Building a Personal Project Studio

This series of posts is a bunch of slightly cohesive thoughts I had while rebuilding my project studio/workspace in Stockholm. I wanted to capture this information, as I’ve been somewhat less than satisfied with the information on the web. These posts are more about how you should think when building your project studio and less about specific gear (thought some gear will be mentioned).

Originally, this was one post, but it just got too big, so I’ll post it in multiple, more focused chunks.

Note: While any specific software I mention here is Mac-based, I’m sure there are Windows counterparts and, possibly, Linux counterparts. Just do a little Googling to find them. These days, which platform you choose is largely personal preference, so I’d suggest you go with what you know. If you haven’t chosen your platform, yet, feel free to contact me via comments for discussion.

Let’s get started. What do you want to do?

It’s really critical that you understand what type of recording or audio creation that you want to do. Gear purchases and the overall structure of your space changes, sometimes dramatically, depending on whether you’re doing voiceovers, recording guitars, creating ambient soundscapes, or doing audio for video.

Remember the objective things, the things you can’t change.

What constraints do you work under? I suggest you keep a list like this, as you need to refer to it when making purchasing decisions in the heat of the moment. I say this from personal (bad) buying experience.

Here are mine:

  • Surround – I mix in it.
  • Analog Synthesis – I have a modular, as well as several analog synths.
  • Outboard Gear – I have both rackmount and non-rackmount outboard gear.
  • Guitars – Guitar is my primary instrument. I have many, both electric and acoustic and need to mic them.
  • Video – I need to sync to it, match sound, etc.
  • Small space – As much as I’d love to have a large studio area, I don’t…especially here in Stockholm where apartments are generally small.
  • Moderate Volume – Thanks to thick walls and interesting separation from our neighbors, I can make moderate amounts of racket without fear of retribution or complaints.

Now that we have that out of the way…

What are your personal workflow choices?

Just as you should keep a list of your constraints, you should also keep a list of your workflow preferences. I’m not talking about how you think you’d like to work in the future, but the way you currently work right now or have worked in the past, workflows that you’ve learned over time that have helped you. It’s very important that you don’t use wishful thinking here…trust me.

Again, here are (some of) mine:

  • Tracking and Mixing by touch – Not having to look at what I’m doing is very handy to me.
  • Mobile – Not the whole studio, but definitely the computer.
  • Outboard and in-the-box effects together – Combining these on a single, realtime track is critical to me.

Pretty short list, huh? Well, it doesn’t take much. I have other preferences, obviously, but this is focused on workflow, not just random preferences.

Learn and exercise patience (the value of working in a pull model)

Patience seems to be the hardest thing to learn for most folks, and doubly so for gearheads. However, if you do, you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches and a lot of money.

Remember those lists I had you create? One of the key purposes of those is to help you exercise patience and restraint. The other is to guide your decisions in an increasingly bewildering market of musical gear that magazines, catalogs, and salespeople are trying to sell you. Your whole studio should be based around those lists.

I can almost hear you saying, “WTF is this pull model that you’re talking about?”

The pull model, in this case, applies to the way you make a decision to acquire gear.

You have a need pulling gear into the studio, as opposed to an unguided purchase that pushes gear into your studio that you may rarely (or never) use.

There needs to be a reason for each piece of gear in your studio, and that reason shouldn’t be “building a collection.” It clutters the racks and the floor making it hard to get anything done, making it hard to be creative or productive. While it’s contrary to our gearhead psyche that more gear isn’t necessarily better, having the right gear and only the right gear at hand is easily a better way to go. Keep in mind, we’re not talking about a commercial studio where having a variety of microphones, preamps, outboard gear is critical. We’re talking about a personal project studio.

With that in mind, there are many things that you often need that you don’t necessarily need to keep in your studio. For instance, of the many guitars I have, I only keep two, distinctly different-sounding guitars in the studio. However, for specific sounds, I go to my storage room and pull out particular guitars, amps, or pedals for temporary use in the studio. We each have our special cases, and guitars are mine.

Up next…The Basics (Monitors)

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