Every musician has his/her own unique way of working in the studio. Over the past few years I’ve found that certain habits help me work better. In this article I’ve shared some of these tips that may also be beneficial to you.
- Organize your samples
An organized sound library can help speed up your workflow. When you know where everything is you waste less time searching for sounds. You can concentrate on just creating music instead.
Having an organized sound library should offer you quicker access to your production resources and allow you to capture your ideas faster.
- Colour Code your tracks and label everything
Make it a habit to label and colour code everything in your project. This enables you to easily locate all your song elements thereby saving you from wasting time searching for things. Remember that the brain responds faster to colour than it does to text.
It also helps when working with artists live on a project. If your sessions are organized and they understand your colour-coding system they can easily point to parts on the screen and make suggestions of what edits need to be made.
- Create templates for common scenarios
Creating templates and presets for routine and repetitive tasks is a surefire way of saving time.
For instance, I have a basic production template which has some drums preloaded. Every sound is already, colour-coded, labeled, and routed accordingly in the mixer.
The sounds are EQed and tuned to my taste and reverb sends are already created.
This allows me to jump right into beat-making instead of worrying too much about the basic things like routing, etc.
When you do use templates you shouldn’t feel restricted to stick with things as you’d preset them as that may lead to you making monotonous music. Instead it should be a tool to help you get your ideas out quickly.
- Keep your setup clean
A clean environment allows you to concentrate on the task at hand as opposed to the distractions that may be around you.
Try to keep your home studio clean and dust-free because dirt can affect the performance of an artist you’re recording in your room.
You should also clean your computer of any distractions such as movies, unnecessary software, social media programs, etc. Or at the very least you should disconnect from the Internet when you want to work on music.
Unnecessary software can hog system resources on your computer and affect how it runs and an active Internet connection can hog your attention.
If possible, switch off your phone of put it on silent especially when you’re working with other artists. Mobile devices have a way of consuming time that can be used for creating.
- Backup! Backup! Backup!
2 years after I started making beats, I accidentally deleted over 300 beats. One simple mistake resulted in the loss of all my production work. It was damn painful!
Since then I’ve made it a habit to have multiple backups of my work. All my beats and mixing projects are backed up on several hard drives, DVDs, flash drives and online.
Every electronic device will fail sooner or later. Relying on a single storage device to keep your files will most likely result in data loss at some point.
Backup your work every day!
- Limit your options
Having too much to work with can be a distraction when making music.
I mean honestly do you really need fifteen different EQ plugins. If you analyze closely you’ll probably see that you use only one or two on most of your projects.
Having too much can limit your desire to learn your tools inside and out. The limitations of your tools often force you to learn new ways of using them, which can sometimes lead to really creative results.
It’s better to have a few good tools you can master, than to have too much stuff that just takes mental space.
- Keep your old ideas
Everyday isn’t a good day. Some days you may make four beats, others days you may make one beat, and on other days you may not be able to complete a single beat. It’s okay. It’s all part of the creative process.
You ought to make it a habit to keep your old ideas, even when you can’t manage to complete a beat, or you make a beat you don’t like. Somewhere down the line you may begin to develop that idea further and grow it into something you actually enjoy.
- Use Sub-mixes and Track Grouping in Your Mixes
Sub-mixes come in handy when you want make changes to several sounds without having to tweak each one individually. They’re also great for gluing things to get a more coherent sound.
Another good use of grouping is side chaining. For example if you want to side chain your kick to five sounds you can create a sub-mix of those five sounds and then side chain that sub-mix once, as opposed to side chaining to each sound individually.
I normally have three basic sub-mixes in my projects; drums, bass, other instruments. This varies from project to project of course. I may have more or I may have less.
- Try using volume automation instead of compression
Compression is a powerful tool, but it’s not the only way to control dynamics. Drawing in volume automation can achieve the same result, and often with more precision since you can edit each part of your sound individually.
Volume automation typically takes more time than using a compressor. But if you want to have greater control or just don’t want to tinker with a compressor, then automation is the way to go.
For instance, I rarely use serious compression for de-essing vocals. I automate the volume to drop on parts of the track that have sibilance as a means of de-essing. This provides more precise control than a de-essing plugin.
- Don’t put anything you don’t know in your mix
Every element that’s in your mix should be doing a specific job that you can either feel or hear.
As a general rule, avoid putting effects or sounds that don’t add anything to your track. New producers are particularly guilty of putting stuff in the mix just for the hell of it.
Plugins that add nothing to your track consume system resources and crowd up your project for no reason. It also may be a hint that you’re not analyzing your production/mixing decisions carefully. It may hint at the possibility that you’re not growing as a musician or you don’t know the purpose of your tools. This should prompt you to learn your tools so that you know what everything in your project does.
- Leave your track to sit before you release it
Once a song is released there’s no going back. So you need to be sure that what you’re putting out is the best version of your track.
Hold off from releasing your track once you’re done with it. Let it sit for a few days if possible. In the mean time you can listen to other music and work on other projects. Then come back to your mix and judge whether it’s ready or not.
I normally like to add my song to a playlist with various reference tracks then playback 2 to 3 tracks before and after my track to see if it sounds subpar. If it sounds good then I leave it. If it needs more work then I get back to the lab and tweak it until I’m pleased.
- Mixing is about compromise
Some ideas are just not meant to be. Your may come up with two great melodies but they just don’t seem to fit in one track the way you want them to. You may need to put one aside and use it in a later project.
In the case of mixing you may find that some sounds kill the vibe when turned up. You may have to make the decision of moving them to the background, rearranging your track, or removing them completely. Not everything is meant to take center stage and not all ideas mesh together seamlessly.
- Separate and plan out your tasks
Music production, mixing and mastering are three distinct fields. Yes, they all intertwine and rely on each other in one form or another. However, they are three separate processes. Try to separate them if possible.
It’s inevitable that you will do some level of mixing while producing your track. However, when you intertwine the processes too much you may lose focus on the primary goal at hand.
I usually mix a bit as I produce. But once I’m done producing I move onto mixing and concentrate just on that.
If you find that you’re constantly second-guessing yourself and going back to producing when you should be mixing, you should just bounce all your sounds to WAV stems, and then mix those.
Bouncing your audio to stems forces you to commit and get on with the mixing instead of changing MIDI notes, etc.
The purpose of the tips shared above is to improve your work flow when crafting music. They’re not hard rules for you to follow, but a general guide on optimizing your workflow. Some tips may seem obvious but remember that your long term success will mostly like come down to how you deal with the fundamentals as well as consistency in your daily routine.