A few months ago we wrote an article about the fault line running through the Pro Tools product line, that HDX and the way it is sold is becoming an increasingly limiting factor in the development of Pro Tools. Little did we know Avid would effectively confirm this in an exclusive interview with Pro Tools Expert.
This article is not about Pro Tools features; it's about product strategy and direction of travel. We've been speaking as a team and discussing what strategy we would employ to ensure Pro Tools continues to have a healthy future and wanted to share it with the community for discussion.
When Digidesign decided to harness DSP based processing for audio, it was both a leap of faith and a brilliant way to give audio professionals power not available from the average computer. As you can see in our History Of Pro Tools series, the first systems used the computer mainly as a user interface and nothing more; all the heavy lifting happened on DSP cards and external hardware. If you want to try and imagine how little the computer did then think of browsing the web, in that case, your interface is the graphical interface, and most of the hard stuff is done on other computers.
The problem with faith is that if you hold on to it and don't accept things might change then it becomes dogma.
Some Pro Tools users still need DSP, it's certainly not dead, and until someone reinvents the laws of physics, especially around the area of latency (the time it takes to process instructions) then DSP is always going to be needed. However, we think it's time for Avid to stop using limitations to sell their DSP solutions, in other words, sell the hardware on its own merits, just like they sell control surfaces. If people need Avid DSP cards and interfaces, then they should buy them, if they don't then they still get the same Pro Tools features, just less power. Blackmagic do this with Davinci Resolve and the Fairlight Audio Accelerator; this is how they sell it…
"For the absolute best performance, add a Fairlight Audio Accelerator to your system! You’ll get blazing performance with amazing sub‑millisecond latency for hundreds of tracks with full real-time processing of EQ, expander/gate, compressor and limiter dynamics, and up to 6 real-time plug‑ins per channel!"
Avid should do the same with DSP, simple as that.
There should be no crippling of Pro Tools software based on what hardware you own. The limitations of Pro Tools' core functionality should be based on the power of the user's machine - like every other DAW on the planet.
We understand that Avid is in some way trying to ensure a QoS (Quality of Service) for the end user, albeit tacet as there is no legal recourse, but in doing so they have made a rod for their own back. Minimum specs should remain, as does with any other product, but how much power a user gets from their Pro Tools software is down to the machine they are using. Of course, the good news for Avid then would be to say to people who need more power/shorter latency is to buy the hardware for greater peace of mind.
Pro Tools Software
Which leads us to the Pro Tools software offering, which as you can see from the ACA results is expected to meet the needs of several different groups of users - and in our view that's impossible.
It may already exist in Avid, but the first thing we would do is split development into Music and Post teams, tasked with working together on core functionality, but also given the ability to develop differing solutions for music and post users.
One of the reasons other DAWs are powering ahead in features is they don't have the baggage of meeting the needs of lots of different groups, for example, Studio One is not trying to do post, or even video, just music, Ableton the same.
To make this possible Pro Tools would ship as a core software product containing 95% of the most used functionality. For those needing specific post or music features then we would return to Pro Tools toolkits model for things such as surround etc. This is already possible using PACE and iLok and it was how Avid did with products like Production Toolkit and DV Toolkit..
To implement toolkits Avid should employ the same philosophy as Adobe with their Cloud offer, this gives designers, photographers or video creators etc. an a la carte way of using the Adobe suite. A user can pay for as much as they need and swap as they wish. In our Pro Tools model, a user could subscribe/purchase Pro Tools and then power up with a toolkit when the work demanded it; perhaps the studio needs surround for six months, they simply change their plan until it is no longer needed. There would be no penalising of those jumping around the toolkits, but there would be incentives for those making commitments for 1-year plans.
Pro Tools Free
Which leads us to Pro Tools First, the free version of Pro Tools. We would take a similar approach to what PreSonus has done with Studio One, when you download the demo of Studio One it runs as the full professional version for 30 days. If you don't buy a licence then it reverts to the free version Studio One Prime with some limitations, for example, 3rd party VST/AU plug-ins stop working, but much of the core functionality remains in terms of track count etc. and facilitates session portability between the Free and Pro versions with minimal restrictions.
Pro Tools First should be a machine based DAW, with local sessions etc. not tied to cloud functionality. In some ways, the early launch of Pro Tools First has pissed in the water somewhat, but Pro Tools First still has the potential to move another generation over to Pro Tools. Making them feel that you are trying to strongarm them into buying the paid-for-version is counterproductive - people should buy a product out of desire and attraction, not fear.
And one more thing, call it Pro Tools Free, it’s a much better name and tells people exactly what it is.
So there it is our product roadmap for Pro Tools going forward, we love Pro Tools, but it sometimes seems that Avid hasn't quite grasped that both this industry and commerce has moved on. There's nothing groundbreaking about what we've written here; all the ideas are drawn from best practice from other successful brands. Business success is sometimes about originality, but it’s often about seeing what someone is doing and doing it better.
So to summarise;
Sell DSP hardware on its own merits.
The only limitation in Pro Tools software is power if users need more tracks or lower latency then buy the Avid DSP hardware.
Create one single version of Pro Tools with 95% core functionality. Create and sell toolkits for specific post/music features as add-ons that can be bought, subscribed or rented as needed.
Make it easy for users to jump between toolkits.
Reduce the limitations of Pro Tools First to encourage better take up.
Let us know what you think in the comments… we feel sure you will.r