There’s a word out there that I don’t really care for.

I think it’s overused, or at least over-emphasized. (And I’m guilty of using it, too.)

The word?

“Workflow”

I wrote the other day why I don’t think control surfaces are all that important to us home studio folks.

Boy, you should have seen the emails I got back. Some folks agree with me wholeheartedly. Others acted like I was trying to slaughter a sacred cow or something. 🙂

Here’s the deal.

Which is more important to you — how good a song sounds or how quickly you were able to finish it?

I know, I know. Your answer is “both.”

And in a perfect world, yes it would be awesome to finish a song in record time AND have it sound utterly amazing.

But down here in the real world, I pick sound quality over efficiency…every time.

Getting a great-sounding vocal track is immensely important to me.

If it takes me 2 minutes to do that in a mix, great!

If it takes me an hour…great! Because the end result — the goal — is to have a great-sounding vocal.

I’m happy either way.

Yes, I understand that time is money…blah, blah, blah…but if you’re producing QUALITY audio, everybody’s happy.

I’m all for working quickly and efficiently, but NOT at the expense of sound quality.

I’ll happily log an extra hour on a project to get it right.

I’d rather release a song that took 3 days to complete and sounds absolutely incredible than release a song in 3 hours that sounds like a train wreck.

If you focus the majority of your attention on making things sound good, your workflow WILL get faster over time.

However, it DOESN’T work the other way around.

If compression is giving you fits, slow down and take a look at this:

www.UnderstandingCompression.com

Joe Gilder

  • Lo Mei

    “Which is more important to you — how good a song sounds or how quickly you were able to finish it?

    I know, I know. Your answer is “both.”

    And in a perfect world, yes it would be awesome to finish a song in record time AND have it sound utterly amazing.

    But down here in the real world, I pick sound quality over efficiency…every time.”
    ——–

    Do Japanese auto manufacturers know they can’t have both? What about Apple Corp.? Where do you get the idea that quality and efficiency are mutually exclusive?

    Efficiency does not mean a sacrifice in quality; it is simply streamlining a process in order to achieve the same result faster.

    Perhaps you are confusing “streamlining for efficiency” with “taking short-cuts”.

    Streamlining for efficiency is, basically, the reduction of waste. You aren’t so much doing more with less, as you are wasting less. IOW*, you accomplish the same result with less waste, which usually equates to: faster.

    Taking short-cuts doesn’t reduce the waste in the process, it just reduces the process, by skipping parts, or resources, that may be deemed less important to the result. The process is literally “cut short”.

    I hope you can see the difference here.

    An example of streamlining to improve efficiency would be the an assembly line where a group of products are assemble task by task, in parallel, instead of one by one serially. By completing the same task at the same time across each product, you reduce wasted time and resources, while retaining the quality in the final product.

    A short-cut would be reducing the number of weld points in a chassis, in order to speed up production, or reducing the amount of metal in the frame, or adding filler in order to stretch resources. The result being greater quantity, faster and at a lower cost, but also at the expense of the quality of the final product.

    So, if you’re talking “efficiency vs. quality”; I say, you CAN and NEED to have both.

    If, however, you’re talking “short-cuts vs. quality”; I agree, I’ll take quality every time.

    —-
    * “IOW” is an example of a shortcut. I sacrificed clarity for brevity. At least, for now. There are still people out there who don’t know this sort of shorthand, so I risk confusing them and obfuscating my meaning, all in an effort to be brief.

    If I wanted to retain clarity, while being brief, I might streamline by learning to type more efficiently, or simply choose a shorter phrase to convey the same meaning, or even composing the paragraph differently in the first place, removing the need for any similar phrase altogether.

    • Jason

      Lol….awesome post! And I totally agree..

      But! What I think he’s explaining IS actually the trade-off between sound quality AND efficiency but ONLY FINANCIALLY. IOW(!), if u have $500 to spend on ur DAW/studio, don’t spend it on workflow, spend it on audio quality.

