If you work with computers, virtual instruments, and DAWs, you’ve surely encountered those weird, unexplainable issues that bring your project to a screeching hit. Here are some common recording software gotchas (with an emphasis on Windows, although many tips apply to Mac as well), along with the appropriate fixes so you can sort things out and return to your creative flow.
1 Sudden major latency increase
Some plug-ins, particularly precision ones like iZotope Ozone 8 (Fig. 1), have a “look ahead” function that creates a delay so they can catch transients and be prepared to process them correctly as soon as they happen. This delays everything if your DAW has delay compensation. The fix: Remove the plug-in until mixdown, when latency is less important than with tracking, or temporarily substitute a similar one without the look-ahead feature.
2 Program crashes on startup when scanning VST plug-ins
Some plug-ins (particularly free ones) may not get along with a particular program and when scanned on startup, they crash the program. Sometimes whatever scans the VSTs will show the name of the plug-in on which it stopped, but sometimes not. The fix: Close the program. Create a folder called “Temporary VST.” Move half the plug-ins from your existing VST plug-ins folder to the temporary folder, then open the program. If it doesn’t crash, one of the plug-ins you moved caused the problem. Keep moving plug-ins back to the original folder until you find the one that crashes the program. If the program does crash, move half the remaining plug-ins to the temporary folder, and continue the process until you locate the offending plug-in.
3 Moving the mouse interferes with audio performance
All is well until you try to adjust controls, move a window, etc. and then you hear crackles or dropouts. Fix #1: Check for graphics card driver updates. Fix #2: If you’re using a gaming mouse, substitute a standard mouse. You don’t need the extra resolution. Fix #3: Graphics cards designed for high-performance gaming are often not a good match for audio performance. A basic graphics card often gives better performance with DAWs.
4 Missing VST plug-ins
Steinberg invented the VST specification, so installing a Steinberg program with plug-ins created a Steinberg > VSTplugsin folder. Many subsequent non-Steinberg programs defaulted to installing plug-ins there. However, newer programs often create their own plug-ins folders during installation and “point” to them as the preferred plug-in location. If your host doesn’t know to scan these folders, it won’t know the plug-ins exists. The fix: Search for folders containing VST plug-ins, and make sure that any hosts point to all paths that lead to plug-in folders (Fig. 2). Another option is to create a single VST plug-ins folder, and when you install a program or new plug-ins, install your plug-ins there. Finally, re-scan the VST folders once you’ve specified all their file paths.
5 Virtual instrument doesn’t respond to aftertouch
Most DAWs have a preferences menu for enabling various MIDI input messages, but the instrument may not respond to aftertouch even though you think you’ve checked the appropriate box to enable aftertouch. The fix: There are two aftertouch types, Channel and Key (Polyphonic). Channel Aftertouch is far more common, so make sure the right one is checked.
6 Stereo placement sounds weird when collaborating with someone using the same host and loading the same file, and stereo files sound odd when collapsed to mono
You don’t hear a huge difference, but there are subtle issues. The fix: Check for Panning Law preferences in both programs (Fig. 3), and make sure they’re set identically. For the mono collapse problem, set the panning law to -6.0.
7 There are strange, rare, random problems with a variety of computer programs
Don’t re-install your operating system yet; it could be a hardware problem. The fix: A defective RAM stick could be responsible, because issues show up only when accessing the bad bits. There are several utilities for checking RAM, like MemTest86 (which is free). Windows itself has a RAM diagnostic; in the control panel, search on Memory, and then select the entry under Administrative Tools.
8 Windows is saying your drive is protected, and you can’t override security attributes
You’re stuck in “read-only” land and can’t modify files or write to the disk. The fix (make sure you type anything in bold exactly as shown):
Click on the start button, and type CMD.EXE in the search box. When a command line prompt opens, type diskpart then enter. Type list volume then enter.
You’ll now see a list of drives, each with a number. Identify the number of the protected drive, then type select volume # (where # is the appropriate drive number), then enter. Next, type attributes disk clear readonly then enter. When you see “Disk attributes cleared successfully,” you’re done—close the command prompt box.
9 After installation, a program crashes or acts erratically
Programs should work after you install them! The fix: Anti-virus software may not allow the program to do needed system modifications. Uninstall the program you just installed, disconnect from the internet, disable any anti-virus programs (Fig. 4), then run the program installer again.
10 Operations, like bouncing to disk, that used to happen quickly in Windows now seem to take forever
For example—rendering or freezing a soft synth track takes an hour. The fix: For reasons not understood by mere mortals, on rare occasions, a disc in your DVD or CD-ROM drive can slow operations down if the computer keeps looking to the disc to see if there’s something it wants to find. Go figure.