A peak into the mind of John Hampton

ProTools 9 … One step closer to Photoshop for music.

Is our planet getting to be a wacky, whirlwind of a world that we wander in, or WHAT? I mean, everyone is afraid to do anything because no one knows if prices are going up more, or if they are going to come back to Earth. We just can’t get off the breast of Middle-East oil because environmentalists just won’t let us drill anywhere, for fear of wiping out the Flat-tongued Rainbow-Snail Hairless Marmot … though right beneath our feet there’s enough oil to keep the Sheiks from our doorstep for generations! Amidst all this,  technology allows almost anyone to make a record with a couple instruments and a laptop! Like I said, it’s a wacky world we’re wandering.

So it’s all in a big, weird state of flux, or rather flux NOT. But some things are moving forward; DAMN the torpedos. Like music technology, computer technology, ANY technology. And like I’ve said, it’s not a nice, straight line of advancement like it has been since the dawn of time. Instead of people designing “stuff”, people are designing computers that design “stuff”. Some computers are designing other computers that design “stuff” to make computers that design “stuff” better. What used to be a linear progress is becoming asymptotic, or exponential progress. ( Hint: These are words that are getting more and more airplay as time moves on.)

As technology marches blindly on, music technology marches with it. Save for one tiny difference. It seems as if the sonic part of music technology is going backwards as it marches … forward? Honestly! Imagine this: From the 1940s until the late eighties, recording to analog, magnetic tape was … well, it’s how it was done. The most popular means of recording music now is almost like it’s always been, except the advancement of the technology allows for cheaper microphones, less than high-fidelity processing, you know. . . junk. But it is by no means ALL junk. Some things cut through the sea of junk and make it to shore, and we find that it’s a really fantastic breakthrough. Let’s look at the most cutting edge breakthrough of them all: the recording medium. By today’s standards, the first digital (not analog) recording medium  was crap when compared to analog tape pressed onto good, virgin vinyl … at least to my two earholes. Call me nuts. But if I’m nuts, you’ve got to tell Jack White he’s nuts, too … (all if his THIRD MAN Records releases are vinyl.) And Ozzie (?), The Black Keys, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, The Black Crowes … about 99% of “ear-havers” on the planet. But not many will argue against the latest version of ProTools, easily the most used recording platform in the world. And now, you may, if you wish, mimic the sound of analog tape on each and every ProTools track!

But why in the world would the most popular digital recording medium in the world go to these kind of lengths to NOT SOUND DIGITAL? WHY? Thirty years of developing digital just to end up where we started? I don’t get it. Unless …

Unless it’s an admission that the pro-vinyl folks are right, and analog tape sounds better than digital no matter how much technology you put behind it. I say … not exactly. At least that’s not the whole story.

If you are a bad musician, and I include a voice as an instrument, you will NEVER be good. Never. Go back to school. But if you are a fair musician, ProTools can make you a better musician. But, go back to school anyway. We are already awash in mediocrity without your adding to the party! But if you are a pretty good musician, hang on to that tuition cash for a minute. Because ProTools MIGHT help you be good. And from good, it’s possible (possible) that you can get to great. Save for one caveat. There could be one teeny-weeny . problem with using it a lot. Live performance. Because ProTools 9 is out, and it’s one step closer to Photoshop for music.

There’s a feature in there (in ProTools) that can make your drummer steadier than he really is. DRAG. CLICK.  The world famous “Auto-Tune®” (now it’s “Melodyne®”) will make your out of tune singing on key. SHIFT DOUBLE-CLICK. Having a bit of trouble deciding when your equametric-paralyzer (tone) is helping,  or your compressor (dynamic range) is hurting? No worries, mate!. It can make those decisions for you.There are lots of presets that were dialed up by the smart guys who know all about it, because most read the old manuals! And lose that cheap guitar sound in a flash because there are plenty of pre-set amplifiers in there, too. From settings The Beatles dialed up, to Carlos Santana, and everything in between! If you keep running out of air because the key of the song never got a second thought, just sing one good chorus, and paste it in to all of the chori! If your drummer can’t get off work, Apple will give you some great drum parts, thanks to Apple Loops®! Yes, it’s a wanna-be’s dream come true. Now you can make a record all by your little lonesome, in your bedroom, after work (when you’re half beat and your girlfriend is getting real bored watching you indulge yourself.)  And when (if) that little jewel is all done,  just show it off on MySpace®, and maybe you can even get iTunes® or  uTones© to sell it. I can see the headlines now: AVERAGE LOCAL MUSICIAN DOES FAIR; SELLS MANY RECORDS ON WEBSITE! Mirabili dictu! Will miracles never cease? (This is one miracle that I often pray … will.)

