In the work, I’ve been doing recently on the blog about AoIP I’ve been aware that some people are being turned off by the compulsion to choose, to “plant your flag” in the shifting landscape of competing technologies. I understand. I think all of us would secretly like to be able to fast-forward a few years to see how things turn out (mind you, If I could do that I’d be bringing back copies of the Financial Times rather than Dante brochures). The cause of the unease some of us are feeling when looking at AoIP is the lack of a standard. Things like Ethernet and TCP/IP bring standards to technology and provide a common framework from which technologies can develop. It’s just not quite the same for AoIP yet.
This set me thinking about the standards in studios and production environments which help us day to day and which we take for granted. I’ve always been of the opinion that we should recognise and value standards when we find them and we should work with the standard rather than arbitrarily abandoning them.
MIDI has to be the best-known example of the kind of standards we wish would happen more often. A cross-industry, open source standard which in spite of its (by modern standards) pitiful Baud rate is still good enough to be ubiquitous and in use every day. The physical layer of this standard might be less common these days, It’s a while since I had a MIDI cable plugged in at home, but the 8-bit messages those cables carried are just as ubiquitous as ever. It’s a case of “good enough” though I’d be surprised to hear of anyone performing MIDI sample dumps in 2016!
Anyone who has come to the world of video codecs from the world of audio is probably, like me, horrified. This is an example of where you can end up without standards. With frame rates based on the frequency of mains voltage in Europe and the US respectively and all of those codecs and containers. Some of the confusion is caused by technology trying to mitigate the huge strain the data rate of production quality video places on systems.This is something we audio people are largely unaffected by these days. From the outside, video codecs look like peeling back layer after layer of pain and confusion!
In “the old days” if you visited a studio, while the specifics of that studio might need some introduction, the act of actually “driving” the studio was pretty standardised. Analogue mixing consoles, while varying in layout and features, shared a common interface and if you wanted to go back to the beginning of the track you hit RTZ and that was it. The standard layout of the mixer in a DAW is very consistent across all the current software iterations, some imitate hardware more directly than others (think Reason vs Ableton) and while there might be a better way to present this information, the familiar interface is of more value than the potential benefits of changing it.
Pro Tools Shortcuts
This brings me to Pro Tools shortcuts. Like most of us, I dip in and out of other workstations, I’ve been using both Studio One and Reaper regularly this year and both of these titles allow you to customise your keyboard shortcuts. Pro Tools, of course, does not and I’ve had many conversations with people who consider this a huge drawback. I’ve never thought so. I really value the fact that I can walk up to any Pro Tools system and operate if proficiently, straight away. As someone who is primarily a Pro Tools user, I’ve always acknowledged that this is very like the English speaker abroad who enjoys the advantage of being a native speaker of a language others tend to learn. Put it this way. I don’t speak much Dutch when I’m in Holland. As someone who knows Pro Tools shortcuts and doesn’t have the option of changing them in Pro Tools, you would think that I would change the shortcuts on the other DAWs I use to match the shortcuts I use in Pro Tools. Actually, I don’t.
Reaper is amazing software, It’s so flexible, so configurable and it definitely meets the needs of a professional. However one of the things which set it apart from the other big name DAWs is its accessibility. For non-commercial use, it is very, very affordable and it’s lack of restrictions on the demo makes this software very popular with beginners and casual users who don’t have an existing set of shortcuts they wish to use. I currently teach a course in Reaper to new users and in this setting having a common set of defaults across every machine is the best way to go. I don’t encourage customisation because having every machine the same makes it easier to teach and easier to learn.
I’ve also been using Studio One regularly for the last year. When using Studio One I can load up a set of Pro Tools shortcuts. I don’t teach Studio One so there is no reason why I shouldn’t stick with these Pro Tools Shortcuts but I don’t. I still use the Studio One defaults. Why? It’s because, although I started off using the Pro Tools shortcuts, I found when I wanted to extend my knowledge of Studio One I was missing the “common language” of the defaults. While anyone can have anything set up as their shortcut, because of the nature of defaults, more people will use the default than any other alternative and while the most common Pro Tools shortcuts are covered in the preset provided by Presonus, it’s not long until you find keystrokes which aren’t mapped. The dealbreaker was when I decided to watch some of the excellent tutorials available on Groove 3. All the shortcuts were provided as the defaults and it reminded me that I’ve always thought the user should work towards the standard, the standard shouldn’t be changed to suit the user.
Media Composer User Profiles
Is there any way to accommodate both points of view? I’ve been a Media Composer user in the past and in Media Composer it is possible to load up your user profile on to a USB stick and to load your settings on to the workstation you are using, including keyboard shortcuts. This is a useful system and I wonder whether it could be made more flexible still. If your shortcuts could genuinely follow you so that some user profile settings were instantiated the moment you touched a computer and instantly changed back to the previous user the moment they touched the computer can’t be beyond the realms of possibility. Touch ID on a yet-to-be released Mac which made the Mac access and load a universal user profile accessed via NFC from your phone. Oh, hang on. That would mean sorting out new standards across lots of third parties - Probably easier to just learn the defaults…