We have heard a good number of stories and comments both here and elsewhere of people abandoning Pro Tools in favour of other DAWs like Logic Pro and Studio One for example. So when new community member Janne Hatula reached out to us to tell their story of moving in the opposite direction by changing from Ableton Live to Avid Pro Tools and offering to share their story with us. Over to you Janne...
Having been an Ableton Live user for so many years, I recently decided to give Pro Tools a shot. Why? I have heard a lot of good about it in terms of its editing and mixing capabilities and as that’s my job and that’s what I do a lot in my free time as well, I decided to check out Pro Tools. What is more, I ended up liking it, and prior to writing this, I put an order in, which means I’ll definitely be using it alongside Live.
So here are my thoughts about the differences between Live and Pro Tools as well as some shortcomings of both as to this day, I believe that a perfect DAW probably does not exist.
I’d like to emphasize that this post is not an exhaustive feature list or such like – after all, I’ve only had Pro Tools on my hard drive for around a week when I wrote this. I’d proudly call myself an Ableton Live expert, but I’m, of course, a Pro Tools newbie. However I have now mastered around ten songs in Pro Tools, having set up my mastering chain in Pro Tools as well as done some mixing in Pro Tools too. So after a few days of using Pro Tools, here are my first impressions.
Another thing I feel I need to emphasize here is that some of my points may appear minor to some, but please keep in mind that the small things may be huge to those who work with audio every single day, and this is a catalog of my experiences as I get to grips with Pro Tools. It is a “how I’m feeling about Pro Tools after a week or so, having used Ableton Live daily for so many years” type of post.
I am going to list the points in two groups: the pros and cons about Pro Tools as opposed to Live. I also appreciate that there may be some points about Pro Tools that I have misunderstood due to my lack of experience in it, and I’d absolutely love it if readers gently corrected me on anything I have said that is not true.
The Pros - What Is Great About Pro Tools For Me
Grouped plugins - (See right). I have been craving for this for so long: seeing relevant plugins in categories. You automatically get lists for EQ, dynamics, harmonics… and this is super handy. Before when working in Live I went through the trouble of actually listing all my plugins in categories in Notepad and refer to it every time I wanted a saturator, for example.
Strip Silence - (see below). What this does is it chops off the silent parts of clips. Now this is a huge factor for me because when mixing for clients, I always end up doing some housekeeping first so that I’m only seeing a clip if there is audio on a track – as opposed to seeing all tracks in equal length even when most of a clip has no audio and so every now and then, when a client asks me to “turn up the swoosh that only happens once, around 3:41 mark”, looking for it can be a bit painful when you have 30+ tracks of equal length.
When a client sends you loads of tracks, it really makes viewing the project much easier when what you see is what you hear and when because Strip Silence gets rid of all the silent bits. To be honest, this alone is almost a selling point for me as I don’t have to go through a project and cut up the stems I receive from clients.
File Names To Track Names. This is another biggie for me. When mixing, I get anywhere between 15–50 stems. One of the first things I do is to drag and drop them onto the timeline. Pro Tools names the tracks based on the audio you drop on them, while on Live it’s Track 1, Track 2…Track 30, which is heavy viewing.
No “file junk”. Pro Tools does not create additional clip-specific files on your hard drive when editing, whereas Live creates .asd files, which may not be the biggest thing in the world for everybody, but once again, when you receive 30+ stems and start dragging and dropping them from the Finder into a DAW, your folder fills up and gets really cluttered with all the .asd files Live creates, and I end up hiding them using Terminal. Again more unnecessary extra work which I no longer need to do in Pro Tools. If only you could have Live automatically hide them!
Plugin presets in Pro Tools 11 can be accessed directly from the plugin (as opposed to via browser in Live). This is excellent, and definitely speeds up my workflow.
Group edits. In Pro tools, if you assign tracks to a group, you can perform functions that will be applied to all tracks in the group – and this is done without you having to select all tracks. You only have to select one track in the group and this is great if you have, say, 8 tracks of drum recording and you want to chop off a section. Now in Pro Tools I just activate the group, select the clip on one track, and chop; no need to select all tracks which is great if you need to minimize tracks to save space and can’t see them all as clearly. This also applies to mixing functions like volume, pan, etc. You can deselect the group at any time to apply individual edits to a specific track.
