Change Is Good. Or Is It?

In his Continuing Adventures In Software, Rich Tozzoli finds himself billowing in the winds of change.
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In his Continuing AdventuresIn Software, Rich Tozzoli finds himself billowing in the winds of change.

One of the things we audio professionals find ourselves doing every few years is a complete upgrade of our computer and DAW systems. Personally, it’s something I dread and try to procrastinate on it until the bitter end. However, I had a recent experience that opened my eyes to the fact that change brings, well, changes.

If you’re like me, you run several computer setups. In my studio, I have a Mac Book Pro laptop rig for mobile composition, an Intel Mac Pro that runs all my Native programs (Reason, Pro Tools 9, Peak, Logic, Live, etc.) and an older Mac G5 that ran Pro Tools HD. A G5? Are you kidding me? That’s Stone Age. Yes, it is, but it was solid as a rock, never crashed, and the HD rig was handling my most important sessions. It did my daily heavy lifting, including mixing (stereo and 5.1), composition, scoreto- picture and sound design.

However, that computer had its limitations, and as time went on, I was unable to run much of the latest generation of software on it. To make up for that, I would run the latest programs on my Native Intel machine. But that meant transferring projects back and forth, and we all know how much that sucks. Plus, the G5 was PCI-based, so the new PCI-e cards for Pro Tools wouldn’t run on it, unless I used an expansion chassis.

So finally, I bit the bullet and purchased a new Mac Pro with a ton of RAM and a few Avid PCIe cards for my Pro Tools 9 HD system. But in the time it took me to update all my plug-ins, I was forced to get a few sessions done, and that’s where the real learning took place. Instead of turning to my trusted plug-ins, I had to use a very basic set, including ones I would never use if I had my “usuals.”

After first getting mad, I decided to just dig in. I called up a few plug-ins and really started to learn them. Running through just about every knob and parameter, I suddenly found myself liking what I heard. Hmm, these things aren’t so bad, are they? The realization hit me that I was almost “too comfortable” turning to my old standbys. I knew them well, they always delivered what I wanted, but maybe that was the problem. They didn’t allow me to really expand my palette. Here these tools were, in front of me the whole time, and I just skipped over them.

Since some of the work was composition- based, I used an old synth plug-in that I never thought I liked, simply because I never took the time to learn what it could do. Sure, it had its limitations, but with some careful and thoughtful tweaking, I came up with cool sounds that were blatantly different than my usual fare. I sat back, took a listen, and pretty much cursed at myself for being so closedminded. The same thing happened with a few quirky processing and dynamic effect plug-ins that I’ve literally never used. I found some presets, started tweaking them, and got great results. Welcome to my “family!”

The interesting thing is that several days later, after I had all my old standbys back in the rig, I called up those sessions. And I still liked what I heard. I replaced a few plug-ins with my favorites and literally didn’t like the sound as much! It truly was a form of “revelation.”

Having said that though, there were a few plug-ins that I replaced with the favorites, and liked the sound much better. That reinforced the notion that not only did I know these plug-ins inside and out—allowing me to work quickly—but they truly sounded great. Some pieces of software (especially reverbs) simply have better code than others, and their quality is undeniable (as is often their higher price).

The dreaded change is over. My rig is up and running, and knock on wood, hasn’t crashed yet. It was actually a cathartic experience, and it allowed me to clean house, start with a fresh slate and build a system from the ground up with all-new software. But in the process, I had to dig deeper into the tools that I already had. So your next session, try to skip the old standbys and go for something new (or old). Maybe you’ll discover a sound you’ve never had before. What did I learn from all of this? Change is good, when you approach it in the right way.