Pro Tools was developed by UC Berkeley graduates Evan Brooks, who majored in electrical engineering and computer science, and Peter Gotcher. The first incarnation of Pro Tools was introduced in 1984 under the brand name Sound Designer. At the time, the pair were creating and selling digital drum sound chips under their Digidrums label. Sound Designer was originally designed to edit sounds for the E-mu Emulator sampling keyboard, but it was rapidly ported to many other sampling keyboards, such as the Akai S900 and the Prophet 2000. Thanks to the universal file specification developed by Brooks, Sound Designer files could be transferred to and from one sampling keyboard to another keyboard made by a different manufacturer.
This universal file specification, along with the printed source code to a 68000 assembly language interrupt driven MIDI driver, were distributed through Macintosh MIDI interface manufacturer Assimilation, which manufactured the first MIDI interface for the Mac in 1985. Macintosh Editor/librarian software development pioneers and visionaries, Beaverton Digital Systems, provided a dial-up service called MacMusic starting in 1985 which used 2400-baud modems and 100 MB of disk, and used Red Ryder Host on a 1 MB Macintosh Plus, allowing users of Sound Designer to download and install the entire Emulator II sound library to other less expensive samplers. MacMusic allowed users worldwide to share sample libraries across different manufacturers platforms without copyright infringement. Beaverton Digital Systems President John Connolly already had several conversations with Evan Brooks in 1985, as he was listed as a contact for technical support for the Assimilation MIDI toolkit, and the current Apple operating system in 1985 did not have native MIDI communications drivers. One evening in 1986 at John Connolly's Beaverton, Oregon home, an alert was sent online from MacMusic requesting the system operator, and to Connolly's surprise it was Peter Gotcher, thanking him for providing such a revolutionary service and making Sound Designer a much more attractive program to buy, by leveraging both the universal file format and by developing the first online sample file download site in the world, many years before the World Wide Web use soared. In 1987, Gotcher and Brooks discussed with E-mu Systems the possibility of integrating their renamed 'Sound Tools' software into the Emulator III. E-mu rejected this offer and the pair started Digidesign, with Gotcher as president and Brooks as lead engineer.
Sound Tools debuted on January 20, 1989 at the NAMM Show. At this stage Sound Tools was a simple computer-based stereo audio editor. Although the software had the possibility to do far more, it was limited by the hard drive technology, which was used to stream audio and allow for the non-destructive editing that Sound Tools offered. The first version of Pro Tools was launched in 1991, offering four tracks and selling for $6,000 USD. The core engine technology and much of the user interface was designed by and licensed from a small San Francisco company called OSC, known at the time for creating the first software-based digital multi-track recorder, called DECK, in 1990. That software, manufactured by OSC but distributed by Digidesign, formed the platform upon which Pro Tools version 1 was built. The OSC designers and engineers responsible for that technology, Josh Rosen, Mats Myrberg and John Dalton, split from Digidesign in 1993 in order to focus on releasing lower-cost ($399) multi-track software that would run on computers with no additional hardware. The software was known circa mid-1990s as Session (for stereo-only audio cards) and Session 8 (for multi-channel audio interfaces). Although the original design remained largely the same, Digidesign continued to improve Pro Tools software and hardware, adding a visual MIDI sequencer and more tracks, with the system offering 16-bit, 44.1 kHz audio recording. In 1997, Pro Tools reached 24-bit, 48 tracks. It was at this point that the migration from more conventional analog studio technology to the Pro Tools platform took place within the industry.
Ricky Martin's "Livin' la Vida Loca" (1999) was the first No. 1 single to be recorded, edited, and mixed fully within the Pro Tools environment, by Charles Dye and Desmond Child.