      I agree that both are important, but I argue that there’s times where workflow NEEDS to be improved sometimes at the expense of improving audio quality.

      Ie…if I struggle with my project’s multiple tracks (each with their multiple plugins) CLUTTERING my tiny 15″ lcd and causing stress and confusion, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with throwing that $200 into a larger monitor instead of a “new mic” or a “new preamp”. A large monitor can bring great ease and inspiration to ur work, anyone who’s upgrading their monitor can attest to that. But NO, it will not improve your sound quality! I say….so what? I’ll dish out funds for that next paycheck 😉

  • As I’ve written before, I think workflow *is* important, but only after you’ve got the skills and the tools sorted out. If your skills and tools are still lacking, focus on that before worrying about time efficiency.

    -Kim.

  • I find that having solid workflow can help the client, in their performance and in their perception that they’re getting good value for the hourly rate.

    I often have clients say “Wow, you’re so fast!” as they watch me comp together a take or set up tracks for a new session. That makes them feel comfortable that I “know what I’m doing”, which is debatable 😛

    Same thing goes for the actual sessions. If your workflow is good, you can have new takes etc. up in an instant and let the player just say “Again please.” without having too much down time between takes.

    TBH, I’ve never actually focused on my workflow though, it’s just built up over time and from noticing where I can improve.

  • Andrew

    I still agree with ya Joe! Sound quality is everything to the public. Workflow is just icing to the engineers (the public ain’t gonna care you used a control surface, but they are gonna care about the quality of the song).

    Get a control surface if you want one, but it’s not necessary towards making quality music.

  • Bob Sorace

    I think what Joe is saying is that a control surface won’t help you get better sounding mixes, but a nice mic pre will, as well as a great mic, or some sound absorbtion. All of those contribute to the quality of the song, a control surface doesn’t, and the goal in the end is to have a great sounding song, so why waste money on something that isn’t going to help you acheive that!
    But if you already have all the gear you need to create a great mix, and money isn’t an issue, then by all means get yourself a control surface if that’s what you really want!

    And as far as workflow goes, someone who knows the hotkeys, and uses a trackball (not a mouse!) is probably just as productive as someone with a control surface in my opinion.
    But the last time I checked, they don’t have races to see who can finish a mix the fastest, but they do have awards for the best sounding song…

    • And Bob comes through with a killer comment. “But the last time I checked, they don’t have races to see who can finish a mix the fastest, but they do have awards for the best sounding song…”

      Love it.

      I don’t underestimate the value of a good working environment, etc. And control surfaces can play into that, but I simply put GREATER emphasis on things that sound awesome.

      Would dropping $1,000+ on an Argosy desk make me feel “cooler” in my studio, and give my greater access to all my gear from the mix position? Sure.

      Will it make the quality of my recordings better? Bzzz. Nope.

      • Bob Sorace

        This just occured to me when thinking about the whole “workflow” debate: you want to know what screws up my workflow?
        1. My son coming in to ask if he can have a soda.
        2. My wife coming in and wondering if I’m going stop soon and watch TV with her.
        3. The morons across the street setting off fireworks during a vocal take.
        4. The dogs barking because the kids are in the garage playing.

        and on, and on…

        I don’t think a control surface will stop any of the above from happening, but if anyone knows of one that does, let me know and I’ll buy one!

  • CamBam

    If you had great mics, great preamps, an interface with 24 i/o, and a the greatest plugins and outboard equipment out there, then maybe buying a control surface would make sense. But spending just as much on a control surface as on your interface just doesn’t make sense. Like Joe said, when you do upgrade something, identify your weakest link. I’ll bet my studio that a control surface isn’t it.(just kidding)

    • 🙂 That’s quite the bet.

      I agree, identify the weakest link. And be willing to admit that weakest link might actually be YOU (if you’re really being honest).

