Q It Up: Studio Computer Problems

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Q It Up: What are some of the most common problems you have with the computer(s) in your studio, and what steps have you taken to reduce or eliminate these problems?

Computer-ProblemsMark Fraser [mrgproduction [at]mrg.ca] Metro Radio Group, Halifax, NS, Canada: Problems? With computers? Never heard of such a thing! But seriously, we have had the occasional problem with part-timers coming in and changing settings on some programs. The solution is to have them summarily executed. (Do I have to say it? Okay, I’m only kidding!) But the #1 most common problem with the production computers...not enough storage space! We are constantly having to burn backup CDs only to have to re-import the project sessions a day or a few days later. We are hopefully getting new larger SCSI drives (read $$$), but like a new house, we’ll probably fill them rapidly. Other than that, our computers are fairly solid. Workstations are 3 networked P3 450s with 128 megs of RAM running SAWPro on Windows NT. Home Studio is Athlon Thunderbird 1.1Gig with 128 megs of RAM running SAWPro on Windows 98—solid as well, and with a 30 gig hard drive, I’m rarely having to drag beds, etc. back onto the computer. So other than the usual Windows glitches (why are we so quick to accept mediocrity when it comes to the O/S?) our production computers are a Godsend!

Donnie Marion [dmarion[at]104 krbe.com] 104 KRBE Houston, TX: This is how the studio is set up now. I have a computer to make the commercial on. It’s a MAC (a Quadra 950), but it’s real old. It still works, so that’s great. But since it’s old, it was invented before Zips and Jaz’s and CD drives were common computer equipment, and there are the audio hard drives a Sonic Solutions needs. Then I have a PC, for writing commercials, reading trade web sites, downloading commercials, not surfing for porn, receiving commercials attached to e-mails, and encoding spots to mp3 to send to clients. Then there’s the Enco System monitor (Enco is the name of our on-air system). Until you have to turn everything off because you’re remodeling your entire radio station facility and have to move from one room to another overnight, you don’t realize how much noise all those computer gadgets make. But if you set a gate on a mic processor, you can usually still hear the voice talent and not hear any computer noise.

But one thing that does happen that I don’t know what to do about is when recording a spot into mp3 format, I use a program called MusicMatch Juke Box. Sometimes I type in all the info and click “record” and the box locks up. I have to restart the computer. IT SLOWS ME DOWN. Then on the times I’m successful at recording a spot, I quit the program I get a pop up asking if I want to get my updated version of the program from the internet. I click no, and then the next pop up is one that tells me the program has quit for unknown reasons. The reason is I clicked exit! But since I don’t want an updated version, I have to click something else just to go about my business.

So I guess if I only have noise that I can’t hear on the radio, and I have an extra click to quit the program I’m already quitting (and won’t have to use when the new studio and equipment are operational), I’m probably doing alright with computers in the studio.

Bumper Morgan [bump[at]bumper morgan.com], Bumper Productions, Nashville, TN: Sometimes “keeping up with the Jones’s” is not always the best way. I still use Windows 98SE and will eventually jump to Windows 2000 Professional. I had installed Windows XP recently, it didn’t feel right, so I reinstalled SE.

We have 7 computers on our property, all networked, which gives us great flexibility with file transfers. Aside from the standard tools of the trade on my computer, I am constantly archiving scripts and final mixes to data CD, just to free up space and for a better operating performance. I had 48 archived discs in 2001 alone.

Having 2 hard drives is essential. All of my audio is stored on the second drive, where the first contains the operating system and any miscellaneous files. In the case of a virus or crash, the audio is saved.

I prefer a bare bones system versus a computer with all the bells and whistles. Audio files alone take up a lot of space. I don’t need the clutter of software which will never be utilized. I’ve established a nice relationship with a local mom and pop computer outfit who can build a new system for me within hours. My goal this year is to build my own system.

RAM is so cheap these days, having anything less than 256 is too slow. Don’t be afraid to learn how to install an operating system, RAM, hardware and soundcards yourself. Get to know your computer inside and out. You will feel like you’ve accomplished something. I know of a station that recently paid big bucks just to have someone come to their production room and install audio software, which is beyond me.

