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The Unique Geek

The Unique Geek
December 3, 2010

Songwriters Block Can Make For a Clean Studio

Let’s say you’ve got 4 good hours of time set aside tonight to work on music. You’ve been daydreaming all day with visions of automated faders dancing in your head. The pizza is ordered and the beer (or bottled water) is cold. You’re all set.

The first thing you do is grab an acoustic while you wait for your computer to wake up. Then, you smell that weird metallic funk on your fingers and realize it’s time to change the strings, but you still don’t bother to. Finally, that blasted computer is up and ready. You launch the software and you see the splash screen for your favorite DAW telling you that soon you will be immersed in a sea of plug-ins, instruments and waveforms.


Sesame Bagel


Fast-forward one hour ahead. Nothing. Nada. The big goose egg. The bagel. You’re getting nowhere. Everything you do with a virtual instrument is uninspiring. Soon, your beats sound like the Fat Boys circa 1985 only you can’t beatbox. This is when it dawns on you (again), “seriously? I have all of this time and I can’t come up with anything?”

Do you remember the funky metallic smell of aging strings? Yup. It’s time. It’s time to launch the most simplistic of DAWs – iTunes. It’s time to do some musical chores. The moment nothing is working for you musically/creatively is the time to switch to utilitarian mode.

First and foremost: it’s time to backup – anything. If you have a synthesizer, outboard effects processor or workstation of some sort it is high time to backup. Anything digital that is an outboard piece (not software) needs a backup too. That’s where a sysex librarian comes in handy.  A sysex librarian is a system exclusive (hence “sysex”) person that knows where the books are kept. No, I mean, a utility that can backup your gear’s presets – unique to each “system.” These are usually free (or shareware) and there are some to be found through something I call “Google.”


Sysex Data Window


If your ten year-old Korg Triton with the 4 patches you still use on almost everything needs a repair one day – you’ll want those patches backed up. Once it goes under the knife it stands to (intentionally or not) revert back to all of its factory settings. Poof – there goes your presets you’ve spent hours developing. You do make some of your own sounds right?

Speaking of patches. What about the ones you make in a virtual instrument that is stored with a session? Are those backed up? One great thing about DAWs today is that they remember all of our plug-in settings for us each time we launch a session. All of this is happening without us bothering to save our settings in each plug-in. But, have you taken the time to store that genius to “user” presets in the plug-in’s library? No, no you didn’t. You didn’t even think of that. It’s no wonder you can’t get any work done. Look at you – you’re a mess.


Setup Hard Drives


Now that you’ve been insulted some, it’s time to discuss hard drives. Of anything you do to “maintain” your studio – this is the most important. I don’t care how much you’ve been warned about this; it’s never enough. If you are recording to an internal drive (and that is all) – don’t. You shouldn’t be recording audio to your internal drive if it is the lone drive in your computer. You may have heard this before too. If not, let me be the first to tell you – record to a secondary drive. A secondary drive could be an internal or external drive. Your computer has all (or most depending on how many drives you are using) of its applications on this main drive and its operating system on there. Your asking one hard drive to be accessing an OS, an application and recording to/fro?!?! Just sit there for a second and think about what you’ve done. Oh the shame, the shame.  Make sure when you record, that your drive is capable of 7200 RPM (the speed of the drive) or better. By using a separate drive to record to and from you’ll be able to “thru put” more information and also you’ll get less errors occurring in your DAW than if you use your main system drive.


RAID 5 Array


Well, glad that’s over. Now that we have you’re working with the new drive you just bought – go back to the store and get another one. Sorry. I should have told you that before. Yeah, you have to have another drive to back up to. But, here’s the trick – you have to make it part of your workflow that every time you shut down one session (or finish up for the day) you copy over the files and folders that you just did to the backup drive. At this point, you think I am being anal retentive and you’d be right. But, if and when my drive dies (and they do you know) I’ll still get my hit single to the market while you strain to remember how to build your song again. [Editor’s note: I’ve heard this guy’s work and you’ll have plenty of time to rewrite your song before he ever makes a “hit.”] Ooh, ooh! You know what’s even cooler? RAID. Yeah, RAID. Record all of your stuff in a RAID (redundant array of independent disks) setup. That is where two or more drives are getting written to at the same time. If you are using Pro Tools, however, you’ll have to go back to Plan A since it doesn’t support RAID. (I’d give you a link for more info on this, but that would be an insult to your newfound Googling skills.)

What else can we give you to do since you are sitting there with all ambition and no creative ability at the moment? How about a to-do list?


Dusty PC


Dust the place. Your computer is sucking in all of this crap. Time to clean the computer itself for that matter.


Cable Mess


Change the strings. If you have guitars, change the strings. Reeds if you are a wind player.  You always kick yourself when you have new strings thinking, “why don’t I do this more often?”

Unhook it all and plug it back in. If you have three hours left of your 4-hour block then it’s time to do the unthinkable. In the process, you’ll be able to tighten up the spaghetti and (for some unknown reason) you’ll have 8 extra cables leftover.  This might be due to generous cable fairies – blessings be upon them.

Sort the cables. Give yourself a drawer for XLR anything, ¼” anything, RCA anything and computer cables their own drawer too.


Register Popup


Clean up the drives. You know you have worthless stuff in the hard drives taking up space. Lose it and get some headroom for storage in there. Oh, and all of those sessions started that have nothing more than a title and two bad midi-based ideas – kill those too.

Code central. Make a central file or database with all of your registration codes and authorizations for your software. One day you’ll buy the upgrade to a piece of software and it’ll ask for your registration code for the original version. That’s when your mind races with all of the places it should be and suddenly is not.

Sort the disks. Take all of your software installer disks and sort these babies out. If your computer dies or you get a new one, you’ll wish the codes and installer disks were all sorted out before you started this nasty chore.

Get into a bad relationship. This always makes for a ton of creative ideas and inspiration. You’re welcome!