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Is this the new ‘Netflix' of music-making?

ProTools Artist
(Image credit: Avid)

The audio editing software ProTools is industry-standard software you can be sure will port seamlessly into any studio of merit once you’ve taken your song demo as far as your home production can go. 

And ProTools is equally useful for day-to-day tasks such as digitising vinyl, editing video soundtracks or cutting speech into podcasts. Once you’re accustomed to its ways and shortcuts, it’s hard to back away into the realms of freebie programs like Audacity or GarageBand.  

But ProTools has always had two twin problems — the cost of the software, and its compatibility with changing operating systems. In the old days when you purchased a version of ProTools on a perpetual licence, that perpetuity proved limited by its ability to work with successive generations of Apple OS X or Windows. 

Many is the ProTools owner who has had to hold back on the latest OSX upgrade in order to ensure ProTools will continue working, and eventually Avid, ProTools’ parent, lowers the curtain and simply announces that the oldest versions are no longer supported. This writer has been stuck editing on a just-about-operable version of ProTools 10 kept on an old Mac Mini, because it just won’t work anywhere else.

The shift to subscription software

The compatibility issue has, however, been addressed by the shift to ProTools being a subscription, not a perpetual licence. In recent years both have been offered; now ProTools is switching to subscriptions only for new users. There are definite advantages: by paying for the subscription you get ongoing updates; you always have the latest version, and consequently Avid is being faster to ensure compatibility with changing operating systems.

The downside is that you keep paying, and until now the subscriptions haven’t been cheap, at US$35 monthly for standard ProTools, $80 monthly for ProTools Ultimate. That level of pricing has excluded most casual users. 

ProTools Artist

(Image credit: Avid)

Enter ProTools Artist

But now Avid has overhauled its program offering, and is introducing ProTools Artist, a subscription which looks far more attractive at just US$9.99 a month, or $99 a year, with some benefits. The ‘Artist’ subscription inevitably has some limitations compared with the higher ProTools Studio (US$39.99/month) or ProTools Flex/Ultimate (US$99.99), notably in permitting only 32 recording tracks in a session (plus 32 aux tracks, 32 virtual instrument tracks and 64 MIDI tracks). 

Peanuts besides the 2048 tracks allowed in ProTools Ultimate, it’s true, but sufficient for most home creatives (and you always can get more by ye olde bounce method), as will be the limitation of 16-channel native in/out channels, where a full studio might need many more. 

The software is immediately downloadable after payment and authentication, and comes with more than 100 included plug-ins, from EQs and compressor/limiters to the likes of tri-knob fuzz and moogerfooger ring modulation, plus eight virtual instruments including Air’s Boom drum machine, DB-33 organ, Mini Grand piano and Vacuum synthesiser, as well as ProTools’ own GrooveCell (rhythms) and SynthCell (synths).

The one casualty of the new subscription tiers is the old free version called ProTools First, but that was so limited (16 tracks, 4 I/O and few plug-ins) that the new ‘Artist’ level, with its price less than a standard Netflix subscriptions, looks likely to attract many budding creators back to this industry-standard software package.   

ProTools is available from resellers, and direct from Avid. 

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