Milliseconds Matter

And milliseconds add up.

I have found myself in the middle of a deep, dark place. A place known as sunt facta verbis difficiliora. Works are harder than words, or, in today’s parlance, easier said than done.

At the moment, I am trying to juggle too many things and I am losing that most precious asset, time. Time is a constant reminder that I have work to do and that I need to be using time effectively to get all the tasks finished.

I have been making progress so I should not be too hard on myself. However, between now and my daughter’s wedding, I have yet to see a way through it all. And when the unexpected happens, I do the only reasonable thing a human being can do.

I like totally freak out.

One of the many projects I have on the go involves recording. I am producing, engineering, arranging and playing on this project. I am behind schedule. I got behind schedule because I was late on another task which involved mixing and mastering two sets of performance tracks. The work on performance tracks took over 20 hours. Which is not a lot of time, but enough to take out a week on the calendar. Which pushed the current project out. I thought I would get caught up this week-end except that I am playing and recording the whole week-end. Rehearsals Saturday morning. Sessions Saturday afternoon. Practice Saturday evening. Rehearsals Sunday morning. Downbeat Sunday morning. Rehearsals Sunday afternoon. Downbeat Sunday evening.

Okay. Plan B. I will use the evenings during the week to get caught up. This impacts cycling but maybe I can just take a break from riding for the week. Except that I am going out of town for most of next week on business and I will wind up losing two weeks of cycling.

I’ve lost the thread. Oh yes. Milliseconds.

So, I am hard at work in the studio last night. I have basics down. Drums, bass, electric guitars. And now I need to track acoustic guitar tracks. When I track acoustic guitar, I use open mics. Time for headphones and cue mixes. I have a wireless keyboard which is what I use to drive the Pro Tools rig remotely.

I get the input signal chain all lined up. Prep the cue mix — click track, stereo drums, stereo electric guitars, bass, acoustic. Initiate recording.

Er. What’s up with the delay?

As I started to play, there was somewhere north of 20 to 30 milliseconds of latency in the system. In other words, from the time I struck a note, there was a delay of about 25 milliseconds before I heard that note in my headphones. Now, I know what you are thinking. Can 25 to 30 milliseconds matter?

Yup. Basically, I could not track. When I would hear a downbeat, my instrument would be late to my ears. Virtually impossible to record.

I have a Pro Tools HD system. Latency is not supposed to be an issue. And it has not happened to me in the past. I have tracked thousands of hours on this rig. No latency issues. I mean, maybe there is some latency in the system but nothing that I would perceive. Certainly nothing like a 20 to 30 millisecond delay. I spent most of the night last night trying to troubleshoot the latency. Reconfigure buffer sizes. Reconfigure automatic delay compensation. Reboot the rig. Reconfigure the studio master clock. I mean, who has time to do all this stuff?

I decided to start a test session. One acoustic guitar. One Master Fader.

Press record.

No latency.

Swell.

Obviously, the rig is fine so it must have something to do with the particular session file I was using. I bring that session file back up and check all of the parameters. The system has lots of capacity. 8 open audio DSP engines. Less than 20 percent utilization on the CPUs and the PCI bus. I cleaned up the buses and used my standard default configuration.

Latency.

Swell.

Maybe some plug-in is causing me pain. I generally include a stack of reverbs and delays in my sessions. 1/8 note delays, 1/4 note delays, 1/2 note delays, hall verbs, drum plate verbs, harmonizers. I took them out. All of them. Banished them into the great digital wasteland.

No latency.

And, at that point, I was done. Frankly, I don’t care which plug-in was causing me grief. Maybe it was a bad buss assignment. I don’t know. All I know is that I lost an entire evening chasing down a phantom gremlin in the system. A 20 to 30 millisecond delay took out 4 hours of productive work.

How do projects get late? One day at a time. In my case, one millisecond at a time.

3 replies
  1. Jakob Grimm
    Jakob Grimm says:

    I completely understand. Just finished up a project myself in my home studio (my first full-band recording) and can attest to the joys of tracking myself. Wireless mice = wonderful invention.

    Reply
  2. Capo
    Capo says:

    The Secret Powers of Time

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A3oIiH7BLmg&feature=player_embedded

    “Time is the most important resource you have. This video is a great example of how your perspective of time can change you.

    Professor Philip Zimbardo conveys how our individual perspectives of time affect our work, health and well-being. Time influences who we are as a person, how we view relationships and how we act in the world.”

    “The revolution of time what if we added an 8th day to the week – how would you spend it?”

    Reply

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