One of the constant obsessions of modern music makers is finding a powerful computer. For many people, it seems that the dream machine is always just around the corner, be that a Mac or a PC.
I was talking to my friend Michael Carnes of Exponential Audio this week, and we were discussing the real-world effect of the speed bumps quoted when new computers are released. The numbers talk about faster processors, drives or increased graphics performance and speedier transfers. Let’s be clear some of these can make a big difference. For example; I was having no end of problems with a couple of external hard drives on my system. The drives kept dropping off the computer and exhibited other strange behaviours. Eventually, this led to the drives not working anymore; thankfully I back up everything so apart from the replacement cost I was insulated from any significant effects of the crash.
The strange drive behaviour set me on a mission to discover what the hell was going on; you may recall a recent article I wrote about how much this stuff is part of the modern ‘dream’ studio.
After much digging it looked like the issue was a cheap USB3 hub, when I say cheap it was about £20, so whilst not the worst piece of crap it was certainly not up to the job for a creative studio. I then researched the subject to find that not all USB hubs are created equal, in fact far from it, technically many of them are just not up to the job.
After much reading about the issues, more to follow in a dedicated article, I invested in a dedicated PCIe card to go into my Sonnet chassis. The difference was immediate, transfer speeds of data are lightning fast, and since installing it, not a single drive has done a David Copperfield disappearing act on me.
This story is an example of how your workflow can be affected by poor quality or under-specced components, but let’s return to the whole area of the real world effects on workflow, notably audio recording and mixing.
If you compare the last generation of most computers with ‘this years model’ and go beyond the geeky benchmarks and translate them into actual time saved versus the cost of the new machine and time to make the transition, then the gains are pretty small, in many cases not enough to justify a business investment. I can't recall the last time my Mac Pro prevented me from doing a task, of course, part of that is down to making sure you buy the right machine in the first place, but over three years on I seem to have made the right investment.
If you are serious about improving your productivity, then there are several ways I can suggest that cost you little or nothing to implement, and in many cases, they will certainly make a more significant difference than the gains achieved by buying a new computer.
Have you ever stopped to think about the time you are trying to save by investing in more gear and then considered how much time you waste in other parts of your life? Since I stopped caring about what is happening on social media, my productivity has gone through the roof. There are many reports, but according to The Telegraph "the average person has five social media accounts and spends around 1 hour and 40 minutes browsing these networks every day, accounting for 28pc of the total time spent on the internet." Source: GWI
If you can find me a computer to give you back that time each day, then send me a link, and I'll buy it. This data does not include time spent in forums or other places on the internet; it is somewhat ironic that many people lose more time posting and arguing about computer speeds in forums than the time-saving gains these machines offer. Again, I'm talking about real-time gains, not speed tests that frankly are meaningless for many applications in the audio industry, for example when was the last occasion that render time took up any meaningful chunk of your day? I work a lot on video as well as audio and even with large 4K projects I can't recall the last time a render held me in any significant way, and of course, I can always go and make a coffee or answer an email while it is happening.
Secondly, I have spoken about this before, but all of my notifications are either muted or turned off when I'm working in the studio. After all, if I have a client with me, I shouldn't have them on anyway, and if I'm working on my own on client work, then I should have my mind on the creative task, not a million other distractions.
If you think that being on 24/7 access to the world is good for you or your work, then think again. Effective productivity solutions are less about technology and more about making wise choices. I can tell you that since I quit most of my social media activity I have more time, I think better, I'm less distracted, less stressed and deliver better work.
This article is not some polemic on the effects of social media; but I know the difference it made to my life; I wrote about it on Linkedin some time ago, here is an extract;
I've seen no adverse effect on my relationships or my businesses - I've not become persona non grata and certainly not lost any influence in professional circles as far as I can tell. In fact, the first month after leaving Facebook saw a marked increase in business.
Facebook wants you to think that what happens in their world matters a great deal, they want you to think life outside Facebook is a friendless desert and influential suicide.
Facebook want business owners to think that letting their staff use Facebook when working is good for business; I beg to differ - if you want happy staff who are focussed on the job then surely encouraging them to spend time checking and worrying about what people think about every detail of their lives is not the way to achieve that goal.
Leaving Facebook brings you the freedom of not caring about those pesky notifications baiting you to find out what people are saying about you - in the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter.
If you are serious about working faster and delivering better work to your clients to the deadline, then think about what is distracting you and wasting your time - it's less likely your computer is holding you up than the other things that occupy your thoughts.