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Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Workflow Reminder

Initially I had wanted to write an article this week on using phase cancellation to help with frequency stacking. However it turns out that I can't as the DAW that I use, Ableton, doenst have very good delay compensation meaning that one you insert an EQ onto a channel, its nearly impossible to get a clean phase cancellation due to the tiny lag in time that this produces on the audio. So instead I am going to write on another aspect of making music that i've been thinking about recently, workflow. Although i've written on workflow before, it's timely to revisit this subject every now and then and to remind yourself how inportant it is.

So i've often heard it remarked that one of the differences between proffessional and amatuer producers is the way they know their software. A proffessional producer has spent many, many hours honing their craft, and in doing so has come to know their tools inside and out. This is somewhat obvious, but what's perhaps less obvious is how a proffesional producer might use the tools at their disposal. There is a fundamental disconnect between listening to and writing music. As human beings, we exist in a realm of linear thinking, and change is what grabs out attnetion, especially with something like sound which is absorbed in a pre-conscious way. What does this mean? Well it means that if we listen to the same peice of music over and over again (as is necessary when making music) then we loose perspective and our grasp on the linear. Now think about what this means in relation to our tools... To be a succesful producer you need to have your tools streamlined to your way of working as much as is possible. This minimises the gap between making and just listening to music because we are able to reduce the time and friction involved with getting ideas down. In short, you don't loose your sense of novelty, and the software instead of being an obstacle becomes something that assists you.

Here are a just a couple of quick ideas on how to do this that i've personally found useful. I'd love to hear yours if you have any, just comment on the article.

1. Listen, Research

Be familiar with your ingredients and what you might want to put into the mixing bowl. Just in the same way that it's more satisfying to DJ with fresh tunes in your collection, it's also more interesting to make music with fresh samples that you are enjoying and that you can construct a track around. Actively record sounds and mangle them, or do sound design with a synthesizer when you are not composing. Actively look for things to sample on old records, Youtube clips and the like. In this way you'll have a steady stream of new sounds to use in your music, and because they are yours you'll be willing and excited to make use of them.

2. Save

Save presets for any plugins, effects and mix tools that you use often, basically do this for anything thats possible. An example of this could be an EQ that has a number of notches in it, giving you a quick and easy way of fixing problem frequencies. Another example might be saving a bunch of effects racks (combinations of effects) and place these in a deactivated state on all your track's channels. Having the these effects mapped to macros for tweakability will allow you to punch in that effect quickly and easily, as well as using automation on the parameters to drive the arrangement of your track forward.

3. Organise According To Type

When a mechanic is looking for a drill, he doesn't search for a drill by brand, rather he searches by type
in order to find the best tool for the job. Sample packs and plugins, as well as presets, often come in folders organised by the company that sold them to you. However to be effective and find the best tool for the job in your music, try to sort by type, so that if you are looking for a bass patch (or sample) you can quickly and easily find one and audition it in the context of your track. You'll find a lot less need to process things heavily to force them to fit the context of your track if you do things in this way, the path of least resistance is often the best.

4. Create a Startup Template

Generate all the tracks you will need, default EQ'ing, effects sends, compression and the like. This will remove a lot of repetitive tasks from your music production and save you an hour or two per track at least. This leaves more time for composing and arranging, meaning you have more time to complete a track before you get too sick of the idea. If you spend too long on an idea it will come out fragmented and overworked, and perhaps more importantly you will end up hating the track.

5. Work in Stages

Think about how a band used to record, they would come up with an idea and write a song. Then it would be recorded by a recording engineer. Then it would be mixed by another engineer, and finally it would be mastered by yet another, mastering, engineer. In electronic music, the producer often takes on all of these roles. You are doing sound design, composing various elements, mixing everything together and more. It's useful to seperate those into stages and do one at a time. Have a different template for each stage even, I have a sample sorting and sound design template, and a composition and mixing template. These reflect how I work, and I dedicate sessions to sound design and other similar, repetitive tasks so that this does not get in the way of my composition, where I just want to get ideas down. When i'm happy with a track, I tend to focus on the mix at the end, for the same reason.

Hope this was useful, again let me know your tips for increasing workflow by commenting on the article, i'd love to hear them.

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