10 tips on running a virtual studio

Here are 10 useful tips for making sure the plug-in instruments and effects in your virtual studio stay running quickly and smoothly.

A recording studio can, of course, exist inside your computer as a series of plug-in instruments and effects. However, these can become cumbersome, expensive – if you don’t use them – and downright annoying. Here are some tips for dealing with your virtual studio bits (and it’s not always the delete key, honest…)

1Organise, organise

Organise, Tips for virtual studio

On a basic level, you can organise plug-in instruments into folder by effect or instrument type, but you will possibly have to rescan – see next point – if you start moving them about a lot. The most important organisational tip is to make sure your plug-ins all

reside in one (correct) place. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen, especially when you get the option of choosing an install location, so make sure they install to the correct USER/Library folder (for a Mac), or correct VST/plug-in folder (for a PC). Similarly, with vast libraries for Kontakt or other libraries, keep all the audio data and presets in the one place and consider an external backup drive or an external fast drive for larger files.

2Scan that

Scan, Tips for virtual studio

Make sure that every few weeks or months, you run whatever system of checking plug-in installation your particular DAW prefers. Sometimes, plug-ins can drop off the cliff for no given reason – especially after OS updates – and, especially if you have a bloated system, it’s easy to lose them and either not know, or find it’s too late to bring them back. Regular scanning might also stop the constant error messages we talk about in point 4, too…

3Replicate your studio

For no other reason really than to get you trying life outside of the box, it’s well worth trying to replicate your virtual studio elsewhere. You might want a mobile recording setup – in which case, you could transfer everything to a laptop, yes, but also consider an iOS studio. There are hardware options, too, and other ways we can mix and match both our instruments and software to create a minimal, flexible and portable studio. Breaking out of the virtual world can have very real rewards. Just sometimes, anyway…

4Delete, Part 1

Getting loads of plug-in errors when you load in your DAW? Does your DAW take too long to load? Well, consider deleting the plug-in culprits if going back to point 2 and rescanning doesn’t work. The chances are you won’t have been using these plug-ins for a while, so you won’t miss them, and rogue plug-ins will slow any DAW up as it tries to scan for them. (Also, with Logic, it holds the whole loading process up – so delete the beggars.) Many plug-ins can be deleted simply by dragging to the bin, but perform proper uninstalls when you can to make sure all associated files go with them.

5Delete, Part 2

Delete, Tips for virtual studio

Tied in with tip 1, you should really regularly look at your bloated plug-in collection and identify the plug-ins that have been on your system for longer than three years that you are not using – and ask yourself why. If the answer is ‘well I might use it one day’ or something as vague, then delete it, as the chances are you won’t be using it any time soon. It cuts down on the number of choices you make whenever you load a plug-in and will (we promise this) make you feel ever so slightly better when you drag it to the trash bin.

6But don’t delete any plug-in…

…until you have gone back through your entire collection of songs in progress (or finished, come to think about it) and worked out which ones have used the offending plug-in that you want to delete. Then, simply freeze the tracks that use it to audio (MIDI to audio, if it’s a MIDI instrument track). That way, you still get the effect or sound of the original plug-in, but can then delete it. Of course, this only works for the plug-ins that you want to delete that work – see tip 5 – but you get our drift.

7Consider templates

Templates are great! You can set up all your favourite plug-in instruments on certain tracks, all ready to use when you load up your DAW and your template auto-loads with it. You can have standard effects – EQs and compressors – readily set up on each track and even choose presets for instruments, ready to play! But note that we only said ‘consider’. It’s easy to lazily use the same template for every track you make, so you end up making the same kind of sounds and music each time. If this is ‘a good thing’ then great, go back to tips 5 and 6. If not, consider multiple templates.

8Learn one

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: along similar lines of clearing out the dead wood, why not focus on your favourite instrument or effects plug-in – or, better still, choose one of each – and learn it really well? Get to know an instrument or effect better than you know your other half and you’ll find you don’t really need any others; your choices are reduced and your workflow is increased. Don’t spend too much time with it, though, or else that other half might become an ex-half!

9Go free

It might seem like we’re trying to get you to cut down on your plug-in collections to home in and reduce your options and learn certain ones well. That’s because we are! That’s not to say you should avoid expanding your collection and a great, no-risk way is by exploring your freeware options. But don’t waste time downloading, trying and deleting, because we’ve done the hard work for you and feature annual round-ups of the best freeware.  

10Back it up

Back up. Do we really need to say this? Yes, we do. Apple’s Time Machine (or Genie Timeline, Mozy, CrashPlan or other equivalents for the PC) simply makes life worth living when it comes losing your plug-ins in a computer malfunction. Do you really want to reinstall every single last one of your instruments and effects after a major hard-drive crash/logic board explosion/old computer eaten by cat/new computer purchase? Or do you simply want to step back in time to when the sun was shining and you were skipping through a meadow of working plug-ins, with your own music playing as a soundtrack? We thought so…

For more music production tips and tricks, check out our essential guides page.