Before the rise of mankind, there was a time when people didn’t use Pro Tools to make records. I know what you’re thinking—that can’t possibly be true! But it is. Not only did ancient people lack social skills and proper hygiene, they also suffered from a lack of recording technology. Along with America’s ambivalence toward flannel, that all changed in the early 1990s. Today, I’ll be sharing with you seven seminal records from the earliest days of digital recording that you (probably) didn’t know were made with Pro Tools. But first, let’s take a trip down memory lane and see how we got here.
In the earliest days of man, the hippest of these noble savages banged sticks together trying to make fat beats, accidentally discovering fire in the process. A millennia later, the cool kids huddled around candlelight, ripping solos on their harpsichords and powdering their wigs, thus anticipating the need for having great hair when pursuing a music career in the future.
All of these ancient people shared a common trait (aside from mostly dying young). They all sat around wondering when someone would invent digital recording—or at least magnetic tape—so they could finally cut a record.
Audio recording first came to pass with the advent of the phonautograph in1860, just 8 years after the Rolling Stones played their first gig in London, England. While it was a great achievement, the first recorded song cannot be mistaken for Mick Jagger.
Magnetic tape came around in the 1930s and stayed on top for about 70 years. Because of tape, we were able to experience the genius of Sinatra, The Beatles, and Miles Davis. On the other hand, magnetic tape has captured the less classic performances as well.
The first version of Pro Tools came out in 1991. It could only record four tracks and cost $6000 (which is actually about ten grand today when adjusted for inflation). It was rudimentary compared to ‘Tools today, but it would soon change recording forever. Let’s take a look at the early days of Pro Tools and check out seven classics from its first decade.
Release date: August 1995
One of the first albums to really put Pro Tools to work in a major way, Garbage (the album) was a critical and commercial success. Drummer Butch Vig had already cemented his place in rock history having produced Nirvana’s Nevermind and 38 other classic records released that year (I’m pretty sure that number is right). But achieving this level of success as a dude in a band made him an even greater treasure to popular music.
Release date: June 1996
To record this breakthrough album, Beck teamed up with The Dust Brothers (the production duo behind the Beastie Boys classic Paul’s Boutique). Their use of Pro Tools actually slowed down the production process, giving Beck time to do more crate digging, discovering some of the samples used on the record. Don’t worry, though. It’s plenty fast now.
Tupac (recording as Makaveli)
The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory
Release date: November 1996
Released posthumously, Tupac’s masterpiece featured some of the last songs he ever recorded. I spoke with chief engineer and mixer Tommy D about the sessions and he revealed it was the first time he ever used, or had even seen, Pro Tools.
“We used the Pro Tools rig on the Makaveli album to do all the interludes. One of the runners brought in his rig and when I saw it was on a computer I said, “What’s Pro Tools? Are you sure it’s not going to blow up, because if it does Tupac is gonna go nuts!” I’ll never forget when Tupac opened the door and said, “what are you guys doing?” I think it was the first time he’d ever seen music in a computer.”
Unfortunately, it was to be the last time as well—he was tragically killed only a month later, leaving behind one of the greatest legacies in the history of hip hop.
Release date: April 1998
There is no better example of trip-hop than this instant classic from the Bristol band. Not only is it an early example of digital recording, it was also one of the first albums to be released in MP3 format, making it a groundbreaker in more ways than one.
Livin’ La Vida Loca (from his self-titled album)
Release date: March 1999
While it’s not “Stairway To Heaven,” this track is a classic in its own right and is almost certain to be played—and danced to—at almost every wedding for the next 100 years. Produced by Desmond Child, it is the first #1 single ever to be recorded and mixed entirely in Pro Tools.
Release date: October 2000
It was shocking when this album was first released—its revolutionary sound was almost as unexpected as its massive worldwide success. Time magazine called it “the weirdest album to ever sell a million copies.” I call it the most groundbreaking record of that decade.
These records didn’t just exemplify their genres—they redefined them. Whether it’s the photoautograph, magnetic tape, or digital recording, we know that the medium isn’t responsible for a musician’s creativity. But any musician knows that having tools that open up new possibilities for creativity is absolutely inspiring. These records are the earliest proof of how technology helped drive inspiration in the dawn of digital recording.