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TechTalk: Upgrade? Is It Time Yet?

As an engineer, educator, content creator and communicator, I’m constantly wrestling with tech upgrades. But the first question I have to always ask myself is: Will a software/hardware upgrade make me better at what I do?

As an engineer, educator, content creator and communicator, I’m constantly wrestling with tech upgrades. But the first question I have to always ask myself is: Will a software/hardware upgrade make me better at what I do?

On my personal computers, I’ve thought about upgrading to Mavericks OS, but Avid’s support is spotty and my laptop is one of my go-to Pro Tools machines. Additionally, Apple has upgraded Keynote, which I use for presentations to my students. They’ve eliminated Smart Builds, animation on master slides, customization options for the presenter screen, and other tools I use regularly. Many features from past slide shows will not play in the “improved” version. This double-hit makes Mavericks a low priority for me—at least the current version.

After being an iPhone owner since 2007, I recently switched to a Samsung Galaxy S5 and Android. It was scary to leave the Apple comfort zone. I was hesitant because of the way all my Apple kit shares data. It’s so handy to take a picture, write a note or put up a calendar event and have it sync to everything else I own and work with daily. I also wondered if my photos, contacts, and other media I’ve amassed over seven years would port easily to the S5. I am a natural-born worrier.

But I quickly discovered there is life after Apple! Everything easily came across to my new phone from the Cloud by way of SmartSwitch Mobile. Day to day, I can quickly share files, events, contacts and photos via Google Drive and Plus, and the Galaxy sounds, looks and works better as a phone than my iPhone 5. I upgraded the S5’s memory to 128 GB with a $30 SD card, so I can now carry over 3,000 ALAC song files in my pocket for higher-quality playback than streaming. I know! Carrying song files is so yesterday, but Apple Lossless quality blows away anything I can do via streaming, so I’m in.

On my more personal content creation side, I’ve opted for Instagram to push my classroom and session photos to all my personal and business socials. I rarely upload to Facebook anymore, and like the rest of the world am finding the platform less and less popular among students, especially younger users. I’ve been teaching three-day recording camps for high school students and always poll the class on their preferred social networks. Many are only on Facebook because their families are. The newer, faster, more expedient platforms may not have a billion users, but they are hugely popular. Sell your stock.

On the professional side, on summer break last month at The Blackbird Academy, Nick Shasserre and I brought 31 classroom rigs up to Pro Tools 11 with a bevy of new software from Slate Digital, SoundToys and every UAD-2 plug-in available. Although it took some time, the upgrade was relatively simple. Once I got one of the machines humming with everything in 100-percent working order, Nick cloned it to the other machines over the network, which took no more time really than doing the first one. From there, we uploaded all the new plug-ins and iLok licenses to the new computers and it was done.

Pro Tools 11 is a quantum leap both visually and functionally. The 64-bit operation opens up access to loads of RAM, plus the software is a new ground-up build, meaning it’s not dragging along old code with all the problems that brings. The metering options are mind-boggling: Bob Katz’s K-12/14/20, metering on sends in assignment view, four choices for gain reduction metering, plus the main meters can be PPM digital/BBC/Nordic/EBU/DIN, Sample Peak, Pro Tools Classic, and more.

But my favorite Pro Tools 11 feature is offline bouncing, which, granted, is old news for some other DAWs, but it’s new to Pro Tools. Right-click on any output and up comes a pop-up with the bounce option. You can now render plug-ins from an aux send or track output quickly. Once the bounce is done, you can hide and make the source track inactive, regaining your DSP. It’s so close to the “freeze tracks” feature long-offered in DP and Logic that I can only imagine this is coming soon to Pro Tools. I have more than a few friends who are staying on older rigs because of the cost and downtime it takes to do a major upgrade. It’s a shame it isn’t easier and more affordable to upgrade an HD system, because 11 is worth it.

But back to the beginning of this column. Why do I care about all these things outside of audio? Because we are all now more than just engineers. We are our own brands, content creators, promoters, managers, editors, agents, bookkeepers and a hundred other titles. We are all multi-hyphenates. And all of these jobs become more seamless when your computers, phones, pads, networks and other support software all work to their full potential and cross-connect. When to upgrade is an incredibly important decision—creatively, financially and socially—and we all want to open new doors without shutting others. When you do the research and time it carefully, upgrades can make you better at your gig, whatever that gig might be.