Non-Musical Studio Essentials
In this article, I will list and explain a selection of non-musical-specific things that I believe are essential (or at least important or very helpful) in a home studio. There are numerous, very good videos on YouTube that cover this sort of thing, so I'll skip over some of the basics, such as a good chair, a good desk, some acoustic treatment, etc, and dive into some specifics about my studio and preferences.
In digital terms, I buy into the mantra of "if it doesn't exist in five places, it doesn't exist!". Hard drive failure, house fires, floods, accidents, etc... These all have the potential to destroy all history of your work. Therefore it's worth having multiple backups of things.
Password encrypt your backup drives and leave one in a draw in your office at work, or at your parents house, or in your car's glovebox, or anywhere it can be entrusted. Whilst you'd hope to never need them, it's better to have them and not need them, than to need them and not have them!
It might be worth investing in cloud storage too, just in case.
Basic Tool Set
If you use any outboard gear, especially any older stuff, there's a chance you may need to periodically tinker with it to keep it in full working order.
Alternatively, if you expand your hardware setup, you may need to rejig your setup.
A basic screwdriver, plier, spanner and hex-key set will almost certainly come in handy when fitting things in racks, bolting together keyboard stands and so on.
From experience, I'd strongly recommend having a set of small, long nosed tweezer pliers and bent-nosed tweezer pliers too. These are two tools that I find myself reaching for way more often than I ever could have imagined.
Soldering Iron & Basic Electronic Tools
I probably like to tinker with electronics more than the average producer. Nevertheless, I believe a soldering iron and all the accompanying paraphernalia such as a multimeter, a cable-tester, spare cabling, connectors, etc, is essential, even in a small, home studio. If nothing else, learning to solder will save you a lot of money on cables.
I made most of the cabling in my setup. I buy decent quality cable such as Sommer, DAB or Van-Damme and I only use Neutrik connectors (years of working in live sound have taught that nothing else comes close in terms of quality and ruggedness). I'm able to make bespoke cables, exactly the length I need them (which is tidy) and it's significantly cheaper than buying pre-made cabling.
WD-40 Specialist Contact Cleaner
This is not normal WD-40, this is their "Specialist Contact Cleaner", which is designed for cleaning electronics.
This is the most incredible, magical substance I've ever used in terms of electronics. I always have a can at hand and find myself using it a lot. Whether it be cleaning a glitchy slider on my DX21, a potentiometer on one of my guitars, a scratchy jack socket on my patch-bay or even wiping clean Sharpie ink I'd use to label an XLR with, this stuff does it instantly. I can't recommend it enough!
Camera & Tripod/Gorilla-Tripod (and a ring light if necessary)
If you're like me, you'll probably find this to be a necessary evil, but current Internet culture is fairly reliant on the production of decent-quality, self-made videos. I know from talking to friends who work in media, that something like a Lumix G5 is a staple of YouTube video makers. These are seriously expensive though; approx. £1000 without a lens! However, adequate cameras (for periodic video production) can be got for less. I use a fairly old Canon that was gifted to me by my Father In-Law. It records video in 1080 and has a reasonable lens.
Note: Don't be suckered into knock-off GoPros. They may be able to record in 4K and at 60FPS, but their lenses tend to be inferior and don't actually let enough light in to yield a good picture quality. It's worth investing in something by an established brand, with a good reputation.
I don't like making notes digitally as I find it too slow and it takes me away from my keyboards (where I usually compose).
I always therefore have a notepad sitting on the end of one of my keyboards and I jot down any and all ideas I have. It would look like a garbled mess of nonsense to anyone else, but they're sufficient cues to jog my memory of ideas I had, and help me pick up where I left off when last working.
I like to have a few pieces of art, album-art and/or my favourite musicians around the place.
A permanent fixture in my studio is this "What Would Quincy Do?" picture (right). This is one of my personal mantras, and a former student of mine had this made for me when they finished school. It's both an inspirational reminder of my preferred modus operandi, and also a little sentimental.
Periodically, I'll change the other pictures I have around the room, to freshen things up. They needn't be large and can simply be pictures you find online and print out yourself.
Whatever you choose to decorate with, having a few framed pictures helps liven the place up, serve as visual stimulus and is a constant reminder of the giants upon whose shoulders we're attempting to stand.
