Rebuilding my music computer

The horror, the horror of realizing it’s time to rebuild your music computer.

Migrating a system from one mac to the next may be the fastest way to get started with a new computer, but when crashes start happening, it always makes you think you should have installed everything from scratch. Well that might seem like a good idea, but only if you do it right – and I’ve had lots of practice so I figured I would share what I’ve learned.

Recently my mac had a few problems. It’s an octacore i7 imac. I don’t use it for anything other than music – no crap software on there. My main DAW is Logic 9.1.8. At first, these problems were not too crazy, so I mostly ignored them.

Then I decided I wanted to update Maschine to the newest version for those synth drums! But this would require me to update my OS from 10.6.8 to 10.7.  Updating my OS is something I hate doing unless I have to. So I made a bootable back up of my system disk first, then made the move from Snow Leopard to Lion.

After two months of using Logic and following my usual routine of audio work. I had more crashes and problems than ever, so clearly Lion was not (yet) for me.  Probably a newer version of Logic would work better with Lion, but I was not about to start down that road of endlessly updating everything, DAW, plug-ins, etc. etc. I want stability, not new features.  Not that Logic or OSX have ever had features that made me want to upgrade – I only do it when I have to (or in this case to get that Maschine OS V2!).

Thankfully I had a bootable backup from before I went to Lion. Also, all my audio files, patches, and logic work is on an external disk, so none of my work during that period would be lost if I went back to my old SL system.

Using an external disk for all my patches, sample libraries and logic files has allowed me to keep consistency when switching to a new computer. I just keep that external disk. Of course I back it up, and every few years, I replace the disk and throw the old disk out. But essentially all my audio work has been piling up in one place for years, and buying a new computer has never caused any problems here. I highly recommend this method.

So back to Snow Leopard I went. But there were still crashes and issues, and the horror, oh the horror! Something had gone horribly wrong.  I needed to debug my system.

So it was time to start over, and instal everything from scratch. For NI Komplete that used to take days, but now I only need to instal the programs, the data is all on my external disk.

If you want to read the whole story of how I went about rebuilding my system, you can read it below. If you just want some good advice, it’s basically this:

Keep all your samples, song folders and data on an external disk not your system disk. I use a FW800 disk for this.

Make a bootable back up of your system after you do a basic instal of just Logic. This is now your main test environment for years to come.  Clone it when you need to use it.

Then make more bootable backups every step of the way as you add more plug-ins and software to your system.

Your system disk will be quite small if it’s just programs and not data – so you can fit quite a few backups on one disk. Make a few small partitions and a few bigger ones.

I’ve been using superduper for making bootable backups for years, and it has never failed me. Use that.

As you add your plug-ins and software, keep all the updates and downloads you need to instal in one place. You will need these to instal the plug-ins on your clean system disks for testing, and you will be glad you have them if you ever need to rebuild your system again.  I keep all my authorizations in this same folder, and it makes life easier.

If at any point in the process of adding plugins you start to get crashes, it’s easier to debug when you can go back one step to your last bootable backup, and start adding plug-ins or other stuff from that point.

When you want to test plug-ins, don’t instal them on your various bootable backups. Clone the backup you want to use, and instal on that disk, which you can wipe later. Keep each one of your bootable backups clean! Think of them as templates.

So here’s the long version of rebuilding my music computer in 5 easy steps.
(note, you may need more steps, results may vary. . . )

STEP 1 – instal the basics.

I made a bootable back up of my old system. I also made a complete copy of my external data disk – my songs. So that while testing I could open them and ruin them knowing I had a full backup. Some songs were always causing crashes so I wanted to be able to test with those, and resave them, etc. etc.

Then I wiped my system clean. Re-installed Snow Leopard from scratch and updated it.

1) Installed Logic and updated it to 9.1.8.
2) Installed the drivers for my RME audio interface.
3) Installed my Virus Snow software and updated it.

This was my clean Logic only system. My RME didn’t cause any problems, and I installed my VIrus at this point, because it was my main suspect for causing crashes. If I had crashes now – it was the virus because no other software was installed, and no other plug-ins.

At this point I tested everything using the demo song that Logic instals for you.

No crashes, no issues. I previously had a particularly nasty freezing issue when saving some particular songs, but this did not happen on the fresh system. Of course when I opened those old songs, all the third party plug-ins were disabled.

I took a massive hard drive and made 6 partitions on it. Then I made a bootable copy of my system onto the first partition and labeled it “step one”.

STEP 2 – instal key software

I installed Maschine. One thing I can warn people about is that Maschine had been saving project data all over the place, in song folders, on my system disk and on my external disk. For some reason, it wasn’t consistent, so I had to find all my project files and consolidate them into one place on my external disk. I then set the preferences to only use this one place.  I had a few sample packs, but figured I would re-instal those later.

I tested Maschine and all worked well.

I made another bootable back up at this point because Maschine was also a suspect in my earlier crash issues, sometimes opening it in Logic caused crashes. so I wanted a version of Logic with this and not many other plug-ins. However testing with this environment seemed to indicate that Maschine on it’s own was crash free!

