As technology continues to improve, evolve, and take over your studio and home, more situations will require new expertise and troubleshooting skills. DAWs and plugins are becoming more resource intensive, and the “internet of things” will start clogging the pipes of your streamlined setup. In the past I’ve overlooked a lot of simple things that can make a huge difference to overall speed and workflow. It’s become extremely important to be self-sufficient and know how to optimize your setup. Lets take an extensive look at some ways to make your studio faster, more reliable, longer lasting, and prepared for potential problems and technology changes in the future.
**Note that these are largely Mac based tips – feel free to tweet me or comment and send your PC suggestions**
Improve Computer Speed and Stability
– Properly uninstall any apps and plugins you don’t need. Simply dragging an app to the Trash isn’t a good method. Manually uninstall, use the provided uninstaller, or try programs like AppZapper which will remove all the components. Also in System Prefs – right click in the preference pane and remove any 3rd party apps you don’t want.
– Do a clean OS install, making sure not to accidentally upgrade your OS. This is a bitch for plugin authorizations and installing software again, but can sometimes fix issues, as a good system scrub every few years is a good idea.
– Reset your system preferences: This can help if you are running into performance issues, but make sure to carefully document and screenshot your preferences before you do it! I put my preferences into a bulleted list in Evernote w/ screenshots attached.
– Set automated backups and system cloning for non-work hours, to free up resources during active hours (i.e. set Time Machine or Carbon Copy cloner to 4am). Let your computer work when you’re asleep. You can use apps like TimeMachine Editor to override the auto backup and schedule them properly
– Remove any login items you don’t use (in system prefs)
– Pause or quit cloud backups in the background while you’re working – these use a surprising amount of CPU power. The re-instate them when you’re done with a project.
– Disable Dashboard. Open terminal – type “defaults write com.apple.dashboard mcx-disabled – boolean YES” then “killall Dock”
– Turn off all notifications in system prefs
– Archive any items that don’t have to be on your system drive – try using Dropbox’s selective sync feature. I create a second “Archive” folder within a Dropbox sub directory. i.e. Desktop->Dropbox->Music->Archive. Chances are you’ve got lots of stuff clogging up your limited size system SSD drive that can be stored in the cloud.
– Stick to one Cloud app – I no longer recommend Crashplan because it’s a buggy CPU pig. Try Dropbox or Box. They are both resource intensive, but more stable.
– Uninstall flash. It’s bloated and vulnerable to security issues.
– Never use programs like MacKeeper or CleanMyMac. These destroy proprietary audio plugins and wreak havoc on your computer. Optimizing your computer needs to be done carefully by hand, and not with a “magic” all-in-one app.
– Run EtreCheck and see what programs and hardware might be causing issues.
– Check Activity Monitor to see what background processes are slowing things down and research them before making any changes. If you really want to micro manage the network traffic, check out Lil Snitch
– Keep at least 20% of your drive space free, regardless of using SSDs or HDDs
– Allocate your cores and don’t crowd the bus! Every DAW works differently, but DAWS like Ableton Live assign one core per track, bus, or aux return. Divide up your tracks into various busses so they spread the load evenly among the cores. Think of your busses as transporting data, just like mass transit carries people through a city – each bus has a limited capacity.
– Make sure to collect samples and consolidate your sessions to avoid hard disk clipping/overloads (thanks to Maarten Vorwerk for this tip!)
– Clean up your desktop. Put everything in a secondary folder. This will improve startup times.
– Turn off “app nap” features on applications by selecting “get info – and checking “prevent app nap”
– Turn off energy saving features – for stability. These often interfere with DAWs
– Drag any external desks into the privacy section of Spotlight so they are excluded from search. Super important especially if you have system clones on external drives. Uncheck any categories you don’t normally search in Spotlight.
– Don’t upgrade your OS unless it’s absolutely essential. Keep OS X auto install updates turned OFF. The benefits are usually marginal and consumer focused. Try to stay at least 2 major upgrade cycles *behind*. If you’re a Windows user, consider Windows Pro to avoid forced updates. DO upgrade your firmware, when needed.
– Keep all your Rekordbox music in one directory – don’t accidentally drag in files from your download directory. You’d be surprised how much this happens.
– Format your USBs & SDs for CDJs in Disk Utility w/ MS-DOS (FAT32), 1 partition, master boot record – instead of just erasing it. Some drives need to be formatted twice to work properly.
– Freeze tracks to free up CPU w/ resource heavy instruments and other plugins. You can always save an alternate version of your session w/ non-frozen or flattened versions.
– Flatten your stems and separate your mixing/mastering into a separate session. This is helpful for backups and reducing the processing load.
– Max out your RAM – best for improvements with running multiple apps at once
– Use SSDs for your system drive and virtual instrument libraries. Consider adding a secondary SSD drive to your desktop computer – dedicated to instruments, if your system drive is getting full.
– Offload the DSP duties to external devices like UAD cards and Ethernet based Waves DigiGrid servers One advantage of the DigiGrid system is you don’t need to bring your hardware with you to run the plugins on the road.
– Overclock the CPU – available only on PCs and Hackintosh setups. Be careful with this as you’ll need to manage system cooling appropriately.
