Home Studio Producer – Tips and Tricks Potpourri
A collection of tips and tricks to make your life as a bedroom producer easier, your work more productive, and your production pursuits just a bit more fun.
by Luka Sraka, Sept. 2017
Every start is difficult, before we get into the grips of making, producing or recording music, we usually spend a lot of time and money. In the past few years I noticed how some small improvements have helped me to make my workflow more effective and the time in my home studio much more fun.
Organization is one of the key things if we want to be productive. Sure, we all know that organization is the key to success but what does being organized in a studio environment really mean?
First of all, I like to keep things tidy in my home studio. The desk is organized and decluttered, with only the essentials on it. The computer monitor, keyboard, mouse and the audio interface are the essentials for me. Admittedly sometimes it gets more crowded with an extra hard drive, guitar picks, capos, iPad, cables and adapters, but most of the time that is not the case. Since I don’t use a MIDI keyboard every time I open my DAW, I don’t need it in front of me all the time, so I keep it on a keyboard stand next to my table. It is still conveniently close and always plugged in so I can just reach for the keys when I need to do so. The headphones are also off the table, I hang them on the keyboard stand with the cable nicely coiled up, so they don’t get in the way. An extra pair of headphones is stored close by for the artist I record to use. Keeping the unnecessary things off the table makes me want to spend more time at my workstation. The absence of distractions makes my work more productive as well. With that being said, however, I do like to keep everything close at hand.
The guitars are out of the cases, on stands and every gadget I might need is readily available, so when inspiration strikes I just have to reach for a specific piece of gear, and I can continue working. It is the same with microphones, keyboard and other equipment. It is useful to have instruments close by and things plugged in. Tighten up your workflow as much as possible. For me that means that the guitar amp is always mic-ed, and a microphone for recording vocals is on a stand, ready to record at all times. Keeping things that way enables me to start recording right away without the hassle of looking for cables, microphones and stands and then needing to plug things into the interface. An instrument lead is close by too, so I can quickly plug it to the interface’s instrument input and record. Make a list of things you do the most in your home studio and adapt your workflow to that list. If you have a lot of hardware and a limited channel audio interface, investing in a patch bay might be a good idea too. Connecting your microphones and other hardware on your patch bay certainly beats changing the cables behind your interface and looking for the right input.
We have written about having backups of your hard drive contents before in this column, but the same goes for having backups of other studio essentials. A couple of extra cables can save your session. The same goes with the small headphone adapters and miscellaneous small gadgets. Those things get lost far too easily. I like to keep all my backup things nicely stored out of the way, but still organized so that I know where to find them when I need them.
You Are Too Poor to Buy Cheap Gear
There is an old saying here where I live, which goes something like this: You’re too poor to buy cheap things. It is clever to spend a bit of extra money on your gear if that means getting better results and a higher level of reliability. That being said, we live in a world where music production equipment has a good value for the money. But do your research. If it’s possible, try equipment before you buy it and look to see what alternatives there are in the price-range. I’ve bought cheap instrument and microphone cables far too many times just to have them break when I needed them the most. If you want to save some money but still get the best results, you can try making your cables too.
A bit of DIY knowledge goes a long way. There are wiring diagrams and tutorials online and it is not too difficult to learn how to solder. A good microphone cable can be quite expensive. But if you look at the prices of single components, they are quite cheap: a couple of bucks for adapters, and not much more for the lead itself. A great thing about building your own cables is customization. You can make the cable as long or as short you want, you can choose which connectors to use, furthermore you can make special cables that are not available for purchase. A custom multi-core cable that fits your needs perfectly might be a good starting point, or maybe a microphone cable with a 15dB pad built in. Once again there are a lot of tutorials and wiring diagrams online. I might write a how-to tutorial on soldering as well sometime in the future.
Presets and Templates
OK, so hardware is pretty much covered, but what about the software? Backing up your files should be in your blood by now, so we won’t go further into that. But there are a couple of things that can make your life easier: presets and templates. Presets should be self-explanatory. When you find a setting on a plugin that you like, save it as a preset and name it accordingly – use words that will remind you of that particular sound. To be quite honest, I don’t make presets very often, but I’ve made some that I use as a starting point a lot of the time.
The same goes with templates. Templates are basically presets for your DAW or other computer programs. In the case of DAWs, you can set the channel numbers, routing and other configurations in a template. I made several templates for my DAW. One of them is for recording a demo track, with two channels loaded, one for the vocal mic and one for the guitar. Then there’s a template for recording guitars, and so on.
Software Controller Command
The last trick I have on hand is basically a combination of software and hardware: using smartphone or tablet-based software controllers for your DAW. My main DAW is Logic Pro X and it comes with a dedicated iOS app that lets you control pretty much everything from loading new tracks to saving and everything in between. You can even mix and set the levels with your fingers and set the parameters for the plugins. There are numerous apps available, some of them dedicated to a specific DAW and the others that are universal controllers. With my iPad at hand, I have no need for a hardware controller. It is especially useful when I record myself, since it communicates via a WIFI connection and I can press the record and stop buttons even if my computer keyboard and/or mouse are not within easy reach.
These tips and tricks helped me to get a bit more organized in my home studio. I hope they will help you too.
Till next time.