My Music Computer

At the beginning of last year I built myself a brand new computer for producing music. A big shiny black metal box with an orange accent. The thing is so huge, you get a look at it think “that thing must be expensive.” At least I thought that it was expensive. It cost just a little bit more than everyone else’s that a store had built. Slightly less expensive than a high-tier MacBook (I would think). I can’t remember how much MacBooks cost. In the grand scheme of things, it was probably not that expensive. It was around three thousand dollars, and I should’ve invested more into bigger SSDs.

I like to look at buying a computer as like buying car. You get it and take care of it and it lasts a really long time. That analogy isn’t for most people though. Most people I think look at computers like vacuum cleaners. They used to cost a lot of money and they’d last you a lifetime. Now they cost a lot of money and last for three years. Mine was built to last. It also looks fantastic like a sports car. It has the perfect casing to match the Native Instruments / FL Studio aesthetic that it has going for it. Plus it say’s BE-QUIET on the bottom of the chassis which is nice. It’s funny because people don’t want their computers to make noise, but mine needed to be silent for recording.

Despite the computer costing a small fortune, I had built up my collection of samples, instruments and FX earlier on. You build it up over the years, so it didn’t phase me when I was buying parts for the PC. The thing about computing and recording is that they’re both notoriously expensive hobbies. If you want to get into making music on computers, you have to accept that it’s an endless money pit. You can get some audio software for free. You’re going to need the best computing stuff to make sure that it’ll all run smoothly. Then you’ll want to run the more expensive audio libraries because they sound better than the free stuff.

But I built this computer with a bunch of top of the line components and ton of RAM. Double the amount that extremely RAM intensive computer programs recommend you have. People consistently asked me, “Nathan, why would you ever need that much RAM?” I would always respond with the same thing. I make music on my computer, and it needs of RAM.

Before a couple days ago, I didn’t know how much RAM it actually needed. It was just what those audio software companies said. So I doubled it. I didn’t know how good the parts I was putting in the computer actually were. A few months of searches helped me to check out what I was buying. I also learned a lot in the process. Really, I just knew one thing about my computer. I knew that it had to work. Despite not having much to compare it to, it had to turn on and run my software. It had to run FL Studio, and it had to do it flawlessly.

My father has a computer in his home studio in the basement where I used to do my audio editing. Up until a few days ago I used it exclusively for making music. He’d get mad if I used it for something else. I had beat up Windows 7 build that the folks at Canada Computers had built for my dad. It was his previous music computer and I could use that for school work. I mostly used it for music for I couldn’t use the studio computer. I slowly upgraded it from Windows 7 to 10. It can’t update anymore. The parts inside are totally different at this point. It’s got a couple SSDs in it now. It actually runs okay. Back then it kept crashing on me.

The kind of computer my dad has in his basement was always pitched to me as top of the line. Despite it being more than five years old back then, it still handled extremely well. The problems is that my dad also likes to run a bunch of other stuff off of it. The kind of applications that never shut off. Somehow I thought that could only do a bit more damage. I knew that my computer would be better though. A better processor, and more RAM. A lot more RAM.

I’m running more than 100 polyphonic voices at the same time while using more than 10 GB of memory. The memory usage is both in multiple instances of samplers and software synthesizers as well as truncated and individually pitched audio samples.

So trying to run this setup on my pop’s computer proved to be difficult. I was actually under the impression that a computer, any computer, just couldn’t handle it. My dad’s computer would always freeze up and crash, you’d have to constantly save different instances of your projects, especially before editing vocals or loading up a new instance of a sampler.

When I built my computer back in February of ’19 I had installed the majority of my music making software on it. The This was about a two week long ordeal. The constant downloading of terabytes of audio software and uncompressed sample libraries, the manual installation to ensure minimal boot time, and the organization of different effect and generator plugins so that I new where my thousands of VST applications were.

After they were all installed, I figured I would be able to move my computer down to our home studio and use a KVM switch to allow both my dad and I to use different computers. That didn’t happen. I had to continue using this older machine to keep working. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t my new thing. I constantly have problems though. Crashing, rebooting, then crashing again. It was a nightmare.

In the meantime, my computer was upstairs, on a desk next to the kitchen. For work I was primarily using the computer to help people with their small businesses. In my spare time I’d organize my collection of MP3s and play Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Super Smash Brothers Melee. It didn’t bother me. The same routine had worked for about a year. If I wanted to make music, I’d go down to the home studio. I should’ve used the computer that I literally built to make music on, but it wasn’t down there.

Last week my pop and I brought our old 50″ standard definition LED downstairs. I had purchased my parents a new TV during the Black Friday sales and this one was taking up space upstairs. I asked my dad why we were bringing the TV downstairs instead of selling it. He responded “I was thinking we could use it as a screen” (extension) for the computer. This was the kind of TV that if you sat up close, it would literally burn into your retinas. It had dead pixels and blue glow. They wouldn’t go away no matter how long it had been turned off. So my dad stuck it about 9 inches from my face and said, “yeah, this is nice.”

If you know much about recording, you’d know that the place you record in should be relatively quiet. This is so that you can get a clean signal that’s easier to process later. The humming from this TV was so loud that any mic would easily pick it up. It would be a huge problem trying to gate out the recorded white noise. You could create a custom de-noise profile based on the hum the TV made, but that wouldn’t do anything. This TV ran on dirty power. It was built before green appliances started to become a thing. Plus all of the wires were crossed behind it. There was no cable management behind the desk at all. It was hard trying to tell if the white noise coming out of the speakers now was louder than the distorted hum from the TV.

I unplugged my headphones and said “enjoy,” then went upstairs while he made some bleep-bloops. Immediately after I had to close my eyes for about fifteen straight minutes. I was wide-awake. I was just waiting for the burning in my eyes that the TV had caused to alleviate. After the acute pain disappeared I moved my computer to the furthest spot in the house from that TV.

I spent the next couple of days getting my sample libraries and plugins re-organized. I knew from this point on, this was it. The thing about organizing a library of audio files for FL Studio is that it’s an impossible task. You have to know how you want to organize them before you start years of work. That way if you open a project that’s ten years old the files you used will be sitting where they should be. Anyone will tell you, “but when you’re done, just save it as a zip” or save all the files together. Regardless, you’ll still be left with thousands of broken, unopenable project files that are a testament to poor planning.

I think I have a system that works. At least, it’s working right now. Hopefully too much doesn’t change in the future. If I can sort a few terabytes now I should be able to sort the next few. I know more will come in as a result of the music making. At least that’s what I tell myself

Then I was done organizing and the final moment came. I started running through my workflow. Sooner rather later I noticed, there isn’t really any lag. Everything is loading quickly. I got samples on an SSHD, VSTs running off an SSD, and a ton of memory to actually run them. Some time passes. Then some more. Projects would take minutes and they’d crash the basement computer. I’d do a reboot, drink a Pepsi, log back in, boot up the project again, wait, make a cup of coffee, and go back downstairs. All that just to see if my project had loaded. Sometimes I’d have to do it three or four times, Pepsi excluded. Now they boot up in a matter of seconds.

I’m thinking of buying more RAM for my computer when I can afford it. I need a new interface and MIDI keyboard first though. What I got will work for now.