  • Jason

    U shoulda just left it alone….now ur making it sound like using a control surface means u have to sacrifice sound quality. I know u don’t mean that but ur implying that a workflow boost is NEVER as good as a sound quality boost.

    Think about hotkeys. They’re the classic example of a workflow improvement that takes a lot of the STRESS out of music production. Before I starting customizing all my hotkeys I remember mousing around A LOT trying to do basic tasks (view all, view event, zoom +/-, cut/paste, etc). I felt like I was always running the mouse here and there and here and there and back again…it felt like I was running a marathon.

    I think thats how ppl feel about their control surfaces…it helps them control whats going on and it makes things easy for them. It reduces the stress of music production & working with computers for long hours in general. Try working without hotkeys for even a few hours and you’ll see LOL….it SUCKS!!!

    • Jason

      What if my CPU was bogging down and causing clipping or I had major latency issues due to old or not enough ram? What if my hard drive would freeze and crash every 20 minutes? What if the 15″ monitor I was using made working on a 24 track song, each with multiple plugins too confusing?

      And lol….what if the batteries were dying in my wireless mouse??

      I know I’m being extreme here, but what I’m saying is…improvements to your sound quality are really great, but it doesn’t trump all. Everyone’s situation is different and “improvements” can be made in any variety of ways that people see fit at that time. I spent a lot of time learning about computers to build the ideal DAW….that has NOTHING to do with “improving my sound quality”.

      • All great points.

        I would simply say that I’ve met hundreds of people who obsess over those things, and they end up waiting two years to start recording, because they’re spending SO much time tweaking out their computer systems.

    • Great points about hot keys and shortcuts.

      I actually didn’t say that using a control surface will sacrifice. What I actually said was:

      If you focus the majority of your attention on making things sound good, your workflow WILL get faster over time.

      However, it DOESN’T work the other way around.

      Meaning that the better you get at getting great sounds, you’ll inevitably get faster (simply due to repetition). But getting FASTER at something doesn’t guarantee that anything will sound better. Like I replied to another guy, I could be the fastest Pro Tools editor in the country, but if my edits sound like garbage (messy edits or simply a poor job of fixing timing issues), then who cares how fast I was?

      I love shortcuts. They certainly save time. But I only appreciate the time saved because I spent time learning the raw process, THEN speeding it up with shortcuts, etc.

  • Ben

    I think it depends on how you got into music production as to whether or not a control surface is necessary. I personally don’t have a need for one – it’s faster for me to just mouse over a fader and drag it around. Otherwise if I have a control surface (and I did spend the money for a Korg MikroControl so I did figure this out on my own) it takes longer for me to make sure I have the right fader and figure out how far up or down the fader’s reach I want to be.

    If I grew up on old-school analog consoles, a control surface might be more important.

    So in a way, Joe, I agree. For most home studio owners, control surfaces are so not important. For some, they might be a necessity.

    But for those emailing about how wrong you are – a control surface is a sunk cost. Fortunately I didn’t sink much. 😀

    • Ben

      Nano Kontrol, my bad.

    • Yeah, I feel like a control surface should maybe be one of the last things you buy…not one of the first.

  • Dave Marriott – Eclectic wonderland studios

    I had the good fortune of being a student of IMHO Australia’s greatest ever “fine art” composer Richard Meale who told me “If you want quality you must be prepared to put in the time”. I found this to be true and firmly believe that efficiency comes later. Week after week he insulted my music until finally I wrote something half decent. Once you have laboriously learned how to produce quality music then you can work on speeding up the process. After all if you are producing very ordinary crap what’s the point of doing it at an even faster rate? That’s what laxatives are for!

    • EXACTLY. “Week after week he insulted my music until finally I wrote something half decent.”

      You’re so right. Efficiency IS important…but like you said, efficiency only really benefits you if you’ve got the other skills in place.

      I could memorize every editing shortcut in Pro Tools and become the fastest editor on the planet, but if my edits suck, if I don’t edit them the right way, nobody will care how fast I did it.