Wouldn’t it be great to work faster in the recording studio and get better results at the same time? With the right strategy, space, and mindset, good productivity habits are the perfect way to get there.
While the topic of productivity might not seem like it at first glance, it’s more relevant to your success and happiness in the music business than any other type of tutorial, mix tip, or topic we could cover here. These are things that can be applied to your life well beyond the four walls that surround your tracking and mixing space. Apply these productivity tips and start seeing your sessions in a brand-new light!
A Clean Studio is a Happy Studio
One of the easiest ways to boost your productivity is to simply clean up the space you’re working in. Not every studio needs to be a spotless, Instagram-worthy photo all the time, but decluttering and organizing your workspace will reinvigorate your efforts in the studio.
Think of the basics like good cable management in the studio – being able to quickly move from your mix position to a shelf, drawer, hook, or cabinet with easily accessible cables can save you hours of time over a year of sessions. Going a step further by keeping them tidy and professionally coiled means you can grab-and-go at a moment’s notice.
No cable spaghetti to unravel before you can begin… It might sound like a dream to some of you, but for the thousands of engineers out there that take their cable management seriously, it’s a necessity to good productivity.
Consumables are one of the worst offenders when it comes to session distractions. Things like guitar picks, strings, pencils, notepads, drumsticks… they all deserve to be stocked in at least a limited supply if you want to keep your session on track and your productivity in check.
Things break, but limiting the impact that breakage has on your session is generally within your control. By keeping the most common consumables on hand, you’re able to preemptively avoid the biggest issues that derail sessions.
Sure – microphones will still break. Power supplies will still go bad. But wouldn’t you rather deal with those on a few rare occasions than having something come up every session?
Beyond that, session preparation simply means having everything set up and ready to go before the band ever steps foot through your door. A well-organized desk and vocal booth setup take just minutes to get together, but more complex sessions (like drum recording sessions) can still benefit from “staging” the mics along one wall before moving everything into position once the drummer sets their kit up. Do as much as you can in advance so you can hit the ground running once the session is underway.
If you’re working with a new band for the first time, setting expectations is one of the best productivity hacks at your disposal. An introductory conversation at the start of tracking gives you the opportunity to level-set with them and give them an idea of what it’s going to be like to work with you.
Unless you know the band already, tell them who you are, what you’ve done, and what you’re envisioning for their project. Ask questions. It’s the easiest way to learn who’s confident and ready to go, who’s nervous, and sometimes, who’s going to get distracted the easiest.
From there, give them an overview of the recording process. Despite the prevalence of home recording today, there’s still a huge group of musicians that don’t have the first clue about what they’re supposed to do in the studio. If you can come across as confident and excited for the work you’re doing, they’ll go with the flow.
This intro conversation doesn’t have to be a huge ordeal – ten to fifteen minutes before you hit record is often all you’ll need.
While you’re going to want to be as organized and prepared as possible when tracking with an artist, your productivity shouldn’t end when they leave the studio. If we’re being honest with ourselves, editing and mixing can often be a huge time waster well beyond what’s required for tracking.
The key to productivity during your mix session is a combination of smart processes and streamlined tools.
For processes, developing a consistent and repeatable workflow can help you zone in on a productive, effective system for yourself. Set deadlines and timers for yourself and try your best to stick to them. Often, when you’re racing against the clock, a lot of the small, insignificant edits that you can get fixated on will fall by the wayside. Your final mix will be better as a result; you’re forced to focus on what really matters.
This is also where using plugins that can assist you in shortcutting the process comes in handy too. In a major studio with a large-format console, you rarely work with a single processor without patching in outboard gear. Your EQ, compressor, and sends all live on a single channel strip – easily within reach. Channel strip plugins replicate this flow in-the-box, acting as one stop solutions for all kinds of dynamic and time-based effects without jumping all over the place.
At the end of the day, the large-format console layout just works – it’s why every modern DAW’s mixer is designed to follow suit. Understanding how the mixer works and how you can make it work even more efficiently is the perfect starting point for engineers looking to boost productivity with in-the-box sessions.
By continuing to learn and develop your skills as an engineer, producer, and mixer, you’re effectively improving your productivity all the time.
The common saying of “knowledge is power” rings true in the recording studio. Knowing what options you have available and moving quickly to implement them is what separates professionals from amateurs in this industry, and you only get that knowledge through continued learning and practice.