My home studio has grown over the years as my needs (and the needs of my clients) have changed. I’ve owned and sold lots of different gear in search of the right tools to help reach my musical vision and goals. But what often gets overlooked are the few non-gear items in the studio that are just as critical to any sonic success I hope to have. You might laugh them off as overly simplistic, but you’d miss the greater point; they actually can help you make better music.
1. Legal Pad Of Paper And Pen
The best non-gear investment you can make in your studio is one of those old-school yellow legal pads of paper and a pen. I’m serious people. For the longest time I literally had nothing to write with in my studio except for a word processer on my computer. Consequently I never took any notes. Here’s the simple truth: if you have paper and pen in front of you then you’ll be more apt to write down every idea that strikes you.
Guess what? Ever since bringing a legal pad into my studio, I’ve had more clarity in recording sessions and better ideas in mixing sessions than ever before. It’s hard (if not impossible) to implement each idea the moment you think of it, but by writing it down you are creating a road map for where your recording or mix should go. Putting ideas to paper is the best way to guarantee they become a musical reality. Otherwise the ideas vanish over time and those sparks of creativity and originality are lost.
2. Some Good Books On Mixing
Believe it or not, people still write (and read) books. You should too. If you want to be a better mix engineer, then read great books on mixing. I’ve recommended a few here, and if you’re into Pro Tools check out this one as well. Read them. Then read them again. Then put them on a small book shelf or coffee table in your studio where they are somewhat visible.
As you sit down to mix if you ever get in a rut, save your session, close out of your DAW, and crack open one of your favorite mixing books. Read a chapter or two and see if instantly you aren’t overcome by a dual feeling of motivation (I can do this!) and inspiration (I want to try that idea). I do this all the time. It’s natural to hit plateaus or slumps in a mix. The only solution is to pull yourself out of it. But in reality you need something external to pull you out. You can’t pull yourself out.
A good book on mixing also gets you away from that darn computer screen for a moment, which in my experience triggers a different part of your brain and balances you out. I’m not scientist, but a little reading of ink on paper seems to do something to put my mind at ease and freshen my thinking.
3. A Hot Cup Of Coffee
Don’t laugh at this, but in reality every album I mix should credit “Joe Coffee” as my assistant engineer because I literally can’t mix a record without coffee beside me. Am I addicted to caffeine? I don’t think so. A little boost can sure help when that afternoon (or late night) fog is starting to creep in. But truthfully it’s the smell, sensation, and culture surrounding drinking coffee that relaxes me.
Not only does a piping hot cup of freshly brewed coffee cause me to simmer down, but it makes me feel (wait for it) refined and dignified. I don’t know what it is, but by simply sipping some “joe” I feel important; like I have a special job to do. Again, it might be a psychological hack, but it puts me in a mood where I’m ready to get to work and I’m feeling really good about life. That always translates into a better mix for me.
So maybe coffee isn’t your thing. Perhaps it’s tea. Or Pepsi. Or maybe you’re a beefed up weight lifting mix engineer and your studio drink of choice is a protein shake. Whatever it is, keep it close by and sip slowly. It’ll do your mind (and your mixes) some good.
Good Recordings Are About More Than Just Gear
So there you have it, three of my non-gear essentials for my personal studio. They are just as much a part of my recording/mixing workflow as my audio interface, DAW, and microphones. What about you? What would you consider your non-gear essential items in the studio?