Week 4: A Clean, Well-Lighted Space…

With all due respect and credit to Hemingway for my paraphrased title, there’s not much I find more important about the space in which I spend all day, every day (also known as my studio, “The Office”), than having an organized and ergonomic layout of equipment. Foregoing the subject of room acoustics, which could take up an entire book on its own, I think having a smart layout of the gear one needs to do their job, including the furniture in which it is located, is paramount to not letting the gear get in the way of doing the job. Having everything to hand, feeling you are always at a comfortable position on a good chair, and taking away the mystery/confusion of wanting to have a certain piece of gear plugged in for an inspired moment helps remove the barriers to creation.

20 years ago…

This is all fresh and current for me because just a few weeks ago, I upgraded my studio from a pair of Output Sidecars as well as one of their Platform desks, to an Argosy Design V90 desk. I bought the Output gear shortly after it was released, and while it was built well and would possibly serve a composer or someone whose work is based around a piano-style keyboard just perfectly, most of my hired work is as a mix engineer and I use a pair of Avid S1 control surfaces to interface with Pro Tools Ultimate; I found that there wasn’t really a comfortable way to have those controllers placed on the main surface of the Platform while also having my computer keyboard, trackball, and volume controller available in the correct positions simultaneously. I also felt that much of my studio space (a single room in a building behind my house) was being occupied by the furniture needed to house my preamps and compressors, rather than leaving more space for performers or other musical gear (definitely more the latter than the former during the Age of Covid™…).

Where I started this year…

As a producer and engineer, much of my initial work with bands and artists starts out at large, commercial studios where I’m used to having a sizable analog console with a patchbay on one end of the whole console frame, and then outboard processing either to the side of the console, or in a separate “producer’s desk” behind my place-of-normal-activity at the console. I was hoping to bring a bit more of that kind of workflow into my studio, with most of the gear I need 90% of the time directly in front of me. The Argosy comes with two 10U racks angled into the main surface to either side of the center section, as well as 3U per side behind the main racks (handy for things like power strips). This meant being able to move all of my outboard equipment from two standalone pieces of furniture that flanked my main workspace into the same monolithic structure that also contained the control surfaces, my display, computer keyboard and trackball.

After the days of building the console and rewiring everything in my studio, sitting down at the new desk for the first time was the “moment of truth” – would all of the effort (and expense…) have been worth it? Luckily, I’m happy to report that the answer is a resounding, “YES!” I’ve worked in dozens of studios over the years and had a number of my own setups that have ranged from the at-the-time-ubiquitous IKEA Jerker, to a custom welded, hyper-minimalist desk for nothing more than my computer keyboard, display and monitor controller. All have felt like stop-gap measures until I figured out what I next had in mind and started the process all over again – not the most efficient of methods! I’ve now been working on the Argosy system for a few weeks and it has been brilliant; I’m still feeling comfortable at the end of a 12 hour day (neck/shoulder pain ain’t fun!), every piece of gear is in a logical, organized position, and the whole desk is large enough that I have to get my butt out of my seat to patch things via the patchbay or adjust gear in the uppermost rack spaces. It’s easy to forget that having to do this and change position once in a while (or more) is a really good thing for one’s body (walking the dog/feeding the squirrels is also good…)!

Where I wound up

So, what’s the conclusion here? People’s home studios/writing areas have always felt like a constant work-in-progress; gear comes and goes, things get put away, or brought out from being away and left where they lie, only to be forgotten again for months. I think it’s worth taking stock from time to time of the whole system – ergonomics, equipment and furniture – to figure out if everything is being used and set up to its maximum potential; given my recent experience and the success of the final outcome, I highly recommend trying it for yourself.

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Comments (6)

  • Love these posts and incredible insight Sean… I’m all about a well designed and sexy studio space… lighting is EVERYTHING :^)

    Reply
  • Don Gunn

    Thanks, David! (I wrote this post, not Sean, BTW…)

    Reply
  • Dear Don,

    Thanks for sharing this post! I love seeing studio setups. They feel so personal and every person’s is unique.

