Worst Case Scenario – How to Save a Thousand Headaches

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We’ve all been there – the computer that won’t boot up, the drink spilled on a laptop, the CDJ that won’t read your USBs. There is a lot that can go wrong on stage and in the studio. You can’t predict when it’ll happen, but you can be prepared.

Problems often manifest themselves when several factors combine – a humid, smoky nightclub, an older non-SSD hard drive, and a poorly maintained computer woken from sleep mode is asking for trouble. These factors individually might be fine, but together they are more likely to cause problems. Many issues are difficult to recreate later with tech support because it’s often a unique combination of third party software and hardware causing the problem.

In eight years of DJ’ing professionally around the world and nearly 700 shows, I’ve had three experiences go horribly wrong. I’ve had a mixer short circuit at a club when the A/C broke and flooded the DJ booth, a hard drive overload in the Sahara tent at Coachella, and a laptop crash at Dodger stadium. It’s always the big important gigs. For me, more problems and crashes tend to happen in the studio – so keeping your computers well maintained and protected is crucial. Many times a crisis can turn into a major opportunity to improve your setup.

Studio Prep: 

Create a system clone, and schedule it nightly. This will create a bootable clone. Test it to make sure it boots properly.

Create two physical hard drive backups. One is the primary backup, and one is the backup backup. Schedule backup nightly using a program like Carbon Copy Cloner or Time Machine. Backup your cloud directory to a physical drive as well. Remember: all drives eventually fail.

Create one or preferably two cloud backups: I use Dropbox, Crashplan, and Box. These are especially important for scenarios like: fire/flood/natural disaster/theft/breakage where local physical backups won’t help you.

– Don’t update your Studio computer OS unless it’s absolutely crucial, and it’s been on the market for at least 6 months to 1 year. The trade-offs are rarely worth it, and are usually consumer focused. Software will break and performance can slow down.

Back up everything and do a  clean installation of the OS, and apps one at a time (NOT restoring from Time Machine or other automated backups – as the problem *will* travel). Do this anytime you run into major software problems or big OS updates. This will often fix 90% of your software problems, but first try to reduce your background and login tasks, remove unused programs, turn off browser extensions,  clear your caches, and repair disk permissions. It’s amazing how many problems this solves.

– Before doing a clean install, save yourself lots of time and note and screenshot all your preferences, shortcuts, app lists, serial #s, authorization codes, sites, and logins for all your plugins and software. Keep a dedicated folder for all the installers. Make sure you don’t clean install to the latest OS! Just the last OS you used.

– Never use CleanMyMac or similar programs – they create more problems than they solve and actually slow down your computer.

Install power conditioners and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) to protect equipment from power loss, spikes, and allow you to safely power down computers and drives.

Bounce all tracks to stems for easy future-proof recovery. It’s surprising how many sessions won’t open years later. Plugins break, companies go out of business, shit happens.

Stage Prep:

Don’t update your performance laptop OS unless it’s crucial and has been thoroughly tested. Keep your laptop focused on only the essential apps for your performance.

Use only reliable SSD drives for your performance laptop

Keep a backup USB of your music / Rekordbox library / latest firmware, and important software installers and drivers. Bring a short ethernet cable for easy updates from the computer to hardware. Make sure your performance USB sticks are properly formatted. Backup your Rekordbox library to the cloud. Serato DJs should store their timecode onto the USB as well.

Keep firmware updated: Make sure all CDJ & mixer firmware is updated to the latest versions at soundcheck.

Bring a secondary laptop with a  cloud folder loaded with music, installers, drivers, and software ready to go.

Flooded hardware: If someone spills a drink on your computer, immediately disconnect from power and peripherals, open casing, shake out excess liquid, gently towel off computer, and reassemble (let it dry overnight). Do not attempt to plug it back into power. Play from your backup computer or USBs. .

Don’t bring gear that is rare, hard to rent, or hard to replace. It’s simply not worth it. Leave it in the studio.

Lock it – Consider using Kensington locks and cables if you’re worried about theft. I’ve heard about USB keys and laptops getting stolen all the time in DJ booths. Loop your bag into the lock as well – as they seem to disappear as well. Also: Scan your passport into Evernote in case it’s ever stolen. It won’t replace it, but will speed up the process at the embassy.

Got ideas, questions, or feedback you’d like to send?
Email me: mpquicktips+blog@gmail.com

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