Feng Shui & the Art of the Perfect Studio Setup
Now... I know what you're thinking.
"Ben, your blog is about practical business tips for people in the game audio industry. Are you really about to lecture us on cosmic energy and ancient Chinese pseudoscience?"
Well... Yes and no.
No, I'm not going to lecture anyone on feng shui because I'm no expert. At the same time, I'm going to use it as a stepping stone to a conversation we should all be interested in.
And that conversation is:
How to build the perfect studio setup.
Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.
Feng Shui and the Narrative Mind
For those unfamiliar with "feng shui", here is a short definition:
Feng shui, also known as Chinese geomancy, is an ancient Chinese traditional practice that claims to use energy forces to harmonize individuals with their surrounding environment.
Feng shui carries a lot of heavy baggage due to people believing some pretty wild and crazy things back in the day.
To clarify, I'm ignoring the healing-crystal-type stuff and focusing on one core claim of this ancient tradition.
And that claim is this:
The environment we find ourselves in can and does influence our state of mind.
It doesn't take a genius to realize that the above statement is true.
We all can think of places where we feel more or less comfortable.
Nature enthusiasts feel best out in the wilderness while city-lovers crave the hustle and bustle of downtown.
Extroverts excel in large gatherings and introverts are more comfortable by themselves or in a small group of close friends.
Us when we are in a place that vibes with our personality
When we are forced into a place that makes us uncomfortable, it has a noticeable effect on our well-being.
Now, it's easy to understand the examples when they are so extreme, but what about when we start to look at things on a more micro level?
Can we rest peacefully in a cramped or cluttered bedroom?
Do we work more or less effectively in a room with no windows?
Such thought experiments are all leading to one main question:
Is our environment supporting the best version of ourselves or is it hindering it?
The Theory of Narrative Thought
There's another topic I wanted to introduce as a short aside because it ties in so neatly
with this article and that is the theory of narrative thought.
This theory is based on quite fantastic research which suggests that human beings make sense of the world in stories.
In fact, this mechanic is so deeply embedded in us that we can not conceptualize objects without placing them into a narrative and ascribing narrative meaning to them.
A rock, for example, is not just a rock to a human being.
A rock is a tool.
A rock is a weapon.
This rock is definitely a weapon
A rock is heavy or hard, words that have all kinds of metaphorical meaning ascribed to them which is why we say things like "stuck between a rock and a hard place".
A rock is unthinking and inanimate.
Ever heard the phrase "dumb as a rock"?
In this way, all objects can only be understood through the lens of the stories they tell.
Which begins to make you wonder...
Are the objects you surround yourself with in your workplace telling the types of stories that maximize your focus, creativity, and productivity?
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How to Design a Balanced Work Place
You probably have figured out by now that this article isn't about the perfect signal chain or the optimum speaker placement.
It's about creating an environment that is in every way possible crafted to support you as you go about the challenging task of doing consistent, creative work at as high a level as you can manage.
Because this is no easy task, even for top performers in our field, perhaps we should take a minute to ponder what this environment might look like...
A Workspace as Unique as Yourself
I wish I could give you a step-by-step guide for this process, but what we're discussing here is far too subjective for that.
What I can do, is give you a few questions that will hopefully point you in the right direction for further reflection.
1 | Do you create and maintain order in your workspace?
No, I'm not telling you to clean your room and make your bed.
What I am saying, however, is that a cluttered workspace can lead to a cluttered mind.
You may not actively stress all day long about that messy corner or stack of papers you've been meaning to organize, but its persistent existence probably isn't helping you produce a feeling of being in control either.
I started living by a little rule which you might find helpful which is if anything I notice needs doing would take me five minutes or less to accomplish, I (try to) do it right away.
Well... if I'm thinking about that thing, it's already stolen my attention away from whatever I was doing and I won't magically reenter a space of deep concentration in the next few seconds, so I might as well just attend to it.
I don't recommend arguing with Shia Labeouf.
If your room is full of little things like this, it might take an afternoon to deal with it.
But then it's done...
Perhaps you are really struggling right now and taking time to tidy up doesn't seem important compared to the larger problems you are currently facing.
Paradoxically, the more out of control things seem, the better it is to start small with tasks that are easily manageable.
Cleaning and organizing your workspace (to the degree that you would like to have it, obviously some people thrive in the chaos) helps remove any distracting reminders of other, non-work-related tasks that can hijack your attention while you're trying to get important things done.
2 | Do you enjoy the way your workspace looks?
Yea, you read that right.
Do you like the way your desk is set up? The way your synths are laid out? The lighting of the room?
I recently spent over 200€ on LED lights for my studio not because there wasn't enough light but because it looks cool.
And when your workspace looks cool, it makes you feel cool.
You don't have to spend a ton of money, obviously.
A few plants or some art from the thrift store might already be enough to make your workspace more visually pleasing.
The key is creating a space that consistently excites you to be in.
If you can achieve that "hell yea" feeling in your workspace just by looking at it, how much better do you think the work you do there could be?
3 | Are there objects in your space that fill you with positive emotion?
Have you noticed how office workers in films always have photos of their families on their desks?
In many such films, they often grab for the photo when they are having difficulties or facing tough decisions.
Why is that?
My hypothesis? These photos ground them emotionally and help them to remember what it is they are working so hard for.
but if it works, it works.
Do you have any objects like that in your working environment?
It should be a thing (or several things) that fills you with joy, reminds you of something wonderful, or helps ground you when times are hard.
Maybe you've won an award that you are particularly proud of.
Hang it up in your workspace!
Maybe you have a significant other who is the light of your life and always makes you feel better.
Put a picture of them somewhere near your desk!
Do you have a goal you're working towards that inspires you?
Find an object that represents your goal and place it close by!
Make your workspace a temple to the best version of yourself you can imagine and fill it with things that are uplifting and positive.
The flip side of this in the age of remote work is considering what people who video chat you see from your camera and perhaps asking yourself whether they are presented with a version of you that you'd like them to see.
By placing objects in your space that tell positive stories to that narrative-focused brain of yours, you help to subtly lower the noise floor of negative emotion and boost the signal of good vibes in your life.
And who couldn't use a little more of that?!
Call it qi, karma, yin and yang, cosmic energy, whatever.
The bottom line is, humans aren't just lumps of grey matter controlling a flesh-mech and navigating through a world of meaningless physical objects.
While we don't yet fully understand how and why we react to our environment the way we do... it's pretty obvious that we do.
"Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior."
So why not take some time to consider the aspects of your environment that you can control and how you might use them to your benefit?
More likely than not, you already know what parts of your workspace annoy you and what you could change to improve it.
So go on... do it!
I created The Game Audio Pro with the goal of helping others understand the fundamental business skills that are often the difference between success and failure for freelancers.
If you're ready to take your game audio career to the next level, download my guide to The Most Important Mindset for Game Audio Success.