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Thread January 9, 2016 editorial: comments

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1 January 9, 2016 editorial: comments

How Supportive is Your Tech Support?

These days, being a recording musician requires not only musical and recording chops, you also need to be a tech wizard. Our systems are based around software, and typically we have a DAW from one company and plug-ins from others, and possibly drivers for our audio interface from yet another company. And that’s not to mention an operating system from another company, still (unless you’re using Apple Logic, in which case both DAW and OS are from the same developer). All these various pieces of code — digital “moving parts,” as it were — have to work in tandem, which, as you surely have experienced, doesn’t always happen.

When the code isn’t getting along, you get system crashes, which can be really disruptive, and can cause you to lose work unless you’re OCD about saving (speaking of preventing data loss, check out the story we published this week on backing up your data). When things get really bad, you might not even be able to get your session to load, or even your DAW to open. By necessity, we’ve all learned various ways to cope in these situations. We trash preferences, we restart the DAW or even the computer, we scour the internet for tips on how to fix our problem, and when things really get bad, we might even try reinstalling software. 

But sometimes, none of those steps work, and we have to turn to a software manufacturer’s tech support department. And here, we find very large differences from one company to the next. Some offer phone support, where you can reach a tech agent immediately. Others make you initiate your support request by email. The latter is annoying, because if you’re in the middle of a session, you don’t want to have to wait 24 hours to get a response. It’s understandable when it’s a small developer, but larger companies should all offer phone support.

And then there those developers that charge for tech support. As a Pro Tools user, I have to deal with one of those companies: Avid. As I’ve chronicled in previous columns, I recently decided to stick with Pro Tools, even after Avid imposed its subscription and annual upgrade fee model, because I’m very comfortable with the software and I really like the way it’s structured for recording, editing, and mixing. I caved in and paid the annual upgrade fee after Avid cut it in half for those willing to forego tech support. I figured that since I’ve usually been able to solve tech problems by doing research online, I could get by without paying for support. Well, I was wrong.

I’ve been having a problem with Pro Tools crashing every time I close out of a session, and no matter what I’ve tried, nothing fixes it. I’ve gotten to the point where I have to re-open Pro Tools virtually every time I open a session. So, I finally bit the bullet and ponied up the extra $99 for an annual support plan. I figured, at least if I’m paying for support, they’ll be very responsive. Wrong again.

I called the tech support line and, low and behold, it sounds as if Avid’s tech support has been outsourced to a country somewhere in Asia. This is the kind of thing I might expect from say, Hewlett Packard or Epson, but not a DAW developer. But Avid is a large, publicly traded company, so I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised. I’m happy that people are getting jobs in whatever country the tech support is located, but I would rather see those jobs stay here in the U.S. But I digress.

So I call tech support, and the guy on the other end takes my information and tells me that the “next available” tech support agent will call me back. Five hours later, I haven’t heard a thing, so I decide to call back. This time the person who answers is a tech support agent, and, to be fair, he spends a lot of time trying to diagnose the problem, and seems pretty knowledgeable. He speculates that it’s due to the drivers from my audio interface not being up to date. He says to try updating the drivers and to email him directly if the problem persists. So I update the drivers, but the problem persists. So I email him, and attach a crash log and a screenshot of the message that pops up when the crashes occur. That was two days ago, and I still haven’t gotten a response. For this I paid $99? 

What have your tech support experiences been like?

