In today’s electronically-advanced world anyone can produce music in their bedroom studio. Creating a recording studio at home has never been cheaper and a simple home studio, if properly organized, can provide great sound quality for your productions when starting off on your career.
Studio productivity is a key element in achieving success as a music producer. It takes a lot of determination, trial and error, initiative and drive to maximize your output when making music. Hence it becomes imperative to set-up your working space and habits in a way that minimizes procrastination.
Setting up your workspace and workflow so that you can start work right away and aren’t hit left, right and center by a million distractions helps tremendously in ensuring you achieve your production goals. We asked several industry professionals for their advice on how to increase productivity in the studio, and used the information to compile some key tips to help you getting tracks finished:
Set Time Aside to Produce
Are you really serious about producing music or is this just a hobby?
Whether it’s the first or the latter, the truth of the matter is that you need to set time aside to solely devote to music production. In order to get into the necessary groove in the studio you will need time, and working on a track in 10 minute increments throughout the day isn’t going to get you very far.
Whether you use calendar applications, phone reminders or are simply good with keeping to your own schedule, set at least 60 minutes a day to work on your music and nothing else.
Plan Your Time (Wisely)
We often wake up, check our phones and are hit with a barrage of social media notifications, e-mails, lists of things to do, reminders, etc. The list never ends.
Just like with any set of tasks, it’s easier to keep track of what you have to get done if you plan your time wisely beforehand. Writing a list of action-items to be worked on during the day and during your studio time can be an effective way in ensuring you have an established workflow and put in the necessary time for each task, checking them off as you go along until you have a completed list of items. It also allows you to enter the studio during your pre-established production hours with a clear mindset of everything you want to accomplish set ahead of you, giving you the necessary motivation to get all your tasks done.
Some people may find it easier to set up their plan of action for the week ahead during the weekend (on Sunday for example) while others may thrive from writing a daily plan each morning after they wake up. There’s more to being a music producer than studio time, including a series of supporting activities such as sound design (creating synth patches, creating audio samples, building effects chains), learning (reading manuals, watching tutorials, taking courses), organizing your libraries, writing music, mixing music, marketing, etc. Planning these activities will empower you to actually getting them all done.
Ready Your Body
Whether you’re planning to spend one hour, the whole afternoon or an entire day in the studio, don’t forget to ready your body for the task at hand before you’re scheduled to begin working on your music. Here are some important things to consider:
- Hydrate: Drink, drink, drink a lot of water. We lose water when we sleep and need it to keep our body going for hours on end. Staying hydrated will keep your body focused in the studio.
- Eat Well: Minimize food breaks and the uneasy feeling of hunger by entering the studio already nourished. Be healthy with your choices: eating dense cooked food can be heavy on your digestive system and can often make you lethargic and thus less motivated to get work done. If you’re going to be working on music for extensive periods of time consider having ready-made food or snacks handy for your scheduled break times. More about that later.
- Meditate: When you meditate you’re strengthening your mind and its ability to focus, an essential skill in the studio. 15-30 minutes of meditation in the morning before a studio session can work wonders in increasing your output when making music.
Ensure Your Workspace is as Ergonomic as Possible
The ideal studio set-up will give you easy reach to everything you need, without needing to constantly set-up hardware from scratch every time you’re producing a new track. Keep it simple and think about the flow of your movements when using each instrument at your disposal.
- Have all your hardware plugged in and ready to go. Position your most-used pieces of equipment in positions that are easier to reach, whether it’s in front of you or to the side.
- Separate left and right brain tasks. When recording, mixing, or composing, it may be helpful to take care of specific left brain tasks right from the start. By separating left brain tasks (technical things like naming tracks, routing, patching etc) from right brain tasks (more creative/abstract), you’ll avoid getting distracted or overwhelmed by attempting to do it all at once.
- Absolute cleanliness is not necessarily a must, as people sometimes thrive in a “controlled messy” environment. What is important is that the objects in your studio do not become a distraction or a hinderance to your workflow. Some studies suggest that a clean and tidy environment is conducive to an increase in production output, but some people work better in an environment set-up in a way that may seem a bit messy to others but is workable for their needs.
The essential point is that your studio environment should be a positive, comfortable, inviting, inspiring space with an established workflow that you can ease into without needing to spend unnecessary time to setup every day.
In today’s world we are constantly plugged into society thanks to the reach of the internet and, in particular, social media. It’s easy to get distracted with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, e-mails and SoundCloud notifications pouring in every few seconds or minutes, so eliminating (because reducing isn’t enough in this case) these is key in ensuring productivity in the studio.
Here are some suggestions:
- Turn off your phone and leave it in another room. Period. You don’t need it.
- Unplug your modem and router. If your internet isn’t on you won’t be tempted to check out the latest posts on your timeline.