Track info text fields (see right). In Pro Tools, these can visible for all tracks if you wish. This is really handy for writing track-specific notes in mixing. In Live, you need to enter an info text mode, and you can’t see them all in one go.
Clip scrubbing. This is great when you want to try and find hear a certain spot in audio. Live has this, too, but it applies to all tracks and is done from the ruler above the sequencer, not within a clip.
Clip gain. In Pro Tools you can show the clip gain for a track which is very track-automation-like. I love it. No need to go and access the clip itself in any way; you can see the gain of all clips in one handy view.
Nudging clips. Basically you select a clip and you can nudge it by the selected nudge grid value; you can do this from the keyboard. I have always wanted this and now I have it in Pro Tools.
Hide tracks. In projects with a lot tracks, there will be moments when you start feeling you’re done with some tracks and you’d love to hide them just for clarity. Pro Tools makes this a breeze, while Live cannot do this.
Proper dedicated mixer view. Pro Tools allows you to have a clear, big mixer view, which lives in its own window, which you can freely place anywhere on your screen and make it as big or small as you want. You can also have Pro Tools configure the Edit and Mix windows so that they both nicely take up half of the screen,or you can set the sizes yourself. This is huge for someone coming from Live, not being able to see the arrangement and mixer strips at the same time.
Seeing all tracks and plugins at the same time. In the image above, there’s just a drum track and the master track, and I’m testing an analogue emulation plugin on both, flicking them both on and off to hear what it’s doing and in Pro Tools it is easy, as it should be. Live only allows you to view the plugins of one track at a time, which can be a bit annoying at times. I much prefer a good overview of what’s where.
Recalling open plug-in windows. In mastering, I often tend to keep certain plug-in windows open: limiter, multiband exciter, analyzer…and I love it that if I leave them open in Pro Tools and save the session, they will be open up just as I left them the next time I load the Pro Tools session. Live does not do this, and I always have the manually re-open all the plug-ins.
Floating fader - (see right). At times I like to see a certain channel strip in its own space for a clearer view of whatever that channel is doing. This allows you to access basic mixer functions and you can also select which track you’re seeing. Handy.
PT remembers/understands project-specific bounce locations. Let’s say you are mastering a track and you want to bounce it. Pro Tools offers you the option to bounce it into the project folder which I find logical. Live only remembers the last bounce location, and you always have to set it manually for a new project, which is another small yet big thing when you’re bouncing several projects a day, which I do as a mastering engineer.
Incremental filenames for bounces. Another small biggie: when you choose to bounce a song again, the filename Pro Tools offers already suggests a new numbering, so that if you have bounced Song, Pro Tools will automatically give you Song-1, and the next bounce will be Song-2 and so on. This is great in mastering if you want to bounce a number of different versions. You don’t have to do the manual work of renaming every time and it also minimizes the risk of accidentally overwriting a file too.
Autosave. Pro Tools creates Autosave versions of sessions, while Live does not. It’s already happened to me that I’ve thought, ah heck, I wish I could back to that version of this song I had 30 minutes ago because I kind of messed up this editing, and Pro Tools allows me to do that, as all autosaves are saved as session files. Live does not have auto save although Live’s project recovery after a crash is great, though; I’ve already crashed Pro Tools several times, and as far as I can tell it does not work the same way Live does in that respect. (Editor - No it doesn't, but if you have the Autosave set to save every 5 minutes then it is a simple matter of opening up the most recent auto save session and the worst case scenario is you will need to repeat the last 5 minutes of work).
Undo memory behaviour. Pro Tools has a 32-step undo memory you can view and access, and also it stays intact after saving the project as long as you have the project open, whereas Live erases your undo queue as soon as you hit Save. It’s happened to me more than once in Live where I have wanted to undo something but can't because I have just hit Save.
Core-specific CPU usage view - (see right). In Pro Tools, you can see how much the CPU is getting taxed per core. It also allows you to see disk and memory loads as well. Live only has one CPU meter.
Tabbing finds transients. There’s a mode in Pro Tools that jumps from a transient on a track to another when you hit Tab. This is really handy and should come in very useful when chopping drums in audio, for example. Hit tab, the cursor lands on a transient; hit Command+E to chop it, hit Tab again, find a new transient, chop it, hit Tab….ahh!
Massey Tape Head. Yes! I can finally use one of my favourite plugins, Massey Tape Head, natively after bridging it for such a long time in Live. Massey dropped AU/VST support some time ago and they never existed as 64-bit either and now Tapehead is only available for Pro Tools. This plugin in simply indispensable for me in achieving a bigger sound for drums, for example. I can’t live without it, and won’t live without it. Its worth every penny.
