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7 Tips for Home-Recordists Part II: Optimizing Workflow

This post is part of Flypaper’s Home Recording Week, where we’re sharing tips and insights from our community on home recording and production workflow. Read our featured articles here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter to make sure you never miss a beat!

More and more musicians are choosing to build their own home studios and go it alone these days, as opposed to spending their money on only a few days in a professional studio per year or even less. And that’s great! More agency and self-sufficiency means more time spent honing one’s craft and exploring musical boundaries.

But while all that extra time and opportunity can certainly help musicians learn to home record, produce, and mix, it might set us off with some bad time management habits if we’re not careful. Sometimes having too much time, or too much choice in terms of what instruments or sounds to use can debilitate our focus and our sense of making the most out of our studio hours. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

So here we have some more time management tips (see yesterday’s article) on how to optimize your workflow when recording at home. 

1. Set detailed priorities and goals before starting a project.

Here at Soundfly we talk a lot about setting and achieving one’s goals. So it makes a lot of sense that this would be the first and probably most important tip for streamlining your workflow. When you have a clear goal in mind, every decision and every distraction should be questioned. Time simply can’t be managed professionally in recording spaces without a detailed list of goals and priorities.

Write down exactly what you hope to accomplish during a session and include all the relevant steps or sub-goals. For example, if your main goal is to record “Song A,” get specific about what you need to do in order to get it all done in the most manageable way. From laying down a scratch track in the demo phase to knowing when in the production process to add ornamental sound design elements, chart out the steps so you don’t end up wasting valuable time. This saves you time because it forces you to plan and act before recording, not reactively and inefficiently throughout the process.

2. Organize your equipment, and keep it organized!

A bit of cleaning goes a long way. A tidy studio is honestly one of the most effective tools for working at optimum capacity. Imagine feeling super inspired and ready to start working, but then entering your studio space and finding that there’s a bunch of confusingly tangled wires at your feet and you can’t find the power cable to turn on your microKORG.

In order to set up yourself for success, keep your cords, microphones, headphones, and instrument equipment organized in specific, consistent spots so you always know where they are when you need them. And then, after you’re done with them, always return these items to their respective spots. Put guitars in cases or hang them on the wall, coil cables when they’re not in use, and build shelves to store stuff that gets used less frequently. Big plastic storage bins are also a great option for extra cables and assorted items.

3. Have everything set up before guest musicians arrive.

Getting a space prepped for a recording session takes a considerable amount of time. If you’re recording clients, or guest musicians, or just helping out a friend, always try to ask for a specific tech plot in advance so you can plan accordingly. There’s nothing that will suck the inspiration and energy right out of the room more than waiting around to set up mics and inputs when the musicians are already done setting up their gear.

Ideally, you’ll want musicians to show up, do their thing, and be ready to roll, so you can’t be what gets in their way. You’ll save time and get better performances from the musicians if you plan ahead of time and have things set up and ready to go before they arrive, not after.

4. Label your tracks and take notes — lots of them.

Labeling tracks and keeping a detailed record of what’s happening during a recording session is crucial for saving time. Don’t do this during the initial recording process, which should flow without periodic interruptions, but rather when you’re mixing the material later on. Take a small amount of time to label each track or input before and after you record each piece. And keep handwritten notes in a notebook (or at least on a separate screen other than the one used to record).

During the recording process, you’ll soon discover that not all takes are created equal. And it’s common for vocal and instrumental tracks to be spliced together later, during the editing process. This means that the more detailed notes you can jot down about how each take sounds, the better. You’ll rely on these notes later to edit and compile tracks.

5. Always get more takes than you think you need.

Whether you’re recording yourself or someone else, you’ll save time in the long run by getting lots and lots of takes. The most obvious reason for this is that musicians typically need a couple of run-throughs to start feeling comfortable and confident. But you also need to give yourself as many options as possible for splicing things together during the editing process, so you don’t have to go back in and record “punch-ins.” Re-recording is a time-waster; recording songs more than once the first time is a life-saver.

6. Keep your ears fresh with frequent breaks.

Just like your mind and your muscles, your ears also have a shelf life. Go too long without taking a break, and you’ll run the risk of not being able to separate good takes from bad ones. It might sound odd to recommend taking breaks as a time-saving tool for home-recording, but keeping your dexterity as well as your listening skills sharp will protect you from making costly recording mistakes.

7. Develop and constantly tweak your routine.

Once you find a routine that works for you, stick to it. Even if something straight up goes against one of the other points in this article, if it works for you, keep using it! You know yourself better than anyone, so always be on the hunt for ways to streamline your own process and customize your workflow to suit your recording needs and priorities.

What I like to do personally is start my morning off by blazing through the most important tasks of my day while my energy and focus are at their peak. This may include sending time-sensitive files to a client, responding to emails, and bouncing stems for a performance. Pushing through my important tasks early gives me time to complete more creative tasks during the rest of the day, such as practicing my instrument, working on new material, and writing with collaborators.

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Patrick McGuire
Patrick McGuire

Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.