July 27, 2022
It’s a notion as old as recording – the all-night lockout. Or the week-long lockout. Recording musicians love to go hard, working and working and working until inspiration runs out. Some famous producers even prefer to work when exhausted – they say it gives them access to that hyper-creative place beyond conscious thought.
That may be true – and there are a lot of unhealthy ways to get to that place – but when it comes to longevity as a recordist, at some point a balance must be struck. So, we’ll look at managing studio fatigue, so you can keep on recording for years to come.
It’s possible to jam on for 8, 10, even 12 hours. But after about 8, human productivity plummets. So instead of trying to get it all done now, keep days to 8 hours or less – and take an hour long break every 4 hours and a 15-minute break every couple of hours. In other words, treat recording like a normal job.
You may find yourself recording at night – especially if you have an 8-5 job. But unless you’re off the next day and can sleep in, try not to stay up past your normal bedtime – and especially limit the number of all-nighters you pull. This may be blasphemous to some, but it’s wise practice for the long term.
Studios are caves. Or spaceships. Or alternate universes. No matter what though, they’re not nature. Lack of sunlight, fresh air, and all that other good stuff outside is linked to a host of long-term health issues, so when you take a break, try to go outside as much as possible.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” That’s a fair statement - and the studio is a haven for sitters. Stand up every half hour, walk around, even use a standing desk or standing keyboard stands if you can. You don’t always have to be at the console or DAW. If you’re writing lyrics, rehearsing a vocal, or discussing ideas, you can stand up, walk and talk, or even get outside, as mentioned above.
Ear fatigue is a real thing, and so is long-term hearing damage. So, don’t crank the volume in the studio. Instead, work and mix at conversation levels. As it turns out, mixes translate better when mixed at lower levels, and in a long session, you want to be able to hear what you’re doing at the end. This goes double for headphones. Try to limit the amount of time you spend in headphones, in favor of your studio monitors.
This can be hard to hear, especially if your day job relegates studio time to weekends. It also may be hard to see your passion as work. But at the end of the day, even if it’s a labor of love, it’s still labor. You’ll need days off to keep your stamina, or you could find yourself dealing with burn out.
In addition to days off, eventually you’ll need to re-inspire. Creative energy tends to work like a well – when it’s dry, you can’t get much out of it. So, once you’re starting to feel a little tapped, leave the creative process and take in inspiring things. This doesn’t always mean to listen to music – in fact for some people that’s just more work. Instead, look for things that inspire you, make you feel energized, and feel like a well-earned reward. Whether that’s a great movie, time with the kids, or a vigorous workout – find the things that give you back that spark and make time for them.
Finally, a little trick that many creative geniuses swear by. Quit sessions while you’re ahead. This means instead of waiting to run out of ideas and feel stuck, quit when you’ve just figured out what to do next – instead of following the path to its end. This is a hard pill to swallow at first, but once you get used to it, it means you’ll come to the studio with a clear path already laid out. This trick all but eliminates days when you know you should, but just don’t want to go to the session.
This trick also causes a lot of slightly early stops. Maybe you quit at 4:30 instead of five, or 10 instead of 11. That little bit of extra “free” time can work wonders for your energy.
For most recordists, the studio is where we’d rather be – and we tend to put everything we have into it. But eventually, you’ll realize you want to be able to create for a long, long time – so mitigating studio fatigue is a necessary skill for recording musicians. With these techniques, you can keep recording the rest of your life.
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