Making The (Up) Grade

Making The (Up) Grade


You kids have it so easy these days. When I was young, we used to walk three miles bare­ foot through the snow with our amps on skate­ boards and our guitars slung behind our backs just to reach the local studio and cut our demo. It could take hours just to get a passable drum sound, and it cost money for the studio, the tape, and the engineer. Four hours to cut eight songs live, mix them, and put them on reel to reel. (That’s a tape machine with two big reels— see “Museum of Analog Recording” for more details.) It was rough and primitive, and darn it, that’s the way we liked it!


Now you come along with your fancy laptops and your Internet. “Oh, my studio’s in here … see, here’s my mixer, my recorder, my outboard gear, my sampler, and yes, even my drum kit. Here’s my B3. And here’s my full arsenal of keyboards and more than 20 different amps.” But are you satisfied? Hell no! You want time­ stretching, auto-tuning, and CD-burning capability, as well as the ability to fix, duplicate, warp, squash, and manipulate any sound. Does it matter that you recorded an out-of-tune, out-of-time vocal through a bad mic with street noise bleeding through? Nah, it’s close enough! You can fix it. All you needed was the raw data.


Is this progress? You bet it is. Owning seven Macs and two PCs puts me right into the tech-head category with you young producer/number cruncher types. Now I’rn trying to take it one step further, which is to make it all actually work together flawlessly.


I just got my new Mac G4 with dual 800 MHz processors. Theoretically, I should be able to add all my PCI cards and my USB-to-serial MIDI interface, install my new RAM, connect my printer, hook up my DSL, install all my software, and be up and running in an afternoon. But I am a realist. I am hoping that after two days of calling tech support, downloading bug fixes, experimenting, and hair-pulling, I will be up and running smoothly.


But technology moves so quickly and the competition is so fierce that new hardware and software are often released before the companies can fully test them, so chaos often ensues. For example, my USB-to-serial adapter isn’t supposed to work with my MIDI interface, according to the adapter company. But the interface manufacturer says it will. I Followed the instructions on the latter’s Web site and—viola!—it works fine.


A certain amount of maintenance is part of the job of optimizing your creative time. By maintenance, I am not referring to resoldering your patchbay (a little piece of metal with a lot of holes and wires) or aligning your tape machine. I am talking about getting on the Internet and finding the latest versions of the software you’re using, upgrading your operating system, downloading the most current drivers, and actually reading the “Read Me” files that come with your software. The companies know about the incompatibilities between their products and others. Software that fixes the problem is often uploaded to the company’s Web site within days.


Another great place to get information on the software you’re using is to join a user group online, and ask a question or browse the archives. You will meet some very knowledgeable people, although not everyone online knows what he’s talking about. Shy away from discussions about “vibrating plug-ins” and the like.


Upgrade slowly, testing each component in your system thoroughly before adding new software until you’ve created a trouble-free system. Take the time to plan thoroughly before major upgrades. The sanity you save may be your own.

At Skyelab Music, we work with many independent artists and guide them through the right steps towards achieving their goals. Our artists have signed record and publishing deals, had #1 Billboard hits and more.

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