Large recording facilities are a complex assembly of components, networks, cables and patch bays. It can take months to learn all the ropes in a major studio. However — with the trend toward smaller, more compact recording spaces — complexity can slow the user down. Let’s look at how to simplify the small facility.
Working on a complex audio project is stressful enough without adding unnecessary complications. These can come from bad advanced planning. Because most smaller studios are built on a tight budget, the design and planning is rarely as well thought out as a major facility. There is usually not the engineering support team standing by to do such non-production tasks as software updates or finding broken or noisy cables that can hinder a session. That is normally left to the operator.
Any small studio should include designing out as many of these stress factors in advance. Some age old advice applies here: Simplify, Simplify, Simplify! Examine the workflow for the studio's typical project and try to cut out the complications that slow everyone down.
When planning a new facility for small scale work, it is often temping to begin with a small computer interface with one or two microphone inputs to keep costs down. Even if the studio normally only uses one microphone at a time, this can be a mistake. When extra mics, musical instruments or outboard gear is needed, the operator will face a re-patching job ahead.
Looking for extra inputs can be time consuming, confusing and immediately throw the operator into a jury-rigging situation. This is a major time waster and the reason most small studios purchase eight-channel computer interfaces to begin with. Having eight mic preamps and a series of versatile I/O's allows the studio to be easily expanded. This can save hours of hassle when encountering that unusual recording situation that is certain to come.
An alternative consideration is a multi-channel microphone mixing console with a USB interface. Quite inexpensive, small consoles can offer huge flexibility for the bucks. Consoles can offer abundant mic preamps, lots of I/O’s, multiple buses and, in some cases, built-in audio recording to flash cards. Such a mixer set-up means all devices the operator anticipates needing for a session can be pre-patched and levels set in advance. This can make a major difference in the speed and simplicity of the workflow.
In choosing the computer for a small audio facility, make sure it is powerful enough and dedicate it to the job. Insure it has enough internal storage memory and more than the necessary amount of RAM for the task. Not having adequate RAM can slow any job down. Also use multiple monitors to avoid having to re-size and move windows around. Create shortcuts to enable all necessary software immediately. Disable what is not necessary and remove software that runs in the background automatically. Remember, efficiency is paramount when seeking simplicity.
Virtually all small studios use digital audio workstation (DAW) software on the computer to control the post production process. To insure a smooth workflow, it is best to purchase an interface or DAW with a package of plug-ins, which are usually bundled for free with the purchase. These bundled plug-ins are better than third-party plug-ins because they are pre-tested and are fully compatible with the system.
When the interface software is updated, the plug-ins are updated as well. This minimizes compatibility problems. Today’s name-brand interfaces, with their plug-ins, are generally of excellent quality. Of course, other plug-ins can easily be used, but if simplicity is your goal, stick with what you know works. Also avoid free or shareware plug-ins, unless your facility really needs them. These third party plug-ins can sometimes lead to trouble.
Outfit your facility with the software and best hardware targeted for the kind of job you do. If your room is primarily used for voiceovers, investigate the most popular brand-name microphones, hardware interfaces and plug-ins for the human voice. Then assemble the right tools and workflow for voice-related work. Forget “widgets” designed for non-voiceover work. Stay on target.
Schedule regular software upgrades on a periodic basis and then upgrade the entire studio at once to avoid incompatibility with different versions of components. Then test the system before engaging in another edit session. Never do these upgrades during a session. That’s not the time to have problems.
If there is a problem after an upgrade, restore the original set-up with Time Machine or system restore on Mac or Windows. Avoid beta versions of anything. That's just asking for trouble. Computers used in an audio edit bay are for only one thing: audio post production. Always remember that and always check with the manufacturer if you are uncertain about anything.
In addition to keeping things simple, always backup and then backup again to high quality storage drives. It is also good to use a cloud system to have another redundant off-premise backup. Never take chances on backups. The moment you do, you will be near a disaster. It seems to always happen.
Honing and refining a small editing facility to the essences will simplify an operator's life and speed the workflow. It only needs to be done once, but it will save hours of unnecessary wasted time.
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