Studio Setup: Everything vs. Narrow Focus

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.

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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.

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My approach right now is two stations of sorts. I’ve returned to more traditional songwriting so in one area turned a bit from my monitors is set up for that: guitar, amp, and keyboards. On my desk with the monitors I can fiddle with different configurations of pedals and synthesizers and my computer for wonkier explorations. In between I have my mixer and outboard processing rack if I want to track anything. Not everything is ever setup otherwise, but now that it’s summer I’m trying to work 5-7 hours a day in two shifts, dogs willing, and rotate between traditional songwriting, wonk zones, and mixing/editing in Pro Tools. This allows me to keep things fresh for my ears and scratching different itches for my brain and soul.

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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.

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I definitely find that whatever’s not within reach, plugged in (modular patching is an exception) and ready, just doesn’t get used much.

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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 rest” is usually tucked away in a case. @Starthief is totally right, I find that I use it less often due to this :frowning_face: I’m trying to figure out how I could fix this but again, space is limited.

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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.

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