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The Studio Recording Column Presents:

7 Studio Must-Haves for Comfort & Productivity

This goes for the recording studio, the garage jam sessions, sitting in front of the mixing board... you're going to be there for a while. The less comfortable you are the less productive you'll be. But there's some very easy and quick ways to fix this conundrum! It's the big things and the small things...

As you continually visit the same room day in and day out and start accumulating years of your life spent in it, you begin to get hyper-sensitive.  Little things can become giant distractions.  Minor annoyances can cause you to flip out out of frustration.

The big things can make you throw your hands up and be ready to quit forever.  There are moments when you need to get away but you don't want to destroy the flow and atmosphere either by stepping outside.  The temptation to walk away for the day is too great and you've got a schedule to follow!

It's hard to explain but everyone who attends the same workspace every week day (and for us musicians it's the weekends too) knows what I'm getting at.  You can go stir crazy and get cabin fever real fast.

There's a lot of ways to solve this, but we're not going to talk about feng shui.  You might have too much wind in the east for all I know.  You might need to remove some elements from your workspace.  For all these issues there are solutions, but not here.

What we're going to mention is a handful of items that range from huge to the seemingly insignificant that all make a huge impact on how you feel, how you react to stress and encouragement, how you get your ideas out of your head and into reality, and how to stay massively productive...

studio must-haves for productivity

You're looking at the Cold Chamber in Houston, Texas.  It's their special VIP room for multi-platinum and gold artists only.  That looks pretty darn comfy to me.  I could get a ton of work done there.  And you could too!

Let's attempt to attain that level of productivity.  We're not going to talk about adding recording gear or instruments.  The lighting is up to you.  Some recording engineers like dim lightning with a neon futuristic atmosphere.  Some like a completely well-lit environment.

The things we're going to talk about have nothing to do with preference nor do they produce music.  But everyone needs them and they are easily attainable!

The following items should be considered non-negotiables for every single studio environment.

Acoustic Treatment

It should go without saying but lots of upcoming studio talent always wait till the end to bother considering with acoustic treatment.  Let me tell you, that's a grave mistake.  I'd rather see you in a well-treated recording room with a crappy mic and cruddy instrument than the reverse.  Despite what every other person who tries to skip out on acoustic treatment says, close-miking doesn't solve the problem.

acoustic treatment

Besides the obvious reason of having professional quality recordings and mixes, acoustic treatment will also keep you productive for longer.  Ear fatigue will strike all of us over time and especially at loud listening levels, but you can ward it off by not having crazy peaks and nulls and flutters bouncing all around your studio.  The longer you can hear accurately, the less breaks you'll be taking and the better decisions you'll be making.

Don't skimp out on one of the most important parts of your recording chain, and don't wait because it's not the sexiest most interactive piece of gear.  Recording without acoustic treatment is like trying to sing with a sock stuffed in your mouth.  Not only will the results suck but it's likely you're being interrogated by the mafia (bada-ching!).

Uninterruptible Power Supply

If you don't own a UPS, which stands for uninterruptible power supply, the bane of your existence is likely storms in your area and local black outs.  There's nothing worse than being deep in the flow, making massive progress, and then the power goes out.  You realize that you were so involved in what you were doing that you forgot to save your project...

uninterruptible power supply

That's where a UPS comes in.  It's basically a giant battery pack that can continue to power your computer and whatever else you run through it for a period of time after the power goes out.  It's a safety net that says, "Hey, you've got T-Minus 60 minutes to get to a stopping point and save your project or you'll be real sad."

Losing your progress can be a minor annoyance such as having to move backwards 10 minutes to your last save.  Or it can be as drastic as half of the files in your project becoming corrupted due to your computer not going through a proper shut-down procedure.  Score a UPS if you have any love for yourself and your sanity.

