DIY Music Blog #13 – DISASTER! And how to be prepared for it…

A new blog post so soon?! Well, yes… and there’s a reason for this.

I’ve suffered from a pretty major setback in the DIY Music home studio recently and haven’t been able to get a lot of stuff done that I’d hoped to. However, I’m going to find the silver lining around this and also share some valuable lessons I’ve learned so that you can be prepared for any similar fate that may befall you.


Just When I Thought It Was Safe…

…to update my operating system.

Yes. And many of you probably could have warned me. The source of my recent woes has come as a result of updating my Windows 10 operating system. If you’re in the DIY Music Group on FB then you may already know the story but I’ll briefly outline it here.

I have a laptop at the centre of my setup. It’s kinda old but (until now) sturdy and reliable. Originally on Windows 7, I updated to Windows 10 a few months ago with no major difficulties and was actually very happy with the performance. However, a week ago another update happened and I unthinkingly let it run it’s course. After this I lost access to the 64 bit versions of all my Waves plugins, which was a pretty critical problem as I use at least one Waves plug in every project. I tried a variety of solutions including un-installing/re-installing the plugins and my DAW and multiple restarts etc…

Nothing worked until I eventually opted to roll back to the previous install of Windows 10.  Hallelujah! I had all my plugins back and functioning as they should. Having lost a weekend mucking about trying to fix the issue I ended Sunday with an intense bout of creativity and recorded the bare bones for a whole new Frank Insomnia track.

My joy was premature, though. The next time I started up the laptop I was, after a painfully long wait, greeted with the heart-stopping words; Operating system not found.

It turns out that for some reason my computer will no longer see my hard drive, which holds my operating system, all my software and all my ongoing projects. I’ve tried all routes to finding it but with no luck and today I’m left with only the option of reinstalling Windows, which may or may not be successful in a number of ways. I’m not very optimistic about my chances. (UPDATE: Even this option isn’t working so far)

All Is Not Lost

As depressing as this is, it is not the end of the world. Fortunately I already made sure I practiced a few essential habits to prepare me for this kind of event both practically and psychologically.

Here’s why I’m not about to run and jump off the nearest tall building just yet. Take note in case something similar happens to you.

  1. I make regular external backups – Every few weekends, after finishing any projects and before making any major changes to my set up; I back up all my project files, all my samples and all my presets to an external drive. Currently I’m using a Seagate Backup Plus and have only half filled it so far. There are a number of free programs available that let you compare local folders with backup folders and copy anything new from one to the other. As I had backed up before I ran the Windows update I know that I have all my latest work ready to go when I fix this machine or get a new one.
  2. All my software is paid for and/or registered – Knowing that my DAW and all my VSTs are from legitimate sources gives me the peace of mind of knowing that I can easily download and reinstall to another machine if required. A very important addition to this is that…
  3. All my product activation and license keys are on external devices – I have an iLok and a standard USB which holds all my licenses between them, making a switch to another machine fairly straightforward. All other stuff that needs activation can be done online using serial numbers or account details that I also have quick access to.
  4. I have a support group – Sometimes, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Thanks to being a member of a few online communities of other DIY musicians, especially the DIY Music Group, I’m never far away from someone who can help when a problem occurs. On this occasion a big shout out goes to Fab Riondet, who’s expert hand guided me remotely through various options to try and get my machine working again. I know very little about the workings of a PC operating system but with Fab’s help I’ve been booting in with Linux and rooting around like a pro. Although I’ve not managed to fix the problem I have at least eliminated most possible causes and can be confident that I’ve done everything I can do.
  5. My music PC is not my only computer – Indeed, I wouldn’t be writing this post if it was. In fact, the PC which died is only used for music and nothing else beyond connecting to the internet for downloads and updates. So, although I’m currently unable to work on any musical projects I can still work on design jobs and the blog on my ‘office’ Mac. And I can still listen to the mixdowns of my works-in-progress and make plans for when I’m up and running again. I could even fire up my long unused Logic Pro and still do some recording if I get really desperate!

