Learn "Lean" Audio Recording

In the manufacturing world, companies have been trying to catch up to Japanese companies in efficiency and cost-effectiveness through something called “Lean.” In a nutshell, lean manufacturing is focused on trying to minimize total system cost while simultaneously meeting customer demand and quality requirements.

So what does it have to do with audio recording? Well, it turns out that the concepts of lean manufacturing are applicable to just about any kind of work, especially the kind that involves repeating processes. That could be making dinner at home, doing laundry, driving to work, or recording and producing audio. Actually, the concepts are applicable to just about anything. It’s all about minimizing waste.

Though we like to think that we aren’t wasteful on purpose; that we wouldn’t knowingly use wasteful practices to get stuff done, the fact is that most processes are 90% waste and we don’t even realize it much of the time. That’s because we have to define waste a little differently from what we’re probably used to. Think of it this way-waste is any resource (motion, time, money, stuff, etc.) that is not absolutely needed to get the job done. And here’s the kicker-you can never be completely rid of waste! The laws of physics make it necessary that we live with some waste. Since it requires motion to move your arms, that’s waste! The object is to set things up so they require the least amount of motion (or any of those other resources I mentioned).

There are two ways to record audio in a lean way. The first is the traditional method of setting up your equipment in such a way that most of the things you need to reach in a typical job are within arms-length. Then you’d get rid of stuff that isn’t needed on a regular basis, and make sure the stuff you keep has its own place to always be so you don’t waste time looking for it. It can get much more involved than that, but you get the idea, I hope.

The other way to do lean audio recording is the kind that will save you loads of time and money right from the start, and that is to build your recording set-up with the absolute bare minimum equipment. This is probably most effective if you’re just starting out in recording. The bare-minimum, in my book, is open source audio software, a PC with a sound card, and a cheap PC mic. That’ll cost most folks $5.00 or less! With just that set-up, you can produce useable audio, but most importantly, you can learn and practice the basics of recording, most of which are do-able in this set-up.

Then you use a lean concept called “pull.” Let your need determine what gear you buy as you upgrade. Optimally, you should never own a piece of equipment or software that you don’t use regularly. That would be waste. In manufacturing, if you have the capacity to produce more than is being demanded by the customer, you should look for ways to REDUCE your capacity! I know, crazy right? But the object is to MATCH capacity to need. If you have more of one than another, an imbalance occurs that will have negative consequences somewhere along the line.

For the beginning recordist, the purchase of a USB microphone for about $25 may well get them to the quality level that is right for their needs. If that still doesn’t get you there, you can add to your set-up in a modular fashion, usually less than $100 at a time, just until you are able to produce what you need and no more.

If you can follow these lean concepts, you will save time and money in the long-run. To learn more about lean, just type ‘lean manufacturing” into a search engine. There are tons of articles and great books out there that will teach you all you need to know.

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