The Cons - What Is Not So Great About Pro Tools For Me
Number of plugins per track. As I was setting up my mastering chain, I soon realized that Pro Tools only allows you to have ten plugins on each track. I never actually use that many when mastering a song, and I seldom do in mixing, but my toolbox for mastering is way bigger than that, and I like to have most of those tools ready on the mastering track (in a disabled state). I ended up using two tracks for this, routing the audio from mastering track 1 to track 2.
In this day and age, this is baffling especially as Live does not have this limitation.
No computer MIDI keyboard. I have no shame in admitting I use the computer keyboard a lot when composing and coming up with melodies. This is very easy in Live, but afaik, I can’t be done in Pro Tools and for me this suuuuucks!
No proper sampler instrument. Another big minus in my book. Live’s sampler instruments are great for the sample-based music I do and Pro Tools does not have one built-in.
Poor grid visibility. Once I started editing in Pro Tools, I found myself trying to find where I can set the grid thicker and darker as I found it too thin and you can’t. In my opinion, the grid should be adjustable. I understand if you don’t have to think about the grid much in your editing, fine, but if you want to go and edit drums in audio and do some nice drum editing, you don’t want to have to squint, so this is going to suck a bit.
No key mapping. As far as I know, you can’t freely map computer keyboard keys to functions in Pro Tools. For example, what I always do in Live is map certain keys to track on/off switches, mono-izing / side-only-izing plugins, analyzers etc. I really wish I could do this in Pro Tools.
Cannot magnify the GUI. You can zoom in on clips/tracks, but the view itself – the size of faders, knobs, buttons etc – cannot be touched. This works wonderfully in Ableton Live, thanks to its vector layout.
The Verdict - Will I Be Using Both Avid Pro Tools And Ableton Live?
The simple answer is yes, I will. Ableton Live is superior when it comes to it's samplers, and that is a huge factor in my book. I want to be able to come up with sample-based ideas and melodies quickly, and even though I’ve only been using Pro Tools for a few days, I understand it’s way slower in that respect. I could use a 3rd party sampler instrument – and I know I will – just to mix it up and keep it fresh, but in a man-to-man fight, Live easily takes the prize when it comes to in-built instruments in this respect. Also, the inability to use computer keyboard for playing melodies for me is a drag.
I will keep using Pro Tools, especially in mixing as it seems better thought-out in that respect. Also, adapting a two-DAW workflow (produce in one, mix in another) might keep me fresh. I know I will produce some stuff in Pro Tools, too, just to switch it up every now and then, as different workflows usually result in different ideas.
Who Is Janne Hatula?
My name is Janne Hatula. I’m from Helsinki, Finland. My artist names are Fanu (drum and bass) and FatGyver (hip hop) and I call myself an entrepreneur – a mastering engineer, producer, and DJ.
I’ve been making electronic music since 1992, roughly, loving drum and bass / jungle and hip hop pretty much as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved dope beats and organic-sounding electronic music, and for that I can thank 90s D&B and hip hop and their rich sample-based vibes. As for some strong influences from back then up to today: The Future Sound of London, Underworld, Source Direct, Photek, Metalheadz, Dj Shadow, Dj Krust, Amon Tobin, Cypress Hill…and many more.
I’ve been releasing plenty of music for over a decade on various indie labels. 2006 saw the beginning of my own imprint, Lightless Recordings, which focuses on just the type of drum and bass that I grew up loving – with some modern spice thrown in. I’ve been doing drum and bass as Fanu for a long time, but a while ago I launched my hip hop alias, FatGyver, releasing beats on Redef Recordings.
I’ve been DJing internationally spreading the breaks and beats vibes for over 10 years, and I probably have a few hundred shows under my belt (Europe, USA, Russia). I love DJing and putting the work in behind the decks. You can find plenty of mixes (podcasts + radio shows I used to do) under the mixes tag. The podcasts have their own section.
These days, in addition to making and releasing music, I’m pretty busy mastering music for producers around the world (I do mixing for them, too), and that’s pretty much my job now.
Music tech as well as production-and-productivity-related matters are my daily crack fix, and you can find posts of that nature on the music production page. I claim to be pretty proficient with Ableton Live, and I teach people how to make music with it.