You know how a bad mix can really ruin a song?

Yeah, well a spilled drink can ruin a studio.

No, I didn’t ruin my studio last night, but I have come really close a couple times over the years. Nobody ever pays attention to the “no food or drink” signs in professional recording studios, until some dude pours his Red Bull down the middle of an SSL console. (Yep, rumor has it that happened in a big studio here in Nashville.)

So what about your home studio? It’s your home, right? You can do whatever you want. Absolutely. But please, PLEASE be careful.

I talk a lot about getting things done in your home studio and setting deadlines and goals. Heck, I’ve got a whole category of posts on productivity.

But all of those articles and even the tutorial videos here on HSC won’t do you any good if you just spilled your coffee into your computer, interface, preamp, etc. If you’re like most normal people, you won’t be able to just go out and re-buy the gear you just ruined. You’ll have to save up and buy it in a few months…that’s a few months you could’ve used to finish an album.

I had a “close call” a few years ago that scared the crap out of me. I had borrowed a $1,000 tube microphone. I placed the external power supply on my studio desk and was recording away, happy as can be.

Then I reached for my rack (which was on the right side of my desk) to change something, and [insert slow motion here] I knocked over a full cup of coffee, which ran all around the power supply to this fancy-shmancy microphone that I didn’t own.

I panicked, unplugged everything, quickly removed the cover plate to the power supply. Luckily, the coffee only got the bottom of the power supply wet. Nothing seeped up inside the unit itself.

Of course, I didn’t know this for at least 24 hours. I wasn’t about to plug a wet power supply back in to see if it still worked.

That was a long 24 hours.

Luckily, everything was fine, and I returned the microphone and power supply (and a faint coffee smell) back to its original owner.

My Advice To You

I’m not gonna sit here and tell you not to bring any liquids into your studio. However, you should take a second to create a special place on your desk or in your studio for drinks.

Don’t even think about putting the drink on the same side of your desk as your interface, preamps, etc. You’re constantly reaching for things, tweaking knobs. You will inevitably have a Joe moment.

Instead, put your drink in a somewhat secluded place.

I put my drinks to the LEFT of my 003. All my gear is to the RIGHT of it. The way it’s set up now, the only thing I can really do is knock the drink into the floor. I’ll take that.

Do you have any spilled drink horror stories? Were you that guy who ruined a really nice console in Nashville? Leave a comment! 😉

[Photo by dicktay2000]

  • Anonymous

    Spilling a drink on your computer desks for home can be a real pain if it is made of wood, not so much of a problem if it is made from glass though.

  • Just remembered an engineer that worked at ardent giving me crap because I put half and half in my coffee. He joked that real engineers drink their coffee black and back in the day ardent wouldn’t allow engineers to put anything in their coffee in case something did happen cleanup was easier.

  • Some computer keyboard suffered tea damage, since i have safety zones on my desk, and learned that never ever put a drink near your hand handling the mouse!:)
    My rack is on the floor far away from my desk.

  • Sam K

    It’s never a good thing to spill liquids on your gear, but also, it’s amazing how skittish people are about technology. Gear is a lot more robust than people give it credit for, however you HAVE to clean it properly after an incident to prevent shorts or corrosion.

    Most incidents of gear dying due to spillage will be because the gear was not properly cleaned afterwards. Don’t be afraid to take that sucker apart, you’ve already blown your warranty, so what does it matter?

    You can’t hurt a circuit board with liquid when it has no power. That means you can (and should) take it out of the case and wash it in the sink with hot, mildly soapy water (dish liquid is fine) and then thouroughly rinse it with some more hot water.

    Afterwards you then need to make sure it is thouroughly and absolutely dry before plugging it back in. You can speed up this process by displacing water from under board mounted components with an Isopropyl type circuit board cleaning spray. Give it a day or two in a warm, dry place of days if you are unsure.

    I spilt a full cup of coffee into the keybed of my Roland not long ago and after a full clean out it now works better than ever.

  • I have a friend who was interning at Starstuck when the SSL got fried (if that is in fact the story you were talking about). The way I heard it was one of the assistants was turning out the lights for the night and knocked a lava lamp over onto the console. There was no saving it. Can you imagine lava lamp goo inside a 9000? Ugg… I would have hated to be him.

    Only thing I have ruined is a couple of computer keyboards… but I kinda consider them disposable anyways.

  • Joe R.

    This post brings back an old story from when CD ROMs first came out. A guy brings in his new computer into a repair shop and says the automatic coffe tray is broken, and does not seem to hold his coffe cup very well…

  • Jac Mandel

    Years ago, in my home studio, someone spilled an almost full glass of 7-UP on the auto-locator for my Fostex E-16 (I know, old school). The engineer saved it by quickly turning it up side down and unplugging it, then we cleaned everything we could with Q-tips and rubbing alcohol. It still worked great a few years later when I sold it except for a couple of buttons that were a little sticky. After that, no more drinks were allowed near any equipment. Wouldn’t want to find out if a computer keyboard, or worse, a control surface or preamp could survive that kind of abuse.

  • I have found the swirlygig to be one of the best solutions for this. spending ten bucks can keep you from wrecking $1000 worth of gear.
    http://ronansrecordingshow.com/2009/04/the-swirlygig-bob-glaub-davey-faragher-and-steven-seagal-energy-drink-04/

    I have a bunch of swirlygigs at the studio and a no drinks on the console ever!!!! rule

    • Dude. That is brilliant. Everyone, scurry over to that link and check it out.

      • Genius!! Mounts right on the mic stand!
        I’d steer clear of the Steven Segal Lightning-Bolt drink though…lol

  • Ryan

    Haha. I think this is an even bigger problem for us “home studio-ers” because our gear desk is most likely our computer desk, our homework/bills/taxes/writing desk, our dinner table, our work bench and so on.

    I use a recording desk I purchased that has 8U of rackspace in front of me, and the nice thing about that is that it keeps my gear suspended above the desk. Ive had a friend spill a drink that ran all the way to the wall behind the desk but luckily it just goes right under all the important stuff.

    Something to look into when buying home studio furniture for sure.