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Jeffrey P. Fisher
The vast majority of musicians, soundtrack/jingle composers, and
project studio owners work alone making their music and sound magic. Since time is what we sell, the more time you have available to bill, the more money you can make. Here are several tips for keeping your efforts effective and productive.
Arrange your workstation for maximum efficiency
The way you setup your room can have a great impact on your productivity, positive and negative. Constant hassles from your technology interfere with your creativity. Keep the stuff you use most often within easy reach. This includes computer, sample CDs, keyboard, manuals, whatever it is you use. I have two main workstations. One is for composing comprising my keyboards and a guitar rig. The other is centered around my computer for
recording, writing, and taking care of general business functions.
Learn your gear inside and out
It's oh-so-tempting to grab every new toy that comes out. I suggest instead that you concentrate on mastering a few tools. The more you know about your equipment, the more you'll be able to get out of it. I keep it simple using Reason, Acid Pro, and Vegas Video as my main tools along with a few external keyboards and my guitar. Also, make sure everything is in good working order, too. Have a maintenance plan. Draft a signal flow diagram to help you manage gear as well.
Using wireless headphones and a wireless remote can make sessions run smoother. The Keyspan Digital Media Remote connects to the USB port and gives you a wireless hand-held TV/VCR-type remote for your computer. I use it to control several Vegas Video functions from my isolation booth. My Jensen 900 MHz headphones let me wander around the studio to diddle knobs at the rack, mouse around the computer, run to the iso booth, grab my guitar, lay down a few takes, then back to the computer, again and again -- without tripping or getting tangled up. These two add-ons help you to concentrate on performance without the gear destroying the vibe.
Don't put away your toys
There is no need to clean up after every session as a commercial studio must do. If you find the right sound, don't risk losing it. Leave your gear always setup and ready to use. You never know when inspiration might strike. You don't want to be hunting for a cable when you should be hitting record. With everything close at hand and ready to go you can grab what you need and start creating your best music.
Find the best settings
Also, spend some time getting good sounds from your gear, then leave the knobs alone. You can plug in and record and be assured of getting the tone right. At the very least, save those setting somehow. For example keep a notebook of your favorite settings so you can easily dial-up the sounds you want when your memory fails. Don't take chances with you valuable data, either. Setup a backup strategy and stick to it.
Get the most out of your room
Since many of us record and play in a single room, take advantage of several one room recording secrets. Use an amp simulator (POD, J-station, etc.) instead of miking a bass/guitar cabinet. Build a cheap isolation booth in a corner or closet using acoustic foam or heavy moving blankets. Use a video camera and remote TV to connect your eyes to distant gear and/or other people in other rooms. If you're forced to use headphones while recording, make sure you play your music on your main monitors for a critical listen before committing to a final take.
Automate your routine
Setup up equipment templates (patches on your synths and samplers, for example) that you can use to cover certain circumstances. When you are inspired, you can call up a template and let the creativity flow. You can always go back and tweak things later. I have templates setup for all the music styles I cover--orchestral, rock, jazz, electronica, etc. I simply call up that palette of sounds and start writing. Later, after the muse has faded, I go back to the tracks and work to create the right sound and balance. I also use several recording and effects templates to cover tracking, overdubbing, and mixing situations. Sometimes deadlines are tight and you need to rely on your past experience to get the job done.
Rely on your computer
Your computer can help keep you organized. Store all the information you need just a few mouse clicks away. Keep contact information for your clients, prospects, media and more. Track your financials. Use it to stay in contact with fans via e-mail and the Web. Your computer often becomes the indispensable "staff" you can't do without.
Set aside work time and keep it sacrosanct
It's easy to be distracted when you should be working. Find the best time that you are your most creative. Don't let anything interfere with that time. Turn off the phone; get voice mail. Stop surfing the Web. Close the door. Ask to not be disturbed. And then use your peak time to your best advantage.
Get help for the mix
Working solo can make you lose your perspective. Keep your listening skills sharp by taking a music bath every single day. Listen and emulate your favorite CDs. Put them on the monitors before you start recording and mixing your music. You'll adjust your ears to what's right and gain the perspective you need to mix effectively. Additionally, take those mixes to others places and other people for insight. You can easily collaborate long distance by e-mailing roughs to a peer and asking for their comments