’t think of a single reason to succumb to the “industry standard” solely because it is the “industry standard”. Again, I’m not trying to get involved in your decision of which recording software you should chose. I just want to make it clear that “industry standard” is not a good reason to go Pro Tools.