full life

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To further elaborate on this post: I did it. On Saturday I bought ProTools LE with the Mbox2, an Axiom61 Midi Controller keyboard, and a kick-ass pair of headphones (since I don't have any good monitor speakers); on Sunday I bought a USB hub and some MIDI cables. Total cost: ~$1200, which is still less than half of what my digital 16-track cost me 3 years ago. (Speaking of which, I should probably put that on Craigslist.)

So, yeah. I'm with the times, now. However, as I anticipated, I'm still totally at sea when it comes to how to actually use this stuff. And while a phone call with my stepbrother helped me actually make sound with my keyboard, it's also become painfully clear that I don't have enough sounds to really make any good use out of it. And, of course, the software is fucking expensive. In a way, I kinda wish I had bought a real, fully-fleshed out keyboard; of course, I still might, anyway...
Awesome. Glad to hear you got it all. Let me know if you have any specific ProTools questions/issues. It's not all that hard. Editing can take some getting used to, and you have to be careful about minding your playback buffer when tracking. Otherwise, it's pretty simple. I could send you a zip of a test session to show you how I tend to route things for ease of use.

As for ProTools plugins, I HIGHLY recommend the UAudio UAD-1 card and plugin suite. You have to convert them from VST to RTAS (they provide the converter), but they are easily the most accurate emulations of the real gear. Plus, the card handels all the plugin processing freeing up your computer for more tracks.

As for VST instruments, the M-Tron is awesome and pretty affordable. Countless great samples with that. I also really like Halion and Kontakt which utilize the AKIA sample libraries (as well as other libraries or custom samples). There are also several free synths that you can customize that are pretty cool (Absynth is my fav of those). You'd also dig AudioMulch I bet.