10 Easy Ways to Improve the Quality of Your Music Production Sessions

By Donald Dinsmore

Finding the time to work on music can be difficult.  Life tends to get in the way and it quickly becomes impossible to stay glued to your studio chair for 8 hours a day.  Assuming your time is at a premium here are a few ways to make the most of it while you're in the studio:

1.  Commit Time to Music Making

Life is busy.  Between working, social commitments, doing laundry and taking the dog out it can be tough to put aside time to make music.  Not only that but so often when we put aside time to work on music we are interrupted by our roommate, our significant other or our stomach (this is my problem).  Unfortunately writing a cohesive musical idea is difficult if we are jumping up and down every 10-15 minutes for one reason or another.  Learn to schedule music making time.  What I mean is put aside a four or five hour chunk of time at least once a week where you will have uninterrupted studio time.  Experiment with different times of day and find something that works for you.  I find my most productive times are in the mornings when I have the house to myself for a few hours.

2.  Mise En Place

'Mise en place' is a french culinary term that literally means "putting in place."  In a kitchen it refers to organizing and arranging the ingredients and tools you will need to prepare the meal before you begin preparing it.  The idea is to provide interrupted flow to the preparation of the meal which in theory (and practice) leads to a superior final product.  This approach not only works well in the kitchen but in the studio as well.  In the studio nothing sucks your creativity like interrupting your writing to plug in a drum machine or synth.  Develop the habit of placing all of your production tools in place before you start working on a song.  This means your work space is clear, all the gear you might use is plugged in, working and ready to go, your notebook is sitting on your desk, and you have some water and snacks on hand.  The idea is to remove any potential barriers that could get in the way of your creative flow.

All the gear you need in the all the right places (and a printer).

All the gear you need in the all the right places (and a printer).

3.  Make A Production Template

Save yourself time when you open up Ableton and make a production template.  The idea to build a set full of tracks, instruments and effects that you are likely to use.  Load up a few audio and MIDI tracks with an EQ Eight and Compressor on them.  Do you use Operator in every song?  Make a couple tracks with Operators on them.  Build your return tracks effects.  Group like tracks for easy mixing, i.e. drums in a drum group and basses in a bass group etc...  Once you've made a project that looks like something that you would use save the template by opening Ableton's Preferences window and select the File/Folder tab.  At the top of the window you will see an option that says, "Save Current Set as Default,"  press "Save".  Next time you load up a new project in Ableton the template you made will be there.

Save your Live set as a default template in Ableton's Preference window.

Save your Live set as a default template in Ableton's Preference window.

4.  Save Session Data

You can save clips from Session View.  Here's how:

5.  Save Your Instrument and Effect Presets

Chances are every time you finish a new tune you've made a handful of new Instruments and FX chains.  Chances are if they're in the finished product you like them (at least a little).  Save these as presets in a folder of your choosing so you can use them in the future.  My recommendation would be to make a new folder in the Places section of your browser called Instruments.  Simply drag your favourite instrument contained in an Instrument Racks to the folder called Instruments.  Do the same for your effects.   

Add any directory from your hard drive in the Places section of Ableton's Browser.

Add any directory from your hard drive in the Places section of Ableton's Browser.

6.  Save Third Party VST presets in Instrument Racks

Sometime people struggle to save presets they've made in third party VSTs.  In my experience the best way to save these are in Racks.  Group your third party instrument or effect chain in a Rack and then save the entire rack in the appropriate directory.  When you load up the rack in the future the VST preset will be recalled. 

Super sick Massive preset.  

Super sick Massive preset.  

7.  Save Defaults for Instruments and Effects

You can save defaults for instruments and effects in Ableton.  For example, maybe you want pole 1 on EQ Eight to be set to high pass every time you load it up.  All you have to do is to load up EQ Eight, set pole one to high pass mode, then right click in the effect title bar and select "Save as Default Preset" from the drop down menu.  Now every time you load up EQ Eight pole 1 will be set to high pass mode.  Another default preset you might consider setting is high passing Ableton's Reverb plugin at around 250 - 300 Hz.  Tighten up those lows! 

8.  Bounce Tracks with Third Party VSTs 

If you plan to share your projects with other producers bounce all of your tracks containing third party VSTs to audio.  This will save headaches for your collaborators and it allows you to contribute to your personal sample library.  The easiest way to bounce a track is to use the Freeze and then Flatten commands.  Right click on a MIDI track and select Freeze.  Once the track has been frozen right click again and select Flatten.  Presto!  Your MIDI track is now an audio track.  This trick also helps save buckets of CPU power.

9.  Rename Everything

Rename everything.  Nothing interrupts creative flows like poking around your project for a track.  Use Command + R to rename all of your tracks and clips to something that will cue your memory when you see it.  This will also help your collaborators navigate your project efficiently.

10.  Organize Your Sample Library

Be ruthless.  Organize you sample library.  Put all of your drum sounds into a drum folder, further subdivide this folder into separate drum sounds like Kick, Snare, Clap etc...  Do this for all of the different sounds in your sample library.  Eliminate all samples that you won't use, all they do is take space and make it difficult to find what you're looking for.