Q It Up: What happens when your home studio computer crashes? - Part 1

q-it-up-logo2Q It Up: If you’re employed, hopefully your company has someone who can come to your rescue when your studio computer has problems, but what happens when your home studio computer crashes? How much do you know about computer repair? Does someone else do the repair, such as Dell Support or a local computer repair shop, or do you troubleshoot and fix the problem yourself? What steps have you taken to ensure that a crash or failure on your home computer results in minimal disruption of your routine? If you’ve suffered severe data loss in the past due to any kind of computer crisis, what did you learn and what practices did you put into place to prevent such loss in the future? Feel free to add any other thoughts you might have on the subject!

Jim Roberts [Roberts[at]WSBT.COM], WSBT Radio Group, South Bend, Indiana: If you work in this business, and you are not computer savvy, you’re putting yourself at a massive disadvantage. Now is not the time to rely on anyone else for anything, and that includes you home studio IT needs.

My solution is pretty simple, back up everything. Keep all of your audio, software and recovery discs on an external hard drive. When I had a PC failure earlier this year due to a really nasty Trojan, I was able to run my PC recovery program and reinstall my editing software without a problem. The whole process took about an hour. Add to the fact that external hard drives are less than $100 and there is really no excuse for not being prepared.

Roy Hall [info[at]royhall.com]:  I have a main production PC (Windows XP) not connected to the net, with all my software working perfectly. So I went and cloned that drive to another so if that one fails, its plug and play replacement pretty much. I save all my fx, beds and sessions on a USB drive, so it’s only the software on my C: drive. My USB drive is backed up with Always Sync to two other USB drives, Yes, maybe its overkill, but it’s taken me years and a lot of money to build up the collection I have. I have my old production machine as backup and internet as well as another with Windows Media Centre for recording shows and movies.

Jason Ryll [frontrowvoiceovers[at]shaw.ca], Front Row Voiceovers, Williams Lake, BC, Canada: Long time reader, first time contributor here. First I have to say that I look forward to receiving my Radio & Production in the mail (like so many others do it seems) and find it to be an invaluable resource for us voice-guys/producers out there. Having a background working for smaller to medium market stations, it’s nice to find a place that provides some of the much needed career feedback, even though I’ve been in the business nearly 2 decades, and especially in an industry that is regularly losing its veterans and all that knowledge and experience. It’s unfortunate, and do I hope for a resurgence in real radio? Absolutely, but I’ll share my Mom’s advice at this point in “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

It’s ironic and funny that this should be your question this month as not 2 weeks ago did this exact problem happen to me. Working in my home studio I noticed a slow-down in my studio PC’s performance. Now, I know just enough to be dangerous with a computer and ran through my own quick fault list. Ran my Antivirus and Spyware programs. Did a quick diagnostic of my hard drives (I run a RAID system just to try to prevent complete data loss and it comes with some software). Everything looked okay to my untrained eyes, so up next was a call to my tech in another city 3 hours away. No help from him as he’s already up to his eyeballs handling multiple stations in his market, and I was left with the decision to repair my old system or buy a new one.

Not wanting to lose valuable information I decided to take it to my local computer repair shop that has done small project work for me before. Yep, my PC motherboard was on its last legs. Long story short, after a full week down (which felt like forever) I now have a new system with my old hard drives (can’t lose that data!), previous sound card and new everything else. And a $1000 invoice to go with it.

What did I learn? That you can never back up your main system enough, and it’s time for a backup recording system. This one I think will be portable and simple. And easy to backup.

Ryan Drean [ryandrean[at]gmail.com], www.ryanontheradio.com: This is something I have tried to urge people to learn. It is a pretty helpless feeling to be technologically shut down. If you do what you can to learn how computers work, the less helpless you will feel. More importantly, financially it is a huge thing to know. 1) You won’t lose gigs or delay your clients thus costing you $ for jobs. 2) You won’t need to pay some $40 to hundreds of bucks an hour just to fix something extremely simple. 3) Time=Money... the time without your machine, the time en-route to repair stores, the time repairing the drywall you punched a hole in, etc., etc..

