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October/November 2013

by Mal Smith

Tutors’ Tutorials: 25 Things to Consider Before Updating Your Software

by Mal Smith

Tutors’ Tutorials: 25 Things to Consider Before Updating Your Software

There has recently been a flurry of upgrades for DAWs and associated software. Generally my first reaction to an update is, ‘Great, let me at it’. But this approach can sometimes (and often does) lead me into hell.
Case in point – Mainstage 3 has recently been released, and I have had a few issues with Mainstage 2 so I’’m expecting that the update will address those. At the princely sum of $30 or so it would seem to be a ‘no brainer’. So, of course I charged into it and updated. Unfortunately, everything did not go as expected.

In keeping with this issue’’s quarter century theme, I have come up with the following list of things that I wish I had done, or considered, before I made the change – 25 pointers for those considering an update of their currently smooth-running music-creation software packages.

1. Research – I read the release blurb and thought, ‘‘Wow that looks really cool’’. This is, of course what we are supposed to think. Updates don’’t generally come with a disclaimer, at least not one in plain sight. It’’s more a case of ‘updater beware’. There is more to research than reading what the software company says about their update. Refer to points 2 to 25.

2. Will the upgrade enhance my current set up? Of course it will. That’’s what updates are for, right? Again this requires research. Often major products will have been released to the U.S. and European trade magazines etc. for review prior to release. Search these out. Find a magazine that you trust and go to their website. Examples would be Sound on Sound, Mix, EQ, Electronic Musician, Keyboard / Guitar / Bass Player, etc.

3. Does it address issues that I currently have? Again research is required but still you may not know until you actually install the update.

4. Am I suffering from IBS (Incremental Bull Shit)? Do I really need to have the latest just because it is the latest, or does the present version do the job for me?

5. Do I have to change platforms / operating systems? Mainstage 3 only works on Mac OSX Mountain Lion or later (at the time of writing ML is the latest version of the OS). I had been running my live setup, including Mainstage on Snow Leopard. (Yes, I was that far behind… and I was happy.) The system was stable and had not let me down on a gig. What will happen when I change the operating system? This can be a bit like dominoes and you may end up with other software that has incompatibility issues. Am I suffering from point 4?

6. Will my current computer be able to cope with the new software? Scope for a whole new article here, but check the developers’ recommendations.

7. Do I have the time for things to go wrong? Whatever happens, even if the changeover goes well there will be some fine-tuning needed. Make sure that you have plenty of time to sacrifice because, as several very knowledgeable people, such as Murphy and Eeyore have observed, “It will always take longer than you think.””

8. Does this software company have a good track record with updates working immediately? If there have been issues with previous updates then it’’s a reasonable bet there will be issues with this one as well.

9. Backup. Ideally we should all be doing this all the time anyway but it’’s easy to let it slip. If there are major issues with the update you will want to go back to what was working before.

10. Test your backup before you update. It could be disastrous if your backup didn’’t work. Take some time to make sure that it does.

11. Use the trial offers. Often software will be available in a trial version. Download and evaluate it. You may find that it doesn’t do all the things that you want.

12. Be patient. Don’’t rush in. I updated to Mainstage 3 and there were several problems that made the program unusable in a live situation. I had a gig in a couple of days and felt that I couldn’’t trust the software in the heat of battle. Thanks to 9 and 10 (above) I was able to wind back the clock. The following week an incremental update became available that sorted a lot of these issues.

13. Can I run the old system and the upgrade concurrently? Some updates overwrite the current version so check if you can run both the old and the new. Refer to 1.

14. Are all my plug-ins supported? Some new programs only support 64-bit plug-ins. Some third party developers have been very slow to upgrade their product to 64-bit so you will need to check.

15. If not, is there an alternative solution to the problem in 14? There are ways around this but they may not be very elegant and often may not be worth the effort.

16. Can I live with the pain and stress?

17. Do I really need to upgrade or is the old system doing what I it need it to? This really is the $64 question. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Refer to point 4.

18. When you do upgrade – start with working on a small project. I opened one of my old files into the updated version and when I saved it as a new version I found that I couldn’t open the old one. Again I’’m very pleased that I observed points 9 and 10.

19. Run the upgrade on a completely separate system if you can. Fortunately I have a studio rig and a live rig so I could test the update on my studio rig before transferring it to my live rig. Unfortunately I ran the first tests on my live rig so I had to revert to the back up before testing on the studio computer.

20. Test the software in a non-crucial situation before using it in a real life situation. Rehearsal is a good place for this but have an alternative available in case of problems so that you don’’t waste precious rehearsal time if it doesn’t work out.

21. Let the software company know if you have problems. I wrote to Apple and made them aware of my issues. Many of these were addressed in the incremental update. It probably wasn’’t because of my feedback but the more they are aware of an issue the more likely they are to do something about it quickly.

22. Do I want to be an early adopter? Refer to points 1 through 8. Also…

23. Check out the forums.

24. Join the users group.

25. Consult this list.

At the end of the day you will eventually have to make the decision to proceed and face the potential downtime. Having been through this process and ended up in a better place I can honestly say that I am pleased with the update and the new functionality of all my upgrades. Next time I update I will, however, take my own advice. Refer to points 1 through 25.

Mal Smith has been a lecturer at SAE Institute in Parnell for the past 15 years. He also mans the keys for Auckland band The Blue Jaffas. You can contact him at m.smith@sae.edu