The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Project Studios

What does an effective project studio have to to do with designing cool sounds and creating memorable music? Just about everything! You can’t be a prolific producer/musician/sound designer without having a comfortable workspace. This list was compiled over years of tweakin’ the various incarnations of my own project studio. I provide this list as a service to you, my friends, in hopes that you may avoid the sweat and tears I endured in the quest for the ultimate studio.

1. Use patch bays.
Here’s a question for you. Would you rather spend your valuable studio time plugging and unplugging gear or getting actual work done? If you chose the former then you can forget this article because I can’t help you. However, if you chose the later then get yourself some patch bays. My favorite is this one by Neutrik.  Patch bays make connecting your gear so much easier. You have permanent connections that are also flexible connections through the use of a few patch cables.

2. Learn how to use the equipment you have before you add something else.
Put another way, the less gear you have to worry about the easier it is to get work done. Are you sure you use every feature on every piece of equipment you own? Look closely at the gear you have. It may already cover all of your needs. This saves you from the reconfiguration necessary every time you add a new piece of equipment to your studio.

3. Create and use templates.
Anyone that uses anything software related should be using templates. Think of templates as the “blueprints” of your sessions. If you are like me you only have a few pieces of MIDI gear. You probably have some favorite patches that you use all of the time. Why not make a session template that already has those synths and patches arranged in your normal working method? This way you can pull up the template and be working in seconds instead of the 5-10 minutes it would normally take. Nearly all software nowadays allows the use of templates. I strongly urge you to investigate this feature.

4. Arrange equipment ergonomically.
Do you find yourself continually reaching for certain pieces of equipment, while there are other pieces within arm’s reach that you never touch? You may be able to save yourself some time, not to mention a few trips to the chiropractor, by rearranging your equipment. Put the stuff that you always have your hands on close by. The pieces that your rarely mess with can be kept further away. One important example; arrange your monitors so that you don’t have to move to find the sweet spot. In general, everything should be laid out in front of you in a semi-circle, allowing you to reach 75% of your equipment without having to move, stretch or lean.

5. Get a comfortable chair.
Some engineers/producers consider this their most important piece of equipment. The more you sit the more you appreciate a good, supportive chair. A good chair helps to reduce fatigue which, in turn, helps increase your efficiency. I just bought the Tempur-Pedic TP9000 and it has made a huge difference.  You could also apply this same idea to your desk and/or workspace.

6. Follow a consistent organizational strategy.
How do you store your projects? Do you use floppy disks, jump drives, hard drives or cdr’s? Whatever you use, make it as consistent and organized as possible. Nothing disrupts the creative flow more than spending 10 minutes trying to find that cool sound you made last night. If you use a consistent organizational strategy then you always know where all of your various projects are, saving you loads of “down time”.

7. Save, all the time!
Nothing wastes more time than having to recreate something lost due to a computer crash. Unfortunately, most of us don’t fully realize this until we become victims ourselves. Save, save and then save some more. I like to save separate versions of a project as I work on it. Let’s say I start a project today. I would save it as TodayVer_1. Then as I work on it tomorrow I save it as Ver_2. When I work on it next Thursday I save it as Ver_3. This way I can always go back to an earlier version if I find I have gotten away from my original vision for the project.

…and one more tip for good luck!

8. Back-up regularly.
This is a corollary to the preceding point. Make multiple copies of your data. Depending on the importance of your data, you may want to keep copies in different physical locations. It’s not a question of if your hard drive will fail, but when. Make sure you are prepared!