This is the eleventh major time I’ve set up my studio after a move. I’ve come a long way from Version 1.0 which consisted of an Ensoniq EPS and an HR-16 drum machine, run through a Radio Shack mixer into a cassette deck. (The alpha version was a Korg Poly-800 and a two cassette decks where I’d overdub by using one channel for the previous dub and the other for the new synth part… how different things are now…)
These days, I’m trying to wrangle multiple synths, effects units, midi, power management… I haven’t added it up yet, but I’m fairly certain I have over a kilometer of cables waiting to be connected.
Just laying out what gear is going to go where in the room was a headache this time. I recently moved into a much smaller house (46% smaller) and, while I like the new house very much, moving equipment that had been in a room the size of a two car garage into a typical suburban bedroom was a bit of a challenge. Additionally, over the last few years, I’ve purchased a few more pieces of gear, and decided to start using my 32 channel mixer again – there’s something inspiring to me about having faders under my fingers. And while it’s mostly a style over substance thing, but there’s nothing like a dimly lit studio with a gazillion blinky lights showing the music to your eyes.
So my secret weapon for the last four or five studio overhauls has been Excel. I have a workbook that includes a database of all my gear (including inputs, outputs, serial numbers, replacement value, etc.), all of my available rack spaces for deciding what gear sits where, and separate sheets for audio, midi, and power distribution. While it might seem like overkill, I have a worst-case possibility of over 100 channels of computer audio i/o and 64 midi cables alone. When you add in patch bays, multi-channel snakes, balancers and line level shifters, power strips, and foot pedals, it can get overwhelming quickly.
Additionally, my time in IT has taught me that spending a few days mapping out exactly what’s going to happen (like, say, 900 ethernet cables and patch bays for the 3rd floor offices and data closets) can save you massive amounts of time and money. You don’t buy things you don’t need and, if you’ve done a halfway decent job of labeling your cables, it becomes trivial to know what cable goes where. No more digging through spaghetti trying to wiggle that one midi cable to figure out which port it came out of.
Here’s part of the Version 11 audio patching plan:
Even though this room is smaller, the restriction I have on where things go actually makes some of the cable runs longer. Rather than having one big blob of a studio, I now have two discrete areas. I didn’t want giant audio snakes running across the doorway, and have figured out a way to place the computer, midi, and audio interfaces so that I think I’m only going to need to run one firewire and one USB cable. The downside to this is that I knew I’d need to buy some more patch bays and level shifters. I was figuring six or seven new patch bays and at least 5 level shifters to get everything smooth and happy.
Excel to the rescue! First, it helped me figure out that I didn’t have enough rack spaces in the studio furniture to even start down that path. Then, I realized that I was making things overly complicated (surprise!). In the end, I only need three patch bays and two level shifters. There are three pieces of gear that aren’t in the wiring plan, but only because I’m not sure if they’re going physically fit anywhere. But once I figure that out, I’ll know exactly what patch points are available.
I haven’t started on the power supplies or specific midi routing, and I know I’ll need to buy some additional audio cables, but the hard part is over.