Problems often arise when users have difficulty recalling what each cable is intended for, and where it should be connected. It’s not unusual to encounter a user who has recently moved their studio, or perhaps allowed a “guest” engineer to do some work at their studio. Disaster strikes when they find themselves unable to perform a task as simple as recording or playing back; something they may have done hundreds of times before without thinking twice about connections. The problem can often end up being something as simple as a cable that’s been moved or disconnected.
Keeping track of your studio and how it’s configured may seem like a daunting task, but there are a few tools you can use to make life easier in the long run. First, document all your connections (yes, all of them). There are numerous ways to document your studio’s setup and connections, but a good ol’ spiral-bound notebook is my favorite. I can quickly make lists, draw diagrams, and keep track of other details about my studio, as well as individual sessions. My notebook doesn’t crash, need power, or require updates — it’s old-fashioned, but it’s simple and easy to customize.
When setting up a studio or workstation, it helps to create a “road map” of how all the devices will be connected before you make the connections. A simple sketch of all your audio and MIDI devices with some indication of what goes where can help you sort out all the cables and connections.
Some users may prefer to document connections after they’ve been made. Again, a simple drawing can help keep track of those connections. You can always go back to your drawing and compare it to your hardware. If you change your setup, revise and date the sketch, or simply make a new one.
A second simple way to keep track of all your connections is to label those cables. Whether before or after making connections, you can apply a label to the ends of each connector. Self-adhesive label makers are perfect for this, but a little tape and a pen will do just as well. Remember that despite the limited space, it’s best to be specific. Where “In 1" may be sufficient, “Mixer line input 1" doesn’t take much more time or effort — and you (as well as any colleagues) will know exactly what it means.
Cables inevitably get bent, tugged, stepped on, and abused. Even the highest quality cables can only endure so much before they succumb to wear and tear. Therefore it’s important to keep spares. Although many cable manufacturers back their products up with long (often lifetime) warranties, they won’t be open at 9pm on a Sunday evening to replace a cable while you’re elbows-deep in an important recording session. If you think you’ll need eight MIDI cables, buy 10. If you think you’ll need two microphone cables, buy three or four. Think about it, we spend plenty of money on our recording systems. Cables are relatively small in terms of the total budget. You won’t regret having that extra cable when you really need it.