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  • Simplify Your Life in the Studio

    By Anderton |

    You Have Enough Stress in Your Life - Keep It Out of the Studio!

    By Craig Anderton

    Recording music is supposed to be fun, not stressful - and any way you can simplify your studio setup (and recording procedures) will help you have a more enjoyable, and more efficient, studio experience. So, here are some tips on how to save both time and stress in the studio.


    "I'm a solo performer, so I only need a couple inputs." Right? Wrong! You probably have both a condenser and a dynamic mic, as well as some instruments, like guitar, bass and/or keyboard (and don't forget most hardware keyboards have multiple outputs). All these outputs want 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 to make music. An audio interface with lots of inputs neatly solves those patching problems. The only complication this adds is that in most cases, you'll want to keep everything muted, and unmute whatever you want to record at any given moment.

    Fig. 1: Yamaha's n8 FireWire mixer has an analog-style interface, but can transfer signals to and from a computer via FireWire. A Yamaha-specific feature is that it has very tight integration with Cubase.

    This scenario is also a justification for the new generation of Firewire-compatible mixers, because these can be about routing as well as mixing. A FireWire mixer has the look and feel of an analog mixer (Fig. 1), but thanks to a FireWire port for hooking into your computer, it combines mixing functions with an audio interface. As a result, the mixer provides the usual routing and mixing functions, but the outs and buses can appear as inputs inside your host. Furthermore, the mixer can be used in a traditional mixer context, like taking it out for a live gig.


    Most host sequencers 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 will work with the host.
    • Instrument upgrades usually happen in tandem with host upgrades, so one upgrade takes care of multiple programs.
    • 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 the instruments 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: A few "specialty" instruments, and maybe a good workstation or sampler (Propellerhead Software's Reason is a fine choice for all of the above, as it has several great instruments and can rewire it into just about anything). 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.


    Schedule doing upgrades (e.g., once every month or so), then check for upgrades for 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 using a more scattered approach. Just remember - it's often not worth being an "early adopter." Check forums and manufacturer web sites for any potential pitfalls before you upgrade.


    Just get a big external hard drive (or a SATA/USB/FireWire drive enclosure and put a hard drive in it), and copy your data drive over to the backup drive while you enjoy a movie. Not only do you avoid the stress of wondering if something's backed up, but (more importantly!) you avoid the huge amount of stress that happens when your data drive fails.


    Sometimes a performance or a song just isn't happening. You try some EQ, some effects, some mix changes, maybe an overdub or two...nope. Well, you've written music before, and you'll write music again. If something isn't flowing right, don't complicate your life: Cut your losses and move on.


    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. If you have a system with 512MB of RAM, doubling that to 1GB will make you feel you got a new computer. Ditto going from 1GB to 2GB.

    Use multiple monitors. Moving and re-sizing windows is a major waste of time, and having two monitors will make your life easier. For best results, use a graphics card designed to drive two monitors instead of using two graphics cards, each intended for one monitor. It's worth the investment.

    Print out a list of keyboard equivalents. Refer to it often; after a few weeks, you'll have the list memorized - and keyboard equivalents save time.

    Use a scroll wheel mouse. For many functions, a scroll wheel can beat clicking and dragging.


    Fig. 2: Windows users, just say no: You don't need those fancy graphics options.

    Strip down your system. Mac fans, forget that "genie-sucking-the-window-into-the-dock" thing. Windows 7 users, under Control Panel > System > Advanced System Settings > Advanced tab > Performance Settings, then choose "Adjust for Best Performance" (Fig. 2). Remove anything that runs automatically (checking the web for updates, browsers that launch automatically on startup, wireless cards if you're not using a wireless connection, etc.) unless it's absolutely essential; with operating systems, less is more.

    Place an alias (shortcut) on your desktop for everything you use consistently. And add a shortcut for your current project.

    There are other ways to make life easier: Templates for projects and tracks so you don't have to start from scratch each time, changing strings the night before you record instead of just before the session, and of course...disconnecting the phone just before you start recording!

    5318e81dd04a9.jpg.b0d4c2b27d6d8f3b9aeca9b6216cdf38.jpgCraig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.

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