Improve Internet, Network, and Device speed:
Ethernet, WiFi, and ISPs:
– Find the bottlenecks: Trace the routes of all your connections and find any weak links. Look for old or damaged cabling and underpowered hubs that can be replaced (ex: swap USB 2.0 w/ USB 3.0). Make sure you aren’t overloading any hubs, and pay attention to Thunderbolt busses. There are 6 Thunderbolt ports, but only three busses, so you need to spread high-drain devices across the busses to avoid over-saturating them. The order of the ports matters for power and bandwidth distribution (see diagram and bus #s below). Also think about upgrading that old cable modem, wireless router, and switch. I love products made by Ubiquiti – enterprise grade, reasonably priced, and rock solid.
– Don’t believe benchmark tests and manufacturer claims (or even benchmark software) about processing, transfer speed, and battery life. These rarely equate to real life situations. Run your own tests for your own real world situations, like transferring your music library, photo library, bouncing a song, system startup, and download/upload times.
For example, I wanted to test how fast my Rekordbox library would transfer to a handful of different drives. Here are the results, compared to the stated manufacturer claims. As you can see, the results vary wildly:
** drives were formatted clean and timed manually **
Speed results transferring a 6.3 GB library in Rekordbox w/ playlists:
- 1. SanDisk Extreme USB PRO 128 GB – 260 read / 240 write (actual: 68 MB/s) – 1.5 min to transfer! ($60)
- 2. SanDisk Extreme USB 64GB – 245 read / 190 write (actual: 55 MB/s) ($25)
- 3. SanDisk Extreme Pro SD card – 32GB 95 MB/s write 90 read class 10 – (actual 23.3 MB/s) ($22)
- 4.Kingston HyperX Data Traveller 64 GB USB 3.0 (current) 225 / 135 (actual: 19 MB/s) ($120 at time of purchase)
- 5. Corsair Survivor Stealth USB 64GB – 179 read / 89 write (actual: 18 MB/s) ($28)
- 6. Kingston HyperX Savage USB 128 GB – 350 MB/s read 250 MB/s write (actual 8MB/s – ($68)
– Don’t overlook the power of Ethernet cables! They are dirt cheap, reliable, extremely fast, great for long lengths, and non-proprietary. Compare the cost of Ethernet ($5 for 25’ to Thunderbolt ($40 for 3 feet). Ethernet doesn’t suddenly become obsolete like Firewire did – it evolves every few years and is backwards compatible without requiring dongles (except for connect to MacBooks).
– Replace any existing Cat5 cables, keep your Cat 5e’s, and make sure any new cables you buy are Cat6
– Wire up all devices in your studio that can use Ethernet rather than WiFi and save some bandwidth on your network. Bonus points for color-coding your cables. You can also use Powerline Ethernet and WiFi adapters to send wired and wireless internet throughout your home/studio. These work really well, but need to be on the same electrical circuit.
– Make use of old machines as backup servers by building your home LAN and using them to stage files for bulky cloud uploads.
– Designate devices to appropriate WiFi bands. Keep 2.4 GHz for long range and less demanding items, and 5 GHz for the more data intensive devices (phones, laptops) but they must be within close range to get maximum speed. This can have a dramatic effect on your speed – 6x faster when I switched my iPhone to the 5 GHz band.
Prolong Device and Studio Life:
– Extend laptop battery life by fully draining your battery for each charge cycle and avoid leaving the computer constantly plugged in. Close your laptop, put it into sleep mode, and unplug it from power instead.
– In most cases, leave your analog gear on, rather than switching it off every day. Turn it off for long vacations or when you’re gone for more than a few weeks. A higher power bill will be cheaper than repair bills for broken gear caused by excessive power cycling. This especially applies to outboard gear and speakers. This is a case-by case issue, so don’t use it as a blanket rule for all gear. Unfortunately, it’s always a trade-off and there’s no perfect solution.
– Use LED lights, rather than standard incandescent, halogens, or CFLs.. They use significantly less power and generate far less heat, which is important for studios – and typically last 20 years. This saves a lot of time swapping out broken bulbs.
– Keep it cool – make sure your rack gear is well ventilated and air conditioned. I use a mini split in my studio, and keep all the loud, heat generating gear in a separate machine room.
– Turn off Bluetooth and Wifi to preserve battery life.
– Connect your desktop computers and external drives to an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) to keep devices powered during spikes, sags, and outages, and use a power conditioner or regenerator to clean up dirty power and regulate voltage.
Preparing For The Future:
After making music for over 15 years, I’ve seen so many formats come and go in the studio: Zip drives (SCSI), ADAT, DAT, Minidisc, CD, DVD. It can be frustrating to rely on a narrow format (see Firewire or most Apple products), but it’s getting better with the advent of USB C / USB 3.1 gen2 / Thunderbolt 3 (40 Gbps!) ports. This will bring a more universal connection across all platforms, but the trade-off is bulky dongles and docking stations. Just remember – all storage media fails eventually, and plugins change, break, or go out of business. Take time to copy and consolidate all your sessions and backups so they are easily searchable. Good session organization and bouncing stems will save a thousand headaches.
Special thanks to everyone at Spectrasonics, Ableton, and Avid for the extra tech insight for this post.
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