5 Steps to Declutter Your Music Production & Mixing Setup

If you’ve ever worked in the audio field for a prolonged period of time it’s likely that you know how easy it is to become a gearslut.

A gearslut is a person who constantly lusts after and spends money on audio gear/tools, even if those tools don’t necessarily add anything significant to the quality of their music or efficiency of their workflow.

This gear can be both physical and virtual (plugins, sample packs, software, etc).

The problem with having too much is that it often slows you down because you have too many distractions and options to choose from.

The truth of the matter is that you actually need very few tools to make great-sounding music.

Why bother to declutter your setup?

The good thing about having a small setup is that:

  • It uses up less space (physically as well as on your computer).
  • A smaller setup is easier to backup and restore in case of a disaster.
  • A cleaner, less cluttered setup can speed up your workflow because you know where everything is so you don’t waste time searching for things you need.
  • Improved portability. A smaller setup allows you to easily replicate your environment or copy it to another machine.
  • It may save you money in some cases.

I went through the process of decluttering my setup a few months prior to writing this article. While it was initially painful I found that decluttering helped me become more focused on creating music.

Below are four steps you can follow to declutter your setup.

1. Set Your Decluttering Goals

Before you just jump in and start deleting stuff you need to set your decluttering goals.

My initial aim was to have a studio setup which can fit on a 64GB flash drive that I could move around with. Your goal may not be the same since some of your key sounds might be really large.

But it helps to have a target, whether it’s in terms of hard drive usage or the number of sounds you want to retain. For instance, you could say you want to have 1,000 kick sounds, 700 snares, 200 hi-hats, 3 pianos, etc.

2. Classify Your Sounds and Create Folders for Everything

Folders are a great way of organizing your sounds and tools. The whole point of grouping similar sounds together is that it makes it easier for you to find what you need when you need it.

For instance, I created a master folder for all my drum sounds. There are sub-folders in that folder which classify the drums even further. So, all my live drum kits are grouped together. All my dance drums are grouped together and so on.

You may also want to group all your special effects, risers, etc in one folder.

Vocal chants and the like can be given their own folder.

All your soundfonts can also be placed in one huge folder with sub-folders such as pianos, flutes, guitars, percussion, etc.

If you have Kontakt and GIG libraries you can also group them in their own respective folders.

This can be a boring and tiring process, especially if your sounds are all over the place. But you don’t have to do it all in one go. You can work on it over a couple of days.

3. Delete All Unused Samples, Libraries, Soundfonts and VST Instruments

Once you have everything classified you can now start the process of actually deleting the stuff you don’t need.

Before deleting anything you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I ever used this sample/plugin/soundfont in any of my projects or am I just keeping it around for a rainy day?
  • How many of this type of plugin do I have? If I have multiple instances of this(e.g. 10 pianos) do I need all of them?
  • Do I have an alternative plugin that can do the same job as this one without a noticeable difference in quality? If so, why am I keeping all of them?

Many VST instruments are capable of creating similar sounds. There is no need to keep five plugins that do exactly the same job. You’re better off keeping one synth and getting as many presets for it as possible. You should only keep a tool if there is no other alternative and it’s essential to your production otherwise get rid of it.

You can follow a similar process when cleaning up soundfonts, samples, Kontakt libraries, and GIG libraries. Keep only the best stuff you have and the stuff that you actually use and get rid of the rest.

I find that limiting my options allows me to generally make better use of the few tools that I have because I spend more time learning them and trying to push them to the limit. Many musicians have developed a unique sound due to limitations.

If you’re not willing to let go of anything then this whole process may not be fruitful. Don’t hoard things you have no use for.

4. Get Rid of Unused Effects Plugins

Effects plugins normally don’t take up a lot of disk space. However, there are some exceptions. Personally, I find that having a large number of plugins in my DAW takes up mental space too.

For example, prior to cleaning up my DAW I had a large number of EQs in my toolkit and I found that   spent considerable time trying to decide which one to use instead of just getting on with the job. Different EQs do have variations in them but for the most part, an EQ is an EQ.

Having 20 different EQs doesn’t make you a better musician. I find that having a maximum of 2 or 3 of each type of plugin gives me plenty to work with.

5. Neatly Tuck Away All Software and Plugins You Spent Your Money On

Decluttering your actual setup doesn’t mean you have to completely get rid of plugins, software and tools you purchased. You can keep all the installers and serial numbers aside in a backup hard drive in case there may come a day when you need to install them. After all you spent your money on them so there’s no need to completely get rid of those.

If you don’t have a backup hard drive (hmmm consider getting one) you can create a separate folder on your computer and tuck all the unused software in there, preferably in zipped folders to reduce disk usage.

Final Thoughts

Decluttering has a freeing effect. It may seem tough at first but it becomes easier once you make it a habit. An open mind is essential to the process.

Decluttering is a never-ending task. You should try to go through it every so often to ensure your setup is optimized. I declutter my setup a couple of times per year.

As at the time of writing this article I managed to shrink my setup way below the 64GB target I’d initially set for myself. My audio production environment can now fit in a 32GB flash drive and that’s something that I’m very proud of. Moreover, I feel less distracted when creating music.

Going forward, you ought to take time to reflect on whether you really need that new drum kit, plugin, soundfont or sample library BEFORE you get it. It may potentially save you some time and mental space when creating music.

What decluttering strategy works best for you? Let me know in the comments section.

Stay blessed!

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