Tuna Jon Rose [tuna[at]radiotuna.com], Radio Tuna Productions: Let me start by admitting that I am not a computer genius. What I say here is not from a degreed, formally-educated point of view (that’s my disclaimer, in case I make inaccurate statements), and my comments are based strictly on observation.

My biggest problem with computers — and this one is easy — is computer slow-downs caused by too many cooks in the computer kitchen (read it: too many people putting too many programs on the hard drives). As you may have read in the November 2001 issue of RAP, I left the day-to-day operation of a radio station production department at the end of October to focus on free-lance work full-time, so the problem of other people installing programs on my computer has not directly affected me since then. However, the problem is still out there. I am certain it still goes on here in Fort Wayne — and I’m pretty sure it goes on at YOUR station, too!

The Prime Directive: No One But An Engineer Or The Prod Director Can Install A Program On The Production Room Computer. Looks good on paper, but does it work? In a word, no. There is always a computer know-it-all who breaks the rules because he or she knows how to install, run, then un-install programs (frequently games and other non-work-related stuff, which is another bone of contention — and the subject of a different column). Problems creep up, though, with all that extra code in the system, and even when you un-install programs, they seem to leave artifacts behind — footprints in the sand, if you will — that slow down the computer.

I’m even feeling the pinch of too many programs here at my home studio. I use Cool Edit Pro on a 1Ghz AMD Athlon system with 256 megs of memory and hard disk space out the proverbial wazoo. I also run my labeling software, my invoicing software, my CD burning software, my MP3 converter, my internet software, Acid Pro, my word processor, and the list goes on...everything is on ONE computer. It all gets frequent use, and all that stuff slows the system down. What was once a screamin’ system is now showing signs of distress because of too many programs and too much code.

One solution will soon be in place: a second computer for ALL the ancillary stuff, leaving Cool Edit Pro as my main computer’s sole utility. Another solution is to periodically clear the hard drive of unused audio. Burn those final mix downs and MP3’s to CDR and get ‘em off the hard drive. Delete the stuff you will likely never use or need again. Less stuff on the hard drive means less stuff your computer has to search through to find what you’re looking for which translates into less time spent searching, which equals a faster computer.

Another computer slow-down issue seems to stem from all the MP3’s that are e-mailed in and out. While at the station, I kept all the MP3 e-mails that we received in a separate folder, and at the end of every month I would delete anything that had come in prior to the 1st of the previous month (the MP3 attachments were already archived, so why hang onto the e-mails?). Additionally, I’d try to clear out the “Sent Items” folder every so often.

Here’s one other solution to the slow computer syndrome that might get overlooked: reboot the computer daily. If you turn your computer off every night, never mind; but if you leave the computer on 24/7, a daily reboot will clear the RAM of all the resident code from when you last ran your e-mail software, your word processor, your MP3 converter, your CD burner, your labeling software, your invoicing software...

Am I rambling? I am.

Pete Jensen [petej[at]kxly.com], KXLY Broadcast Group, Spokane, Washington: I try to keep my computer clean and lean. If someone decides to install junk programs (AOL Instant Messenger for instance) I get rid of them, and I am diligent about backing up and then deleting production audio files. I also perform system maintenance regularly—the easy stuff, like defragging the hard drive. And before each workday, I reboot the computer. For useful info about Windows, I highly recommend the LangaList, which is free, spam-proof, and arrives in your inbox twice a week. Published by Fred Langa, it’s absolutely one of the best newsletters out there. Subscribe free at Langa.com.

The biggest problem we have with our commercial delivery system—Scott Studios—is that people tend to use it for storage for their bits, promos, jingles, etc. The drives get full quickly. We instituted a program where I am responsible for maintenance of all the commercials, and the PDs of the stations are responsible for the music and imaging. Just making everyone aware of the problem has helped.

