While making a tune have you ever lost track of what you're doing, where you've been or where you're going? In an age of digital music production this is an all too common problem faced by producers. The incredible strength of DAWs like Ableton is they present an infinite number of tools and avenues for producers to explore. The irony of the situation is that all these possibilities have the potential to hijack your workflow and send you down blind alleys. In this article we'll look at five ways you can speed your workflow, avoid detours and ultimately finish tunes.
1. ORGANIZE YOUR SAMPLE LIBRARY
You're on a roll making a tune and suddenly it hits you, somewhere in your sample library there is the perfect sample. No other sample will do. You drop the chord progression you were writing and begin searching. Thinking you knew where it was you open a folder, no luck. You try another folder but you still can't find it. Fast forward thirty minutes and success, you've located it. Feeling like a champ you place the sample in your song and decide to pick up writing where you left off. But where did you leave off? The grammy winning idea you had is now gone.
To prevent similar creative tragedies in the future you will need to organize your sample library. One day when you aren't feeling particularly inspired start by removing the junk from your sample library. Undoubtedly lurking in the dark recesses of your hard drive there are gigabytes of samples you will never use. Delete them. Feels good doesn't it?
Next it's time to organize your samples into sensibly named folders. Take every kick drum sample you have and put them into one folder, name it Kick Drums. Do the same to your snares, hats and other drum sounds. Repeat this process for your bass samples, sound FX, risers, splashes, vocal cuts, drum breaks... you get the idea. Call the folders whatever you like so long as the name will cue your memory, so next time you're looking for that sounds-like-metal-hitting-metal-sound you can find it quickly.
2. ORGANIZE YOUR INSTRUMENTS AND EFFECTS
Find yourself using the same instrument presets or effect chains time and time again? Me too. No sense reinventing the wheel every time you write a song. Take all of your presets and save them in a specific folder in your Places section of the Live Browser. Further subdivide these folders based on the type of sound or effect they are. In your 'Instruments' folder make subdirectories called, Bass, Lead, Pad and so on. Do the same for your 'Effects' folder. Organize your Mixing Chains, Delays, Filters, and Bass Processors into separate folders. Any time you make a new instrument/effect chain get into the habit of saving it in the appropriate folder so you can find it quickly in the future.
Another tip, if you're using third party plugins or you design sounds that contain an effect chain following the synth, group all of the devices into a rack (highlight them all and press command+G) then save the rack. This way all of the settings you agonized over in both the external plugins and Ableton devices in your rack will be recalled next time you load it up.
3. FOLDER DIVIDERS
Separate all of these folders you've been making into logical groups. Samples should be separate from instruments and instruments should be separate from effects. Watch the video below to see what I mean.
4. NAME TRACKS AND USE LOCATORS
Remember that time you loaded up an old project file and you you had no idea what or where anything was? Avoid the painful procedure of going through every track and section of the song to determine where your snare is. Name your tracks (command+R), and organize them into groups (command+G). Colour code them to make your project pretty. Drum tracks are always pink, bass tracks are always purple... well you the get the picture.
In arrangement view you can add locators by right clicking in the scrubbing area and selecting 'Add Locator.' Next rename the locator to describe the part of the song in which you placed it, Intro, Drop, Face Melt and Breakdown and so on. You can even trigger the song from a locator by clicking the playhead on the locator.
5. EDIT TEXT INFO
This rarely used but extremely helpful command allows you to add notes, ideas, and descriptions to individual MIDI clips. Simply right click on the coloured bar at the top of your clip and select 'Edit Text Info.' In your Info View window at the bottom left of your screen you can now add notes to your future self. Have a great idea? Write it in there! Having an artistic existential crisis? Write about your feelings. "Dear Diary..."
Another suggestion is to keep a notebook and pen in your studio at all times. This way when the ideas are coming in fast and furious you can write them down and give the appropriate amount of time and focus to each idea rather than frantically clicking about your project trying to regurgitate a million things at once.