That said I think there are a few easy things you can do, no matter what happens to your computer. You can always instantly go to Google and start searching anything related to your issue. Chances are people have had the same problem before (you aren’t that damn special to have something SO unique happen to you ;) The thing I love most is how a lot of smart computer people love to show the world just how smart they are. They do it for free in public forums. You ask any stupid question and there is someone that can work you through the issue. You may have to deal with their arrogance and faux-impatience of your ignorance but who cares, ITS A FREE FIX. This is good for any issue. One major tip for Pro Tools users would be to utilize digidesign.com. The forum is huge and the digi folks are there to help as well as other audio nerds like us. Another thing I would say that some may not realize. Computers aren’t that delicate. Don’t be afraid to open the box and look around. If you need new RAM YOU can install that, same with hard drives, vid cards, firewire cards, etc. Some problems (one I had recently) are as simple as reseating the RAM sticks or vid cards.

Just a quick example of this forum process in action: I am NOT a Mac person, at all. I love PC’s and Windows. I don’t care what you think of me for this fact but it works for me. However I was given an older Mac Powerbook that I wanted to try and use as a Pro Tools road machine for VO and simple prod work. Problem is the person who gave it to me did not know their password, thus I wasn’t able to install programs. It took me a total of 6 minutes to search the web for an admin hack and apply it, restoring the machine to its like-new state. Again I knew nothing about Macs and it was a VERY easy fix that I got for free. I hope I told someone something that helps!

Jeff Laurence [jefflaure[at]gmail.com], Autumn Hill Studios, Smokey Mountains, North Carolina:  We have THREE identical computer systems in one studio and TWO in our Atlanta Area studio. Each is exactly the same in configuration, audio software, and RAM, etc. We also network each one with GoToMyPC, so wherever we happen to be (even on the road with a laptop) we can access ANYcomputer’s stored data. I make sure all archived audio remains on dedicated hard drives, and we replace them every year. So when a project is done in 2009, it will have a filename that includes the “09” and it then gets stored on an external HD that gets closed and stored in a climate controlled area.

Jeff Berlin [jberlin[at]jberlin.com], www.jeffberlin.com: Out of necessity I seem to have learned a lot about running computers. At Kiss 108 we always ran ProTools on Macs, so us production types were on our own - engineering would only deal with PC’s. Back in the days of OS9, this meant routinely defragmenting the disc, running disc utilities like TechTools, and carefully working the Extension manager to minimize crashes. Today things are much easier. I back up routinely using an inexpensive backup software called “Super Duper.” It’ll copy your entire system drive to a bootable firewire drive. This saved my butt last March when I had my first ever disc crash - I was up and running off the backup drive in 10 minutes - fully running ProTools with all the plug ins. Another great resource is Oakbog.com. Adam Rosen does Mac based IT, with a background as a studio engineer at Soundtrack Studios in Boston (a massive facility). He’s posted a lot of handy information at Oakbog.com - including tips for maintaining your Mac, steps you should take before you upgrade your OS, and a comprehensive “how to” for using remote desktop. I’m very lucky to have such a specialized resource available close by, but Adam might provide support remotely if anyone is in a situation - just please be prepared to compensate him for his efforts.

Shane Hurford [c913prod[at]c913.com.au]: A rather amusing question for Mac users. They don’t fail like the Window virus catchers, they just work. My Mac is 10 years old and 1 hard drive and replacement cd/dvd drive have been the only parts needed... a bottle of the studio tech’s favourite and he re-installed all software for me. Be nice to your techs.

The best advice I give when asked about data-loss prevention consists of 2 steps. 1) get a Mac; they fail less if at all. 2) get an external drive and back-up everything to it, only turning it on to add to it or retrieve something from it. This works best if you archive once a week or once a fortnight as turning a drive on and off too often can also cause it to fail. You can just leave it on if you like. If you’re really paranoid, organise a back-up of the back-up, a second drive that mirrors the original back-up. With 1 terabyte drives around $100, it’s cheap insurance. Oh, and for the sake of another $100, buy yourself a decent surge arrester, one that claims to buffer against brownouts, surges and lightening strike. Some manufacturers of these devices are so confident of their product, they offer free insurance cover for anything plugged into it.

Another handy idea is to get pre-clearance from your employer to use your workplace studios in down-time in the event that your home system crashes, this is where having an external back-up archive pays for itself.

Dan Zullo [Dan[at]VoiceGalaxy.com], VoiceGalaxy Productions, Cleveland, Ohio: I try to solve issues myself first until it becomes obvious that I don’t know what’s wrong, which is usually the case. I use a small local business called Chris’ Computer Service. He services and maintains my studio computer and my laptop. It is well worth it. All files are backed up on externals twice. In case of a complete meltdown, I could do all my work on my laptop with my mobile setup.

PART 2 NEXT MONTH!

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