I've often expressed the opinion that there's rather more to a studio than a bunch of recording gear and some cable to connect it all together. Recording is a creative process, and your studio needs to be more than a machine — it has to provide a creative environment in which you can work. Realising this creative environment breaks down into two main areas, one of which is choosing a studio setup that works smoothly and allows you to get on with your music rather than fighting with technology, and the second aspect is the vibe you get from being there. This goes way beyond good acoustics; to create the right vibe, the studio also needs to be set out so that it is comfortable and ergonomic to work in. It must look right and it should be free from unnecessary noise and other distractions.
These criteria may seem self evident, but it's surprising how many studios I've been to that are airless, lightless dungeons or where the equipment is set up in such a way that it's a nightmare to use. Similarly, the comment about noise and distraction is so often at odds with the reality of whirring computers or stubborn ground-loop hums. I've fought with all these issues myself, but one of my main bugbears was the sheer amount of cabling involved and the virtual impossibility of changing anything at a later date without the use of a pitchfork and a pair of pruning shears!
To resolve this, I decided it was time for another studio rethink, and I found that the best approach was to simplify my setup so that it only contained what I actually needed, rather than what I happened to have. This involved some ruthless decisions, but what use is there in keeping a top-shelf hardware reverb unit that you haven't switched on for over a year because your software convolution reverbs sound so good? Now, with around four green plastic boxes full of cables and over 20U of redundant rack equipment pruned from my system, I feel I'm finally getting somewhere! It's almost like one of those TV shows where somebody comes round and clears out your house for you.
The catalyst for this major overhaul was the incorporation of some new studio furniture, and while bringing that in, I also decided to reorientate the entire setup round by 90 degrees. This makes more space behind the desk for other people, and also gives me a better view of the control room window, which is no longer obscured by computer monitors and speakers.
Light-coloured walls, a large window and light laminate flooring combined with spotlights create a pleasant working environment, but in deference to the number of ageing hippies in my locality, I've kept the clutter of skulls, cloth fish, bird cages and ethnic masks hanging from the ceiling, as most clients find these make the place seem more friendly. This time around, I've tried to keep as many cables as possible off the floor as there's nothing worse than trying to clean under a desk that's full of cabling, and I've arranged my remaining hardware so that the audio interface and preamps are directly in front of me.
So, has this update been successful? Well, simplifying the setup has made it more ergonomic, which in turn makes me happier. Pruning out excess gear and cables has also quietened down the system (in terms of hum and hiss) to a useful extent, though I'd still like my computer to be a lot quieter. The new furniture makes the place seem much less cluttered and gives me more clear floor space, which definitely makes me feel better, and because there's less gear in the studio, I have less patching to do before I can start work. In fact the only downside is that I usually do my studio revamps over Christmas, but now it's all finished two months early! Do you suppose anyone will notice if I spend Christmas working in my shiny new studio instead?
Paul White Editor In Chief