Obesity was a real problem in my life, and now I'm on the other side of it and getting a grip it's easy to see how I was blinded to the causes and how easily it was for me to ignore the detrimental effects.
However, as I reflect on how poor my life choices used to be and the benefits of making good ones I think there are parallels in modern recording, let me for the sake of this article call it studio obesity.
Problem One - You Consume Too Much
The first one is consuming too much, or you consume too many wrong things.
Our brains are wired to like the things that are bad for us like salt and sugar, hence the reason that most fast food is an abundance of those things. When presented with a plate of your 'Five-A-Day' fruit and vegetables or a burger and fries, it is likely that many of us will choose the latter, it's even worse if we've had years of being conditioned to eat food high in fat, sugar or salt, eating anything else takes a change of mind, and it takes time.
I've spoken about this before, but I guess around 80% of the plug-ins I own and quite a bit of the software I also own is used almost never. I've been like many who have made not one, two, three, but tens or hundreds of impulse buys. Many of those 'must-have' purchases are languishing on my hard drive, largely forgotten, except for the moment when they go zooming past me on a list as my DAW loads up.
Have you realised that many of the things you have in your studio you once would have given your right arm to own (if you bought them on credit then effectively you have), are not as attractive to you any longer? There's a biological reason for that too; our brains are wired so that the part of the brain given over to desire is 90% larger than the part that helps us enjoy things. As someone once said 'there is nothing more attractive than something you don't own.' There's scientific truth to that quote; desire is far more powerful than the actual enjoyment of something.
Furthermore, if we just purchase things without any real reason to own them, but just because it felt like a good idea at the time, or we didn't want to be the only person in our group who hasn't got a certain pre-amp (confession time, I don't own a Neve pre-amp, so if you no longer want to be my friend I'll understand), then we are just as unlikely to really ever enjoy it. Let's not fool ourselves; audio buyers are as swayed by trends as those who buy shoes or watches.
I do find it ironic that many on the audio world who are meant to be producers have allowed themselves to be consumers. I'm not advocating we stop buying stuff, although for some of us the problem is so significant that may be necessary, I happen to think we often buy things without thinking and end up with stuff we don't need.
Consuming more than we can expend is the first cause of obesity. If you are like me and you press “buy” too often then perhaps it's time to reduce intake.
Or even better, make a list of things you want to purchase and turn them into rewards that you give to yourself when you finish a song or complete a mix. Or use them as a reward when you've completed an exam - I recall as a kid getting a treat for getting good grades - perhaps we should take this approach to grow our studio collection?
Problem Two - Not Enough Exercise
The second reason that I became overweight and unhealthy was by not taking any exercise. Less than a year ago I couldn't climb our stairs without feeling breathless, so if you had told me that I would be running 5 miles three times a week I would have laughed at you... it is possible to change.
Again, despite the almost limitless supply of teaching materials in the form of videos and articles, many still don't allow themselves to stretch their mental muscles when it comes to audio production.
We've all been seduced by bite-sized 'hacks' or pithy ideas. Don't get me wrong they have their place, many of us don't have the time to consume something more substantial, and I like you find a 60-second video can be useful at times. Short learning segments are the learning equivalent of a chocolate bar, really useful, but one can't live on them all the time.
We've been discussing on the blog and the podcast the effect that simplified plug-ins can have on us. I love them but had I not had the opportunity in my earlier years to learn the fundamentals of audio production then I would have limited my opportunities. After all, I'm more likely to hire someone who understands what and why a one-knob plug-in is and how it works than someone who just turns the knob.
And before anyone wants to cry that me suggesting people knowing the science of audio is elitist, then that's the very thinking that's got this planet into the ecological mess it's in. The only antidote to dumb thinking and pseudoscience is smart thinking and real science. The only way we end up with streamlined one-knob plug-ins is that someone knows the science of audio and is smart enough to code it into a handy plug-in.
To decry this new generation of smart algorithms in plug-in form as bad is the same as suggesting lifts or moving floors in airports are evil, they are not. They provide a useful function, but if one uses them all the time, then it's likely you are not going to be as healthy as someone who takes the stairs or walks a couple of miles across an airport. You'd be surprised how much of an effect those different life choices have over time.
A Plan To A Healthier Studio
And this is a good point for me to ensure this article is not just some rant and makes some positive suggestions that you might find helpful, as I have done. I want to suggest five small changes you can make that over time will make a big difference. Some I'm applying to my own life so that I have as healthy a studio life as I've managed to do in my nutritional world.
Learn one new software shortcut a day. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it's small enough for anyone to achieve, if I said learn ten a day, then you are likely to give up in a matter of days. The way I do it is when I find a shortcut I don't know I make a point making that the new one I will learn, after all, I've done it a thousand times before. Over a year that means you'll learn over 350 new shortcuts and soon be at Ninja level. Go into any top studio or post house and watch a pro work - it's all shortcuts.
Instead of buying stuff on impulse just when you like, start using them as small rewards for success or milestones. If you link it with completing a tutorial series, then you are killing two birds with one stone.
Audit your studio and streamline it to the bare essentials, the things you use rather than the stuff that looks good on Facebook posts. I've been learning how five exceptional items is far better than fifty average ones, hence me spending a lot of money on a pair of studio monitors. They cost the equivalent of about 200 plug-ins, but I know which I'd rather have to get the job done.
Start buying some books on audio fundamentals, studio design, songwriting and read them. The reason many of us get fooled by stupid shit posted online is we don't know the science.
Finally, there's something you want for your studio, of course there is, we all want new toys. Well rather than splurge on it right away, work hard to get it. When I was a kid many of us would have to work a paper round or a Saturday job at the store to save up for something. Use that one thing as a target that if for example, you finish the album you've been putting off for the last three years, then you get it. Or you decide to get a degree in acoustics then you get to splurge on acoustic treatment for a room - even better at least you'll know what to buy and what is just marketing bullshit.
A Word Of Warning
I’ve lost a lot of weight and transformed my life, but it hasn't been easy. It’s a constant battle of making lots of small choices to that will either benefit my health or not. When I go out to run 5 miles you may ask at what point do feel like giving up? The answer is before I get out of bed to do it, before I get my running gear on, before I leave the house, by the end of the street 50’ feet into the run, at the end of the next street, half way, two thirds of the way, 90% of the way, just before the end and when I get home and think to myself ‘I’m not doing that again!’ You get my point. I post pictures on Facebook just so my friends will say nice things and hopefully that’s enough for me to do it again next time.
Change is hard and gradual, anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. It’s a battle against the line of least resistance and the goal of self improvement. This is not some fad, like dieting, it’s a life change.
I want to let you into a secret about diet and food, if you want you can eat anything you like and not put on weight, but to do that you probably need to run more miles per day than possible, as one person put it ‘you can’t outrun a bad diet.’ Obesity is caused when we eat what we like and do zero exercise, the results are deadly.
In summary, I can't begin to tell you how much better I feel for taking control of both my consumption and my exercise. The parallels I've drawn here with the modern studio are real... so imagine how much healthier your studio life could be if you made the changes necessary?
If I can do it anyone can!