Ric Gonzalez [Ric.Gonzalez[at] cox.com]: Most common problem(s) with computers in my studios? You mean besides all the darn keyboards and multiple screens? The BIGGEST problem I have is noise.

Hear the loud drives,
They breathe they hum they writhe.
Oh what a tale of terror their humming tells.
Hear them get louder and stronger as the noise swells!
They speak, they shriek with a resolute endeavor,
To create a wretched sound that you cannot quiet...ever!
It grows...the noise noise noise...oh that horrible humming noise,
That destroys your commercial. Destroys! Destroys it with the noise!

In every room we have a noisy Scott Studio hard drive, an Audicy hard drive, (also noisy), another computer for receiving emailed mp3s, and then the DCI hard drive. All these hard drives combined create a sound that matches that of a Cessna 310 (badly in need of a tune-up.) You would think that all these wonderfully ingenious audio/computer engineers, who can create something as awesome as the Audicy digital workstation, could create a hard drive for it that can remain in the same studio as the microphone!

Our solution was to move all the hard-drives to another room and only leave the DDS back-ups in the studios. Those make noise only when backing up or restoring, at which time you can’t record anyway. It was a genius idea and we were going to put all the UPSs in the same room. Engineering gave it his blessings. However, it would mean that 3 of our 4 Audicy workstations would need to be upgraded to have “separate” DDS back-up drives. Then there is the special cabling, and the building and fire code required routing of those cables. It all got shot down in the budget process. It’s always a matter of money isn’t it? Oh well...just add some music to drown out the noise. Listeners won’t know. Jeez, I hate anything less than a dead studio. But I haven’t worked in one of those since 1989. The studio was underground, in the old KHFI studios in Austin (before Clear Channel bought them.) They have since moved locations. That old studio is an art gallery now. Ironic, because it truly was a work of art.

Dave Foxx [davefoxx[at]clearchannel .com]: The only real problem I’ve had is with backing up my sessions. Making a copy of the final product is fine as far as it goes, but sure as pop, as soon as I delete a session from the drive, the client wants a new version done, and I have to re-invent the wheel.

No more. Enter Mezzo by Grey Matter Response (www.mezzogmr.com). It currently supports just about any kind of data medium you can name (DVD coming soon), but I chose 8mm tape. I can pop a tape in before I fire up a session, finish my work and quit, then the tape pops out a couple of minutes later with every incarnation of the session, including all the audio files. If I choose to, I can delete the session right then and there. It works totally in the background! The cost is pretty reasonable too, considering the number of times it has saved MY butt. About $900 for the software and another grand for the tape drive. The tapes are about $8 per and can each hold at least 5Gb. Restorations take just a couple of minutes, and I can search for specific items within the program.

I know I sound like a sales rep for these guys, but the program really works as advertised. If you’re currently backing up to CD or DAT, stop! Get Mezzo and never have to deal with it again.

Ron Harper [ronharper[at]fuse.net], The New 96.5 / ESPN 1160 BOB: The only problem is fan noise, but we are soon re-locating the CPU, so that’ll take care of it.

Justin Taylor [studio[at]voice image.com], VoiceImage Productions, Orlando, Florida: The single biggest problem that I have had is simply having a computer based editing system directly connected to my patchbay without having some sort of incompatibility problems. What I mean by that is my Cool Edit Pro and Sound Forge based PCs, my ProTools Mac G4, and my Audicy DAW connected in my studio all have to go through either a “MatchBox” and/or a “Hum Eliminator.” Even the Zephyr requires its own MatchBox.

Without the use of these, I will get a buzz/hum as soon as any connection is made thru my patchbay and into the console. I had tried lifting the grounds, running dedicated circuits, and countless other measures to fix this problem, and it still exists.

The entire studio was relocated from the Washington DC area to Orlando, Florida this past summer and completely rewired and rebuilt, including a new “Topaz Project 8” 24/8 recording console, and I still had the same problem—a very puzzling problem with no permanent fix in sight. It may very well be the use of 4 Tascam PB32 patchbays all using unbalanced RCA connectors. Most of my gear is RCA based, and I may end up converting everything to XLR.

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