Why Avid Have Made Pro Tools First And How The Limitations May Hinder That Plan

01-24-2015 11:44 AM

Avid are hoping a lot of people are going to get a copy of Avid Pro Tools First, it’s long been their desire to find ways to stem the growing tide of new music makers choosing other more powerful and relevant, as well as often cheaper, DAWs to make music with. Secondly Avid need to find ways to get people signed up to Avid accounts and on their cloud services in order to bait and switch them to buy in app purchases or get hooked on Pro Tools and possibly upgrading to a paid version, or even better a subscription.
There’s nothing wrong with either one of these marketing strategies, it’s not some evil corporate conspiracy. Avid need to make money and both in app purchases and bait and switch models are common ways to generate income. If you have any doubt about this then go look at Apple’s revenues and compare their hardware sales to their iTunes and App Store revenue.
It’s a good idea to make a free copy of Pro Tools, in fact I remember having a couple of conversations with Avid team and suggesting this as a way to go to get new music makers into Pro Tools.
However, there seems to be some disconnect with the Avid Everywhere philosophy when it comes to the actual offering of Avid Pro Tools First. Looking at the limitations and the features it feels like the accountants have managed to make the decisions about the feature set in Pro Tools First. This is at the expense of a great user experience and even worse to the detriment of the Avid Everywhere mantra of interoperability and compatibility.
I’m not talking about track count, included plug-ins or some of the core features but some of the things that any modern DAW, and especially an application that’s part of a product family needs to have.
Here are a few things lacking in Pro Tools First that make it far less attractive than the headlines suggest.
Pro Tools Session Incompatibility

Read the FAQs for Pro Tools First and Avid say this:
Q. My friend has sent me a standard Pro Tools session file to work on, can I use Pro Tools | First for working on this session?
A. No. You cannot import or export a Pro Tools session file with associated media with Pro Tools | First. You can import or export audio files
Some educators online were talking about their students having a copy of Pro Tools First to use at home, until this fact was made clear. In other words having a copy of Pro Tools First to use at home to augment the work you do on the full versions of Pro Tools your college has is hindered by this.
Compare this to Apple Garageband and you can open a project created in Garageband in Logic Pro X.
Proprietary Plug-ins Limit Creativity

AAX is the plug-in format that Avid have chosen to work with, however whilst the FAQs talk about Pro Tools First being AAX compatible it seem you can’t use any AAX plug-in. Avid say this:
Only plug-ins purchased through the Avid Marketplace with your Avid Master Account will work with Pro Tools | First. All other plug-ins will remain hidden and unavailable at launch.
So even though there may be a lot of plug-ins you have already and a growing collection of great free AAX plug-ins, unless you purchased an Avid Marketplace version then you can’t use it.
Compare this with Apple Garageband and you can use any Audio Units plug-in, no restrictions, no in app purchases.
Session Limitations

Pro Tools First has both session and storage limitations, Avid say:
Q. Pro Tools | First includes three Cloud Projects, what does this mean?
A. Unlike Pro Tools and Pro Tools | HD software where an unlimited number of sessions can be stored locally on your computer’s hard disk, projects for Pro Tools | First are stored in the cloud on Avid Servers, accessed through your Avid Master Account. Avid provides up to three free projects (songs) with Pro Tools | First.
Compare this to other free DAWs and there’s no need for an account in the cloud, you can store your sessions locally and no session limitation.
Pro Tools First Has No MP3 Export

No MP3 export would have been forgivable in the year 2000 but the lack of MP3 export in 2015 is just plain nuts. Avid suggest you import your bounced WAV file into Apple’s iTunes and convert it to MP3. This is not a technical issue, simply a moment of Avid’s crippleware madness. Do Avid not understand the kind of people who are going to be interested in Pro Tools First? It’s the very people who spend their life listening to MP3 audio files and sharing them with their friends. Furthermore Avid have spent the last two years trying to convince us that Avid Everywhere will include a place to share and sell your content - one of their biggest competitors is Apple and iTunes… not quite joined up thinking going on here.
To be fair, Pro Tools First is not the only FREE DAW to have this limitation, PreSonus Studio One Free also has the same MP3 limitation.
What The Press Are Saying About Pro Tools First

The omissions found in Pro Tools First have not gone unnoticed even by some of the biggest sites out there, the Verge give this analysis.
The free price tag gets you a considerably more limited set of features than you’d get in Express… You also can’t export your projects as an MP3, or to iTunes and Soundcloud. In that regard, Avid’s designed First to let you spend money to add features, though not quite like buying the full version (which starts at $899). Instead, it’s more like a freemium app, with Avid’s App Store selling bundles and plug-ins, as well as storage for extra projects that get synced to the cloud. It’s unclear just how far Avid plans to take that, but it’s quite clear that the general idea is to push you towards getting the full version of Pro Tools once you’ve outgrown this one’s limits.
Gizmodo has this to say.
More likely than not, First is a play at roping in people when they’re just starting out. There are plenty of free options for beginners out there these days, and if Pro Tools doesn’t plant itself in people’s minds early on, it risks losing paying customers later.
Pro Tools First Or Pro Tools Last?

Again I want to restate the idea of getting music makers into Pro Tools with a free version of Pro Tools is a great idea and long overdue, in fact it’s a no-brainer. However in an attempt to get people to sign up to an Avid account and make in-app purchases Avid have crippled Pro Tools First and made it look less attractive than it first appears. It’s long standing issue with much of what Avid do, rather than grow the brand by giving their users an amazing brand experience they try to force people to spend money by crippling their products, often in the most nonsensical way. One can only wonder what happens in the meetings where these decisions get made! But even putting that to one side, the fact that you cannot open Pro Tools First sessions in Pro Tools or Pro Tools session in Pro Tools First prohibits a key reason for having a free version - that users can grow into your product range.
If you own an Mac then you’ll get a hell of a lot more using Garageband, it has none of the limitations found in Pro Tools First and offers far more than you would expect from a FREE application, even more a project created in Garageband opens in the professional version Logic Pro X, now that’s joined up thinking.
It’s a huge shame, don’t get me wrong Avid Pro Tools First is a very useable version of Pro Tools. Many people will try it, but it’s likely that the ill-conceived limitations Avid have chosen will cause the kind of people who this is aimed at to simply move on to something else.
Ironically for these reasons for some it may be the first and the last version of Pro Tools they use.