De-Clutter Your Recording Studio Life

You certainly don’t want to add clutter and stress to your time in the studio

Although you want to have fun when recording music, sometimes certain factors work against you—such as software updates, bad cables, mis-set controls (so that’s why I’m not hearing any sound!), and the like. But there are also factors you can control that will make your studio time less stressful. One of the most important ones is simplifying your studio setup (and recording procedures) so you can have a more efficient, and more enjoyable, time in the studio. For example…

Use an Audio Interface with Multiple Inputs

“I’m a solo performer, so I only need a couple inputs.” Right? Wrong! You probably have a couple of mics, and more than one instrument—electric guitar, acoustic guitar, maybe a bass, keyboard (remember, most hardware keyboards have multiple outputs), and the like. All these outputs seek inputs, and you don’t want to re-patch; it’s great to have everything ready to go, so all you need to do is record-enable a track, and start making music. An audio interface with lots of inputs, like Focusrite’s Scarlett 18i20 (Fig. 1), neatly solves those patching problems.

1_Focusrite 18i20
Figure 1: This rear panel view of the Focusrite 18i20 shows the roster of I/O, except for two additional front-panel inputs.

The 18i20 has 8 analog inputs but also includes an ADAT port. This means you can expand the number of inputs with an 8-channel mic preamp sporting an ADAT-compatible output, like the Behringer ADA8200. Another audio interface option, TASCAM’s US-16×08 is very cost-effective. It includes 8 mic inputs and 8 balanced line inputs.

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Figure 2: TASCAM’s Model 24 serves multiple purposes, but one of them is sophisticated audio interfacing via USB.

A relatively recent product category is a mixer with USB interfacing capabilities, like the TASCAM Model 24 (Fig. 2). Given that you can use this as a standard mixer with a full set of both line and mic inputs (the mixer provides the usual routing and mixing functions; the ins, outs, and buses can appear as I/O inside your host), a solid-state recorder, or a USB interface, one unit can fulfill multiple functions in the studio. (For more information, the Full Compass Live blog published a detailed review of the TASCAM Model 24).

The only complication with having an interface that features multiple inputs is you’ll want to keep all unused channels muted so they don’t contribute noise. But the time you save by having all your instruments pre-patched, ready to go, and with levels already set for optimum recording, more than offsets that slight tradeoff.

Use Your DAW’s Bundled Plug-Ins as Much as Possible

Most host DAWs now bundle a decent assortment of plug-ins, including instruments and processors. Using these instead of relying on third-party plug-ins has several advantages:

  • No incompatibility issues—if it comes with the host, it works with the host.
  • Instrument upgrades usually happen in tandem with host upgrades, so one upgrade takes care of everything.
  • This simplifies file exchanges with others who use the same host because you know your collaborator will have the same plug-ins.
  • Should you re-visit a file in a few years, odds are good the plug-ins will open properly if you’re using the same host.

Granted, bundled instruments won’t necessarily do everything. But keep your collection of instruments manageable—avoid the temptation to download a zillion shareware plug-ins “just because you can.” It’s more to learn, more to maintain, and more that can go wrong.

Manage Software Upgrades

Schedule doing upgrades (e.g., once every month or so), then check for upgrades to your plug-ins, host, operating system, graphics card, etc. Windows users should set a System Restore point before upgrading anything, and Mac users can use Time Machine; all users should test their setup after each upgrade. You’ll often find this to be more efficient than upgrading with a more scattered approach.

Also, remember your desired result: it’s to do recording, not have the most up-to-date computer on the planet. It’s often not worth being an “early adopter,” and the upcoming Windows 10 update in May 2019 will give more flexibility in terms of pausing updates—no more major updates in the middle of a project unless you want to update. In any event, check forums and manufacturer web sites for potential pitfalls before you update, and remember that the operating system is only part of the process—drivers often need some update love as well.

Simpler Backups

There are sophisticated software programs that do incremental backups, and that’s a good way to go. Or you can just back up your data drive to another drive every now and then. In either case, you’ll need a big external hard drive, like the Glyph S6000 6 Terabyte USB 3.0/FW800/ESATA drive (Fig. 3).

3_Glyph S6000
Figure 3: As you generate more and more data, bigger hard drives become essential. Glyph’s S6000 provides 6 Terabytes of storage, at a cost of about 50 cents/gigabyte.

It takes time to back up large amounts of data, but that provides the opportunity to clean up your studio, or watch a movie—and afterward, you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from knowing your data is backed up.

Learn to Cut Your Losses

And now, for a non-technology tip. Sometimes a recording just isn’t happening. You try some EQ, some effects, some mix changes, maybe an overdub or two…nope. Well, you’ve done recording before, and you’ll do it again again. If something isn’t flowing right, don’t complicate your life: Cut your losses and move on.

Anything That Saves Time = Good

Wasting time gets in the way of inspiration, and reduces what you can do during a given session. Here are some of my favorite time-savers.

If applicable, increase your computer’s RAM.

The more RAM you have, the less often your computer will have to go through the bottleneck of accessing its hard drive.

Use multiple monitors.

Moving and re-sizing windows is a major waste of time, and having multiple monitors makes your life easier.

Print out a list of keyboard shortcuts for the programs you use.

Refer to it often; after a few weeks, you’ll have the list memorized—and keyboard equivalents save time compared to mousing around.

Strip down your system.

If you don’t need a driver, disable it. You don’t need fancy screen animations. Remove anything that runs automatically (do you still need iPod helper on your system?). Unless a start-up program/service or driver is absolutely essential, with operating systems, less is more.

Place an alias (shortcut) on your desktop for everything you use consistently.

Also, add a shortcut for your current project.

And of course…turn off your ringer before you start recording.

Nothing will snap your brain out of its right-brain, creative space faster than a robo-call saying the IRS is about to arrest you, or you’ve won an all-expenses-paid vacation. When you’re recording, cell phones are a privilege…not a right!

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