DJs and producers are often guilty of “shiny new thing” syndrome. We justify buying the newest and priciest item as if the money and cool factor directly translate to more work getting done. Usually, this leads to paying twice, first for the gear itself and then again via the time lost learning the new tool. Day-to-day productivity is about implementing small tweaks that improve workflow.
You may not have enough cash for a big, new piece of gear right now, but it's often the cheaper buys that will lead you to your next bag.
Let’s look at a few inexpensive items to supercharge studio productivity:
Whiteboard for Daily Tasks
A big part of increasing your productivity stems from creating and hitting daily goals. A whiteboard in your studio serves as a great place to keep these tasks written in plain sight. Hang the whiteboard close to your gear and update it when you wake up. This way, when you’re in your workspace, your most important tasks are always visible and at top of mind.
If you don’t want a physical whiteboard, use your mobile calendar or an app with a widget that keeps your tasks on your phone’s lock screen. The key here is for your task list to remain as visible as possible, so your goals always stay in mind.
Recommendation: VIZ-PRO Magnetic Dry Erase Board
As you practice DJing or producing music at home, ideas will inevitably pop in your head. But there’s a good chance that you’ll forget these ideas before you can flesh them out with your hands. By keeping a mic nearby, you always have the ability to capture those thoughts before you lose them.
When I practice DJing, I record the set with a connected mic so that I can give notes to myself over the mix. While producing, I have a mic plugged in on a desktop stand in case melodies or rhythms come to mind. Consequently, I can speak, hum, or mumble my rough idea before it’s lost in figuring out how to make that actual sound. Any mic will do since none of this audio will ever be released to the public. Just keep it as accessible as possible.
If all else fails, or you don't want to spend the money, just use a Voice Memos app.
Recommendation: Shure SM48-LC Vocal Dynamic Microphone, Cardioid
Key / Chord Progression Charts
Technology has made music theory education less of a requirement for production. If you haven’t studied music, having charts with keys and chord progressions can catch you up quickly. By keeping the charts openly accessible, you can shoot less blindly when starting work on a new song. When remixing or using a capellas, charts help establish what options you have melodically. When files are bouncing in between sessions, they can be studied passively to further internalize your music knowledge.
If your end goal is to have your music on the Billboard charts, grabbing a few of these kinds of charts first might be the move.
Recommendation: Walrus Productions Piano Chord Mini Chart
Has your controller ever stopped working because it’s not getting enough USB power? Have you ever had to stop a session and unplug something to plug in another piece of gear? All of these situations kill time and completely suck the energy out of a session.
A powered USB hub is a great way to fix these issues and speed up your overall workflow. Just make sure to get one with plenty of inputs so that you won’t have to swap your gear out nearly as much, if at all. That in and of itself is worth its weight in gold.
The external power is a big added bonus because the strain of fueling all of the gear won’t have to come solely off of your computer. Powered hubs are also lifesavers for DVS DJs at open mics or similar shows. When an artist hands you a flash drive after you’ve already set up, you can just plug in their drive without swapping anything out.
Recommendation: Anker 10 Port 60W Data Hub
Physical / Cloud Storage
Storage is dirt cheap and as producer or DJ, data is your livelihood. Don’t lose your entire DJ collection or production catalog because you have thousands of dollars in gear but no storage backups. The time you waste having to reset when you lose files is the single biggest productivity killer.
There’s also the added benefit of cloud storage being with you all the time. Samples kept on the cloud can be accessed in other studios when you collaborate or travel. Before going on tour, I upload our tour tracks to the cloud. Even if all of my stuff is lost or stolen on the road, we can grab everything via the cloud within minutes thanks to a mere $3 per month investment.
Hopefully, this gives you a different set of considerations when figuring out how to boost your workflow. You may not have enough cash for a big new piece of gear right now, but you may be able to make some gains with something cheaper that’ll lead you to your next bag.