Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Top 10 Home Studio Mistakes And How To Fix Them [Infographic] | Music Think Tank

A lot of home studio owners come from backgrounds totally outside the music industry. 

We have a passion, a dream, a need to rebel maybe, and addiction to cool gear, a need to get away from ‘life’. 

There is a reason from everybody to want to create music or just be involved somehow even if the background or education or lack thereof might say otherwise. I’m totally on that train.

This train, however, leaves room for a lot of mistakes, learning by experimenting and grabbing bits and pieces over time.

So, let’s speed things up and cut down on some of the mistakes that might creep up in your home studio.


1. Buying extra gear while ignoring other needs

There are multiple things that you can optimize in regards to what you spend your money on.

From buying gear that you end up not using, to buying things that just overkill for what you are doing to buying plugins after plugins before learning to properly use what you already have.

Managing money is a difficult issue, but you’ll want to be a master of it one way or the other. It applies to all aspects of life if you think about it so I think it’s worth spending a bit of time on it.

Think about what goals you have, what are you trying to achieve and figure out what will take you there. Make some priorities and use your budget accordingly.

Sure, if money is no problem, this point is irrelevant for you. But I think it’s safe to assume that for a lot of people money needs to be managed carefully.

Along those lines, I would also add, be careful not to fall in the other extreme of buying the cheapest stuff possible or not buying anything at all.

Buy the things that move you closer to your goals, can get the job done and are of good enough quality.


2. Not fully understanding your tools

This applies to a number of different levels.

Starting with your instruments and virtual instruments, you might be tempted to buy new ones before fully understanding how to use existing ones.

That can quickly become a huge money leak.

You sometimes look at other people and what gear they use and what sounds come out of it and think “damn, I got to get my hands on one of those”.

But before doing so, are you sure you can’t possibly achieve something similar with what tools you already have?

Taking this, obviously, conservative approach to buying gear allows you to have that budget available for other things that you might need.

Marketing tools, advertising, merch, professional studio time, website, graphics, photo shoots, or whatever else the case may be. There are plenty of things that you might need and require money to get.

Another level to this issue is, for instance, with mixing. Yeah, you know you need an EQ, you know you need a compressor, etc.

Do you fully understand the tools you put in your mix?

Mixing is quite tricky to get right but not spending the time to know the ins and outs of your tools makes things a whole lot worse.

Same with recording. Spend some time to test different mic positions, distances, settings, etc, before you discount a microphone and jump to buy another one.

And so on and so forth.

When you really know your tools and you feel like you’ve reached their limit then it’s probably the time for new stuff. Till then, try to get the full value out of the tools you have.


3. “I’ll fix it in the [mix/master/later]” mentality

In the programming world, there is a saying, “garbage in, garbage out”.

Whenever you know you are recording something that’s not really good and you think you’ll fix it in a later process what you are doing is feeding garbage to the later process.

If you want quality to get out at the end of any process you have to start with quality. Start with good raw material that you can work with.

It’s a concept that applies everywhere. You don’t cook with rotten meat and expect a tasty meal.

Spend the time to make the necessary checks to make sure you don’t have quality issues early in the process, whatever that might be.

The same can be said in mixing or mastering. If you compressor settings are not right and you feed that into an EQ, your EQ is not going to fix bad compression or vice-versa.

When you find issues, don’t be lazy, find the source and fix them or the whole project might suffer.


4. Not using references

I think the fastest way to get closer to your heroes is to compare your work to their and get it as close as possible until you form your own taste and opinions.

This means using references as much as you can. Not copying, of course.

For instance, when mixing, compare your mix to one that you know sounds really good. This way you can get a feel for how much compression to use, how much EQ, spacing, etc.

It’s a hell of a lot better than to mindlessly wander around.

That has its perks as well but when you are trying to get to a certain level of quality it helps to pinpoint what that quality is and how it looks like.

Without a reference, you don’t really have a clear direction and that is more or less like hunting unicorns.

Which, again, can be beneficial sometimes but you want to make a conscious decision about it rather defaulting to that because you don’t consider other options.

If you think about it, it kind of the like apprenticeship.

Sure, the master doesn’t tell you what he’s doing but you can figure it out by studying the end results and comparing your working with theirs.


5. Shying away from the spotlight for too long

In the business world, there is a concept called ‘lean startup’. Popularized by a book with the same name, that you can grab. And you should if you are want to be an entrepreneur.

This concept, in essence, is about getting fast feedback, making adjustments, getting feedback again and so on.

If you are the type of person who doesn’t have much confidence in one’s own work then you might shy away from putting your stuff in front of people.

First of all, this is a sort of self-sabotage that you need to be aware of and secondly if you don’t get the feedback you get false impressions of your work.

These impressions are born within your own mind and can go both ways but either way, they are your own. At the end of the day, you still have no idea how other people would feel about it.

You conjure your imagination to tell you what other people would think. Sounds quite absurd, right?

Getting feedback fast also means that it prevents you from spending a lot of time and resources pursuing things that you think might be good but really, aren’t.

Also, be careful where you get your feedback from. 

Your mom is always going to extremes, you’re either a genius to her or total garbage so not a great source for feedback.

The wrong audience is obviously not helpful, getting feedback on black metal from pop fans might not bring useful insights and so on.

