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Leaning on Support

Many people maintain that DAWs have evolved to being much the same— they all cut, paste, copy, import, export, etc.

Craig Anderton Many people maintain that DAWs have evolved to being much the same— they all cut, paste, copy, import, export, etc. Yet the more you travel into a DAW’s extremities, the more differences you’ll find—and support has become an oft-overlooked “feature” of increasing importance. After all, when your livelihood depends on software, you can’t afford roadblocks. Although it’s not too hard to troubleshoot or find workarounds for some issues, if there’s a “known issue” that involves software, you’re probably not going to venture into the code and fix it.

Support is a delicate balance for companies because it’s expensive to provide quality support, yet users expect it. There are basically two needs for support: getting something to work initially (e.g., installation and authorization), and after-the-fact, “how can I do this?” support. But there’s a bewildering array of support options from different companies. Some offer free support for a limited period of time, after which you need to pay. This might be per incident, or you might be able to choose from one of several support plans covering a certain amount of time. Or there might be free email support, but person-to-person phone support—with its much faster response time—requires payment from day one.

One limitation with manufacturer support is they’ll typically support only their products. If you’re having a conflict with another company’s software or hardware interface, good luck. However, there are alternatives; Obedia. com is a “non-denominational” support company that sells bundles of time. You can grant their techs remote desktop access, which lets them analyze your system for conflicts. I once had a perplexing problem that they solved in 10 minutes, so I can vouch for this approach. Sweetwater, which places a huge emphasis on customer service anyway, can also do remote access for troubleshooting products you’ve bought from them (even if the products are from different manufacturers).

But if you’re technically savvy, often the fastest support method is to “ask the internet”—type “[name of software] [type of problem] known issues” into a search engine to discover what others have experienced. The time required to uncover something useful can even be shorter than waiting on hold for tech support.

When companies do offer free support, it’s often part of a mix of knowledge-base articles and official or unofficial user forums. The quality of forums varies wildly depending on the moderation and user base, but searching for contents within the forum will often uncover related threads, and some companies even have staff (or “superusers”) monitoring forums and supplying answers. Having a mix of options also has the potential to cut down on response times. A representative saying “please read knowledge base article TNV-1003 on video synchronization, then call back if you still have problems” takes less time than walking someone through synching to video.

If you do need support, always follow the rules. Companies have protocols, and issue support tickets. Once you’re in the system, be responsive to requests for more information and be aware you’re in a queue; you can’t push to the front of the line. The more complete the information you provide, the better—even if you’re not sure it’s relevant. For example, with Windows, it’s common for some graphics drivers, high-resolution gaming mice and motherboards that enable a floppy disk port (when there’s no floppy disk drive) to cause problems.

The bottom line is if you’re using computers for music production, you’re joined at the hip with the makers of your tools, so, ideally, support should be a two-way street. No software is bug-free (a trip to any software manufacturer’s forum will confirm this within seconds), so users who file bug reports, especially if they provide the steps needed to reproduce a bug, are often rewarded with their bug being fixed in a future update. I used to think user bug reports were jettisoned into a black hole, but that assumption was wrong—I often see fixes for bugs I’ve reported. While I doubt I was only person reporting the bug, it shows that companies do listen.

Of course, the irony is that the more support companies get from users to track down problems, the fewer problems there will be that cause support issues for users. Meanwhile, software complications will remain a fact of life and as our world takes a more complex turn, remember that using software means you’re entering into a relationship— and that relationship will likely involve support at some point.

Author/musician Craig Anderton has given seminars on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and in three languages.