3 Non-Gear Essentials In My Studio

| Mixing, Tips

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.


TRR186 3 Non-Gear Essentials In My Studio

Via Sander van der Wel Flickr

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?


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22 Responses to “3 Non-Gear Essentials In My Studio”

  1. Stevie Z

    …and a cat. I’ve always found it helpful and healthy to have a cat around. When gear or musicians start acting up, petting it or scratching it’s head for a few seconds really helps put things into perspective….

  2. Norman

    It may sound funny, but there’s a lot of truth there.
    Writing things down will organize ones mind and clear all these to-do things and worries that, unconsiously, eat up our creative energy. And in most cases we end up forgetting to do them anyway.

    Another variant of the “HOT CUP OF COFFEE” may be to take real lunch brakes, leave the room and go eat your lunch, even on a bench, outside. Maybe reading some music literature in the process.
    Better yet; meet somewhere nearby with a WORKING friend on both your lunchbrakes, where you can also talk about your day at work.

    One thing that works for me is to simply dress up like I would if was going to a pro studio to work. And sometimes I’d even wear a tie, too!! LOL.
    Agreed that it is all psychological, but it is not more ridiculous than a top guitarist making all those weird faces when playing a great solo.
    It just helps you align your mindset, energy and creativity towards a productive attitude.

    Besides, this is the same in other industries as well, only there people HAVE to dress up to go to the offices, have some boss imposing organisation and dicipline, take lunchbrakes, talk with other colleagues, etc.
    So, we alone in our home studio have to find ways to artificially emulate that kind of push to get us into that kind of professionalism.

  3. Andy

    I have a small santa-doll that my mum made for me sitting on one of my monitors and I have my little black book (which now is blue since the black ones were sold out). I agree with everything you say, especially the coffee.

    When I record with my band we have like some sort of thing to always have some light beer. And this gets us going, especially works well for our singer.

    Also I have some posters (in frames) which I find relaxing and encouraging. And since my control-room is my bedroom there is also a bed taking up like 40% of the space in the room, but I like it that way. It’s a part of my acoustic treatment like one of my “absorbers” and is a pretty good one too.

    (About the beer, we have no intentions at all to get under the influence by it. It’s just something that’s bringing us to the right place and bringing us together).

  4. lo.mo

    – A good chair.

    although, I have been working on getting my studio setup with everything at standing height as a working experiment. Otherwise, a comfortable chair speaks for itself.

    – Natural light.

    I had acoustic panels covering the windows for a long time and it made a great difference in the acoustics, but it got to the point where I hated being in there during the day. Everywhere else in the place was brightly lit and inviting, with natural light, and the “studio” was just a dark and depressing little cave.

    The panels came down and the light came in and it’s all been “happily ever after”.

    – A “Recording Lamp”.

    This is absolutely essential. There is nothing worse than having the phone ring, or ding an alert, or someone barging in demanding my attention when I’m lost in a creative moment, or in the midst of something takes alot of focus. When the “Recording Lamp” is lit, everyone knows not to disrupt the proceedings.

  5. jmo

    The notepad is crucial. i’ve been keeping my notes on my iPad and brainstorming with this incredible free app called Simple Mind, but i recently bought a notepad and have noticed that my mixing workflow and productivity instantly got a little better and more focused. i think this goes right along with what you were saying about reading physical books – There’s an organic connection there that has existed for a very long time whereas plugging in, booting up, swiping, double clicking, etc is all relatively new from an evolutionary standpoint. coffee is a must too.

  6. Andrew Bontey

    There’s two things I always like to do when I’m mixing, especially in longer sessions, and they always seem to rejuvenate me no matter what.

    1. Leave the room and sit outside, by a window, etc. for about 15 minutes. Consider it a coffee break. I usually like to have a small light snack, a coffee and a cigarette.

    2. Pictures. I’ve got a nice big 2×3 foot painting of some trees and stuff. Having something for you/a client to look at every once in a while is refreshing, and I’ve found it always help get my juices flowing. It seems just connecting with nature, and like Jmo said, doing something that has an organic connection seems to be helpful in centering yourself, and essentially refreshing your brain.

  7. James

    Once again Graham, well done!

    Just to blow everyone’s mind in the States, a 10 pack of legal pads here in Australia cost…. you ready? …. $103 AUD. that’s about $108 USD. I’m from the U.S. and moved here just over a year and I still get sticker shock when I look at how much stuff cost here in OZ. The States are AWESOME for buying power and low cost things.

    I miss paper… haha I never thought i’d say that

  8. Colin

    All good points. Having a notepad has saved me a lot of time, and I’m able to quickly write down song ideas instead of having to open a word processor. And taking notes makes it seem more personal, as well.
    Reading books on mixing may seem like a no-brainer, but I suppose some people don’t bother with those, opting out for online articles. Even though there’s a wealth of information online, there’s nothing like flipping through a book.
    And of course coffee is necessary. It’s funny how sipping coffee makes whatever you’re doing feel more important. That, and the fact that coffee is just so good, I can’t go through a day without it. 🙂

  9. Patrick

    +1 on the paper. I love having the capability to take notes in the DAW or an app, but the pad just gets used more. Pen and paper is the only way I can write lyrics; I can type or record an idea for a lyric or a line, but to flesh it out and finish it, I need the pen on paper.

    Outside of that, I need my lava lamp. I have had one for 20 years, since I had my first room dedicated to recording. I recently added a huge Harley Davidson one that my daughter in law donated to me. Very relaxing to look at while listening to the playback.

    Also, juggling balls and a Rubik’s Cube, to just take my concentration completely away from the recording/mixing for a few minutes. I always come back with a fresh perspective.

  10. Alex

    Hey Graham, I feel exactly the same way about coffee! I laughed out loud when I read that, it’s so true how having some coffee to drink can help you feel focused.

  11. Patrick

    Immediately makes me think of Dave Grohl saying “FRESH POTS!” Look up “fresh pots” on youtube if you don’t get it haha.

  12. tamir gordin

    “But truthfully it’s the smell, sensation, and culture surrounding drinking coffee that relaxes me.”
    Man, That’s why I love this site so much more then any other audio site. It’s not all about the gear, both in the practical and philosophical way. It’s really deeper than most people might get. That’s why I think of Graham as my “audio shrink” 😉 Anyway great post Graham, again, and thanx for taking me down memory lane to think about how simple and fun things used to be.



  1.  Graham tells us about other necessary "gear" for our studio. -

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