The name of the game for most digital music producers is workflow. Working quickly, efficiently and in a methodical way allows you to finish tunes that sound spontaneous, full of life and not overworked, but there are other considerations. In today’s digital age the half-life of digital media is very brief. The never-ending deluge of content means often your creations are buried in new content before your audience even has the opportunity to listen. For better or worse, this means creating quality content on a regular basis is immensely important to artists today in order to keep on their audience’s radar. There are numerous methods producers can use to be efficient and fast in the studio. Organization, separating your sound design and writing session and using keyboard shortcuts are some examples.
If your production setup is anything like mine, or if you find yourself working on the road regularly you probably struggle with the size of your screen. When it comes to using a DAW on a thirteen-inch screen you will continually be zooming in/out and collapsing/expanding windows and tracks. All these actions eat away at your studio time and inhibit you from expressing your musical idea. Most Ableton users already know there are three triangles that expand or collapse different windows. The triangle in the top left opens or closes Live’s Browser allowing you to explore the different sounds and effects available in Live. The triangle in the bottom left corner expands or closes a handy little window called Info View. If you hover your mouse over any button, knob or fader in Live while Info View is open, the Info View window will show you a brief description of the button, knob or fader’s function. The arrow in the bottom right will expand or collapse the window at the bottom of the screen that contains your device chain or MIDI/Audio clip. While expanding and collapsing these different windows helps you to maximize your on screen real estate allowing you to work faster, they still require you to pause, grab your mouse and click on the outer-edges of your screen which slows you down.
Ableton has other time and space saving tricks that you can use during your sessions. One such trick is to hold the option key while clicking the arrow on any expanded track in Arrangement View. By doing this all of the tracks in your project will collapse making navigating your 30 track song somewhat less daunting. Check out the video clip below:
Renaming and color-coding your tracks or clips can also help you stay organized. In Live, any track/clip can be renamed. To do this, select the track/clip by clicking on it and press Command R. To add color-code your tracks or clips right-click (control click on a Mac) and select your color of choice from the drop down menu. Renaming and color-coding will help you save time by allowing you to navigate your project quickly whether you were working on it yesterday or 6 months ago. Not to mention, if you’ve ever collaborated with another producer and they’ve sent you a project that hasn’t been organized you’ll understand the pain of scrolling through every track named “AUDIO X” and figure out what they are.
Another organizational tool Ableton offers is the ability to Group different tracks together. In order to do this highlight the tracks that you want to group together by holding shift and clicking on each track. Once all the tracks you want in a group are selected press Command G and the tracks will group. Tracks can be Ungrouped at any time by selecting the group track and pressing Command Shift G. Grouping is beneficial for several reasons. The first and most obvious is the ability to collapse and expand several tracks with a single click. The other benefit is the ability to process like-tracks simultaneously. Instead of EQing and/or compressing individual lead lines, process all of your lead elements with a single EQ and compressor on the group track. Not only will processing the group save you the time of processing each element individually, you won’t have to use effect chains redundantly. This will save CPU power and help you to “glue” similar mix elements producing a cleaner and more cohesive mix.
Although all of these organizational tips will take an initial time investment to learn and implement into your production, the end result will be a streamlined and efficient workflow that will allow you to finish better tunes faster. Start with the project you’re working on now. Label, color-code and group your tracks. Develop a system that makes sense to you and stick with it. I promise the end result will be worth your effort.