COMPUTERS ARE UNRELIABLE

/November 11, 2015

If you clocked up all the hours professional recording studios lost to unforseen, inexplicable or outright baffling computer issues, multiplied this figure by a collective hourly rate, the amount would exceed the combined debt of several third world countries. Do we really need to send software manufacturers a bill before they stop adding unreliable new features, and start refining the ones they have?

More music is being recorded now than ever before and it’s being captured just about everywhere there’s access to a power point. To that end, technology has made so many aspects of the recording process cheaper that there’s now a genuine risk that there will be no-one left to act as a willing audience participant. In fact, I can see it now – the new video game – Audience Member. “Being in a band is no longer cool… Audience Member gives you the experience of what it’s like to be JUST ANOTHER FACE IN THE CROWD!”

ALIVE & TRACKING

But despite every man and his dog recording in their bedroom these days, recording studios aren’t dead. Bloody hell, just about everyone I know has one! But admittedly they have changed…

People are recording in sheds, bedrooms, on planes and buses, in car-parks, up trees, out in remote deserts landscapes and on tropical islands… Some have budgets of $100, others $100,000. Suffice it to say, if there’s a spare room and an ego yearning to be boosted, there you’ll find a modern-day studio. And what do they all record onto? Computers.

‘PUTERS ‘PUTERS ‘PUTERS!

That’s the phrase one of the old techs at Studios 301 in Sydney used to wander around screaming every time one of the computers broke down in their main control room. They were unreliable then, they’re unreliable now.

Computers are, in fact, the one thing all recording studios have in common. No matter who you are, what skill level you possess or generation you’re from, chances are one (or several) of your key recording, mixing or mastering tools are run by a computer.

At The Mill I have about three Apple computers running at any given time, and the programs they drive are quite standard: ProTools, Live, and DSP Quattro to name a few, and these are orbited by countless external plug-ins and peripheral programs that I use to record, mix and master music. I also have a Neve console, countless pairs of studio monitors and a significant array of classic vintage outboard mixed into the equation. Things are generally well maintained, organised, and mostly, things just work…

But then a day will inexplicably dawn – and you never know when the next one will appear on the horizon – where the wheels fall off the computer and you’re left on the roadside with the bonnet open and steam pouring out of the plug-ins. It’s at this point that you’d happily trade every new option your programs have ever offered for just one: reliability.

Co-incidentally, it’s at this point that every software manufacturer on the planet typically runs for their lives.

THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS WRONG

Computers are like cars really: we all know how to start them, drive them, and fill them with fuel, but beyond that our understanding of what makes them tick is commonly nil.

Sure, we all know a few tricks – some of us know how trash preferences or ensure that hard-drives don’t get too full… things like that – but in reality, very few of us know how to fix one when it breaks down. Almost none of us know how to maintain and service our computers, and in many cases we have no idea when a ‘service’ might be due, or even what the word ‘service’ means in this context.

But most unlike the software industry, car manufacturers don’t habitually blame their customers when something goes wrong. They simply have an infrastructure in place to fix the problem.

One day soon I hope software developers start acting like grown-ups and dispense with their policy of denial and indifference, and start taking responsibility for their faulty products. Car drivers aren’t forever held responsible when their vehicles breaks down – why should computer operators?

RELIABILITY IS KING

Computer manufacturers and software developers need to get it through their noggins that the most fundamental requirement of any studio computer is reliability. When software is faulty it’s less than useless to me. And on the day it develops a major problem, I don’t expect to be told it’s my fault, or worse, be unable to find anyone in the company who knows how to fix it or has ever encountered the problem before.

One of these days computers will get reliable… I just hope it’s not the morning after the stars fall from the sky.