A little over 1 year ago and with much fanfare, Avid dropped the news that Pro Tools version 12.5 would include the much-anticipated new cloud collaboration features. For the first time ever, Pro Tools users could sync sessions and collaborate in near real time across the globe without ever leaving the Pro Tools application.
It was by all accounts a landmark release that consolidated and fully realised previous important features such as track freeze and track commit. The logic behind sharing and collaborating on sessions had seemingly been well thought out and initial industry reviews including our own were largely positive, highlighting Avid’s technological achievement and the return of Pro Tools’s ‘cutting edge’ status. A promising start!
Although difficult to fully quantify, it would be safe to say that the initial response from the Pro Tools user community was a mixed one. Popular professional audio discussion forums including the Pro Tools Expert comments section were filling up with a full span of emotional responses to Avid’s latest concept. These ranged from ‘Christmas morning’ levels of excitement and wonder at the new collaborative workflow possibilities, through to disdain and anger, focussed mainly on the cloud storage pricing structure and storage limitations and even complete indifference. Was it a hit or a miss? It was hard to tell.
It also became clear early on, that for larger scale post production and music facilities, cloud collaboration in its current form would not be fit for purpose. As cloud collaboration usage is currently linked to individual Avid accounts, facilities with multiple user licenses contained within a single administrators Avid account (a common setup in large-scale facilities) could not use the feature between studios, internally or externally. Further deal breakers included the legitimate concerns surrounding data security and the lack of any local or customised storage options for collaboration projects. Increasingly security conscious movie studios and record companies currently go to great lengths to ensure their data is secure at all times so using Avid’s untested cloud storage was a non-starter. What next?
Avid, with an uncharacteristic ear to the ground, announced in September 2016 that it had reviewed and updated the structure of its cloud collaboration plans with the dropping of project limits on paid plans and storage limit bumps across the board.
|Price||Storage||Project Limit||Changes since launch|
|Free Account||1GB||3||Storage upgraded from 500MB|
|$9.99 per month||30GB||Unlimited||Upgraded from 20GB/ 5 projects|
|$24.99 per month||80GB||Unlimited||Upgraded from 50GB/ 10 projects|
Some fundamental issues remained but would this gesture be enough to get users to jump on the cloud collaboration bandwagon and begin integrating it into their everyday workflow?
We decided to open the discussion to the Pro Tools Expert team to see what their experiences have been over the past year and if cloud collaboration has lived up to expectations.
I was very excited when 12.5 was initially released and quickly set about finding a few non-critical projects to test the waters. 10+ crashes and a few hours of painful stop/start uploading time later I was able to say to my collaborator on the artist chat that he could begin to do his work. The project I chose was around 1.5GB so I opted for the $9.99 plan just to try it out. All the supporting features such as track freeze, track commit, and track ownership seemed to be doing their job but due to the constant crashing the over-all experience was far from smooth.
I decided that, although it held much promise, I couldn’t trust the system yet for important work and since my initial experimenting I have downgraded my account back to the free version. Strangely as well my project list is completely empty now but my storage percentage is still showing up as 170% with seemingly no way to delete whatever latent files may exist? I really don’t want to give up on cloud collaboration but it has now become a genuine struggle to find users who want to work this way. My clients and collaborators don’t seem to be interested and with the current added costs and limitations compared to other non-integrated cloud solutions and workflows I can’t really blame them.
To be honest, I have only used Pro Tools Cloud Collaboration a handful of times. So why then have I not used Pro Tools Cloud Collaboration more frequently? In order to collaborate with a Pro Tools user, we both must be running Pro Tools 12.5 and above. Sadly my regular clients overseas are running Pro Tools 11.x except for one who is using Pro Tools 12.7. Even he feels it’s quicker for us both to stick to our usual session sharing workflow using Wetransfer and Dropbox. I suppose I’m at the mercy of my clients’ wishes - If they want to use Cloud Collaboration then I’ll be more than happy to oblige but if a client requests we use other methods of sharing sessions then I won’t complain – The bottom line is I need to do what makes my clients happy.
The technology behind Cloud Collaboration and integration in Pro Tools has been well implemented but I think it’s time for Avid to look at the whole collaboration system again and see how it can be improved. If the Pro Tools Cloud Collaboration system incorporated some of our common online accounts then I believe it would become a superpower amongst the audio production industry. Such integrations could be being able to login to Artist Chat with a Facebook account, sharing sessions via Dropbox, communicating via Skype video calls, all within the Pro Tools session.
As someone who was initially highly sceptical of the Cloud Collaboration "thing", I knew I would be a hard user to convince. However, once I had tried it as part of our Pro Tools Expert team test and enjoyed the experience, I decided to eat my words (on a Podcast too) and start to offer this "service" to my clients, many of whom are in North America and soon be running Pro Tools 12.5.
Now one of the things my clients really like about working with me is due to the very nature of time zones. They can get a track finished and sent over to me using "conventional methods" at the end of their day, I can then work on it during my working day then by the time they wake up there is a Drum or other track sitting waiting for them to add to their tracks or session. This works very well for them and for me so working on the same session at the same time is somewhat pointless but I still went ahead and had clients create Cloud Collaboration Projects not Sessions and share them with me.
Both my clients and I tried Pro Tools 12.5 and I'm sad to say it was just more hassle than it was worth. Sending them 3 takes of a 12 channel drum take recorded at 96KHz would use up their free storage limit within seconds, so we would have to revert back to the old Dropbox method anyway for that particular project and one by one they were just not interested in persevering with it. Even when Avid moved the goal posts by offering more for less I kept on hearing the same old argument of, "Why should I have to pay for it when I already have an Upgrade Plan costing a significant chunk of cash"? It just goes to show you only get one chance to make a first impression.
