As I'm writing this Leader column, Christmas is fast approaching. Although it only seems like a couple of months since the last one, I'm looking forward to the break, not because of the turkey and TV excesses, but because once again I'll have the chance to strip down my studio and rewire it, cleaning out all those bits of cat fur that seem to get everywhere in the process. I'm not planning any major changes this year, but certain components need to be moved around so that I can get all my mic preamps in the same rack as my audio interface and reduce the amount of wiring about the place. Because my system also gets used to review equipment, there are always cables hanging out of the back of racks that no longer go anywhere and need to be pruned back.
Over the past few years I've tried to simplify my system and now find myself doing almost everything inside my DAW software. I got rid of my last mixer three or four years ago but I'll be hanging on to my control surfaces, as I still like the tactile interface they provide. Having said that, if it came down to it, I could get by almost as well by using one of those cute little single-fader devices from Presonus and Frontier Designs.
Other than my mic preamps, the inevitable audio interface and my only remaining hardware synth — which now feeds directly into two of my audio interface channels and appears as an aux input inside my DAW software template — I have to confess that I don't use any outboard processing anymore, with the exception of my Drawmer Masterflow mastering processor.
However, I do use some outboard DSP processors, which are connected to my computer via Firewire, as well as having a UAD card inside the computer, but these all behave as though they're part of the DAW software, so I don't really classify them as 'outboard'.
The great thing about having such a compact system is that (apart from when reviewing equipment, of course) I don't need to repatch anything. Furthermore, I only occasionally plug in a mic, so problems associated with dirty or corroded contacts are minimised, and ground-loop problems are less likely too.
In combination with a well-thought-out default song, all this means I can be ready to record in little longer than it takes the computer to boot up, which is a definite plus when you're on a creative roll. Nothing is worse than having your great idea pushed to one side by the need to wrestle with a system error or software crash. I'm not saying that I never suffer from these, but I find the simpler I keep the software on my machine the more stable everything seems to be. So now I'm not only pruning out hardware and cables I don't use, but also making a conscious decision to disable any superfluous plug-ins I have on my system.
By the time you read this, Christmas will be over and my studio will be neat and tidy, ready for the start of the new year. But who knows what will happen next Christmas — I may, like many of my friends, have replaced my entire studio with a Macbook Pro and a couple of speakers!
In any case, I would strongly recommend a studio tidy-up to facilities of all sizes. Whether your system is based around a 48-channel console and stacks of rack gear, or a laptop with a budget soundcard, disconnecting everything and putting it back together again could really help to streamline the way you work.
Paul White Editor In Chief