Make sure you’re getting the most out of your computer hardware
If you’re experiencing technical problems with your computer music projects, you’ll need to narrow down the potential culprits. It’s easy to leap to the conclusion that one’s CPU isn’t cranking out enough cycles to meet demand, but it could also be a question of insufficient RAM or drive space and performance.
For example, if you rely on lots of streaming samples and audio tracks, your bottleneck could be in the data stream to and from your hard drive. Alternatively, a vast number of complex (or poorly coded) plugins could be putting more demands on your RAM than your system can handle.
Fortunately, there are methods by which to peek under the hood to see exactly what’s going on. Mac users have Activity Monitor built into their OS – this application, found in the Applications/Utilities folder, allows you to see all of the processes currently running and what kind of hit they’re inflicting on your CPU, hard drive and RAM. Similarly, Windows users can call up the Task Manager using Ctrl-Alt-Del.
It’s a good idea to shut off any unnecessary programs that are running in the background – you might be surprised at how many there are. It used to be common practice to shut off antivirus protection when possible or prudent while making music. However, many modern antivirus programs actually have very small system resource footprints. You should, though, make sure any antivirus and malware scans are scheduled to take place when you won’t be engaged in a session.
Another culprit could be all of those fancy video and animation effects that keep popping up in our operating systems. Do you really need translucent widgets, animated docks and all- singing-all-dancing cursor effects to make a record? Try turning them off to see if it helps.
Particularly relevant to producers using older versions of Windows for recording is the ability to set Processor Scheduling to Background Processes – Windows used to consider audio drivers as low priority!
Your DAW needs fast, efficient communication with your drive(s). The faster and healthier your work drive, the more tracks/samples your DAW will be able to handle.
In the past, it was often recommended that one’s project drive be distinct from the system drive. This is not quite as vital today, but it’s still not a bad idea. You’ll obviously want the fastest and largest drive available – do watch out for notebooks with 5200 RPM drives. A 7800 RPM job will fare much better. A solid-state drive would be better still.
How that drive communicates is important, too. Internal SATA and IDE drives shouldn’t have any problem; nor should external USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt drives. It’s good practice to make your fastest option your work drive, and back up to any slower options. For example, solid-state drives are expensive and thus usually smaller, so terrific choices for work drives.
You’ll need to keep your work drive clean and healthy. Perform frequent scans – to ensure the disk isn’t too fragmented or corrupted – and disk repairs to keep everything running smoothly.