Hootie The BlowfishIt’s the day after Thanksgiving here in the US. And most of us are feeling bloated from all the eating yesterday. πŸ™‚

I suppose it’s human nature. There’s all this food just sitting there, waiting to be eaten. Everyone else is stuffing their faces, so why not join in, right?

Is your studio like a bloated, post-Thanksgiving food coma? Do you fill it up with gear just because you can? Do you fill up your hard drive with the latest software? Do you always upgrade to the latest version of Pro Tools as soon as it’s released?

Your studio might need to go on a serious diet.

How to Spot a Bloated Studio

If you’re not sure if your studio is bloated, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What was your last gear purchase? Did you need it?
  • Have you finished a project/song with that piece of gear?
  • What was your last software purchase? Did you need it?
  • Have you finished a project/song with that piece of software?
  • What’s holding you back from making the recordings you want to make? Do you think it’s gear?
  • Are there items in your studio (or on your hard drive) that you haven’t used in the last year?
  • Which of the following numbers is bigger? a. the number of projects you completed in the last year OR b. the number of new pieces of gear/software you purchased in the last year.
  • Does new gear make you more excited than actually working on and finishing a recording project?
  • Do you refuse to pay a professional to either mix, master, or even play an instrument on your recording, but you’re willing to drop hundreds of dollars on a new microphone?
  • Do you refuse to pay to learn how to use the gear you own, preferring rather to spend money on a new piece of gear that will fix all your problems?

As you can tell…these questions will expose some of the motivations behind why you do what you do. I’m not saying you can’t buy gear. I love new gear. But I’ve met far too many people who have an awesome college of studio gear but never produce anything they’re proud to share with anyone.

How to Fix a Bloated Studio

Here are a few ideas for ways to fix your bloated studio:

  • If you are absolutely fixed on a new piece of gear, don’t let yourself get it until you finish a project. I don’t care if it’s a simple guitar/vocal song or a full 12-song album. Finish a project with what you own, then reward yourself with that new piece of gear.
  • Don’t buy something unless you plan to use it for a LONG time.
  • If you haven’t used a piece of gear in the last year or two, consider either using it TODAY on something or getting rid of it.
  • Give yourself some minimalist challenges. These will take your focus off of GEAR and onto YOU and your SKILLS. A few examples: Record an entire song using only an SM57. Mix an entire song using only the stock Pro Tools plugins. Record a drum kit with one microphone.

Go on a Diet

How do you lose weight? You eat less and do more. How to you fix a bloated studio? You stop buying stuff and start pumping out finished projects.

What do you think? Do you nod your head when you read articles like this, but never do anything about them? Why not try something new?

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  • Skyler

    Great article! I know I’m the type of guy who gets enjoyment just from getting or having access to the latest and greatest. I noticed that when I need to actually make something, I’m going to use what I’m familiar with anyway. I also know I don’t have enough hours in my lifetime to learn how to use all the software available to me, it makes no sense to try to find new solutions that do maybe 10% of what my current rig does.

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought the ideal studio is one that that shortens the “workflow process”. It seems like the newest version of any software out there really is just refined tools to help make something take half the time than it did in the last version. That may be a noble goal for the software maker to have something new on their website, I usually find it doesn’t translate into actual music making. Sure, you might be able to edit midi data really quick or chop a sample up with less steps, but its not going to make me a better musician or create more original ideas. I find half that time that I’m going to end up tweaking what I originally did anyway.

    Sorry kind of a rant, but I did really enjoy the article. Thanks!

    • All great points, Skyler. “Workflow” is a nice catchphrase in the industry right now. The truth is, you just need to learn how to work quickly with what you’ve got. πŸ™‚

      • Xan

        Absolutely, I find that the more time you spend working with something be it hardware or software the more likely you are to discover ways ov using it efficiently.

        Like yesterday for example, I found a quick way to make a single channel from a stereo track play as a mono track in Cubase (with no summing) without having to convert the actual wave file to a mono one. That saved quite a bit ov time.

        It’s all about spending lots ov time working with what you have. πŸ™‚

  • Bruce

    Def needed this article! I am however doing everthing on headphones. Not that its impossible to get a good mix, as the sennhisener hd280 are def usable. But i sure do miss mixing on monitors. Mixing on headphones is challenging, but do-able. Until i have the space, ill have to make do tho.

  • Kyle

    Excellent post, Joe! I have been perusing your website for weeks and have honestly shied away from applying these principles as the G.A.S. articles have literally hit too close to home. I have been suffering from this for far too long, and have finally come out of my shell about the issue. I’ve been complaining about HDD space and rather than purchase, yet another audio drive, I’ve decided to take your advice and inventory my hard drive, burning finished projects to disk and finishing those that aren’t and then following suit. This will not only free up some room for me, but also force me to work with what I have. Again, great advice! I needed that push…

  • Sam Swenson

    Joe, I think you bring up a great point.

    I’d like to add that piracy doesn’t help this problem either; similar to a buying frenzy. Both, in my opinion, paralyze the prospective home studio-ist.

