SOUND ON SOUND REVIEWS
SOUND ON SOUND magazine Vol.16 No.4. March 2001
By Chris Carter
as this piece was written 14 years ago some (even many) of the links within the article may no longer work.
OPEN ALL HOURS
Problem solving and advice using the Net.
We’ve all been there, you’ve been recording all day without a hitch but now your gear is going wacky, your MIDI is all muddy and your sequencer is all icky. And to make matters worse your favourite ‘tech support’ line has gone home and your ‘know it all’ geeky mate is down the pub, all things technical just a hazy memory.
Well apart from hitech Voodoo (sadly not always guaranteed to work) and assuming you are on-line probably your only way out of trouble is help via the tangled web that is the Net. But where do you begin? Try typing ‘MIDI problem’ or some such phrase into your search engine and stand back while hundreds of totally irrelevant references scroll past. If you have a problem involving products from different manufacturers it can be a nightmare getting a satisfactory solution from either party. With both sides blaming the other for: ‘not following agreed specifications’ or ‘deviating from industry standard guidelines’ (are there such things?). The usual guff, in other words passing the buck. What do we learn from this sorry state of affairs ? That ultimately we are ALL beta testers for manufactures and always will be.
Well hopefully I’m going to explain a few possible options and solutions to help point you in the right direction for some DIY trouble shooting.
COMMON AS MUCK
Common issues are communication problems between MIDI hardware instruments and software sequencers, conflicts between software and sound cards and that general PC malaise: ‘known bugs’.
I can only just scratch the surface for dealing with problematic equipment and software but these types of issues can be more than just an inconvenience if your livelihood hangs on your sampler refusing to sample or your PC deciding it’s had enough for the day while the rest of the band waits, blissfully ignorant of the situation.
Take even the briefest look at most discussion forums and you’ll see the scale of the problem in these kinds of areas. But it’s not all bad news as there is often someone somewhere in this shrinking but connected world with a solution or workaround you’ve not come across or thought of.
The first port of call if your problem is specific to a particular software program is the manufacturers web site. Many have very extensive sites, often with helpful pages on trouble shooting, FAQs, and software and driver updates etc. Some also have links to other related sites that may offer further support. It is also worth visiting manufactures sites in other countries, not just the UK, as occasionally a foreign based companies site (US, German, Japanese etc.) may have more up to date information and software. Most of these official sites have email links so visitors can contact the company with requests or queries, but don’t hold you breath waiting for a reply.
If your problem is platform specific (ie: Mac or PC) and you baulk at the thought of paying anything between 50p and £1 per minute for the premium rate help line support that some well known PC manufacturers charge then troubleshooting the DIY way is an obvious and cost effective solution.
Unlike Macs PCs are made by more than one manufacturer and tracking down the necessary information to tackle a particular troublesome PC can be fairly time consuming. A good starting point would obviously be the manufacturers web site however, independent help sites such as http://www.windows-help.net and http://www.helponthe.net have useful forums and extensive and searchable archives of Windows and PC hardware problems.
For Mac users probably the biggest and best independent site for hardware and software problems is http://www.macfixit.com. It includes daily news updates and bug reports, discussion forums, information archives and a library of useful utilities. The Apple site http://www.apple.com also has an extensive technical library, a very useful discussion forum and is constantly posting system software updates and bug fixes.
A good starting point for music/recording related problem solving and general advice is our very own revamped SOS Discussion Forum www.sospubs.co.uk. This is a web based forum for posting questions and answers and is an excellent source of shared information covering such topics as Recording, Music Technology, Music Software, MIDI, making music with computers, Digital Audio, Sequencing, Hard Disk Recorders, Microphones, Monitors, Mixing... and many other topics regularly covered by this magazine. As with all discussion lists if your problem isn’t covered just post a message asking for help or advice with your particular problem.
If you are encountering problems with or need advice on obsolete or vintage gear (a term which now seems to include both pre MIDI and early MIDI gear) there are a couple of very good specialist sites around. Until recently one of the best was www.synthfool.com but this has now closed up shop, alternatively http://www.vintagesynth.com is worth visiting with masses of useful information regarding specifications, interfacing and troubleshooting.
The SOS Forum is categorized into various topics but if you would prefer to confine your questions and answers to one or two particular subjects you could search one of the big email discussion hosts for a group covering your area of interest. The Yahoo owned eGroups http://www.egroups.com (formerly called OneList) has hundreds of dedicated music related discussion groups covering everything from individual (and specific) synthesizer lists to home recording and MIDI. Admittedly some groups are quite small with only a few members and little activity but some of the larger and more dynamic lists boast hundreds of members and are an invaluable source of information, troubleshooting tips and general good advice.