What I’ve Learned

Despite all the precautions above this was still an unexpected and frustrating experience because I’ve not been able to work on any music in my DAW for over a week now, and I’ve lost a lot of time working on fixing the PC. So I do have a few lessons to take away from this that I’ll be putting into practice from now on.

  1. Do some research before updating anything If I’d really looked into it (as I did after the horse had bolted) I would have found plenty of stories on the internet of Windows 10 bricking people’s hard drives. I would also have found that the manufacturers of my specific laptop recommend you do not update to Windows 10 just yet. If I’d seen all this before I would have stuck with Windows 7 and perhaps be working on tunes now and not writing this blog. From now on I’ll be putting off updates to any software until I’m as sure as I can be that they’re not going to cause problems.
  2. If you do music professionally, have a second computer ready – In a way I was lucky with the timing on this because I’m not in the middle of working for anyone else, just myself. If I’d had a mix to deliver for a client I would be in a very sticky situation right now. Essentially I would need to beg, borrow or steal another machine, install all the relevant software and retrieve all the project files from my backups. It’s doable but having a second machine ready to go would be a very sensible thing to do to avoid this pain.

Silver Linings

So it’s been a rough couple of weeks, but I’m always one to look on the bright side. I have everything backed up so I’ve not suffered any major losses, I’ve learned quite a bit about digging into a computer’s BIOS and what kind of things can go wrong, and how to fix them, and I’ve definitely strengthened a bond with a fellow DIY muso, who has exceptional PC skills.

On top of that, I’ve bitten the bullet and ordered a brand new laptop. This one will be a much higher spec (i7 processor, 16gb RAM, dual HDD and SDD hard drives) and comes with Windows 10 pre-installed plus support and warranty. It’s a bit of an investment, but worth it in my opinion, as I can’t live long without being able to work on music! I’m planning to do a fair few jobs this year so it should pay for itself soon enough. I’m now pretty excited to start working with a more powerful machine.

The last, rather significant, benefit of this ‘disaster’ is that I’ve been forced to go back to my roots. By that I mean that, without a computer to work on, I have only my guitar, my keyboard and my voice to play with. This means I have little choice but to actually write some music in the real world! Which is something, in all honesty, I have have fallen into the trap of neglecting in favour of playing about with synths, emulators and effects on my PC… So hopefully by the time the new laptop arrives I’ll have some fresh songs to record with it.

What about you? Do you have any disaster stories to share? Any advice to help avoid them or recover from them? Please do write in the comments below.

One comment

  1. I too have bought THE LAPTOP to cover all bases – 16Gb memory, Intel i7 (8 threads…) 1Tb HDD with 8Gb SSD side-saddle for fast-boot… and have the dreaded Windows 8.1 installed (which I hate!) So I am glad to see that there may be difficulties ahead – which kind of excites me. Having been around computers since the week Charles and Diana got married (yes, June 1981, and a 32k BBC Microcomputer) music and computers together – what a challenge. And although I too have heard of disasters over the Win 10 Upgrade … 1) I cannot wait to see the back of 8.1 … 2) Toshiba are recommending the upgrade (The Laptop’s brand) and 3) What’s not to like in a new OS?

    To me, it will all be an adventure, even a ‘disaster’ would be something to get my teeth into (although chez moi it is either on a 4-bay ProBox 11Tb backup, or the mega backup 8Tb Seagate…! Plus 100Gb Blu-ray hard copies of my most precious files…) I shall probably make a disc-image of the 8.1 using Acronis – even though I used Belarc to get the product key (and all the other product keys) – then I should have one 32-bit Vista Ultimate laptop; one 64-bit Windows 7 laptop; and a 64-bit Windows 7 gaming PC. Having Windows 10 along to the party should be fun – in spite of any setbacks. I seem to recall that there are not too many irredeemable Win10 situations – so I shall take that as encouragement. Thank you for your post, and I hope it has all resolved itself for you successfully.
    (On SoundCloud = Send My Roots Rain)

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