The use of digital audio workstation software (DAWS) such as Pro Tools has been becoming more and more popular over the last few years. New alternative music education classrooms are embracing the ease with which it can foster the creativity of our students in new ways. The big problem for most schools wanting to incorporate a DAW product into their curriculum or classroom activities has been cost. Now Avid has done away with that limitation by releasing a free version of Pro Tools, known as Pro Tools First.
Avid seems to have a thing for naming entry level products with the First monicker. Similar to the way it rebranded Sibelius as Sibelius First, Pro Tools First is a somewhat stripped down version of Pro Tools but for most middle or secondary school based classes it still seems to pack more than enough features to be useful. While a head to head comparison of the features of the various Pro Tools versions is available on Avid's website here are a few of the more important things to consider about this free version of the software.
Pro Tools First Feature Comparison
First, while Pro Tools First supports up to 16 audio tracks you can only have up to 4 physical inputs into the system at one time. This should be fine for small group work or an individual working on a solo project, but if you are wanting to do a multitrack recording of your whole band this might be an issue. You might think that Pro Tools Express (which comes free with certain Mbox hardware mixers) might be worth the investment but when you look closely you will see that First actually has better specs in some areas that may or may not be important in certain educational situations. For example, First's features are equal to or above that of the previous entry level Express version in most of the audio track categories plus it offers support for the now almost ubiquitous cloud based storage of your products. This alone is a big deal for many schools who have moved away from local hard drive storage and instead have their student store their projects online via Google Drive or other cloud based mechanisms. It also opens up the opportunity for students to download the Pro Tools First software at home and continue working on their projects even after school ends for the day.
For most things you really can't beat free, and with this new Pro Tools First release that assumption holds water. I have previously recommended free digital audio workstation products like LMMS and some of them even made it into my High Tech/Low Budget countdown, but all of the other DAW packages are probably going to have to take a back seat to Pro Tools now that this free option is available for all to make use of. Give it a try and start creating your own masterpiece, download Pro Tools First here via the Avid website.