As the one member of the team who doesn't touch music production, recording or mixing at all in my day to day work, I took one look at the features and space offered with Avid Cloud Collaboration and instantly knew that it wasn't for me. The fact that the system cannot handle video tracks was an instant show stopper for me. Then I read various horror stories about bugs in 12.5, so I decided to hold off even installing it and leap-frogged straight to 12.6. I still think that 12.4 was the best version of Pro Tools so far. Even though I'm currently running 12.7.1, I am still tempted to roll back to 12.4.
The other big problems for me are space and security. My projects often run at more than 80GB per half hour of television, excluding video, which can bring the total over 100GB per half hour of screen time. Then there are the security implications. I do not know ANY professional facility who has their systems directly connected to the internet. The fact that we're still waiting, a year later, for some sort of secure local server version, tells you straight away that this is not even remotely aimed at Post Production. So, I've ignored it.
With most of my work in radio post production it wouldn’t be impossible to use cloud collaboration for my radio clients, but in reality, my clients are using much older versions of Pro tools. Some are still using Pro Tools 8LE or Pro Tools Express because those versions do all they need - if it ain't broke don't fix it. In radio post production, especially documentaries we rarely need high track counts and rarely need a huge number of plug-ins.
Since Pro Tools LE and Pro Tools Express became outdated, the entry point for independent radio producers into Pro Tools is significantly higher and since Pro Tools 12 the cost of keeping an active upgrade plan is another consideration. Then some of my clients use other platforms like Adobe Audition instead of Pro Tools. So all in all for a lot of my clients using Avid Cloud Collaboration isn’t an option either because they are not on Pro Tools 12.5 or higher or they don't even use Pro Tools.
But even if they were on Pro Tools 12.5 or higher, there is then the matter of internet bandwidth to sync up sessions. Radio programmes are not like songs that might only be 3 to 5 minutes in duration. Radio programmes are typically around 30 minutes in duration or even an hour, which means there is so much more material to transfer. I normally get my sessions delivered on a hard drive, and because a lot of my independent producer clients live in rural locations upload speeds for them would also be an issue. For example, the 30 minute documentary that came to me yesterday was over 20 gigs in size, so we would need at least the middle sized plan to handle just that one session.
Then there are the issues of security which although not as serious as with film workflows, where piracy is a much bigger ‘industry’, never the less security might come onto the horizon if all the other issues could be resolved.
So sorry Avid, but all in all the Cloud Collaboration features are not likely to become part of my workflow anytime soon.
I’ve never used it. I need to qualify that as just saying that I’ve never used it isn’t very informative, or very interesting. I’ve never used Cloud Collaboration for a few reasons. The most important of these is that I haven’t needed to share many sessions. I’ve shared bounces of sessions but not many sessions themselves. I recently shared a session with James but when I did this I chose to dropbox a new custom session. There were a few reasons I chose to share a new session and they might resonate with a few people.
Reason 1 - I was in a hurry and I didn’t have time to learn something new.
I needed drums on a session. That was my focus. I wasn’t interested in figuring out a new feature of Pro Tools with which I hadn’t previously engaged when I was trying to get a project finished and was already pushed for time. Any feature like this needs a trial run. Trying to get a project finished in time for a deadline isn’t the time for experimentation. Of course, I can try these features as an exercise but unlike any other feature of Pro Tools, collaboration requires someone to collaborate with and that involves a third party. Not difficult to arrange but fundamentally different to checking out the new batch fades window or track freeze. I haven’t used the Cloud Collaboration features so I don’t use them and because I haven’t used them, because I don’t use them etc. etc…
Reason 2 - Does the person with whom I’m collaborating need the whole session?
My session was big, I needed drums so all I needed to share was the track without drums, the programmed drum track and the tempo map. If the track had a constant tempo I would have shared just a couple or audio tracks and the tempo. For rehearsal purposes I have shared just a stereo mp3 with the track on the left and the part to be replaced on the right in the past but as in this case there were quite a few tempo changes I built a Pro Tools Session with the track minus drums, the drums and a click track and drop boxed that. So if I was in a hurry why did I go to the trouble of building a whole new session rather than just dropboxing the whole session? This leads me to my third reason:
Reason 3 - I don’t have a fibre internet connection
While many, many people have fast internet connections, just as many people don’t. There are all sorts of reasons for this but most of them revolve around geography. My internet connection badly needs an upgrade and the reasons why at present it is fairly slow aren’t relevant here but bandwidth constraints can present enough of a bottleneck to become a disincentive. I know Cloud Collaboration offers some controls over what is shared and what isn’t but I’m a little unclear about this, not having used these features. Which brings me to my final reason:
Reason 4 - I’m not sure I understand it.
This is a bit lazy of me, I really should do the research, there was some great content on Pro Tools Expert a year ago but was a little confused about the number of projects vs available cloud storage on a free account (but no excuse now as it's at the top of this article...). However, I do think that a system like this should be simple enough to leave no room for confusion. The onus is on the manufacturer to communicate a simple message clearly. It’s not the consumer’s job to decipher ambiguity. If I had actually used these features I’m sure I wouldn’t be at all confused but the whole point is that I haven’t - Why? See above!
What Do You Think?
Let us know in the comments below what your experiences of Pro Tools cloud collaboration have been so far?