I mean, why take all the time needed to deliver a touching, inspired, bring-’em-to-the-edge-of-tears-type vocal performance that has the power to change lives, … when you can just slack your way through one half-fast performance, then use the recorder like the coolest video game ever made … for a week? And speaking of inspired, I can tell you for sure that inspiration is hard to pull off even in the best of recording studios, if you have no feedback. How do you do it in your room, at night, after work, with your bored girlfriend trying to watch “Jersey Girls”? Or say that you are Mr. Virtuoso … don’t you need some kind of feedback? The word we are missing here is collaboration. Don’t you need someone to bounce ideas off of, like a band mate, or a producer, or even the engineer … (if you’re wise enough to hire a professional to help) Some sort of collaboration? Remember John and Paul, and then John or Paul? Was each alone really as good as both of them, together, swapping ideas?

Finally, notice that as technology shares in it’s breakthroughs, it begins to grow beyond our wildest dreams. And as the artist isolates more, adrift in that technology, music that warms the soul seems to become quieter, harder to hear.

Maybe it’s disappearing … just as fast as the Flat-tongued Rainbow-Snail Hairless Marmot.

5 Responses to “ ProTools 9 … One step closer to Photoshop for music. ”

  1. Mr.Murder Says:

    Old schoolers had it right. There were carburerators made in the 50s that get over 60 miles per gallon fuel effeciency.

    Certain monied mid easterners bought the copyrights and shelved them, for some reason….

    You were saying we needed to drill oil here? You know they flush cehmicals into the water table to extract energy, right?

    You can drink a glass of chemical goodness and give thanks for it. I’ll take may water plain, and wet, bartender. While some east Texas billionaire whistles through gold teeth the same tired mantra about drilling oil onshore here. Just so long as we never get along with Castro and drill the oil in waters we share with Cuba, everything will be free and (not as) cheap in the good ol’ USA.

    Sometimes complex problems lie in simple solutions. Usually simple problems are solved with complexity.

    Usually when in line at the store or gas station I play iPhone music on my LG to anyone who will listen that seems like a prospective customer. The listener happened to be the gas station attendandt. Told him I produced the music back in the day. He says “I do that too, I use Pro Tools!”

    Kewl. He has Pro Tewls. Talk about feeling out of the loop.

    The week before that two listeners at the same Murphy Oil wanted me to buy them liquor. They were too young to buy it, talk about making someone feel old. Guess I’m not the rock and roller I always envisaged, could not do it. One too many wrecks, etc.

    Stuck in my old wayz.

  2. Mr.Murder Says:

    Now, this guy wants to get together and do some country music ideas. He has a lot of stuff to work with, good talent and ambition. His production friend also has Pro Tools.


    Somewhere between that and some good bourbon there is an opportunity to get something going. Like there’s such as thing as bad bourbon, anywhoo….

    He has a list of producers he got from from an actor in the movie he did appearances for as an extra. The director kept trynna threaten to fire people if they talked to the star. The star comes up and starts talking to him, they had some kind of vibe going on. The icon gives him some references of friends he knows who do that kind of work. It was a movie about a musician.

    Can’t wait to hear how many of them use the same stuff. It will take something extra to develop your music, more so than ever if everybody has the same stuff. Someone nearby keeps talking up this Gretsch they have around to play on.

    Think my humble second hand stringy thingy that is rarely tuned will not really be in the same dynamic range. Don’t really want it to be, playing beyond one position is kind of left up to a lead instrument, anyways.

    Keep it stupid, simple!

  3. James Craft Says:

    It’s like morphine; When properly used it’s an incredible drug, mainlined in copious quantities on a daily basis and life as we know it is ruined. Had the conversation this week with my Dad and we both agree that the time has come to turn off the computer monitor and grab some knobs. Gotta “Just Say No”! Knob onward young man…….I’m working on it.

  4. JohnHampton Says:

    Just turn knobs til it sounds good … preferably Bakelite knobs!

  5. Michael "nipsy" Louis Says:

    When it sucks, they get found out eventually. Black Eyed Peas on the Superbowl and on & on. All the Pro-Toolers who perform live w/ “flown-In” vocals and then a technical glitch and back to “you suck” land. Taylor Swift or Jonas Brothers singing with real legends, Stevie Nicks or Stevie Wonder and sounding like dog doo (not that I’m a fan of Stevie Nicks, but you get my point). Sam Phillips worked with basically nothing and made it sound fantastic. Same with Cosimo Matassa (he used 1 track, mono). Did they have some good sounding mics, warm, tube gear and GREAT F-IN EARS!!! The players were great, having fun and could play. They still were able to capture the “vibe” when the players weren’t that great, but having a good time or playing with feeling. What happened to playing with feeling? Ever hear the iso tracks for “Gimmie Shelter”? That is feeling!!! Sloppy, but with incredible feel (except for the bass which bass-icly sux). You can feel the lineage from the Delta Blues, Electric Blues, Early R&R, Rockabilly and right thru to what has become “Classic Rock”. All those British Bands wanted to sound like was old Sun, Chess, Atlantic Records. They couldn’t, but it came out sounding like themselves… Nuff Said!!!

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