25-05-11 | Downtime

It happens to us all, we go into our studios to write some music and it’s just not happening. Sometimes you can push through and end up getting back on track, but other times you’re just not feeling it no matter what you do. Or perhaps you’re just stuck in a small creative rut for a few days, but still feel like being at least some what productive when it comes to music making.

I’m a big fan of using times like this to take care of all the boring bits and tasks that go hand in hand with making music these days, especially since most of us are using computers. A lot of these things are common sense, but it’s amazing how long some people put this stuff off. (Sometimes until it’s too late!) Doing them when you’re just not feeling creative is a great way to make sure that when you ARE back in the mood to write music, you don’t need to stop and worry about things that aren’t essential to the process. So these are my suggestions of things to address in your downtime:

– Back Ups. We all know how important it is to back up our data, but it’s something that often gets forgotten about until it’s too late. In addition to having all my data backed up to a second (and third) hard drive, I also have important documents and programs stored online, and burned to DVDr. It’s important to use multiple formats for your back ups, and to not put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak. Doesn’t do you any good to have your data on 4 hard drives in your house, if one night it burns to the ground.

It’s a good time to back up any hardware or software synths too. Sysex backups, or VST and AU presets, things like that. Collect them in one place, and make sure you include them with all your other data backups.

– Clean up. Boo hiss, I know, no one likes to clean house very much, do they? Aside from making things look nicer, keeping a relatively clean studio can also help your gear last longer. Dust can clog faders, get into computers and laptops and cause heating issues, and make audio jacks (like on the back of your soundcard) gunk up faster. A can of compressed air, a vacuum, and a small car detailing brush can get rid of most of it in no time at all. Every couple of years it’s worth opening up your computer or laptop and getting the dust out of there as well, especially around vents and fans. Follow the appropriate safety precautions of course.

Something like Deoxit can be used to clean all the cable connectors or faders in your studio, helping them last longer and work better for years. Finger prints accumulate on everything, an ever so slightly damp cloth can remove those in most cases. I find that micro-fibre cloths work the best for this (and cleaning computer monitors without any chemicals), just be sure to never put them in the clothes dryer, or else they end up leaving lint on everything. Air dry only! You can clean your trackpad and keyboard with those Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. Ok, that’s enough for the Suzy Homemaker tips. :)

– Update. Make sure all your apps and drivers are up to day. Run a fresh virus or adware scan, defrag your hard drive, make sure you have copies of the latest PDF manuals for your gear.

– Uninstall. I like to test out different software demos, or freebie synths and plug-ins now and then, just like a lot of you I’m sure. Sometimes they become valuable tools, other times I never use them again. This is a good chance to go through and remove and uninstall anything you’re not using. Makes browsing the plug-ins and synths you DO use a lot easier, and helps rule out any potential DAW conflicts down the road. This same goes for any non-music making tools you might be using.

– Reinstall. This one will be controversial, but roughly once or twice a year I like to reinstall all the software on my computer from scratch, including the OS. Typically I do it after I’ve had a few days to test a new OS update, something like a service pack or a point revision of OSX. It’s probably a little overkill, but I feel it’s worth it to make sure I’m running a clean and stream-lined system. For me at least, it doesn’t even take that long, maybe 2-3 hours. Most of that time is spent installing Omnisphere’s 6 DVDs worth of content anyway.

To speed up the process, I keep a folder on my computer where I store the latest installers of all my programs, as well as any custom presets, manuals, or preference files I might need. That way, everything is always in one place. Right before I wipe the OS to install again, I’ll first go through all my apps, plug ins, and utilities in this folder to make sure they are all the latest version. That way I’m only installing up to date things when I’m done installing the fresh OS.

I gain back a little hard drive space this way as well, though typically not enough to make the process worth it for just this reason. Also, and it might just be placebo, a fresh system always seems to run snappier to me too. I’ve never measured it, but it definitely feels that way to me. Anyway, I’m sure some people will balk at the idea, but it’s worth considering doing every now and then, even if only once every few years.

– Organize. This might be as simple as putting all your manuals in one place, or as complicated as tagging and naming all your favorite synth patches. Sort and name any samples you’ve been collecting, make sure your records are set up in a way that you can quickly find what you need when you get an idea. Go through any notes you might have scribbled in the heat of a moment and see if you still need them. If you’ve got some unfinished songs you’ve been hanging on to, see if they’re worth saving still, or would it be better to just pull out your favorite bits to use in other songs? Anything that can speed up the process of making music when you’re in the mood, and help you avoid getting bogged down.

Admittedly, none of this stuff is very fun, and some people actually thrive better in the chaos of a random workspace anyway. But with a little bit of time spent getting these things out of the way, you can insure that your music making sessions will be fluid and go much smoother when it really matters. Plus, it sure beats wasting a day outside of the studio or spending your time frustrated that you’re out of ideas!


In other news, I was asked to do a DJ mix for the FriskyRadio.com 5 year anniversary next month. Just recorded it this past weekend, so check back soon for details on when it will air. Expect some grooving downtempo perfect for the upcoming summer, probably one of the best mixes I’ve done in the last couple of years if I do say so myself.

Until then, peace and beats,

Tarekith – tarekith.com