    I have yet to settle long-term in a living space, so I have become skilled at arranging my equipment in whatever space I find myself in (like water that fills to the shape of its container). Currently I am in a tiny house and my right monitor is perched on a chair standing on the bench of a reading nook.

    I’m not sure how much longer my nomadic days will last. I think ideally in the future I would have a stable and well-thought out home studio setup, with a subset of equipment that can easily be taken with me elsewhere. There is a tension between wanting to establish myself in a space and wanting to stay mobile and flexible. To me the drive to continually rework a studio setup seems like one manifestation of that tension. It’s in a stable state…until it isn’t. Creativity can operate in such a stepwise manner as well, I think.

    I aspire to your level of studio setup. The Argosy desk is beautiful and streamlined in its design. Closing on a thought about ergonomics – in addition to avoiding chronic pain, I think a well-positioned and supported body is the finest (and most crucial) creative collaborator for the brain.

    Thanks again for sharing,
    Connie

    Reply
  • Hi Don,
    The 20yr retrospect pic gave me a chuckle – Ikea! Say what you will but sometimes expediency rules out. Digging the Argosy with 3u’s on either side. I could rack my Shadow Hills on one side and Massive Passive on the other.
    In my dream.
    My place is more of a fringe lamp, Victorian lair with heavy mood lighting but that’s all part of my inspiration for writing most of the time and mixing during whats left.

    Valhalla has pushed all my other reverbs to the bin. Keep on keeping on!.
    Cheers
    -Brian

    Reply
  • gollumsluvslave

    This is another great one to think through, and I think it is a much more personal thing.

    I completely share the ‘clean and organised’ way of working (almost to OCD levels lol) with ‘a place for everything and everything in it’s place’). But I know some folks that love mess / chaos and have their own ‘vibe’, so it’s a hard one to generalise.

    Funnily enough, I’m going to be doing a bit of a ‘spring clean’ after my new sub arrives (KH750a, to complement my KH120a mains). This involves some real digging in to the back of my Buso desk (similar setup to the argosy, sidecars with outboard on the desk, easy arms reach).

    So I used this new sub to decide what bits of my setup weren’t working, and sort them at the same time:-
    1) My midi setup is just too much overkill, I don’t need it (MioXL, RTPMidi etc, just way too much for my meager midi needs)
    2) My patchbay setup has a few normals that i find i’m patching more than leaving as is so gonna address them.
    3) Trying to organise patchbay and 500 series modules to be clearer and more logical and ‘normals’ for most common use cases – mostly geared to hybrid mixing setup (kick, snr, vox bass, drum bus, 2 bus etc etc). Optimise for the common case…

    Hardest thing about this is you ‘can’t please all the people all the time’ so there is always some compromises needed, and those always itch. e.g. for me right now, one of my 500 series racks has mostly utility modules and preamps, and I don’t like cables on the desk, so would ideally move that to the rack underneath which would keep all cables nearer patchbays (and units like the handy Radial Chain Drive would be much easier to patch). But my bus comp is on that rack too, and bending down to tweak it would suck. So gonna have to accept the cables on the desk as a compromise / less of 2 evils.

    I did contemplate getting another 500 rack to split em and have ‘best of both worlds’, but I don’t really need it, and those empty spaces would start saying ‘fill me up’., it’s a slippery slope that…

    Which gets back to being really clear on what tools you really really need and trying to organise things as best you can around them.

    Learn and apply them on a few projects / sessions then it might changed next rejig. Constant evolution.

    Reply
  • peter.jaques

    whoa, just had a rush of nostalgia, seeing that spool of blank cds on your “20 years ago” desk! and then again, of your three setups, your 2001 picture looks the most like what i have now 🙂

    Reply

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