Users of popular programs such as Logic and Cubase VST (on both platforms) and instruments (Korg, Roland, Yamaha etc.) are well catered for on eGroups and some lists include a few industry (and inside) figures as contributors and members, which occasionally means some of the opinions and discussions about bugs and ‘features’ actually get back to the people who write the programs.
Joining an email based discussion groups is useful if you often encounter technical problems or need advice and would like a relatively speedy response outside normal ‘technical support’ working hours. These groups have been around for a few years now and were first covered in depth in SOS Sept 1999 and their recent growth, particularly eGroups, has been huge and there are now thousands covering everything from firearms to flower arranging. Recording, MIDI and computer based music related subjects are particularly well supported and many popular software and hardware products are often covered by more than one group.
Joining a discussion group (also called lists) is very straightforward and no special programs are needed, just access to the internet, a browser to get you signed up and email facilities to send and receive messages to the lists. Once you have subscribed to your chosen group (or groups) you can usually opt to receive email messages from the list as they are posted by other subscribers, or as a daily digest consisting of one large email containing of all the days previous messages. Alternatively you can choose to only read the messages on-line using your browser.
When you send a message to the group list it is automatically sent to all the other subscribers on that list, sometimes via a moderator, who is usually the person that started the list. The moderator (if there is one) will check for things such as abusive or inflammatory remarks and unnecessary attachments, which are all frowned upon. Your message will usually appear on the list within an hour or so, often much sooner and it can be surprising how fast you get a response (depending on the complexity of the question of course). I’ve had worthwhile responses to fairly obscure technical questions within a couple of hours, certainly a lot quicker than some of the major manufacturers support lines have ever got back to me.
The vast majority of responses appear in the group list for everyone to read but some individual subscribers may wish to ask or tell you something not directly connected with your original message (this is sometimes called off-topic or OT) and may reply directly to your email address, bypassing the list altogether.
It’s worth bearing in mind when sending messages to a group that it’s going to be placed in the public domain and could be read by hundreds (or even thousands) of people, so it’s good practice not to send details of your address or phone number unless you are prepared for the possible consequences of uninvited visitors or calls in the middle of the night from chatty Americans. I speak from experience.
If you get some useful replies to a post and manage to fix your problem or get the advice you were looking for it makes sense (and is good manners) to send a message to the list (or individuals) thanking them for their help.
Once you are subscribed to a discussion group pass on any hints or tips of your own to other users experiencing problems, share your knowledge.
The Net can at times seem like an almost bottomless pit of trivia but with a little measured resourcefulness you can find someone somewhere who has the information you need to get your gear working as it should, DIY troubleshooting the shared way. Now what was that Voodoo chant to resurrect a dead hard drive again?
USEFUL FORUMS AND MAILING LISTS
One of the best multiple topic music related forums.
A vast catalogue of electronic music related mailing lists, from Brian Eno to DIY synth building.
Very active Emagic Logic forum.
The official Cubase VST forum.
Mega site covering most synths and samplers. With extensive links, a bulletin board and archived discussion forum.
Clearly laid out newsgroup with a searchable index of postings. A basic search came back with 6000 pages of MIDI references.
Useful forums covering mainly Yamaha equipment
Forums for Yamaha A Series Samplers
Some useful links to various music related mailing lists including:
Alesis QS Series, Christian MIDI music, 4 Track Newbies, Roland HD recorders and more.
Probably the most comprehensive vintage synth site on the net. Includes extensive links to other related sites, copies of original instruction manuals for dozens of instruments and much, much more.
The best Mac troubleshooting site ever.
No.1 site for keeping up to date with the latest Mac software.
Help with Windows 95, 98 and 2000.
Free PC online support and forums.
eGROUPS DISCUSSION LISTS
Help with music production problems.
All things MIDI on the Atari ST and Falcon.
For Cakewalk Audio/Midi recording software.
Dedicated to Cubase VST on the Mac.
General Cubase VST troubleshooting.
Emagic Logic, cross platform.
All things Roland.
Roland DR-5 rhythm unit.
Yamaha O1V mixer.
Akai DPS12 HD recorder.
Analog synths in general.
Vintage synth repair advice.
All Korg N Series Synths.
Korg MS2000 Analogue Modeling Synth.
Korg D8 HD Recorder.
EMU ESI and Emulator samplers.
Dedicated to software synthesizers.
Copyright © 2001 Chris Carter / SOS Publications.