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Upgrade Yourself

Leader By Paul White
Published January 2010

If the postal system hasn't completely melted down by the time you read this, you should still be looking forward to Christmas, which is always a good time of the year for tackling routine studio maintenance and updating those bits of software that you didn't dare disturb during that time‑sensitive project. I've lost count of the times I've sat in front of a repeat of The Great Escape with a soldering iron on my tea tray next to the mince pies and sherry, fixing up those leads that somehow developed a mystery illness during the year.

Software upgrades can be a mixed blessing, of course; on the one hand they bring you new and exciting features that you can incorporate into your productions, but they can also cause loss of backward compatibility with older projects (why does my favourite soft synth now have completely different presets that don't match up with my old songs?), and occasionally serious system problems. For example, I recently installed Snow Leopard on my studio Mac, checked that Logic Pro still loaded OK, then went on to update several of my plug‑in instruments to the latest versions. It had worked fine on my Mac laptop so I wasn't anticipating any problems. Several install DVDs later, I started up Logic and found that no Audio Unit plug‑ins were visible, the Audio Unit manager wouldn't open and, indeed, the entire Mac seemed to have forgotten that Audio Units even existed. After several hours of head‑scratching I gave in and used Time Machine to get me back to the previous day running the standard 'snow‑free' Leopard and all is well again — other than hours lost updating all those plug‑ins. Maybe over Christmas I'll try again, and this time I'll test the Audio Units at each stage!

The most important component of any studio is the person who operates it, yet they are seldom included in the update process. You can read about techniques in Sound On Sound and mine the back issues on‑line for a wealth of information, but to really make this knowledge your own, you need to put it into practice. We all tend to fall back on the techniques that we find the most familiar, but maybe you can use some of that 'Great Escape' time this Christmas to broaden your studio experience by trying out some techniques that you wouldn't generally use. For example, if you normally compose dance tracks from loops and software synths, try dusting off that microphone and record some real instruments and vocals. You'll find plenty of instructional material on the SOS web site to get you started. Or if you come from an old‑school background and only ever record live performance, try tinkering about with some loops or tweaking some sounds in your soft synths to see what you can achieve. All practical experience is valuable, even if you don't get great results first time around. What's more, you can be sure that your new experience will be fully backwards‑compatible with what you already knew! It doesn't cost anything to try, but personal updating could be the best studio investment you ever make.

Paul White Editor In Chief  

Published January 2010