Embracing The Pro Tools Generation

2012 May 14, 2012

I am proud to be part of the Pro Tools Generation. And when I say Pro Tools, I don’t mean just Avid’s Pro Tools software, but any recording/mixing software. I am part of a generation of mixers and producers who have grown up with and have learned on a DAW rather than an analog console. And today I must address why this is an important distinction to make.


Via Jérôme Choain Flickr

DAWs Are Here To Stay

Like it or not, I think we can just about all agree that DAWs are here to stay as part of our recording and mixing workflow. They cost less than consoles and outboard gear, they don’t break down as easily, they are more portable, and they have instant recall on all aspects of the session. With computers getting more powerful every year and 24 bit converters sounding as amazing as they do now, we can expect to be working in DAWs for a very long time.

That however, is not my point. What we must address is that there is a real difference between a once analog guy who now mixes in Pro Tools or at least has Pro Tools as part of his modern workflow, and a young digital only mixer (like myself) who has always only mixed in Pro Tools and the like. We are two very different animals. 

The Digital Generation

If you’ve grown up mixing in a digital platform like Pro Tools then you aren’t really interested in trying to recreate that “analog sound” in your DAW. You may like songs that were mixed on analog consoles to be sure (I know I do), but as far as what your ears have been framed to know and like as a mixer you are purely digital. I cut my teeth as a mixer and engineer in Pro Tools so Pro Tools is my standard. As I learned more about EQ and compression my mixes got better, in Pro Tools. Never once have I felt that I was “missing” something analog. And that is because I’ve never known it.

And that is OK. That’s my point. I’m not of the old school analog generation that could never mix in Pro Tools. Nor am I part of the hybrid generation that was mixing in the 80s and 90s on analog and were smart enough to move over to a digital platform at some point, but still want to incorporate an analog signal path somewhere in their workflow. Nope. I’m neither of them. I am purely a digital mixer because that was the dominant tool when I began to learn this craft and therefore it sounds perfectly normal to me.

Don’t Take My Word For It

A good example of this Pro Tools generation is pro mixer Robert Orton (Lady Gaga, Usher, The Police, Marylin Manson). In a Sound On Sound interview he describes mixing “in the box”:

I mix in the box entirely. For me, the quality I get is every bit as good as when mixing on a board. You get a slightly different sound, perhaps, but it’s certainly not worse. I think that there’s far too much emphasis placed on whether a mix is done on the board or in the box. All that matters is finding a way to articulate the message in music, so listeners can understand it. In the end it’s about how you have learned your chops.

How This Affects Learning From The Analog Guys

Now, as a blatant member of the Pro Tools generation I am not so foolish and arrogant as to think that I have nothing to learn from the analog and semi-analog guys about mixing. On the contrary, we have EVERYTHING to learn from them about technique, workflow, and musical sensibilities. These guys are the pros for a reason. They know what they are doing and have developed a great ear from years of experience. Soak up everything you can from them.

However, when the conversation turns to things like the sound of tape, consoles or analog summing, remember they are of a different generation than you and therefore have a very specific “norm” of a sound they are going for that perhaps is not part of your make up as a digital mixer. They aren’t wrong, it’s just that you will be ill served if you go on this “holy grail” quest for that analog sound that you don’t even know. Instead focus more on implementing proper EQ, compression, and mixing workflow to your sessions and you’ll come out better for it.

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