Monday, September 7, 2009

5 Non-Musical Purchases to Improve Your Life in the Studio

Being a musician can be expensive. I tend to break down musical purchases into "sexy" and "non-sexy" categories. Buying a new synth? Sexy. Buying MIDI cables? Non sexy. The thing is, a lot of the time, it's the non-sexy purchases that can make the biggest difference in our day to day lives in the studio. So today I'm going to concentrate on a few of these that I've found particularly important.

1. A Comfortable Chair

Few people really think about the furniture in their studio, but it's really important. After all, you're going to be spending hour after hour parked in front of your monitors, you might as well be comfortable, right? Which chair is the right one for you depends largely on personal preference, but you want to make sure that the comfort doesn't come at the expense of offering proper support. I also recommend looking for a chair with wheels on it so you can scoot around your studio to access equipment easily.

2. Nice Lighting

I feel like a hypocrite for writing this since my current studio has pretty ugly overhead fluorescent lighting, but it's only because I don't have a lot of extra outlets in my studio. Soft lighting from a lamp or two can really make your studio a lot more pleasant and relaxing to be in. The mood you set in your studio often will set the mood for your sessions, so take time to find something you really like. Ikea has a ton of good, cheap options perfect for studios.

3. Cable Organizers

If you have a lot of hardware like I do, then you undoubtedly also have miles of cables snaking all over the place. Aside from looking ugly, it can also be a real pain in the butt when you're trying to trace one cable from output to input. There are a lot of options for keeping your cables neat from simple velcro bands to fancier split 'looms'. Have a look at to see a number of creative options to this end.

4. Cable Storage

Again, this mainly applies to those of us with lots of hardware, but any studio worth its salt should have an ample supply of spare cables of all sorts. You never know when a cable might go bad or when you might find yourself needing to plug in an extra piece of equipment and you're going to be bummed if it's 1 AM and you suddenly find yourself in need of one. Equally important as having these spares is keeping them organized in a way that makes them easy to find. My studio closet door had an old wire frame for holding shoes that turned out to be perfect for this purpose. I wind the cables up neatly and organize them by type. If I need a 1/4" to 1/8" cable or an RCA adapter or even a USB cable, I can find it quickly and easily.

5. Avery Labels

I've mentioned this one before, but it bears repeating. If you take the time to label both ends of your cables, or your various power cords and adapters, it'll make your life so much easier. You know instantly what belongs to what, and if you've ever had to move, you've probably had the experience of not being able to remember what bit of gear a particular power adapter belongs to. Avery makes adhesive labels in virtually every shape and size imaginable. I use the standard size mailing labels. They're just the right size for wrapping around a plug or adapter and they're easy to find in just about any office supply store you're likely to run into. Another nice thing about Avery labels is that they have templates for Microsoft Word so you can make your labels nice and neat and have them print out perfectly.

Can you think of any other non-sexy studio essentials that you can't live without? Share them with us!


digital lofi said...

Here's one that might also take care of your outlet shortage: a brick battery power backup/UPS. The kind you get at any computer store; APC is probably the most recognizable brand in the US. Run all your power strips and racked power conditioners off that. I can definitely attest that it's saved my ass more than once when there was a sudden blackout, and helps in the organization of power cables.

jr_civetta said...

for cable managemnet you can a look to those ikea's item

Heiko said...

In my studio I use these for managing running cables:

These parts are originally intended for the roof.

And I encounter exactly the same problem as the OP of having too few power sockets for nice lighting.

mangadrive said...

Dual socket extensions and multiple sets of headphones made me not want to kick a puppy when I have to switch back and forth between my Echo interface and X-Fi sound card. I'm not rich so I have to have a computer that does it "all". meaning you typically can't surf/game/produce all with the same audio card practically. Puts less wear and tear on the socket itself, which is usually the first place where headphones go bad.

I will also give much praise to dual monitors and not the speaker kind. The VISUAL kind. If you are wanting to save a lot of time then buy the biggest single LCD monitor you can afford and fit at your mixing desk. You can get 22-24 inch monitors now for ~200 bucks shipped. I've found with a small monitor you have to leave a lot of things closed and play Tetris with what you can and this adds to frustration at times. The more real estate you have to work with the more time you save by having the feedback/control ready on the spot. If you can afford a second one, it just gives you even more freedom. You can have the multi tracker visible on your left and all your mixing tools available on the right or however you choose to use it. While this may seem like aesthetics, it is a huge time saver and when you save time, you make more music.

Tom said...

Mangadrive - I KNEW there was something I was forgetting. Yes yes yes a million times to a big monitor. It makes SUCH a difference.

Freak Without A Cause said...

"Soft lighting" might strike some people as being too feng shui but I can attest that it makes a huge difference. When I got a new corner desk two months ago I just set a spare table lamp down next to me. But after I'd worked in my
little home studio room for less than an hour, the light irritated my eyes. The lamp was my only source of light in the room, it was too close to me, the lamp shade was too thin...I don't know why but it became unbareable. Finally I picked up from chinese lanterns from Target, stuck them
overhead, and my creative life is alot better now.

One word of caution: call them Chinese LANTERNS not BALLS. You'll avoid the awkwardness of going up to 2 male workers at Target's and asking them "Do you have China balls?" When they turned to each other with a "WTF" look, I realized I'd just put my foot in my mouth. Luckily, neither of them were Asian--otherwise they might have thought I was making a racist joke.

PS--thanks for the blog. Lots of great info and useful links.

Tom said...

Freak - Maybe they thought you meant Ben-wa balls. haha