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Thread April 16, 2016 editorial: comments

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1 April 16, 2016 editorial: comments

Studio in Chaos

As much as I like to work in an organized, neat environment, my studio has the tendency to descend into chaos whenever I’m hard at work on a project. Instruments are out of their cases and leaning against furniture, cables lie tangled on the floor, papers are strewn about, and there are the ubiquitous plates and coffee cups — the remains of my in-project snacking. After I finish the job, I have to do a massive cleanup just to get things back to a manageable state. But then along comes the next project, and, boom, my studio is back in disarray.

I’m guessing that a lot of you experience a similar pattern. But there are folks out there who are somehow able to keep their studios perpetually spotless, even when they’re really busy. How do they do it? I’m not sure. But if, like me, you lean to the disorganized side, you might feel vindicated to know that the scientific research on the subject indicates that creativity is actually more likely to occur in a messy environment.

That said, your creative spirit can be seriously dampened if, in middle of a project, you can’t find something you need because of the clutter. I’ve had occasions where I'm unable to find a particular small studio item — like a cable, adapter or capo — that I know should be there. Where these things disappear to, I have no idea. Perhaps the same place that some of my socks go after I put them in the dryer.

I do try to adhere to the old adage, “A place for everything and everything in its place,” which definitely makes finding things a lot easier. But when I’m in the middle of recording that concept usually goes by the wayside. 

When I do manage to do something positive in terms of my studio’s organization, I get a lot of satisfaction. For instance, I recently spent a couple of hours untangling and labeling cables. It made me realize that what might help is to try to do small things like that on a regular basis, and chip away at the chaos. Attempting to tackle it all at once is simply too overwhelming.

So how would you characterize your studio space? Do you keep it perpetually neat? Does it look like a bomb went off in it? Or is it somewhere in between?

One studio that unquestionably was always highly organized was EMI Studios (now Abbey Road Studios) during the time of the Beatles. As you’ll read in this week’s story Fab Four Gear!, it was also so rigidly controlled in terms of what recording techniques could be used by the engineers that the Beatles, even in their heyday, had to sneak around when they wanted to try something out of the box. 

If you haven’t read the story, which is an interview with author Andy Babiuk who wrote the book, Beatles Gear: The Ultimate Edition, I recommend it highly. Babiuk interviewed Paul and Ringo and the late George Martin, among others during his research, and he has lots of great stories to tell, not only about the Beatles in the studio, but about how they ended up with the particular instruments and amps they used during the years they were together.

Hello, Mike!
Good editorial - I empathise! (English spelling ;)) I'd say that our studio is somewhere inbetween the two extremes you describe and the cups hanging around are tea mugs rather than coffee ones... well, we are English after all! I agree that it's best to try to keep things under control and my father-producer is very fond of repeating his mantra "Put it down once, put it down right," which, similar to your expression, means that if you put something down it should go in the correct place, or don't just bung (throw) it anywhere cause this probably will end up with you not finding it later.

I agree that, generally, the ultra tidy environment is not necessarily associated with creative activities. My mother always relates how her family's arty friends tended to have fairly wild gardens, whereas those 9-to-fivers who don't have a creative hobby spend a lot of their free time in the garden, mowing it every five minutes! (Although a beautiful garden is a lovely thing!)

Ultimately, keeping the studio reasonably well-ordered seems to be the goal!

All the best,

Astra: Lead Guitarist, Singer-Songwriter.


This was a great topic about studio clutter. For years, like a lot of you, I bought rack gear, cables, patchbays and I couldn't get anywhere when I wanted to record. I was chasing down a bad cable, dealing with hum, or just the process of constantly re-arranging rack gear and buying new pieces of furniture.

I finally made a decision to invest in a decent system and move to about 90% plugins ( UAD Apollo ). I still have issues getting all my synthesizers, drum machines in the mix and again am looking for a mixing solution. Probably a Behringer X32 into ADAT into Apollo. Yes, this is an interesting topic.
Ultimately, keeping the studio reasonably well-ordered seems to be the goal!

Exactly right, Astra. Great to hear your opinion, as always.

my father-producer is very fond of repeating his mantra "Put it down once, put it down right,"

It's interesting to see the differences between English and American culture — in this case, the same meaning but a different expression. And then, of course, there's the coffee-tea thing. :mdr:
Thanks, Mike, and then in addition to the American and English expressions, we've also got added French phrases because we live near Le Mans: "quel bordel" is something you could say if your studio's has descended into chaos - it means "what a bloody mess!" :D:

Astra: Lead Guitarist, Singer-Songwriter.


I finally made a decision to invest in a decent system and move to about 90% plugins ( UAD Apollo ).

Getting rid of the outboard rack gear definitely helps. Good luck with figuring out your mixer situation!

Quote from: Mike Levine

 I do try to adhere to the old adage, “A place for everything and everything in its place,”

 As a creative person + a rigourous web entrepreneur I feel my brain is always fighting between order and mess... The older I get the more I like/need things ordered... But at the same time, I'm always struggling with it in some situations. Example: a year ago, I decide that in my office, one top drawer is for "health" things (gums, hand sanatizer, cream...) and bottom one for "office" things (stapler, paper, ...). And guess what? Once a week, I still open the wrong drawer! I'm the one who decided how to order it and still I'm mistaken. Damned...




[ Post last edited on 04/17/2016 at 23:15:52 ]

I'm part of the "unorganized" group. If it weren't for my lady, the studio space would be in shambles. Luckily (and unluckily.....) she's very organized and can't stand a mess around the place.

Regarding how chaos and creativity relate, I think it's a misinterpreted correlation. By that I mean, if you don't really give a shit where you put your guitars and cables during a project, since you'll organize them again later, then you're entirely focused on the project. At least that's how it is for me. When I'm really focused on a project or just developing some musical ideas, all I want is to have the tools right next to me so that, the second inspiration strikes, I can take advantage. If anything distracts me, it completely impedes my creative workflow, which is why sometimes I can be really grouchy when playing music...

I think (at least for me, personally), that there's a way to have organization in the midst of your creative chaos. I.e. things that you do regularly, like switching between a guitar or a bass, or reaching for several different cables or mic stands, you can organize by having instrument stands or wall mounts within arm's reach of your computer, and labeled cables in their proper place, etc. But this sort of organization should be planned and done in advance, which is what I'm trying to do.

Point being, you shouldn't think about the mess or chaos while creating. Just focus on the creation, because creating something of substance is a lot more difficult than cleaning up a mess!
There is no "order" in my home studio. My wife is a pianist, but knows absolutely 'nada' about workstations and such. However, she does know a lot about "mess". She has been a real trooper in keeping my entrenched sloppiness under some semblance of control. Without her due diligence, our home would be a Collyer brothers dream. By the way, if you don't know who the "Collyer brothers" were, feel free to Google those boys.

As always, a timely article, Mike.

As always, a timely article, Mike

Thanks, Griff!

Without her due diligence, our home would be a Collyer brothers dream.

Yikes! Considering that the Collyer Brothers are pretty much the poster children of clutter, your wife must be a saint, indeed. ;)