Here are some tried-and-true tools and methods for keeping tabs of your own creations.
Name it. Labeling is key to developing a smooth studio routine. For instance, when you first boot up your digital recorder to begin a new piece of music, give the work a name or some kind of identifying tag, even if you don’t have a proper title. Unless, of course, you’d rather have everything stored as “Untitled Project” on your recorder’s song menu and then have to open each one to find out which is which.
Log it. A track log — a sheet of paper that lists each track and what’s on it — is an integral part of the organizational process. You can go online and download a track-log template, or you can simply create your own layout (such as setting up a series of columns, one for each track), which you can then keep right on your desktop. For a really easy what-goes-where solution when using a physical console, place a strip of masking tape directly below the channel faders and jot down the names of the instruments assigned to each fader, using a permanent marker (i.e., channel 1, bass; channel 2, guitar, etc).
Archive it. Being able to instantly retrieve all of your finished (and unfinished) music is a must. Select a dedicated space on your computer’s hard disc and then create folders and sub-folders to keep the material properly catalogued. Start by setting up a master folder for all of your existing material; from there you can create sub-folders for each project, where you can store early mixes, alternate mixes, as well as final versions of each song (and don’t forget to make back-ups of all of your folders as well).
Revive it. Got a good idea for a new song? By the time you hook up a microphone and turn on the recorder, it could be gone for good. On the other hand, a basic mp3 player, which comes with its own built-in microphone, is ideal for capturing spontaneous creations and can store hours of material. Best of all, you can easily transfer the song bits to a computer and then take it from there.
Cover it. In case you’ve never noticed, dust and electronics don’t work particularly well together. To prevent those nasty particles from mucking up your machinery in between sessions, keep a clean, lint-free (preferably plastic) covering over all of your essential recording equipment. On a weekly basis, vacuum out your studio area, clean glass and non-electronic metal surfaces with Windex, and remove stray dust particles from control surfaces using a small basting brush or dusting tool.
Mic kit. Microphones deserve the same kind of care that you would give to any of your instruments. Never leave a fragile mic lying on top of an amp or a table, where it can easily plunge a few feet to its possible death. Instead, when not in use store your mics in a clean, dry cabinet (preferably in their protective pouches); or, even better, use a durable padded carrying case capable of holding multiple mics (available for as low as $50 or less).
Back it up. Storage has never been more plentiful and cheaper than it is right now; therefore, make sure you have plenty of free disc space on your computer to accommodate all of your finished works, rough mixes and new song ideas. Most importantly, be sure to back up your projects after each session is complete. Start by burning copies of mixes to CDs or DVDs. Always keep an adequate supply of blank media on hand, not to mention CD sleeves to keep the discs clean and scratch-free, as well as some permanent markers for quick and easy labeling. If you haven’t done so already, consider adding an external hard drive to your arsenal (a 500GB standalone USB drive costs as little as $100 these days). Unfortunately, neither discs nor disc drives are infallible. To really play it safe, use multiple sources to make “redundant” backups, such as a second (or even third) computer. If you have a home network, you can accomplish this quickly and easily — there are even software programs that allow you to do this automatically, such as Fbackup (http://www.fbackup.com). There are also various online storage solutions that you can try out as well.
Hang it up. Leaving instrument/mic cables, patch cords or other wires lying around on the floor can result in busted connectors and unimaginable tangles. If you haven’t done so already, take a trip to the hardware store and pick up a handful of wall or coat hooks, and, after every session, carefully wrap all cables and hang them on the hooks to keep them clean and properly organized. While you’re at it, grab a couple of cheap tote boxes or portable draws for storing CDs, track sheets, audio adapters, power supplies, guitar picks and any other micro items.