11 DAW Optimization Tips: How To Improve Your Computer’s Performance While Making Music
Updated: Oct 20, 2021
We’ve all been there… You’re adding just one more plugin to your effect chain and your DAW (or your computer for that matter) crashes. Not only is this incredibly frustrating, but you might have just lost your song altogether. Even if you make it back into your DAW, your session is likely to be just as clunky, unless you make some needed adjustments.
Below, we’ll share 11 ways you can optimize your computer’s performance so that you can worry about the music and not whether or not you’ll be able to make it. With a few quick changes, you’ll have your session up and running in no time at all.
1. Create Separate Project Files
If you’re not doing this already, it’s vitally important that you get in the habit of creating separate project files whenever you sit down to make changes on a track. Not only will this give you peace of mind in case your DAW crashes, but it will also make it easier for you to print tracks (more on that later).
You’ll want to create a separate project file for each song, but also for different versions of the same song. This can also give you the freedom to explore other creative possibilities-- If you know that your version A is saved, you can start from the bottom up with version C. If version C doesn’t end up working out, you can always revert to what you created originally.
2. Use Solid State Drives
Another essential habit of successful producers is backing up your work. Any professional producer has plenty of hard drives, and in particular, solid state drives. You’ll want to work exclusively out of SSDs since your DAW will have to constantly read files stored on the internal disk.
Solid state drives are the fastest drives, and will give your computer a significant performance boost whether you’re using an internal or external one. They’re also a lot stronger than a traditional hard drive and less likely to fail though you’ll still want to be careful with them.
3. Keep All Programs Outside of Your DAW Closed
Before starting a session, make sure all programs and all browser tabs are properly closed so that your computer can be solely dedicated to your DAW. You can use “Activity Monitor” on Mac or “Task Manager” on Windows to check the usage levels on your computer and confirm that you aren’t running any unnecessary processes.
If you’ve been using your computer heavily all day, it’s a good idea to give your system a proper restart before sitting down to produce. Make sure to keep your computer up to date on all software updates as well to ensure proper performance.
4. Learn How To Print Tracks
Another essential way to lower your CPU is to “print” your effects onto your tracks. This process bakes the effect into the audio, so while you won’t be able to adjust the effect’s parameters once it’s printed, it will be less taxing for your computer to deal with. You can do this by routing an audio track to the output of the desired track and recording the output audio.
Alternatively, you can use the freeze and print method showcased below:
In this particular instance, I decided to print the echo, delay, and reverb effects into my vocal samples since they were affecting the performance of my computer.
Note that you should always keep a copy of the source effect on the track in a separate session just in case you need to make changes down the line.
5. Adjust Your Buffer Size
Adjusting your buffer size is essential in order to optimize your DAW’s performance. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want a low buffer size for recording, and a higher buffer size for mixing and producing.This because a lower buffer size can be taxing for your CPU, but will reduce the risk of latency while you’re capturing live audio.
Conversely, a high buffer size can help your computer perform better on low resources, though it can compensate with a delay in recording. You can experient with your settings under the “preferences” tab in your DAW:
6. Keep Things Organized
Organization is an essential skill for any professional in the music industry, especially beatmakers. Make a habit of keeping your samples, folders, and full project files properly labeled and eliminate any items that you don’t use. It will also make it easier for you to locate files and plugins within a session, and eliminate any unneeded or inactive tracks as you go along to prevent DAW overload.
Note that you should rename and organize files as needed before importing them onto a track. This is because if you rename a source file after it’s loaded into a track, your computer will need to relocate the file, and you risk misplacing the audio file which can be a total pain.
7. Check Your Computer’s Fans
Fans can help your computer run more smoothly, so it’s essential that you keep them as pristine as possible. A great way to do this is to make a habit of cleaning out dust and debris out of your fans. This can surprisingly make a huge difference, and it’s a skill that you can easily learn from the University of YouTube if you don’t feel like going to a repair shop on a regular basis:
8. Keep Your Computer Decluttered
Another way to optimize your DAW and overall computer’s performance is to keep both your hardware and software decluttered. This means removing any programs or files that you don’t use, and also keeping a minimal hardware set up whenever possible.
USB hubs in particular can be incredibly taxing on your computer’s performance, so only utilize these devices when they’re necessary. Also, when you’re not using external beat making hardware, unplug it from your computer.
It might make sense to record vocals or other hardware equipment in a separate session than your initial project file. This will help reduce latency in your recordings and also allow your DAW to run a bit smoother. Once you’ve finished recordings, you can export your tracks and import them into the main session file.
9. Enable High Performance
For Windows computers, make sure that you have “high performance” enabled under “power options”. This will ensure that your computer is operating at peak capacity. For Mac users, you can try other methods such as reducing visual effects under the display tab by selecting “reduce motion” and “reduce transparency”. You can also prevent programs from launching at startup for any computers to help mitigate any unnecessary background processes.
10. Observe and Adjust
The most effective way to optimize your DAW is to observe its performance and adjust it based on the individual needs of the track. For example, if you notice that adding a certain plugin onto one of your tracks slows down the DAW’s performance, you should make it a priority to print that effect onto the track as soon as possible.
Pay attention to the causes and effects on your DAW. CPU intensive processes may need to be handled in a completely separate session in order to conserve your computer.
11. Slowly Save Up For Your Next System
While we’re all about working with what you have, it’s important to note that all computers, laptops especially, have an expiration date. These DAW optimization tips will help you get by in the meantime, but it’s always a good idea to gradually save up for your next system over time. Ideally, your next computer should have a better processor, more memory and a larger amount of RAM than your current set up.
You never know when you’re going to need a new computer so it’s important to save up on a consistent basis since computers built for production are undoubtedly expensive.
Dealing with a lagging DAW or computer is never fun. Hopefully, these optimization tips make it easier for you to produce as you please. Happy beatmaking!