If you work with computers, virtual instruments, and DAWs, you’ve surely encountered those weird, unexplainable issues that bring your project to a screeching halt. Here are some common “gotchas” (with an emphasis on Windows, although many of these tips apply to the Mac as well) and the appropriate fixes so you can sort things out and return to your creative flow.
Fig. 1. Waves L3 Ultramaximizer is a precision multiband processor with a look-ahead feature. To minimize latency during the tracking process, use it only after you’ve started mixing.
Sudden major latency increase. Some plug-ins, particularly dynamics programs like precision multiband limiters (see Figure 1 above), have a look-ahead function that creates a delay so they can catch transients and be prepared to process them correctly before they happen. But if your DAW has delay compensation, this delays everything. The fix: Remove the plug-in until mixdown, or temporarily substitute a similar one without the look-ahead feature.
Fig. 2. Several folders containing VST plug-ins have been specified in Acoustica Mixcraft so that it can “see” all the plug-ins.
Missing VST plug-ins. Steinberg invented the VST specification, so installing a Steinberg program with plug-ins created a Steinberg > VSTplugins folder. Many subsequent non-Steinberg programs defaulted to installing plug-ins there. However, nowadays programs often create their own plug-in folders during installation and point to them as the preferred plug-in location. 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 (see Figure 2 above). 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.
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’ll 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 (or more) of 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 and continue the process until you locate the offending plug-in.
A manufacturer’s audio interface driver for Windows doesn’t work at low latency settings. The driver works, but requires huge buffer settings to avoid crackles and pops. The fix: ASIO4ALL can interfere with some drivers. Uninstall it (don’t just disable it—remove it) and see if the problem goes away.
Moving the mouse interferes with audio performance. All is well until you try to adjust controls, move a window, or perform some such common action, and then you hear crackles or dropouts. Fix 1: Check for graphics card driver updates. Outdated ones may be the problem. 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.
Fig. 3. Windows Security Essentials is a relatively unobtrusive program, but disable it after downloading new software—then install your new music production software, unless it requires an internet connection.
After installation, 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 (see Figure 3 above), then run the program installer again.
Virtual instrument has issues with some hosts but not others. This is almost always a straightforward compatibility issue. The fix: Check online user forums to see if others have the same problem, then check regularly for software updates. It can take a while before system-specific incompatibilities surface so that manufacturers can know what to fix.
Virtual instrument doesn’t respond to aftertouch. Most DAWs have a preferences menu for enabling various MIDI input messages, but the instrument still doesn’t respond even after you’ve enabled aftertouch. The fix: There are two aftertouch types: channel and key (polyphonic). Channel aftertouch is far more common, so make sure you’ve chosen the right one.
In Windows, you can’t see the plug-in interface when inserting more than a certain number of instances of the same Waves plug-ins. While this might not seem likely, it can happen if you use something like the NLS virtual console plug-in on each track. The fix: Create a folder called “Waves Audio” in C:\ProgramData. Then create an empty text file called “no_context_sharing.txt” and move it to the Waves Audio folder.
Fig. 4. Cakewalk Sonar provides several panning law options. When collaborating, make sure the same one is specified in everyone’s preferences.
Stereo placement sounds weird when collaborating with someone using the same host and loading the same file. You don’t hear a huge difference, but there are subtle issues. The fix: Check for panning law preferences in both programs (see Figure 4 above), and make sure they’re set identically.
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; MemTest and MemTest86 are free and open-source.
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 that follows in bold exactly as shown.) Click on the Windows Start button, and type CMD.EXE in the search box. When a command line prompt opens, type diskpart then hit Enter. Type list volume then hit 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 hit Enter. Next, type attributes disk clear readonly then hit Enter. When you see “Disk attributes cleared successfully,” you’re done—close the command prompt box.
Operations that used to happen quickly in Windows, like bouncing to disk, now take forever. For example, rendering or freezing a soft synth track takes an hour. The fix: For reasons not understood by mere mortals, a disc sitting in your optical drive can slow operations down if the computer keeps looking to the disc to see if there’s something it wants to find. Eject the disc.
PreSonus FaderPort controller won’t work with a particular DAW. FaderPort ties in closely with your DAW, so take the right steps. The fix: First, go to presonus.com/support/downloads/faderport to download and install the latest drivers. Next, go to support.presonus.com/forums and enter “FaderPort” in the Search box. You’ll find documents on setting up FaderPort with various DAWs.
How-to guru Craig Anderton is one of the founders of music technology journalism. His latest adventure involves wearing the mantle of “Chief Magic Officer” at Gibson Brands.