Saw this post by @mzero over on the pictures thread and it got me thinking about my own studio.
I just finished moving into a new apartment and as a result tore apart my studio. I never would have done it under normal circumstances as it took me a substantial amount of time/effort to get it to where it was. I had decent amount of gear all setup on one table with everything hooked up in a patch bay, everything than ran MIDI was patched together. I was very much in the “everything setup all the time, flick a switch to record at a moment’s notice” camp.
The advantages for this approach are numerous, but I sometimes wondered what it would be like to only have 2-3 pieces of gear hooked up at time and really focus on exploring them in greater depth. Would I feel less overwhelmed not facing a dozen instruments? Or conversely, would I feel, for lack of a better word, guilty for having so much gear that I wasn’t using. Would I get frustrated having to reconnect everything every time I wanted to use a different piece? Would I be more productive being more limited in my approach? Or would I miss the ability to instantly add in another element as the inspiration came?
I know there is no right answer, both have pros/cons. But now I’m facing a clean slate, an empty table. All my gear is in boxes and cables packed. I could put it all together again or I could just pick two things, put them on the table, and leave it at that for a little while.
I would be curious to hear people’s opinions of either their experience of switching from one approach to another or why they enjoy one approach over the other. Something to chew on.
I think which setup works for you may depend on how inspiration strikes or how well you know what you want to achieve. If you’re the type who has a song more or less worked out in your head before you start or if you tend to work in a particular genre, it seems like the one-thing-at-a-time setup could work. You might start fleshing out a beat, then add bass, then work on chords or a lead, etc.
On the other hand, if you’re more of the type who gets inspired by noodling around or experimenting with sound design, then having everything available all the time seems like it would be an advantage so you can quickly change instruments while discovering what a piece wants.
I’m in the latter camp but because of space constraints am forced to only have one or two pieces connected at a time and I find it really frustrating. So many times I’ll start noodling around, get an idea, and then lose it in the rush of switching up the connections and getting everything set up. Other times I’ll get the basic idea recorded with the intention of fleshing it out later, which rarely seems to happen.
I’m trying to better organize my setup to minimize the time and effort (physical and mental) needed to switch instruments when inspiration strikes. I’m hoping to find a middle ground where the instruments and effects I use most often are always connected, but less often used devices are readily at hand and can be swapped in without too much hassle.
I’ve fluctuated (mostly by space limitations) with having a few things set up and to having everything setup (currently in the latter). I think change is always good if you’re feeling creatively stifled. So I think the answer is both?
In your current state, I’d suggest looking at what you have. If there’s anything you feel you haven’t really gotten to know, start with that. Take it as a learning experience and slowly build up if/as you need more, then tear down again, and slowly build up again with the creative limitations. You may find new workflows, you may find new ergonomic configurations, you may find that you don’t really need a piece of gear.
I think if your goal is to easily pump out tracks, then having everything set up is huge, and if you’re motivated by having a track done and being able to point at it and say “i did that”, then maybe move more quickly to full setup. If you’re trying to explore, then smaller and break-off configurations serve that purpose.
You’ve kind of got an opportunity here as you’ve been forced to clean slate.
My default file in Ableton Live has all the tracks with all connections to all my setup laid out already, including some things I don’t use very often but find annoying to set up from scratch, like with sending CV clock and voice CV (1v/oct) from the computer to eurorack. Some is CPU intensive but it’s much easier to just delete a bunch of tracks when you open Ableton Live instead of having to recreate the exact same setup all the time.
Hardware-wise though, with the arrival of the Moog Subharmonicon, my previously cute four-tier 60HP setup had to be split into “the Moogs” and “the rest”, like so:
The key for me has been to minimize the total amount of gear I own. If I have too much stuff it doesn’t matter which way I lean. It’s either an overwhelming amount of crap all hooked up at once, or piles of gear on the shelves collecting dust. If I just focus on keeping a few key pieces I find it easier to both have everything hooked up and not feel paralyzed by options.
I’m currently very much in the “overwhelmed” category in this discussion. Lately I’ve bought a Dreadbox Typhon because I had dreams of a small live setup with it, my Digitone and Model:Samples. At the same time, my modular keeps morphing with every module I buy. Add to that my Octatrack and the fact that there clearly isn’t enough space on my desk to install more than two pieces of gear at once, plus i have the same problem with my modular (more modules than the space my rack allows) and you can be sure that anytime I sit down to make music, I end up questionning any configuration that is currently setup.
It seems that anytime I decide on a configuration and plug everything, it becomes clear that I should try another one instead, it is absolutely impossible for me to settle on a combination, even for a few days. The grass is ALWAYS greener on the shelves where my other devices are. And it’s been blocking me from making actual music for too long now…
My ideal is to manage to focus on a few tools, because I feel that I make my best music then, but I mentally just can’t right now. So maybe I should plug everything, but I materially can’t either.
Maybe I should just unplug everything for a while?
I have recently come to the “clean slate”, white paper, empty table conclusion myself. I don’t get to work with my gear everyday and if it’s too complex I feel lost. To each her own, I just don’t have the CPU to handle too many possibilities.