Paper Notepad

Ah yes.  Trust me on this one.  Have a notepad of real-deal paper around with pens and pencils easily within reach.  No, a whiteboard won't cut it.  No, opening a text file on the computer won't cut it.  There's some disconnect with these other mediums that don't quite jibe with our brains.  Maybe it's because we spent over a decade in school using our hands to put pencil to paper, I don't know.  But there's magic in the paper notepad.

paper notepad

Writing the ideas that flash into your head on paper takes time.  In that time, your brain is choosing its words carefully because it knows the idea has to survive long enough to make it on paper.  It also seems to be doing some kind of pre-organizing work as well.  The sub-conscious is powerful and you can unlock it with paper and pen.  It's also very portable and easy to flip open and reference.

Keep a notepad on your desk or in a drawer and keep on the table for your guests to use as well.  You can always input the notes into your phone or whatever software you use later.  But start out on paper and keep those ideas safe.

Incense & Air Freshener

I can argue for this from any angle.  If you work in a professional studio, it's isolated from the world.  You've got one door that's insulated and no windows.  The walls are packed full of insulation and you might even have actual sound proofing material built in.  Things can get stinky real fast.  People poot, they kick their shoes off, they smoke outside and then bring the smell in with them.

Maybe you have a bedroom studio with plenty of windows and fans.  Guess what else you have?  You've got dirty laundry in the basket.  Maybe your cat's litter box is hidden in the closet.  I can guarantee you've dropped all kinds of food crumbs in the carpet.

air freshener

I don't recommend the kind that shoot out the smell-good pixie dust on a timer.  That's a good way to end up with that sound in one of your recordings or distract you while mixing.

The point is, although you become accustomed to your room's smells and don't notice them, they are still there.  They affect you and your mood.  On top of that, if another musician comes over to knock out some work, they're really going to notice it.  Occasionally air your room out with a box fan or something, and in the meantime make sure the smells are pleasant.  A single dollar can buy you a deliciously smelling can of air freshener that lasts a long time.  There's no excuse for something so minor to hurt your productivity or comfort!

Snacks & Drinks

Nobody likes to admit this fact but even as mature adults who are fully in control of our emotions, we still get super grumpy if we get hungry.  If we aren't drinking enough liquids, we get headaches and feel drained of energy.

trail mix

The problem is, you don't want sugary drinks that get spilled, leave a sticky mess, and attract ants.  You don't want to have full-blown meals in the studio that leave crumbs everywhere.  The worst thing is for crumbs to fall in your keyboard and sliders on your mixer.

Get some simple snacks though and store bottled water around for guests.  High carb snacks that can be tossed completely in your mouth without crumbs are preferable, like trail mix.  Don't get anything juicy like fruits and veggies with dip.  You'll regret it (but not as much as not having snacks at all).

Puppy Dog

This one is up in the air... mainly because dogs shed.  If you have someone who comes through and cleans your studio frequently enough then it's all good though.  A sweet, older, calm dog can reduce stress levels and provide the right type of distraction that puts the mind in a positive state.  That's when the ideas and good work pour out of you.

calm old dog

Who doesn't love a dog in the workplace?  It's such a novelty and you can provide that for yourself and the bands you record.

I highly discourage you from having a studio cat.  Those little bastards will jump all over everything and be under your desk chewing on your cables and puking across everything.  You'd be better off with an iguana or something that barely manages to function...

A Chill Spot

And finally I must recommend that you install a "chill spot" in your studio.  The main reason is that people need a place to sit.   Your one computer chair isn't cutting it.  You can go for a couch or if you want to be the cool guy you could have bean bags and even a hammock.  Your options will be limited by the size of the studio but definitely go for something with enough seating space for an entire band that's comfy enough for you to take micro-breaks on as well.

professional beanbag seat

Don't get too crazy though because you want to maintain a professional atmosphere.  You don't want a bunch of hooligans rough-housing and breaking your best mic preamp or compressor.

The End

That's it!  Add most of these items to your studio and you'll find that you're more at ease, happier to crank out the work for hours on end, and eager to start and finish projects at rapid speeds.  The more the merrier!