Home Studio Practitioner
External or multiple hard drives are a must in modern studios, big or small. Although they are mostly used for backup, they can serve more than that need.
by Luka Sraka, June 2016
External hard Drives in a Studio – How and Why
The most obvious reason to consider an external hard drive is definitely to have a backup hard drive and when worst comes to worst, hopefully you have your most important work backed up in one of your hard drives.
The saying “the more the merrier” is true when it comes to external hard drives as well. In the studio where I work, our archive hard drive suddenly broke down a few months ago and, believe me, how we wished that we had more than one archive hard drive. Fortunately enough, only the USB connector was the problem and we were able to retrieve all of the files and transfer them to a couple of new external hard drives. There are ways to retrieve information from a damaged or even erased hard drive but those can be quite expensive. So investing in a couple of external hard drives is a good idea indeed, and remember to store one out of site for complete security.
OK, so we’ve got things backed up on an external hard drive and it is resting in a sock drawer where no burglar will find your top secret next number one hit song, so what’s next?
Drives (being hard drives or solid state drives) are used for storing information and they do that by writing on it, and when the time comes to use that information, they read it. Most of the modern hard drives can do only one task at the same time, so either read or write. That may be no problem for a day-to-day computer user, but you can imagine that it can become one for some of us, who expect from our hard drives to read a 32 GB sound library and for example write fourteen recorded tracks of audio because you just had to put those additional room mics in the bathroom for the “authentic” chamber reverb.
Even though today’s computers are remarkably fast, they can sometimes crash, especially when working on larger projects with a large track count and loads of plug-ins. Letting two hard drives share the load could help immensely. So divide and conquer! Let your main computer hard drive do the read part of the work and your external hard drive do the write part. All you have to do is to save the project folder in your DAW of choice on one of your external hard drives. With USB transfer speeds being fast as they are (especially with USB 3.0) there will be no problem saving any amount of data and reading it for playback on and from your hard drive. Of course new standards are coming out as well, Apple users can enjoy the lightning speeds and daisy chaining options of thunderbolt drives and soon USB C will be the next new thing as well, so I think we have no reason to worry.
There is of course another advantage of saving your project folders on an external hard drive, which is portability. As well as enjoying my home music room/studio, I work in a small studio based in eastern part of Slovenia called Art Music Records. Saving projects on my external hard drive, means, that I am able to take the hard drive from home and plug it in at the studio, continue my work there and vice versa. I can record in the studio, then come back home, open the project saved on my external hard drive and do the time consuming editing at home, which saves the studio time (makes the owner of the studio happy) and I’m able to work at home (makes my girlfriend happy). It certainly beats transferring files over We Transfer. Of course you have to have the same DAW in the different work spaces, and there is always that one plug-in missing because you love it and use it all the time, but someone else just hates it. But there are workarounds to these issues. You just have to know what you’re doing. So if you want to go to a different studio to mix your project with nothing other than your external hard drive, be sure that you record audio from your virtual instruments beforehand.
Can We Go Further?
Certainly we can. OK, by now I’ve persuaded you to invest in a couple of new external hard drives (if you don’t own them yet), but don’t close your wallets just yet. There is one more thing you can do to make the life of your computer even easier.
Now that we have our data backed up, and we have our projects saved in our external hard drives. What about sound libraries? Those can be extremely large and let’s face it, we all want to have as much choice as possible.
Installing or saving your sound libraries audio loops and samples on an additional external hard drive can help your computer to be even more efficient. When installing, some DAWs will give you the option to save the sound libraries and samples included onto an external hard drive, and you can do that with any other sound libraries as well. In addition to helping your computer, having your samples and sound libraries on a dedicated drive means that you have more control over organization of hundreds of gigabytes of sound libraries and samples where they are neatly packed and stored, all in one place.
My DAW of choice is Logic Pro 10 and unlike the previous versions, Logic Pro 10 doesn’t offer you the option of saving the included samples and sound libraries to a different drive than your main drive, but there is a simple solution. All you have to do is to copy the folders with samples you want to move to an external hard drive and then make alias folders for them. Move the alias folders to the folder where logic samples usually are (Macintosh HD/Library/Application Support/Logic) delete the copied folders and change the name of the alias folders to match the original folder names.
As pointed out when it comes to external hard drives the sayings “the more the merrier” and “divide and conquer” are more than true. Before spending money on upgrading or even changing your computer, some simple tricks with external hard drives could just help you to get more out of your existing computer.
In the next issue of SoundBytes we will venture into more practical stuff. Until then have fun making music!