The idea for simplicity is this. I have a basic rack with interface, preamps, compressors connected to a patchbay. On my empty desk there should only be my Mackie mixer. I connect a few things (hardware, pedals, etc). Record the output and clear the table. Not that I manage do it all in one night. But my idea is to never leave the same gear patched up for more than three days.
I find that there is often a lot of energy when starting out. It’s a game and not work. So if I can start out fresh and patch up more often there’ll be more mistakes/discoveries and more positive energy generated.
I also see that it’s important for me to record, because I don’t always manage to recreate something on the next occasion.
Man, a luxury problem for sure - but still a problem.
I’ve been through a few versions of this - first when getting into hardware, then when transitioning into a mainly-modular setup. It was fun to evolve the studio (and think of it as a studio!), but after a couple years I realised that my productivity had been far better without any hardware at all.
From then, I reduced the amount of gear overall - but more to the topic, if I felt any nagging about an overly- complex setup, I gave myself permission to box things up and reduce until the nags were gone.
It sounds odd, but I now think the concept of the Instagram-ready ‘complete studio’ is a damaging notion - simply because it becomes an end in itself and music making becomes secondary.
I’m now trying the ‘two station’ approach as well - one with modular for sound design, and a stripped-back desk for producing and mixing. I can ignore the other one (and turn it off!!) which helps my focus a lot.
I don’t feel bad about ignoring one half of my setup because I always come back after a little while.
I have been in a special place for ages and I have been feeling quite guilty about the amount of gear I have.
Whenever I look back at my more successful attempts of finishing something it is always when I have a small, reduced, kinda artifically limited set up.
However for a year I have not used my real music desk anymore and always preferred working on headphones with just one or two things (norns and grid, or a synth and a sampler) in our living room with headphones. I have come to the conclusion that I don’t feel happy with my music corner (plenty of space in a big bedroom, not really limited).
I have now decided to get a good selection of stuff into shelves onto the wall close to the desk and connected via a patchbay or long cables as opposed to cramming a few things on a table and putting others in a shelf unconnected).
I spent so much money on music equipment in my life that now I will try to puzzle more of it together into a nice space that I want to use again, decluttered and more accessible/connected. So, buying shelves it is as next part of my “set up”. First however a declutter has to happen again, and luckily I am not someone who is too scared of parting with gear.
However, while I dream of having synths, modular, sampler and recording set up more in a “switch on and record manner”, I am quite sure that I will remain a “narrow focus” guy when it comes to getting something done, it is just that my narrow focus in the last few years probably also was a result of the messy situation…
So wish me luck drilling holes into the walls, it is facing a side that has given troubles in a different room, probably some hammer drilling will be involved, uff.
Great topic! This is giving me some good perspectives on my upcoming transitions. Recently I’ve been putting a lot of creative time in 2 spots:
A rolling 2x4’ work table with a 2 row modular, small mixer, a couple guitar pedals and ipad.
Everything synced thru Presonus interface, Bastl midi<>clock and MIDI Link Sync.
Just the ipad with a pair of headphones anywhere. Mainly using AUM, Borderlands, Drambo, DJDJ and Samplr.
I have the wonderful luxury of a really great studio now, but will be most likely loosing that space by the end of December.
So the goal by then will be a scaled down spot somewhere nearby (hopefully) and a rolling table at our apartment.
Oh, additionally going to shrink down the large scale studio into smaller rack cases with standard 1/4" patch bays. Presently everything is in this beautiful custom console with massively heavy ADT bantam patch bays.
I feel once everything is simplified, I can be even more flexible with studio signal routing. It’s good now, but this will be even better.
After every song, I clear the table and add pieces one at a time for the next song. When I complete that song, I clear the table again. It keeps me focused on using what I “need”, it makes pulling the gear out of the closet fun and exciting, it keeps me on one song at a time until it’s actually finished, and it’s a thrill to have to capture a performance before clearing the table again.
I sort of think of making music like making ice sculptures now, and that’s really working for me. But I’m sure other approaches are the better options for others.
I find this to be an extremely helpful approach, I don’t see any reason to “downsize” my large number of modules, many sitting in boxes unused for weeks/months, unless I need to sell them to pay rent, who cares… Now and then I’ll pull an unused module from the box and plug it in to my 5u 54hp rig along with a few modules that I think might compliment it and focus all my time on the couch delving deep into what can be done with that module… Sometimes nothing! More often, there is something there I didn’t consider… Evolution is expedited when one is forced into a new set of constraints.
This thread has a been major inspiration.
I started setting up my home space tonight. With all the crazy shit that’s going on, this is somehow majorly comforting to set up a new creative refuge. I’ll add a small mixer, interface and a few more bits soon. I have a hand surgery next week, so this should keep me occupied.
I feel like this is the way I’m going too. There’s something about a clear, open desk - not one covered in gear and patch cables - that just makes me feel more productive, or at least inspired to start working on something. I come from a visual art background and it was the same feeling there, so I’m thinking it’s time to thin out the selection quite a bit.
Since writing of my “cleared desk” approach a few weeks ago, I’ve come to realize that there’s a flipside. I want my midi-stuff connected and ready to go too. Otherwise the treshold to get started seems too high.