- Turn off pop-up notifications on the computer you use to produce so that you’re not receiving any alerts. Computers are an invaluable tool for a producer but also an endless pit of distraction.
- If you share the apartment/house with others, let them know that you are not to be disturbed for any reason whatsoever unless it’s an actual emergency. Hold yourself accountable to your request and politely decline any conversations they may try to start with you. It might take some time until they truly realized that you are not to be bothered while you are in the studio, so until then it’s on you to be ruthless in enforcing your own request.
- Do not invite people over during your production hours unless they will be a contributing factor to your time in the studio. They will themselves be bringing in the very same distractions you worked so hard to eradicate from your workflow.
Take Scheduled Breaks
If you’re planning on more than an hour in the studio, schedule breaks into your routine — they are important. A ten minute break at the appropriate time (it varies from person to person) can work wonders for your productivity but also for your ears, ensuring they are given a time out after long exposure to loud music. Do not forget to keep a pair of ear plugs handy for your studio time too. Listener fatigue is a real phenomenon that happens following prolonged exposure to an auditory stimulus, with symptoms including tiredness, discomfort, pain and loss of sensitivity.
While you may often just want to keep going and forego your break, consider this: if you are tired or feeling discomfort, you’re less likely to be creative and making productive decisions. You will literally be wasting your time, so take scheduled breaks to ensure you can go on longer in the studio throughout the day.
Organize Your Sample Libraries
This may seem like a pain and it will surely consume a lot of your time at first, but being organized from the get-go will ultimately save you time and effort when the time will come to find what you need.
An organized sample library means you wont have to search through crudely named folders to find the exact sample you need. Also consider creating a file of your favorite samples: kicks, claps, hats, rides – anything you consider to be a favorite sound which you can use to get the creative juices flowing. These can always be replaced later on, but will at least give you easy and fast access to get going on an idea that might otherwise disappear by the time you are done searching for the perfect sample.
Stop Trying To Do Everything at Once
It can be extremely unproductive if you’re trying to work on several elements of the production process at once. Just as we discussed the importance of planning your time wisely, it is also vital that you compartmentalize the various stages of music production so that you work on them separately and independently, finishing each before moving onto the next one.
Have you ever found yourself synthesizing a patch whilst flicking back and forth between bus compression, or writing a melody while fixing up the arrangement? End the nightmare by working on creation, then mixing and then mastering (if you’re doing it yourself) in that sequence. Complete the task at hand before moving onto the next one.
Be Creative First, Critical Second
You’re making art, never forget that. Music production is as creative as an activity can be, which is why it’s important to remain as creative as possible in your process before entering the critical process. Don’t think twice, go with the flow and trust the creative juices flowing through you.
If you enter the studio with a critical mindset you are automatically shooting yourself in the creative foot. Leave your mind open to new sounds, new ideas, new concepts. Once those have been translated into music allow yourself to be critical and to fine-tune what you’ve produced.
Learn Your Shortcuts
Just like in life, shortcuts are only effective if you know them! This is one of the simplest and easiest ways you can improve your workflow in the studio, requiring just a bit of memory and some practice.
If you have to reach out for your mouse every time you need to do a new activity on a track you’re losing valuable time. Spending time to learn your keyboard shortcuts will pay off, especially as a lot of applications follow the same methods with some of the basic commands such as copy, cut, paste, zoom, open, toolbar, delete, play, pause, scrolling, etc. Here are some key ones you can begin working on right away:
This may sound elementary but labeling greatly increases workflow and speeds up the creative thinking process by eliminating unnecessary time searching for things.
Name and color your tracks. Grouping sound sources by using the same color will also train your eyes and brain to immediately recognize the elements you are looking at, thereby increasing workflow.
You may also find it easier to work on labeling track right before you go on a scheduled break or before working on a larger arrangement, as this will ensure you’re not cutting into the creative process you may be immersed in.
Be A Master Rather Than a Jack Of All Trades
If you’ve been counting you will know this is actually our 11th piece of advice — we wanted to throw in a little bonus for you.
Look, it is so easy to get lost in the infinite myriad of hardware options, plugins, instruments and production tools on the market. Truthfully you could spend forever working on countless plugins for just some of the most popular DAWs like Logic Pro, Ableton, Cubase, FL Studio and Reason, etc, but it’s truly not necessary to dabble in everything without being a master of anything. You don’t need every single plugin or piece of hardware recommended by the latest tech magazine or your producer friends.
Instead of spending too much time learning how to make music, use the effort and hours to actually make music! While it’s key to keep building your studio and to stay up-to-date with production technology, don’t forget to focus on what truly matters as a music producer.
Dive into your most reliable plugins and learn everything you can about those before dabbling in new software and hardware. You may be surprised by the new things you learn you can do with what you already have in your studio.
If you found this article useful, sign up for our newsletter to learn more and to stay up to date with 6AM’s news and features on the world of electronic music.