Bring back tape machines. I never had any problem then!
Oh yeah, tech support. Well I have on several occasions thought I should just quit the recording business altogether due to too many frustrating crashes and DAW problems that get in the way of 'getting any production done' at all. I've use Logic, Cubase, Samplitude, ProTools, SONAR, and even Tracktion. I left Cubase (which I preferred) due to the pathetic tech support I received (or rather didn't receive). It would take 3-5 "days" to get an email response and then would get a one click reply 'script' saying I should reinstall the program. Problem was though, I mentioned I had already done that several times in my tech support request email. Then after a couple of more days of email chatter I finally get a call which didn't resolve my problem. I had to wait for other Cubase Forum users to suggest the correct actions to take. So I left Cubase. Can't fathom how Cubase can be used by 'any' professional studio. I guess I could have told my client he would have to reschedule his studio time because my DAW ,called Cubase PRO, (PRO really?), would take a few more days to fix my crashes! I had similar problems with the rest of the DAWs I used and only had 'real' and prompt tech support from SONAR (though SONAR is not quite stable and reliable yet, but I digress). I thought ProTools would be more 'professional' but soon realized they were only more greedy than the rest of the DAW companies. So to cut this short (as you can see this topic gets me infuriated), I have remained with SONAR and can say that I get a knowledgeable tech person on the phone usually within 1-3 minutes. He also can utilize 'remote control' and take over my computer to just 'fix the thing'. And now SONAR is actively trying to make their DAW 'rock solid' stable. So I'm glad I found home (for now anyway). I would gladly pay to have "immediate and effective" tech support and pay by the minute or 15 min chunks or whatever. Just 'per incident'. I can smell a great opportunity for a start-up DAW tech support industry.
It would take 3-5 "days" to get an email response and then would get a one click reply 'script' saying I should reinstall the program.
Wow, and I thought my story was bad. ;-)
I have remained with SONAR and can say that I get a knowledgeable tech person on the phone usually within 1-3 minutes. He also can utilize 'remote control' and take over my computer to just 'fix the thing'. And now SONAR is actively trying to make their DAW 'rock solid' stable. So I'm glad I found home (for now anyway).

I'm glad you were able to find a home with SONAR. I've always been a Mac user, so SONAR has never been an option for me (I'm way too ingrained with the Mac to ever switch to Windows), but I have had a lot of contact with the Cakewalk folks through my work as an editor, and I've always been impressed with their dedication to their users and with their product.
Bring back tape machines. I never had any problem then!

