Do I Need ProTools To Have A Professional Actor’s Home Studio? (Part 1)

Logo-Pro-tools2This perennial question comes in many forms, but the answer is almost always the same: No! OK, let me elaborate on that…

First, a little background on Pro Tools. Digidesign, now owned by Avid, created Pro Tools to meet the demanding needs of the professional recording engineer. Those needs include the ability to record many audio tracks of instruments and vocals, layer complex audio effects into the mix, adjust the timing of drum beats, auto-tune vocal pitch, automate mixes, sequence virtual instruments, trigger MIDI synthesizers, sync audio to picture for film production, mix 5.1 surround sound for video, and do all of this in a high pressure commercial studio environment by a highly trained recording engineer. It was never designed with the needs of a voiceover actor in mind.

The required result of any audio recording application, no matter which system you use, is the same: to create an accurate representation of your voice. It doesn’t need to be the often misnomered “Industry standard” of Pro Tools to generate the common audio formats used by any studio, such as a WAV or MP3 file. There should be no reason a client would ever ask for a proprietary Pro Tools .ptf file.

Ease of use, reliability, speed, and efficiency are the factors I most look for in the continued search for the holy grail of recording software. So, what exactly does a voice actor need in terms of software functionality? Here are the steps the typical voice recording requires before sending the file to a client:

Recording: Capture the sound produced by a single microphone and audio interface, in mono.

Editing: Chop up the recorded audio to remove mistakes, erroneous sounds, and leave behind a seamless sounding performance.

Processing: Apply various audio effects such as EQ (tone control), compression, gating, and normalization to produce the best sounding finished product possible for an audition or project.

Exporting: Save the file in the format requested by the client, such as WAV or MP3.

While Pro Tools can do all of those things, what I call the “Diva of audio software”requires a lot of learning, coaxing, maintenance, and TLC to do it. At its best, Pro Tools is reliable and trouble-free. In most cases, from personal experience supporting hundreds of voice actor’s home studios over the last 10 years, most users find it to be anything but. It’s highly sensitive to poor hardware combinations, can give confusing and infuriating error messages while doing basic functions, and may mysteriously stop running completely after an operating system update or software upgrade.

Both Mac and Windows computers are perfectly capable of recording audio. However, if you’ve read any of my past articles you know that I am an unequivocal fan of the Mac OS. Most Mac users, like myself, started out using Windows computers and somewhere along the way just got fed up with the constant hassle and maintenance required to keep them running smoothly. I won’t go into the laundry list of reasons why, but if you use a Mac you understand. I’ll give examples of software I find provide the most “bang for the buck” on both platforms.

[Next: Recommendations for Mac OS and Windows platforms]

About George Whittam

George Whittam, owner of ElDorado Recording Services, frequently tackles a new tech topic or FAQ relevant to voiceover recording for the VoiceOver Insider. He also co-hosts the East-West Audio Body Shop with cohort Dan Lenard each Sunday evening. You can reach George through ElDorado Recording Services, or email him at his address below.

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