    With the prospect of constantly being able to ‘grab’ the latest-and-greatest, and money being no issue (because it’s all free), it stifles the creative process. People are convinced that they just need to wait until Pro Tools v10 hits the torrents — THEN they’ll start recording.

    I feel bad for the gear head who can’t stop buying equipment they aren’t using. They have a hole in their pocket (and possibly one in their head). I also know plenty of people that don’t have the cash to buy what they want, but are paralyzed by the constant process of hunting-downloading-installing/upgrading which results in sitting-staring…and no recording.

    • possibly a hole in their head

      Ha ha ha…nice. You make a great point. Aside from the moral implications of pirating software, there’s an even bigger issue: sheer overwhelm and “paralysis.”

    • Kyle

      +1 on that! Piracy is getting past the point of ridiculous now. Check out some of the gearslutz forums pertaining to the UAD plugs. Some are wondering why they don’t publish native bundles, Gee, I wonder. Others dismiss the outboard DSP as a dongle, and nothing could be further from the truth. The whole thing sickens me when those who steal the software complain about the same happening with their music. Divine intervention perhaps?

  • Jojo

    Hi Joe, great post.
    My latest piece of gear was a new tabletop, which replaced the very small old one (20 $, IKEA). Believe it or not, but this improved the workflow immens. Everything I need is within reach and sight and I dont have to use my small Mackie mixer as a deposit-place anymore.
    Beside this I updated my 4 years old pc to an actual cpu early this year, which is a great improvement for all the recording-basics like latency, plugins etc. In the same step I switched to Windows 7 64-bit and Cubase 6 to have an actual system again. I think, that will be enough for the next time.
    Hi Joe, thank you again for your wonderful site and your great effort, best wishes from Germany
    Jojo

  • Hi Joe, I do appreciate your ‘common sense’ comments regarding studios (home or otherwise). As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t bust, don’t fix it” and sitting down to analyse whether you or the gear is the problem can go a long way towards improving things. We need to remember that many great recordings were made by pushing or using the equipment in ways that it was never intended for. In other words, people were being creative!

    Nothing wrong with new gear but reaching for the latest catalogue instead of thinking about the problem can be negative – and expensive!

    Interesting that acoustic treatment has popped up in this thread. As I like to tell people, you can always change the gear but changing the room is way more difficult. Get the room right as near as you can before spending all your budget on equipment. Having a solid basis to build on is worth it’s weight in gold.

    Happy digestion to all US readers πŸ™‚

    Terry

  • Xan

    About the room treatment thing: At present my studio is located in my old house truck until one ov the sheds out back is turned into a purpose built facility.

    I haven’t done anything specific to improve it’s acoustics but it’s ok due to the curtains, bedding & lots ov odd shapes, despite those shapes are primarily right angles.

    But what I think helps is to listen to your mixes as you go on a different system, in a different room. Even if both rooms are not treated the standing wave scenario is sure to be different.

    Then one can “triangulate” what one hears between the two and zero in on the optimum sound. πŸ™‚

    In my case I make the mixes in the house truck and then bring them inside on a USB drive & play them through the DVD player.

    • Exactly. The point of acoustic treatment is to simply tone down the “sound” of your room. The room will still affect the sound, but if you can learn to make mixes that translate, you’re well on your way to getting consistent mixes.

      • Ugh, mix translation is the bane of my existence. I mean, the more you mix and bounce, mix and bounce, the better you get. But I don’t care who you are, what room you have, what gear you have, etc. There’s nothing more challenging (to me) than mix translation. How many times are you sitting in front of your monitors and thinking, “This sounds amazing. Grammy winning mix, for sure.” You bounce it down, and all hell has broken loose.

        But like I said Xan and Joe said, acoustic treatment and listening on as many external sound sources as possible are key to getting good mix translation. IMO, anywho.

        • Listen to your mixes everywhere AND make sure you listen to pro mixes in your studio. You need to know what a good mix sounds like in your room if you’re trying to get good mixes OUT of it.

  • Ben

    I have a pretty complete studio and I’m glad to report that I haven’t bought something without getting rid of something else in quite a while. And even then, the last gear purchase was a keyboard controller that replaced one that had basically given up the ghost – some of the keys play sometimes, and other keys don’t play at all. It’s been “recycled” – my 3 year old “plays piano” with it.

  • AndrΓ© Tremblay

    During my music studies at college, I bought a 4 track Multitrack Fostex X-15 and was feeling “rich” of all these new possibilities !!! I think we now have so much choice at each step of music making, it make it so easier too get lost and forget the point that is making music, not sound…

    From time to time, I try to get back to the basics that is for me microphone choice and placement. I setted a close array of my 5 condenser mic and tracked on separated tracks a sample on near any instrument I owne.

    What a great time to realise all the possibilities these “filters” offers on each sound source …

    “It begins with the source” πŸ˜‰

    p.s. Thank you Joe and all folks here for your always interseting comments.