So, find your target crowd and try to get feedback as soon as possible.


6. Not knowing when to stop and deliver

A related extreme to the previous point is perfectionism.

You got to actually finish that track man. Until that point, it does nobody any good.

Perfectionism is good to a certain level but getting stuck in a never-ending loop of improvements delivers nothing. 

The feedback and what you argue to yourself that you ‘should’ve’ done better can be implemented in the next project, for every project.

Don’t let perfectionism paralyze you and stop you from actually delivering something.

You’ll never be fully satisfied with your work, get used to that. That is part of what pushes people to get better and better at what they do.

It doesn’t mean you need to be lazy and skip polishing your work but sometimes that polishing ends up taking unreasonable amounts of time and prevents you from moving forward.

Stop. Take a break. Get it done. Deliver.


7. Lack of an action plan

What are you trying to achieve?

What are the steps you need to take?

No clue what the steps are? Here is the first: figure out the steps.

How do you do that? 

Read, ask, try stuff, take note of results, fail, adjust, repeat until success and after.

An action plan, even if it sounds “corporate” or somehow anti-artistic, will help guide your actions and remove some those moments where you ask yourself “what should I do now?”.

Let’s not forget that you also need to work with other people. If you launch a new album you’ll need to find outlets to cover you and you also need to work with their schedule as well.

You’ll start doing things months in advance and you’ll need to be professional if you want to be taken seriously by journalists and whoever else might be involved.

No skipping deadlines, so “forgot about” meetings that catch you off guard and so on.

If you set up a business, offering services or products, you want to build and grow. This means proactive action. You can’t stand there waiting for the planets to align your way.

You don’t need a full hundred page, 10-year plan but you need some planning either way if you want to get somewhere.

Spend a bit of time periodically to think about your next moves, analyze the past achievements and failures and readjust where needed.

Use an agenda, a task management app, calendar app, whatever you can make work for you to note that plan, just do it.


8. Forgetting about marketing

You are or you are looking to become a home studio owner because you either make music, offer services around it or offer products around it.

This means you’re either working alone or maybe with a partner but most likely nobody dedicated to marketing.

It’s quite easy to focus your full attention on what you are creating or to improve your skill and forget that other people need to know what you are doing.

Fans, clients, buyers don’t come out of nowhere most of the time. You need to actively find and attract them.

That means time and effort put into it, tools, ads, strategies. You need to consider all of these and budget both your time and money accordingly.

Put this in your action plan and track your results. 

No need to keep spending time on something that doesn’t work very well and it might be worth investing more in something start seeing food result.


9. Not organizing your work

If you work with a lot of projects, a lot of song ideas, a lot of tracks that you don’t finish in one go, it’s easy to make your computer a bit of a mess.

Hard to find files or actually forgetting about projects that you didn’t finish but would have been promising is quite terrible.

If you work with client projects that is even worse if you need to ask clients to resend files. Or if you need the original high-quality tracks of a project you posted online a few months back.

Well, luckily, it’s not that hard of a problem to solve. We have folders. Spend a bit of time to come up with a folder structure that would work for your type of projects and force yourself to use it.

For music production, I have a folder for each project. Inside there is a folder for individual tracks, a folder for exports (versions that you put online, that might have size restrictions), the DAW files and the mixed and mastered versions.

Obviously, you can make this folder structure in a way that works for you but I highly recommend you make one.

To help me keep the structure I created a folder called “[Template]” that has the folder structure inside but it’s otherwise empty. 

Every time I work on a new project I just make a copy of that folder and rename it. 

If later down the line I need to change the template structure, I do it in the template folder and all the new projects have that structure without me forgetting that I wanted to change things.


10. Not having backups of your work

Hard drives break. How many projects do you have that live in just one place?

How would you feel to wake up tomorrow and find out that your hard drive died?

It maybe sounds overly dramatic but it happens. It happened to me once and I learned the lesson the hard way.

It wasn’t all lost because I managed to recover some of what was on the drive. Some.

So, backup your stuff. You can either use a cloud solution like Dropbox or Mega or you can buy/build a NAS, or even just get an external hard drive.

There are a lot of options. 

One thing to keep in mind is that you still need to update those backups which depending on the solution you go for this can be more or less up to you to do manually.

What works for me, as a Windows user, I have a hard drive specifically for backups and a small app, SyncToy. When the app runs it looks at my ‘day to day’ drive and where it detects changes it updates the backup drive.

You configure the folders the app looks at so you can selectively back up just the folders you really care about.

It’s a really simplistic and cheap option and it works well for me without going into raid setups or more technically complicated stuff and without having identical drives.

Whatever you opt for as a solution is up to you, just get some backups.

Also, periodically check that the backup actually works. I’ve heard horror stories where, when it came to the backups to save the day, they didn’t actually work or where corrupted.


In conclusion

If you want to make rapid progress and actually achieve your goals you have to both work hard and work smart.

That usually means being at least somewhat organized, mindful of where you spend both time and money and having systems in place to streamline your processes.

I hope you got something useful out of this article and you start implementing now or at least make a  note to do that. Otherwise, you’ve just wasted the time to read this with no real outcome.


Emma Becker is a marketer by day and music maker by night. She also blogs about home studio gear and occasionally about marketing at


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