I am currently looking for a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), because my music projects are starting to get a little too complex for Audacity.

So I started looking for a good, easy-to-learn, ideally free program, and quickly learned that Avid now has a free version of Pro Tools called First.

So I go to their site and fill out the registration form to get the download. In addition to creating an account with Avid, you also need to create one with iLok, which apparently has something to do with how they manage their licenses. Kinda overkill for a free program, but okay...

I download the program (about 3gigs...), install it and try to start it. It gives me an error message about missing some service. Okay? I'm confused because I notice that an 'Application Manager' service has appeared in my tray, and when I open that I can log into my new account just fine. But it still doesn't work.

There's a link in the error message to the iLok website, and it looks like ai need to dowload and install another component. Why didn't that get installed with the program if it's required?


So I go to the iLok site, download it and install it. Pro Tools First still won't start. I realize that the PTF installer asked me to reboot, which I didn't do because: a) I always have a lot of windows open, and b) How often is a reboot ACTUALLY required? Why would you need to reboot?

So I (begrudgingly) reboot, and now the program seems to start initializing... but then it throws an error message about some plugin that it can't load because it doesn't work for the 64 bit version. Then... why are you even looking for it?
And then it says something like: 'I can't handle that, I'm just gonna shut down'.


I try starting it again. Same error appears, but then it gets past it this time... Only to throw another error message about something else it can't load, and therefore it must shut down.

Deep breath.

Third time is the charm, the program actually made it to the project create/load screen! Huzzah!
So I look around a bit, but don't do much. It doesn't seem too intuitive to me, so I start watching some tutorials on YouTube from Avid themselves. It's a little late by now, so I don't get my hands dirty that day.

Next time I want to try out the program I start it up, still get error messages, but it does seem to initialize okay. But then the 'Create project' button doesn't react when I press it.

It turns out that the program takes a looong time to log in to the avid account, even though the manager service is running and logged in...

When it finally logs on I create a new blank project, but it doesn't ask me where to save it to. I see there is a counter saying 1/3 and looking around I find some info about 'cloud based projects'.

It would seem that this program only supports saving projects to the cloud, and you get only 3 projects total. Three. THREE?


I add an instrument track to my new project and select the one and only plugin, which is a synth. I don't see the plugin window, like in the tutorials I watched. I fiddle around with the windows, but I only manage to get the layout fucked up. There's a handy 'Window' menu, but none of the options resets the view. The main window is now sporting a WINDOWS FUCKING 7 BORDER! And partially blocking the view of the top menu.


Frustrated, I shut the program down and restart it. I now select one of the project templates (after waiting for it to LOG IN AGAIN!) in the hope that I might have a bit more luck with that starting point.

But when the template has loaded, out of nowhere, the program goes from maximized to windowed mode! And the fucking Win7 border is back again, still messing with the main menu!


I get the sucker maximized again and select one of the synth tracks, and Lo and Behold! The synth plugin window actually shows up! But of course there is no sound produced when I play, neither with the keyboard or my midi keyboard.

Oh no, that would have been too easy.

I see some the meters moving when I play, but no sound is produced. I check the options menu, but find out nothing useful except for the fact that the program only support 48kHz sample rate. That's pretty disappointing when you have a 192kHz/24bit soundcard.

I'm done. This piece of shit software is NOT for me. It's bloated, complicated to sign up for and install, extremely limited and buggy as hell!

The final insult is that it takes 5 minutes to uninstall because there is no uninstall option in the so-called 'Application Manager' (of course fucking not!), and doing it through Programs & Features there are 5 (FIVE!!) different apps and services to uninstall, one by one.

0/10, would not recommend.

  • 2
    ProTools is for professional grade recording and mastering. It only really shines in a studio environment hooked up to a ton of equipment. Stay away if you're just starting out.

    If you want to play with synths I highly recommend FL Studio or Ableton Live. If you want an all-round good, extensible, cheap, and hilariously fast DAW, check out REAPER (I use that). It's insanely customizable.

    If you're on Linux and you want FOSS goodness you have Ardour as a REAPER alternative and LMMS as a FL Studio alternative.

    And yes, iLok is one of the biggest pains ever. I used to have a subscription to East West Composer Cloud, it's a breathtakingly awesome library except for the fact that it uses iLok. Had a lot of trouble with the fucking thing so I cancelled my subscription.

    Also, yes, Avid software installation and uninstalls are a pain in the ass.

    Avid Sibelius is nice, though.
  • 1
    @RememberMe Thanks for the advice :-)

    Pro Tools First smells an awful much like a very, very poor and misguided attempt to make a 'My First DAW'. They just don't get that you have to make something simple, yet flexible, if you want to appeal to amateurs.

    I already know FL Studio, and I actually have it installed right now. However, I find it difficult to really try it out because of the weird limitations of the trial version.

    I also know about Reaper, and I will definitely try it out. I had it installed a few years ago but found it hard to get started with. Can you recommend some good tutorials to get me started?

    I am also eyeing Reason, but I don't know if a 30 day trial will be enough to get the hang of it with the limited time a day I have.
  • 1
    @pleuph @RememberMe Oh. I see Reaper has loads of tutorials on their own site :-P
  • 1
    @pleuph yes :)

    Reason is really really nice when I want to experiment with weird synth sounds and stuff. I love its virtual-instruments-first approach, unlike other DAWs which feel very... sterile? Reason is very hands-on. No harm in giving it a go, I suppose.

    Another very interesting thing if you like making crazy sounds is NI Reaktor. It's a sort of audio signal processing thing in which you connect premade signal processing blocks to make your own synths and stuff. Lots of fun.
  • 1
    @RememberMe Okay, sounds cool!
    I do like trying out a lot of weird sounds, but right now I need a faster way to record my instruments and vocals.
  • 2
    @pleuph REAPER, then? Excels at recording.
  • 0
    @RememberMe I will definitely try it :-)
  • 0
    BTW: I have now discovered that neither Avid nor iLok have ANY way to request an account deletion through their website. And iLok doesn't have any way to contact them at all, EXCEPT for an 'Order Inquiry'.


    The Actual.

  • 0
    @pleuph Update: At least Avid support is fast. Per my request, they have now deleted my account :-)
    They have asked me to take a survey on how they can improve themselves. I might just link to this rant 😅
  • 1
    @RememberMe I've worked with reaper in the past, too, and it is very nice. The only thing is that the built-in plugins suck a little bit. If you have a bit of money you can always get a few waves-plugins.
  • 1
    @TobyAsE hmm, I actually thought REAPER's inbuilt plug-ins are really, really good, except the UI sucks. They're straightforward and get the job done.
    Seriously, they can handle any damn thing, especially if you route things around.
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