I know what you mean. Sometimes I yearn for a system where I push a button and know it's going to do what it's supposed to. But then I remember having only 8 tracks and using one up of them to sync up my sequencer via SMPTE time code, and not being able to edit nearly as precisely as I can in a DAW — not to mention having to wait while a tape rewound or fast forwarded. No, I couldn't go back to tape, but it sure would be nice if computer-based systems weren't so darn flaky.
Once again Mike, you go deep down to a common problem (Tech. Support) that hinders our work. I have a PC (capable enough to run Cubase 8.5 Pro), NI komplete kontrol S61, Arturia Spark (as a midi pad), NI komplete10 ultimate, Arturia V4 collection, one of Vienna Instruments (Boesendorfer), Tone2 Nemesis and Dune2. I feel very lucky due to the fact that in our country (Greece) the local representative of Steinberg (www.nakas.gr) has a guy that overcomes and copes all the difficulties and crashings of Steinberg’s programmes. Mr. Kostalas is also the tutor of Steinberg Masterclass courses in our country. He also knows everything about any product he sails. For ex.: I had a small problem with my Audient iD22 and he solved it in a “finger snap”. This is what I call “exemplary customer support” or customer support that keeps you “loyal” to the product. He is also one main reason that I did not proceed to an exchange of my DAW to another because I was sure that I will not get any support at all. But how many customers can have such a support as Mr. Kostalas offers? If any of his friends calls him once a month, he will have more than enough things to do. Let us not forget that he has also his personal job as a seller and representative at the Store I mentioned and his tutoring courses.
In Steinberg I have never had the chance to get any luck. Once I needed their support and I am still expecting their answer. They gave the Cubase 8.5 upgrade and they did not mentioned that you have to remake all the settings of the program from scratch. Can you imagine? Update that needs from scratch settings? The only good thing is the forum of Steinberg where you can meet people with the same problems which is very helpful. My consolation is the aforementioned local representative.
I am very happy with Synapse audio (the company of DUNE 2) and Arturia. Every time I had a problem they responded in a finger snap the former and in a reasonable time (max. 3 days) the later. My greatest issues are with Native. Their support is awful. My NI became problematic due to the fact that I did some registry cleaning efforts and some of the strings are destroyed. I am asking: who told me that I don’t have to clean my registry NEVER? Nobody! Now, in order to resolve the problem, I am in an e-mail conversation with a guy of NI form November the 4th of 2015(!!!) and the problem is not yet resolved. I have to uninstall my products and re-install them from scratch etc etc.
So to conclude if I had to pay for a support I could do it but for a support as I mentioned above, although I am not paying it. I hate when companies like Avid (which is not the only one), makes you pay this way.
Sorry for my English but it is not my first language and also sorry for making my post so long. I had more than enough depressed feelings occurred from my problems… Thank you Mike for giving us the opportunity….
Luckily, regarding my recording equipment, I've had very few problems. My DAW program, Multitrack Studio, is run out of the Netherlands, and the creator is very fast in responding to emails for help. It is also "rock solo." No 2nd/3rd party plugins have had any problems thus far.....except for Addictive Drums.
I love what Addictive Drums can do, but its support is "horrible." They are only available by email. It seems its support is in Sweden? and so their time zones are crazy, and worst of all, it takes "days" for them to respond. Not hours but days....sometimes a week. I've had no problems downloading or installing any other software in my life but Addictive Drums. When Addictive Drums does respond, their first comment is "it must be a problem with the DAW program. Contact them." And I have only to find out the problem isn't with them....its with Addictive Drums.
Most recently I purchased an "upgrade." My money was accepted, it shows up on my credit card, but I'm not given the option to download. So I've wrote them an email on 1/7 and don't expect a response for several days....so far I'm right. And I'm sure they'll tell me the problem is with my DAW....again. Things should not be this difficult.
If I were not already invested in AD, I'd go somewhere else simply based on its customer service.
If you buy AppleCare with your Mac you get 3 yrs support including professional apps like Logic and Final Cut. One reason I'm willing to support this is because it does not seem to be outsourced as far as I can tell. Wait times are minimal, but that may be because not a lot of people use this currently. Results very but it seems like Apple tries. But sometimes it seems like the issue falls into a black hole between technical support and engineering who are really the only ones that can fix an issue.

It seems like the constant changing of OS and programs, progress, leads to a state where 100% stability in a DAW is never reached and bugs are just accepted by developers and community.

Overall Logic has been pretty darn good. I really have not found myself waiting much time with technical issues. Hopefully that doesn't change because even with technical support through AppleCare your at the mercy of the developers. The more unstable a program is the worse technical support is going to be as the company gets slammed with issues. Plus, I'm sure most of use want to use a computer longer than 3 yrs after technical support is up. At which point it's pay per issue.
I have to say my experiences with Cakewalk tech support have been outstanding. I have always been able to get a live person on the line within 15 minutes (many times less than that. They have been extremely reliable with followup. On one particularincident, the tech spent 3 hours going through the paces. When he couldn't solve the problem, he setup to call me the next morning as we had reached closing time for him. He called the next morning armed with a few new things to try and it was then that I learned he had stayed late on his own time to discuss my problem with the engineers. Well all that said...we solved the problem and I was on my way again. Although Cakewalk has taken years to get where they are today..I would say they have a great product in Sonar. I am currently running Sonar Platinum (which receives upgrades each and every month), interface is a Focusrite Pro 40, Mackie MCU Pro for my controller, and a PC running Windows 10. I too have my moments like you Mike but...all in all I'm pretty happy. Oh did I forget to mention?.. Jesus hangs out in my studio alot these days! And that's a good thing eh?
Sorry for my English but it is not my first language.

No worries! Your English is a lot better than my Greek.":mdr: Thanks for your interesting response. We look forward to hearing from you more. I'm glad you've found good tech support.