Today’s post is not about the HSC Production Club, although you do still have three more days to sign up. 🙂 It’s time to get back into some “regularly scheduled programming.”

Hard drives. You’d think they’d be pretty easy creatures to deal with, right? Well, these little guys can be a real pain in a home recording studio.

It seems like every other “Ask Joe” question I get has the words “hard drive” in the subject line. There are a lot of questions floating around out there about hard drives, let’s see if I can clear some of those up today by answering some common questions.

If you’re wondering why you need an external/dedicated hard drive, then you need to read this article first: External/Dedicated Hard Drive.

How do I connect multiple firewire devices?

If you have a Macbook like I do, then you only have one firewire port. What if you want to connect a firewire interface and a firewire hard drive? Or multiple hard drives?

The answer, my friends, is daisy-chaining. Just about every firewire device out there will have two firewire ports on it. Why? So you can connect multiple devices together.

Here’s a basic setup with just an audio interface and a hard drive:

Simple Setup Diagram

Which should come first in the chain? The interface? The hard drive? It technically shouldn’t matter. However, you’ll need to play around with it. Most audio interface manufacturers will tell you what they recommend.

How about more hard drives? Here’s a diagram of my setup:

My Setup Diagram

Why did I choose this order? It’s what worked best. The 003 doesn’t pass the firewire signal through to the rest of the devices in the chain when it’s powered off. Occasionally I’ll want to access Hard Drive #1 without having the 003 powered on. Connecting it this way makes that doable.

Since I know you’re wondering, here’s what I use the three drives for:

  • Hard Drive #1 – 80 GB Glyph Drive – Main recording drive
  • Hard Drive #2 – 160 GB LaCie Drive – Virtual Instrument Samples / Backup
  • Hard Drive #3 – 80 GB generic enclosure (noisy as an airplane taking off) – Backup

I usually keep Hard Drives 2 & 3 powered down to keep the noise level down.

Should I install Pro Tools on my external drive?

I get this question quite a bit. It’s a good question! You’re thinking about using a second hard drive, which is awesome.

Here’s the basics. Your system drive is where everything is installed. If you’re not sure what you’re system drive is, it’s the main drive that came with your computer. It’s where your operating system (Windows or Mac OS) is installed.

Any software that you install, whether it’s Pro Tools or a plug-ins or Microsoft Word, will be installed on the system drive.

Your recording drive (which can be either internal or external) is where your DAW (in this case, Pro Tools) sends and retrieves audio. Pro Tools itself is installed on the system drive, but the session files and all the audio is stored on your recording drive.

How do you do this? Simply choose the drive when you create a new session. When you’re naming the session, you’ll need to pick a location to store it. Simply choose your recording drive, and you’re done!

Pro Tools won’t recognize my hard drive. What do I do?

You’ll have those moments when Pro Tools, Logic, etc. won’t “see” your hard drive. What do you do? First of all, don’t panic. Sometimes a simple reboot will fix these problems.

Otherwise, here are a few suggestions:

  • In Pro Tools, make sure the hard drive is set to be an audio record volume (that’s a link to my video on this). Sometimes Pro Tools will just switch this off for no apparent reason.
  • For Pro Tools users, remove the Pro Tools Database and Preference files from your hard drive. This is called “trashing the preferences.”
  • Consult with your DAW manufacturer website and make sure that your drive is compatible with their software. Sometimes it’s just a compatibility issue.
  • Still not working? Sometimes you just need to reformat the drive. This will delete everything on the drive, so you’ll want to back everything up before doing this.

Two more things

1. Hard drives crash – It’s inevitable. Get in a habit of regularly backing up your files

2. Never unplug your hard drive from your computer without first “ejecting” or “unmounting” it. This can cause all sorts of issues.

  • Luke Allison

    Have I got this right? You use three hard drives for recording in Pro Tools – 1. Your system drive for the software, 2. A dedicated drive for Session Files and 3. A dedicated drive for Plug-ins. Can you explain the importance of having three drives? Your article only covers the need for recording to a separate hard drive.

  • Great summary of hard drive issues, Joe. I love me some Firewire in my studio!

    • I KNOW! Isn’t the technical firewire daisy-chain limit something like 100 devices? A small part of me wants to test it and find out. 🙂

      • I think the limit is something ridiculous like 100, lol. I’m sure there’s some big studio out there that heavily invested in Firewire backup that has tested this for us. Time to start searching on Google 😉

      • Brandon Morgan

        FireWire has a limit of 63 devices per bus… with a caveat of the longest path can only be 16 devices… so if you need to have more than 16 devices connected, you’ll want to make sure you use a firewire hub. You’ll also want to use cables no longer than 15 feet.

        I’d also recommend making sure that you put your slowest devices at the end of the chain as they can bottle neck the data stream if they’re in front of faster devices.

        • HA! There’s our answer. Nice work, Brandon.

  • Shawn Manigly

    i think my email must have prompted this post! haha.

    I was also curious about the chain setup as well. Sometimes when i’m running BFD2, i get an error about “can’t communicate with external firewire drive fast enough”, and this is where all of the drum samples are stored. it’s a 7200rpm drive, so i think i’m gonna try switching the chain setup so that it goes from the computer to the hard drive first, and then to my digi 002.

    • Hey Shawn! Digi gear is a bit particular when it comes to playing well with drives. I wouldn’t be surprised if swapping the order helps.

  • Joshua Law

    Joe, I have a 1.5 TB external that runs at 7200. I also have a 500 GB external that runs at 7200 too. I was wondering if the 500 GB would be better for a dedicated audio recording hard drive? Why?

    • Good question, Joshua. The only concern I have with a 1.5 TB drive is that there’s SO much information it has to look through to find your files. Files are spread randomly throughout the drive, so the bigger the drive, the more “seeking” the drive has to do to find your files. I would probably use a smaller drive as your recording drive, and save the huge drives for backup purposes.

  • Joshua Law

    Joe, you are totally right! Backing up is something I cannot stress enough. I’ve lost so many precious sessions to the failure of a hard drive.