Further to the above mentioned picture-stimulus, I like to have one or two trinkets that hold sentimental value around the place. In my case, they're a couple of things that remind me of my partner and my son. These keep the place feeling homely and personalised.
On the right is a picture of a felt Lumpy Space Princess from Adventure Time, which my partner made for me. I told her she should make more and sell them on Etsy, but she wasn't interested!
It only need be a small book case, but I like to have one. Sure, I'm keeping some books on there, but I also keep other little things, such as a small toolbox, my personal copies of OSC physical merchandise, a folder with all my OSC related paperwork, and so on. It's organised and all in one place, so I can quickly get to what I'm looking for.
Duster & Paintbrush
The duster is for dusting... obviously! Dust is no friend to your equipment, so try and keep it as dust free as possible.
The paintbrush is great for dusting around knobs, buttons and dials; all the places a normal cloth can't easily get to.
On this note, it's also worth keeping a can of compressed air for periodically blowing out dust from vents and recesses in equipment.
Lastly, on the issue of dust, in my day-job, I'm regularly servicing older, heavily used keyboards. One of the biggest "uuugh" moments in this line of work is when you access the area beneath the key-bed. The dust, hair and general crud that falls between the keys and builds up beneath the mechanism is frankly gross! You don't want this in your keyboards. Get yourself a piano key cover from Amazon for about £6.
If you don't have 88-key keyboards, cut them to size; maybe one dust cover will service two keyboards. Or maybe just buy two or three as they're so cheap. Leave them on your keyboards when you're not using them.
USB Dust Covers
I have a few pieces of equipment with USB slots that I do not use. In order to keep these slots dust-free, should I ever wish to use them in the future or sell the item in full working condition, I keep a stash of rubber USB plugs to put in my unused USB slots. They're very cheap and help keep things in good condition.
Somewhere For You Pet
If you have a pet that enjoys your company, but you're likely to be spending many hours working in your studio, get them a small bed to sleep in, at your feet, under your desk. Better still, if you have the space, have it slightly raised off the ground, so they're closer to you. Not only is this a nice thing for them, but it will stop them from distracting you as much while you're trying to work.
Since entering my 30s I've found that repetitious activity starts to take its toll on my body, and this is only getting worse as I'm now approaching my 40s. Aches and pains occur in all sorts of places I didn't know existed.
Keyboard and mouses use are notorious for damaging your wrists (ask me how I know!). Some simple, cheap, wrist supports from Amazon or eBay are a worthwhile investment.
Consider an ergonomic mouse too. This was a real game changer for me!
OK, this one is musical, but not obviously so. Lots of electronic musical instruments only output in an unbalanced format. This isn't a problem per se, however, unbalanced signals are prone to interference (white noise) from electrical equipment which outputs a lot of electromagnetic noise (such as hard drives, computer monitors, lamps and so on). It's highly likely in that in small, home-studio setups, your unbalanced cables will be in close proximity to other devices which emit electrostatic noise.
To negate this interference, your signals want to be converted from unbalanced to balanced. Therefore, if you're investing in a synth with unbalanced outputs, factor in an additional £50 for a two-channel (left and right) passive DI Box, so that you can run the signal in a balanced format, as opposed to an unbalanced format.
Note: the receiver of this signal (audio interface/mixing desk) must support balanced inputs for this to work.
The more equipment you amass, the more cabling you're going to run. In order to keep things organised and tidy, buy a roll of velcro, cut off short strips and use them to bind your cables together.
I've turned to using Velcro for this as whilst zip-ties and electrical tape are great, they're not reusable (plus, electrical tape can leave a sticky residue on the cable that needs to be cleaned off WD-40 Specialist Contact Cleaner).
This provides you with more floor space (for synthesisers 😁), and contributes to the decoration. It's a no-brainer!
A few nice lamps, strategically positioned in the studio can greatly improve the rooms mood and thus make it more conducive to creativity (as opposed to one, slightly clinical, overhead light). USB-powered coloured LED strips are also something I know many people use to great effect.
And in case you're wondering, no, that picture on the right is not my studio (sadly)!
That just about sums up the main things that come to mind. If I think of more things in the future, I'll make a follow up article. If you have any thoughts, ideas, tricks or tips of this nature, by all means let me know, as I'm always interested to hear what other people do to improve their personal workflow and setup.
Happy music making :-)