Rock and Roll Ergonomics, Part Three: The Studio

It’s one AM. You’ve been in “Logic”, laying down beats, working the midi since 10, creating your latest masterpiece.   Lost in the music, the creeping pain in your neck reminds you that it’s time to stand up and move around.

Hunkered over the big board and reaching to push one of those 48 sliders to get the mix just right, you feel your low back ache, reminding you that it is the end of another fourteen hour session.

Whether you are working in your home studio, or in a fully equipped professional control room, studio work today is mainly computer work and the ergonomic principles that apply to most high tech work stations are relevant for engineers, producers and players. Being seated in front of a computer screen for many hours, mesmerized by “Pro Tools”, is simply an unnatural act. The tendency to slump into the chair and round the low back and shoulders forces the head to be pulled in toward the monitor. This causes both low back and neck strain.Compounding the problem is that your love of the craft kills all sense of time.  Mind and body disconnect.

Start with your chair.  No need to purchase a $1000 Aeron.  Just head down to the local office supply store and find one with a nice padded seat that swivels, has good lumbar support, arm rests, and adjustments for height and back angle.  The test is comfort here.  Next is monitor placement.  Always in front of you, the center of the screen should be no more than 10 degrees up or down from your central line of sight. When working, your arms should be supported whether you are on the midi, the mouse, or the keyboard. Adjust the height of your desk so that your elbows are angled at approximately 90 degrees and keep your work as close to the desk edge as possible.  Arms suspended or reaching send damaging forces directly into the cervical and upper thoracic spine.

Take breaks. You can embed software that reminds you to stand up every 30-45 minutes. Roll your shoulders back ten times and then forward.  Take five deep breaths. Do ten standing back bends and every few hours go outside and take a walk.  Even five minutes of rapid movement will help to circulate your blood, wake you up, and loosen up your stiffening joints. Remember, pain and discomfort do not support the creative process.

Finally, be aware. Of posture and movement. Know that bending forward and twisting will, over time, cause low back pain, and slouching, neck pain. But maintaining proper posture requires internal musculoskeletal support.  This means exercise.  Without core strength, you will overstress your joints and although exercise is not generally associated with the rock and roll lifestyle, staying fit will prolong your working life and enhance its quality.  Basic stretching, cardio, and strengthening can even be done completely in studio.  A mini trampoline, a gym ball, a Styrofoam roller, and a floor are all you need.

There are few things as joyful as making music and the studio is a fantastic workshop for its creation. But we must be aware of its occupational hazards. As mechanical beings, we are designed to move and when we do not, our bodies break down. Fortunately, Rock and Roll is not a spectator sport. It is for neither the timid nor the meek. So stand up, breathe, dance, roll tape, and rock out.

Copyright Ricky Fishman 2011

Ricky Fishman, DC, a San Francisco based Chiropractor, blogs for both Line 6  and the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (The Grammies). He also runs the Musicians Chiropractic Project to support uninsured players.  See his website at http://www.rickyfishman.com

One Response to Rock and Roll Ergonomics, Part Three: The Studio

  1. George says:

    Great stuff here. Thanks, Ricky.

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