Avid's Pro Tools software is not cheap, something the company seems to have realized with a new, completely free version of its digital audio studio with a more limited feature set. The new version is called Pro Tools First, and when it ships sometime in the next couple of months, it will give musicians a way to use Avid's software without subscribing to any services or having to buy any hardware. It's a different approach from what Avid was doing with Pro Tools Express, a similarly feature-limited version of its software that was bundled with its Mbox hardware.
It's a small sample of features
The free price tag gets you a considerably more limited set of features than you'd get in Express, including a maximum of four track inputs instead of eight, and support for just three projects. It's got the same limit of 16 MIDI tracks that Express has, as opposed to the full version's 512 tracks. You also can't export your projects as an MP3, or to iTunes and Soundcloud (there's a full chart of what you can and can't do here). In that regard, Avid's designed First to let you spend money to add features, though not quite like buying the full version (which starts at $899). Instead, it's more like a freemium app, with Avid's App Store selling bundles and plug-ins, as well as storage for extra projects that get synced to the cloud. It's unclear just how far Avid plans to take that, but it's quite clear that the general idea is to push you towards getting the full version of Pro Tools once you've outgrown this one's limits.
Avid says Pro Tools First will arrive as a free download sometime in the first quarter of this year. The company also announced a $29.99 per month license for the full version of Pro Tools 12, as well as a shared production feature for Pro Tools projects in the cloud.