STEP 3 -instal other plug-ins

I installed Komplete, and updated everything using Service Center. This was a total pain in the ass. Service Center only showed the most recent updates, even ones that required OS 10.7 which I didn’t have. I had to go to the website and find the best updates to get everything back up to where it should be. NI is not user friendly in this area at all.  In most cases I had to go back to my “updates” folder and dig out the downloads that I had used previously to update my NI software.  NI really needs to provide a better solution for Service Center.  Manual updates are better, and easier to manage I find.

My system had been migrated from another computer, and I’ve owned NI stuff for many years. Over those years, NI changed the scheme for where presets were saved on your system about three times. I had to start from scratch in some cases and re-instal stuff, and consolidate stuff all into one logical place. This was a pain but ultimately way worth it.

Because I had a back up of my system from before I wiped things, I could go back and compare where things were and what I needed to grab.

After this was done, I tested all my NI software and things worked fine. Time to make another bootable back up of this stage of my rebuild.

STEP 4 – instal more plug-ins.

I installed all the third party stuff for NI. like sample libraries where I already had the content on my external disk but needed to authorize them.

I will note that I did not instal ALL the NI software I own. Much of it I don’t use anymore, or don’t like – Monark is an example of something I bought recently and just found frustrating to use, so I didn’t re-instal it. I like workflow, and software has so many advantages to be able to provide fast workflow, and easy to use file management. If it doesn’t have those things, I don’t need it in my life.

Strangely Monark now says you need OS 10.7 to use, but when I bought it they said 10.6.8 – go figure.

I tested this stuff and it all seemed fine, so I just went ahead and installed all the other third party plug-ins I wanted to use. There were a bunch that I decided I didn’t want on my new system. I have decided to never use Waves plug-ins again, and in anycase I can’t buy new ones, they don’t support OS 10.6.8 anymore, and don’t let you buy older versions of their plug-ins like they used to. Screw ‘em.

Installing these plug-ins took a long time. Once again, I’m glad I keep all my instal files and authorization keys, and updates in a single folder. NI has made this hard to keep track of with their crappy Service Center, but I still try to keep all update zips that I’ve ever downloaded. It sounds crazy, but it’s worth it. Disk space is cheap.

Testing this stuff also took quite a bit of time. For the most part it was add plug-in to logic, open it, change settings, move on. Open a song that had previously crashed, set up plug-in, test.

This is where having an iLock key was a bonus. Stuff authorized with that, just worked after instal! I now really see the advantage of the iLock. However I also have an eLicenser program, and that was totally screwed up and took me quite a bit of time to go online and figure out how to even work the thing. Total convoluted pain in the ass.

When you instal a new version of the eLicenser Control Center, it automatically generates a new SN for you.  They don’t seem to let you connect to their DB and grab your activations. You can’t activate with an old code on a new computer.  The only way to transfer soft licenses is to buy a USB key and transfer your info onto that, and then move them to the new computer.

Guess what – no fucking way. Less software now to play with, more time to write songs. Sorry for those software vendors that use this system, you are off my list.

I made a bootable back up.

STEP 5 – retrieve plug-in presets, instal more software

Installing all those plug-ins doesn’t help when I don’t have all the edited patches and presets I’ve created over the years. I had to figure out for each one where their presets were kept, and copied them from my old bootable back up system disk to my new system.

Testing that these presets worked was easy.

Just as a note – after installing all this stuff, my system disk was still just 50G!  I could fit a lot of bootable backups on a 1T drive.

Now I installed all the synth editors and other non-plug-in software that I use for audio work. Toast 10, and Sysex Librarian, etc. etc.

Then I copied all my crucial files from the old system- manuals, and documents like that.

Then I did more Logic testing. I had a freeze on save problem!

The most likely issue was the ProKit bug.
This seemed to fix my problem! Good, that’s one bug fixed.

Made another bootable backup.

Step 6 –  (there is no step 6)

That’s essentially what I did – and I have all these bootable backups that I can clone when I want to test with any of those stages of the rebuild.

Guess what – it took a few more weeks of using Logic for lesser frequent crashes to show up and to ferret out the reasons for these crashes. There was no single solution for what was happening, it was a few smaller issues here and there that caused my problems, your specifics will be different, but the system I had in place made it less of a headache to troubleshoot.

One culprit was Redline Reverb. It’s a great plug-in and has always been rock solid, so I didn’t think twice to update it when they put out an update. It didn’t always cause crashes, but it turned out to be the cause of many crashes.  Also when I had crashes opening Maschine in Logic, I figured out that it only happened in Maschine projects that used Redline Reverb. Now it was starting to make sense. I went back to an older version of Redline Reverb, and none of those projects crashed anymore.

Now that the bugs are all gone, (and I only say that after weeks of using Logic regularly and having no crashes or freeze issues), should I go back to Lion in order to get that fancy new update to Maschine?  Well, when I was on Lion, it wasn’t just crashes, there were lots of other issues with Logic not being stable, not doing what it should, not rendering graphics correctly even.  So in my experience the most stable OS for Logic 9.1.8 is OS 10.6.8 Snow Leopard.

Because I care more about stability I don’t want to update the OS, which might require updating Logic, which might require updating plug-ins, which might require more time and effort than I have at my disposal.

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