Cleaning Checklist: Preparing Your Audio & Video Workstation

To ensure a long life and efficient performance for your music or video computer, Matt Vanacoro recommends you follow these few simple tips. Read on to find out what they are...  

How many OS upgrades have you done ‘over’ your old operating system? One of the best things you can do to extend the life of your studio workstation is to give it a ‘clean sweep’ and a fresh operating system. I’ve been using a 2013 Mac Pro as my main studio machine since the day it was available and it still absolutely tears through any audio project I throw at it - but only because I keep it in tip-top and clean shape. You’ll want to make a ‘checklist’ before you do of everything you want to back up and maintain. Here’s what I do every time I decide to give my aging machine a modern makeover.


The first, and perhaps most obvious place you’ll want to take a look is your desktop. Of course, many cloud services today give you the option of backing up your desktop - but you’ll want to verify that it actually got done and done recently before you do your ‘Thanos Snap’ on your hard drive!

It’s also important to remember that some file types can be excluded from desktop synchronization, so if you have any complicated or larger files on that desktop, be sure you take care of it before you clean.

Documents Folder

The documents folder is not as automatic as you think! I’m sure many of you are saying, ‘what kind of IDIOT would forget to back up his documents folder?’ This reminder isn’t there for people who utilize there documents folder, it’s for people who don’t THINK they do. I utilize Google Drive for my documents, so my computer’s default ‘documents’ folder is pretty clear. There are apps, however, that store important information in there by default and don’t tell you. So while my song lyrics, spreadsheets and the like might be safely backed up in the cloud via Google Drive - if I didn’t think about my documents folder I’d lose my Bias Amp software settings, my custom Korg Arp Odyssey presets, and more. Moral of the story? You have to take a glance at your documents folder EVEN IF YOU DON’T USE IT.

Your ‘preferences’ folder might follow the same logic. Remember, think about every ‘mission critical’ app you use, and try to remember where that app stores the things you create with it. Setting up all of your preferences, templates, and such from scratch again really stinks.

De-Authorize Plugins

Many plugins are starting to utilize their own authorization systems these days, and even iLok is now occasionally storing licenses on your computer locally rather than the physical iLok USB key. You’ll want to move all of these licenses back to the the cloud, or ‘de-authorize’ them so that when you make your clean sweep, things will be as simple as doing fresh installs of your plugins. Trust me, you really don’t want to have to contact the manufacturer and ask for additional licenses - it can be a real headache and can actually cost money depending on the license.

Orphaned Media

I don’t use my ‘movies’ folder regularly as I keep most of my working video projects on my external RAID. Just like my documents folder, however, there are things there that I didn’t specifically ‘put’ there. I’ve got custom titles I generated in Motion, a few libraries for Final Cut that I *thought* were created externally but slipped by, and even some LUTs (look up tables) for my cameras and color matching purposes. I’d be spending a *lot* of time generating this stuff again if I didn’t back it up. Remember, just because you don’t use that folder doesn’t mean your system doesn’t use it on your behalf!

Sample Library And Installers

Like a good audio geek, I keep my sample libraries on an external SSD drive for the most part. You’ll want to check and make sure that any authorizations for said libraries are intact externally before you wipe things out, but more importantly - do you have backups of installation media for any libraries that would charge you to download them again? More than one company puts the onus on the consumer to keep the installation files intact, and charges a fee for re-downloading. Avoid the hassle by having a large, slow hard drive (because it’ll be cheap) specifically for keeping old installation media if you buy libraries from these companies.

Log Out of Cloud Services and Media

iTunes lets you reset authorizations for all computers a finite amount of times per year before it becomes a major hassle. Of course, your computer should be recognized when you do a fresh install if you haven’t upgraded anything major - but that doesn’t always happen. You’ll want to ‘log out’ of iTunes and any other media aggregation services you might use that have finite authorizations. You’ll also want to log out of any cloud services so you don’t have ‘duplicate devices’ using up any limited amounts of slots for installation and synchronization. If you forget, you could wind up not knowing which is the ‘old’ computer and which is the ‘new’ computer online afterwards and that makes deleting old backups and such harder.

Local Copies of Media

The cloud is great. We all love the cloud. You should be using the cloud. That doesn’t mean the cloud deserves your COMPLETE AND ABSOLUTE trust when it comes to your irreplaceable media. Even though I subscribe to Adobe Lightroom’s cloud service as well as Apple Photos, I like to make sure that my local machine has copies of my irreplaceable media. As a photographer and videographer, I have decades of family footage, old portfolio work, and the like that I’d never want to lose. Personally, I’d never wipe my machine and just ‘trust’ that all of my media is doing just fine up in the cloud. I like to have a local copy at all times, and if your media is important to you, you should too.

Prepare and Verify Installation Media

How are you going to install this ‘clean’ version of your new OS? Do you have bootable media? Are you sure it’s actually working and working properly? Is the computer you’re about to wipe clean actually compatible with the OS you are about to install? It all sounds very basic, but these are very important questions for you to have the answer to in your head before you actually erase everything on your computer. It’s also important to have another computer to work from and utilize for troubleshooting while you do this. If your studio workstation is your only computer, wait until you have someone around that has a laptop as well. You may need to download drivers, troubleshoot, use target disk mode, and more. Having another machine running the same platform (Mac or PC) around has saved my hide more than once.

Learn more about using Mac, PC and mobile devices for music production:

Matt Vanacoro is one of New York's premier musicans. Matt has collaborated as a keyboardist in studio and on stage with artists such as Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Mark Wood (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Mark Rivera (Billy Joel Band), Aaron Carter, Amy Regan, Jay Azzolina, Marcus Ratzenboeck (Tantric), KeKe Palmer, C-Note, Jordan Knig... Read More


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