  • Bob Sorace

    After I updated to Pro Tools 8.0 and Pro Tools 9 came less then a year later is when I decided I’m not buying anything else for a while (that really kinda ticked me off!). I was convinced I needed the latest and greatest, but no more! I’m good with everything I have now, the only thing I’m going to buy is a power conditionor, and probably some monitor stands to give me some more room on my desk. As for room treatment, that’s on the list to buy as well, but my room is pretty good as it is now that I know it so well. I also changed the room around and the difference is really night and day between the two setups. So long story short, I don’t drool over the Sweetwater and Musicians Friend catalogs anymore, although Sweetwater keeps calling and emailing me asking how things are going, of course things are going great, so sorry no purchases today!

  • I am so exited to finally be done with buying stuff for my studio. I went on this several-month crusade to completely redesign and reequip the room, flush with acoustic treatment, a spanking new MacBook Pro (first Mac for me ever) and a $700 condenser (didn’t have a mic before). I am so happy to be done with all that research and shopping around and to finally be able to relax and concentrate on that album I’m supposed to be releasing in a month. I say, if you need the piece of gear or software, then get it ASAP so you can start using it now, but make sure that it’s really bottlenecking you. Otherwise, don’t get distracted. If in the process of making music you get frustrated at your latency or you straight-up can’t do something, then def equip yourself properly. On the other hand, if you were prompted by a holiday ad or a buddy’s purchase, restrain yourself and keep your eyes on the prize.

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  • Joe, as i sit here on Black Friday with my inbox full of deals from all the Big Boy companies telling me why I need this, and if I don’t have that my recordings/mixes are gonna suck, you swoop in like Robin Hood, and steal the bad GAS thoughts from my head and give me the perfect blog. You’re like the Robin Hood of Audio Engineering. Haha. Spot on blog, my friend. Mind you I’m typing this as I’m installing my upgrade from NI Komplete 7 to 8, BUT: I use that stuff a ton in my music and mixes. Holy smokes the George Duke Soul Treasures is cool as heck. All that aside, every point you made was perfectly true. More music/mixing, less GAS. Done.

  • Hey,
    there is another Simo!! πŸ™‚
    Nice to meet you here!!

    I agree with Joe: but I must admit that I stopped to buy things after (or thanks) a lot of mistakes.
    Ten years ago I had a channel strip and I just turned knobs by ear, without knowing what I was doing: after a while I thought it was not good… and I sold it.
    Some years later – with a better experience – I had the chance to try it again from a firend and I had nice track from that!
    Of course the preamp was the same, but I had difference ears!
    The same with mics, plugins, monitors….
    A lot of people just buy gear thinking to resolve their lacks, but a skilled guy can finish great mix ITB without fancy plugins, just KNOWING what to do! πŸ˜‰
    Great post, as usual, dear Joe!
    Simo (the Cugini d’Ungheria one) πŸ˜›

    • Thanks Simo! That’s hilarious that the same preamp was both “bad” and “good” based on your experience level. πŸ™‚

  • Thanks yee all

  • Xan

    I think this post has hit a nail on the head. And not just for people with studios, but with musicians in general.

    Especially in the metal scene, guitarists seem to be more concerned about the gear they play and this so-called “quest for tone”.

    Well, it’s not the gear that makes your sound, it’s your fingers…! Likewise with the studio, it’s not the gear which makes the mixes, it’s your EARS. Maybe the gear junkies might like to look into the purchase ov a new set ov bionic ears..! hehe πŸ˜‰

    I don’t like change. I am totally ov the school that says “use what you have over & over until you know it intimately”

    I don’t use Pro-Tools though, I use Cubase. Simply because the rather ancient computer I inherited came with it installed.

    Now I know this computer is, in fact holding me back. Because it does not run enough plug-ins for my liking before it starts playing back stuttered and in extreme cases will crash.

    But for some strange reason, when I run Cubase as a different user and just using the internal soundcard ov the computer I can put a lot more on before this happens. So this is where I’ll do the last finalisations ov a mix because at this point I don’t need recording functionality. Recording with the internal soundcard, apart from being rather hissy & low quality, introduces a lag that I just can’t seem to get rid ov.)

    Another way around the problem I employ is rendering a track down with the plugins so I can then remove them. Or other times if I think I might need to tweak them in the final mixings I might just save the channel settings, which includes the plugins, then remove them for the time being.

    The final way ov course, is to apply hardware processes while tracking to avoid needing to do something similar with a plugin in the mix.

    I really only do this with guitars though, usually running them through a distortion pedal, post-distortion boost, a speaker simulator (that I made) and an old Akai Enhancer. ‘Cause I don’t like software guitar processing such as Guitar Rig very much.

  • Simo

    Great post! Now I know that my studio isn’t bloated…BUT…there’s one thing that slow down every project, it’s not a piece of gear: it’s acoustic treatment! That’s what I really miss, ’cause whatever I record and whatever comes out from my speaker is a truly depressing mud of frequencies…this is why I always recommand to think about acoustic treatment first than anything else. I work in a properly treated studio sometimes (nothing fancy, but bass traps and absorbers around the sweetspot), but I can tell that we’re not talking about a few differencies, it’s really two completely different worlds! My two cents…

    • Great point. Acoustic treatment is super important, but at the same time it’s certainly possible, but difficult, to get a great recording out of an untreated room. You’d be amazed what some blankets and a little focus can accomplish.