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Learn Mixing | Ergonomics

February 1, 2012

In times of greater economic uncertainty, it is be wise to lay low and make due with what we have. We can use this discomfort as motivation to assess our studio setups and see if we can make changes with elbow grease instead of credit cards. You can still have a great sound in just about any studio space—I don''t have to tell you the number of successful records that were made in funky places and situations. Any studio can be improved, and the first step is to ensure your body doesn''t get shattered while you''re working.

People have been on my tail to “Sit up straight!” as long as I can remember. Turns out, they were right. Every job has its ergonomic concerns, but mixing means countless hours of hunching and leaning into a computer screen while performing repeated, precise movements, often manipulating tiny onscreen software parameters over and over again.

Slumping on a milk crate with your studio on a folding card table for years on end will result in rotten circulation causing a build-up of toxic sludge around muscles and nerves. Repetitively twisting and stretching to reach gear can cause many painful musculoskeletal disorders ending in “-itis”. Your nerves are going to be seriously abused by long periods of this sort of anti-yoga. So sit up straight and pull your shoulders back. Feels better all ready.

A decent chair is a must, and they can be had for cheap. The ol'' “studio slouch” blows out the lumbar section of your spine, destroying the natural arch of your lower back. I like office-type chairs. They are designed for people to endure a full shift of doing mind-numbingly repetitive things in front of a computer, so they have varying degrees of lumbar support. Situate your back against the back of the chair instead of perching on the front. And don''t settle for anything less than five legs. I''ve seen too many four-legged chairs go over backwards.

If you''ve retreated to your dad''s hunting cabin or an Airstream trailer in the desert to record the most awesome album ever, use whatever available chair has the highest back and tie a rolled-up towel to the back of the chair for lumbar support.

The goal here is to assess which studio device you use most and make it accessible all of the time. Be smart; if your working method is a keyboard, beat box, guitar, mixer, controller, or mouse—put it front and center instead of at your side. It took me a long time to see the light. For a year I had a keyboard in front of me when I was playing way more guitar. I had to twist around to make adjustments or even play, and things began to hurt. Once I put as much of the guitar control stuff in front of as possible, I eliminated a good deal of torture to my neck and shoulders.

Now, fine-tune your chair so that your feet are flat on the floor and forearms are level with your hands when resting on the working surface of your choice. Be sure there is enough space underneath the desk for your legs so you can get close enough to the action. Keep your upper arms close to your body. If your wrists are bent upward, that means the chair is too low, and if they are hanging down unsupported, then your chair is too high. Once you get the arm/hand setup optimized, it''s a good idea to give your wrists some support, and a rolled-up towel taped to stay that way works just fine. I wash mine regularly.

Position the computer monitor an arm''s length from your face with the top of the screen, level with your eyes while practicing your new consciously improved posture. If you have to dip or raise your chin to see what''s going on, your monitor is too high or low, so adjust till you get the best, most comfortable view of your DAW.

Finally, remember that no matter how ideal your work environment is, it''s only going to be as good as the way you interact with it. One great way to actively combat the potential harm of studio hibernation is to simply get up, walk around, and stretch your achin'' back.

BREAK out of the zone: Stop working and take a 5-minute rest every 45 minutes.

Take mini-BREAKs: While you''re working, periodically remove your hands from your equipment and re-adjust your posture.

Switch your work up: Every couple of hours, stop and perform a different type of physical activity such as talking on the telephone.

Re-evaluate: Remember that ergonomics is an evolving process, so from time to time, pause to assess and adjust your work environment.

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