How to get that “Pro Tools Sound”! by Jon Weil

Pro Tools Screen with Pro Tools Sound Happening
Pro Tools Screen with Pro Tools Sound Happening

Lately I have been giving some thought to what the “sound of Pro Tools” is. I have heard both clients and seasoned engineers refer to this specific tonality that is inherent when using Pro Tools (or any computer-based DAW, apparently). I have heard many descriptions of what Pro Tools “sounds like- “cold”, “harsh”, “clean”, “sparkly”, “worse than tape” and the list goes on like a dictionary…Most of us realize that Pro Tools doesn’t impart anything on it’s own and we blame other factors, such as plug-ins, digital summing and the whole workflow. Well, that is too vague for me!
What I have come up here (to make myself laugh, mostly), are some proven ways to create the “Pro Tools” sound. Based on my own years of experience, the experience (and inexperience) of certain clients/engineers and from rather recent interviews with top pop producer- here is how to get that “Pro Tools sound”…Seriously;)


-Make sure all vocals are recorded through an inexpensive condenser plugged directly the “hi-z” connector, as REALLY nice microphones don’t need preamps. Use at least 2 plugins to raise level up, and ALWAYS render effects early in mixing- that’s how the pros do it, and mastering will fix EVERYTHING later.

-Record all your audio at 16bit, 44khz through consumer-grade converters. For even more “Pro Tools edge”, make sure to record all percussion, samples and bass content at 3dB over digital “0”- this will ensure that the percussion hits hard and stays detailed. Those red lights just mean- “turn it up”! Digital clipping is a desirable effect these days and if someone else recorded the tracks, bust out that bit-reduction plugin- duh!

-Mixing is the process of adding bass, treble, reverb and effects to absolutely everything. Bass and Treble (sometimes pronounced, “Bassandtreble”) make everything sound even better, reverb corrects wrong lyrics and effects are a little button on top of Pro Tools that only good engineers know about (I am not one of them, apparently).

-Use the stock Digidesign EQ and dynamics on every channel because they have the cleanest sound of any plugins made…. ever. Everything else is a rip-off, except….

-If you own any Waves plugins- use them all! Some very heavily used Waves plugs (in the pro world) include the Renaissance series, flangers AND reverbs. Make sure to clip both the input and output of all plug-ins. Once again, red lights just mean it is working correctly, “If it’s red- you’re gettin’ fed!”

-Insert an instance of D-Verb (classic, flagship reverb) on every track and especially the master fader, to create ambience. This is a little known and very powerful trick for getting great reverb. Top Hip-hop guys are doing this!

-Mix completely within the computer! Anytime the audio goes back outside of the computer it gets stale and then will need even more “bassandtreble”, reverb and effects just to work. Rock and roll guys use all that analog gear because it looks good next to a lava lamp. Also, make sure the mix is as loud as possible because Mastering Engineers normally need a helping hand with overall volume levels. All pro mixing engineers insert an instance of Waves L1, L2 and L3 on the whole mix just for this purpose- if the whole mix distorts, just turn it up more; you’re getting close!

-Finally, keep in mind that there are only a few good equipment companies- Waves, Pro Tools, Neumann and Avalon; everything else is junk- you heard it here first!

Obviously this was written with my tongue-in-cheek and kind of aimed at a certain type of client that we in the audio business are starting to deal with very often. Although hip-hoppers make up the biggest percentage of these cases in my studio, it is certainly not limited to any style or grouping of people. I really blame the media, advertisements and loud-mouthed amateurs. However, rather than let it drive me crazy, I have been trying to laugh and re-educate my clients who have “missed the boat” so to speak. They are usually very grateful and move forward with some valuable information that they didn’t possess before- win/win! Anyone else have any good ones? Oh and here are a few more fun “facts”-

-the “telephone effect” was invented by Dr. Dre in the 1990s and isn’t actually an “effect”. It is a different button than “effects” and is activated through telekinesis. If this effect does not appear when you want it, then your engineer is slacking, which leads me to the most vital info yet:

-“Mastering” is a scam invented by evil, greedy engineers to rip-off inexperienced superstars. In fact, “Mixing” and the idea of even “paying for studio time” is part of the same unfair conspiracy. Audio Engineers and Producers are paid (very well) by the government, so make sure to question every cent they ask for- Besides, their job is super-easy.;)

Now, to get slightly more serious I want to say that this “based on a true story”- meaning that a lot of these things I mentioned (in a less-exaggerated sense) seem to come up very often when I am dealing with productions (and producers) that sound very “Pro Tools” according to clients, peers and my instincts. Just saying:

DIGITAL DISTORTION + TOO MANY PLUGINS = “PRO TOOLS” SOUND

my 2cents, -JON

Pro Tools Screen with Pro Tools Sound Happening
Pro Tools Screen with Pro Tools Sound Happening

2 thoughts on “How to get that “Pro Tools Sound”! by Jon Weil”

  1. Jon, I love you, man! You’re a genius! Now, I totally know how to get that Pro Tools sound I have been desiring for years. Maybe I should hit up a local producer and stop paying for my beats…making sure that they are filled with tags that tell me which website they are from, like a real professional. Best of wishes, man.

    -SK

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