My wife and I have two Pro Tools studios at home. One is within a purpose-built soundproof cabin at the end of our garden that I use during the week for work. It has a Pro Tools HDX rig in it along with tens of thousands of dollars worth of studio gear. The other studio is a straight-forward "no fuss" bedroom studio with Pro Tools 11, a USB Behringer interface, Mac Mini, IK iLoud Micro Monitors and an SE X1 Microphone that my wife uses to produce music with.
Over the last few months I have watched my wife develope her own music production workflow using her simple bedroom studio and I must say there's something quite endearing about it all. From my observations, I've reminded myself of some cool benefits to using a stripped back studio setup instead of a more serious studio that resemble something similar to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise... like the studio I have at the end of my garden.
Plug & Play In No Time
When I want to record a song in my large purpose built studio I have to power on a fair amount of gear. I'm surprised that I don't use a checklist not too dissimilar to what pilot have to use in order to take off. My wife on the other hand only needs to power up her Mac Mini and launch Pro Tools, this takes a matter of seconds and she's straight into recording.
Her microphone is always plugged into an input on her audio interface and set up ready to record. I, on the other hand, have several microphones to choose from, preamps that need settings dialled in, choices to be made in regards to the best sounding place for the microphone in the room... the list goes on. If I want to record anything in my big studio it takes me at least ten minutes before I'm ready.
Limitations Are Liberating
Simple studio setups are generally plug & play because of limitations such as room size and gear. Artists, such as my wife, have to make do with what they've got in order to produce music. Studio limitations though are no bad thing.
Knowing the limitations in your studio setup can actually be quite liberating. Let me give you a handful of examples:
- If you have only one microphone available then you don't waste time comparing characteristics between several microphones, you just get on recording with what you've got.
- If your studio has limited space to move a microphone around in then you'll most likely have one spot in which to record in... again if there's no choice available then there's no time wasted finding a sweet spot.
- If you only have a single gain pot on an interface and not a full-blown outboard channel strip then hey, all the better for getting tracks down quickly... no fuss.
Lean Mean Mixing Machine
Plug-ins that wife uses in her simple studio are, like the gear she uses, fairly modest. I set her up with some IK Multimedia T RackS plug-ins. These are great value for money and dead simple to use. She only uses Amplitube, one LA 2A style compressor, one API style EQ, one reverb and one delay... that's it. Those are all the tools she needs to mix a great sounding song. She has become really familiar with how these plug-ins sound and work because she has a limited choice available.
My plug-in folder is the polar opposite of a modest collection with nearly 300 plug-ins in total. This can be an absolute pain in my side when I'm mixing. I often have way too much choice and opportunity to pick the wrong tool for the job... if only I had some limitations.
Not A Penny Wasted
In my mothership studio I use a 16 in and 16 out Avid Pro Tools interface. It wasn't cheap at nearly £4,000. I chose this interface because at the time, many years ago, I used to record bands. Have I ever used all 16 ins and outs at the same time? No, and I doubt I ever will. I purchased something that I have never used to its full potential so I've got "features" sitting in my rack, such as spare I/O that I paid for that has never had audio run through it... what a shame.
My wife, on the other hand, uses a 2 in 2 out audio interface that cost £120. She uses this interface to the fullest every day. She doesn't need 4, 8 or 16 inputs, she'll never use them. Small and simple studio setups are great for keeping studio gear purchases down without wasting money on features, such as extra I/O on an interface, that will never be used.
If you produce seriously great sounding music using a simple recording studio setup then I believe you have earned the right to be a little bit smug. It is so easy to lose sight of what a studio is for... especially when Gear Acquisition Syndrome is at play. Remember, gear alone doesn't make great sounding productions, people do, instruments do, creative ideas do. If you use a simple studio setup to make your music then hold your head up high, be proud, embrace the benefits of a simple set and continue making great music.