Thursday, May 27, 2010

Does using ProTools make you a pro?

There's quite a bit of controversy over a cracked version of ProTools HD and M-Powered for the Mac floating around the Internet (see for some of the discussion). This cracked version allows ProTools software to be used on a Mac without the ProTools hardware that it has been tied to for decades. (Some even refer to the hardware as a rather heavy copy-protection dongle.)

Russ Hughes over at the Air Users Blog wrote a couple of days ago: "The only downside for every one of us, is there's now a thousand kids out there with a cracked version of Pro Tools, heaven knows the shit they're going to make with it!"

I have run into people over the years who tell me they have ProTools on their computer (or Reason, Logic, Cubase or any one of a number of audio applications) and that they are now a producer, sound designer, engineer or something of the sort. As an instructor in post-production at the Toronto Film School, I used to hear this sort of thing all the time.

It should be patently obvious, however, that having software like ProTools on your computer doesn't automatically confer audio credentials any more than having Microsoft Word on your computer makes you a speech writer.

Credentials come from clients. They are the ones who recognize ability when they see it and are willing to pay for something that has value to them. Clients are what separate hobbyists and enthusiasts from professionals, and until you have at least one, you're not in business.

In a similar way, the fact that a dealer stocks a particular product doesn't allow him to say truthfully that he sells it—you actually have to make sales and collect money in order to say truthfully that you sell it. As Griff McRee used to tell us at Synclavier, "The sale isn't complete until I've spent the money."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Studio Fatigue

Fatigue can creep up on you in unexpected ways. I had been in the edit room for over 24 hours, cutting sound for a TV show and a feature, both on a tight deadline. The scene I was working on was a 3-second establishing shot, and included streetcars passing each other. I was trying to sync the Doppler pitch shift of the sound effect (streetcar passing at 40 km/h) with the moving image on the screen, but couldn't get it right—when it's right, a kind of lock happens in the mind and the action comes together almost magically as a single event, and not as separate visual and aural cues. No matter how I tried, the sound was always out of sync with the picture, so I decided a break was in order, and took a walk up to Queen and John to get a chocolate bar and a coffee.

As I was standing on the corner waiting for the light to change, a streetcar passed by. And it was out of sync. I was shocked. The sound and image did not coalesce as one to me. I realized that the problem in the edit room was me, that no matter how long I tried to fit the sound to picture, I wouldn't be able to get it right that night. I was just too fatigued from too many long days hunched over  a monitor. And I realized that if I did get it to look "right" that night, I'd probably have to redo it all in the morning anyway.

After a good night's sleep, I went in the next morning, put up the scene, and had it looking and sounding right in less than 5 minutes. Sometimes the most efficient way to get things done right is to stop trying, take a break, and come back at it later—especially when you've been at it longer than usual.