Tuesday, January 25, 2011

ProTools and Nuendo

If you are a potential client, please use this photo as an example of my work. This is the absolute best picture I can get holding my Blackberry at arms length.

Working late at Higher Ground Recording Studio outside of Atlanta tonight. The vocalists left about an hour ago--professional singers Ree Gilkenson, Amber Balltzglier and Missy Waldroup. We had a good time, but two 12 hour days together in a row is plenty! So now I am cleaning up the tracks (breaths, punches, etc) and consolidating them so that I can take them home to mix. Part of the reason I do not usually mix at an outside studio is, of course, that it takes a while to really know a room--and how the mix you hear in that room will translate to every other sound system. I have mixed for years at my home studio and I generally know when something will sound good elsewhere. The biggest reason, however, is that most professional studios use ProTools, and I prefer to mix in Nuendo. The reason studios use ProTools (aside from Digidesign/Avid's great marketing and cool looking gear) is that they offered a solid user-friendly system at a time when everyone was trying to get compatible with one another. Studio owners, coming from the world of analog machines, also felt comfortable with the hardware-based system that ProTools seemed to be and it eventually won out over other systems.

Does that mean it is a better system? Not in my opinion. It is a good system and generally is very reliable--which is important in a studio environment. Losing files and crashing during sessions can be a big problem. I was on a session last year recording tracks with the Nashville String Machine orchestra when it did happen to crash. Just the four minutes it took to restart the computer cost us over $100 because the cost of studio, engineers and musicians was so high ($2,000/hr.). That is really the exception to the rule, but I do prefer Steinberg's Nuendo to ProTools for a few reasons that I will spell out.

First, it is much easier to move tracks around on the screen and do editing tasks such as trimming, flying, adjusting nodes for volume, etc. Being able to do that kind of stuff quickly can really save time and money. Second, the quality is better. ProTools has started to step up their game recently, but Nuendo has had 96khz and 32-bit floating point audio for 7 or 8 years now, and it makes a difference in the clarity of a final mix. (I know a number of Nashville engineers who have Nuendo at home for mixing for this very reason even though they have to work in ProTools since they are at different studios each day.) Third, and the biggest thing to me, is the fact that you can arm and disarm tracks while in play or record mode. Every time I work in ProTools I am frustrated to no end (the past two days are no exception) at how much my pace is slowed down by the lack of this feature. Here is an example of what I mean.

Let's say I am in ProTools recording the first line of the chorus with three singers. I play a pre-roll of about 6 seconds so they can find their place, then I punch in for the line and punch out. Now, I stop the machine and say "Amber and Ree, I need to get just the first word again from you." After I have disarmed Missy's track, I start the pre-roll to do the take. In Nuendo, I would never have to stop the machine. I would simply start the pre-roll immediately and while I was giving them direction, I would be disarming Missy's track. By the time I finish talking, we are ready to punch in and we have our fix. Another thing I can do in Nuendo is fixes for multiple people in different spots. For example, I could have Amber's track armed for the first half of the phrase, then arm Ree's for the second half of the phrase--all while I am already rolling in record mode.

Now, this may seem like a small thing, but when working with professional background vocalists who are ready for fixes immediately, I would estimate that I lose 30-45 minutes of productive recording time each day by not having this option. In addition, I lose the singer's interest in the song when they have to wait so long to turn each take around. That is huge and the main thing I would love to see changed in ProTools.

There are a few other things I could talk about, but those are the big ones. Of course, there are some things I do like about ProTools, the biggest of which is the buffering that it does any time it starts rolling. If you are late on a punch, you can easily fix it because all the audio is there for you to access. So, that's my comparison as promised. Not very scientific, but I have used both systems for long enough now to have an opinion on the matter at least.