If you think about it, making a tune is essentially one long list of decisions. It starts of with big questions “Which type of music am I going to make?”, “What DAW am I going to use?” and quickly becomes increasingly smaller levels of decisions making “What plugin am I using for the bass line?” “What patch am I going to use?” “How do I tune this oscillator?” “What filter type am I using?” “How do I EQ this part to fit In the track?” “Do I turn it up a single dB?” and so on. Why is this important?
It's well known to science types that willpower is a finite resource, and that enough decision making will result in decision fatigue, or the inability to make proper decisions. In much the same way that your ears get tired when mixing for extended periods of time, your brain works in the same way. So one of the key things to help you to become a better producer is to get organized with your projects. Think about it – every time you have to make a decision about something you are using up your brain power, and that'll mean that you'll get fatigued quicker, and work slower. Being organized might seem like a nightmare task in the beginning, especially if you are not used to it, but by slowly being a little bit more organised every time you work you'll get more efficient when you work.
So with that in mind, here is a list of improvement's that will help you stay organized and focused.
Project Organization – Naming and Colouring Tracks
I would say this is one of the most common things that I see in clients when I start to work with them. Their projects are all over the place. Nothing is named, everything is random colours, and there is no sense of ownership over the project. You end up spending ages trying to find your tracks each time, and your using a heap of brainpower keeping these things in your head. So with that in mind - decide on a colour system. And track order for your tracks. Mine goes like this from top to bottom;
Drums and Percussion top of the project – green.
Bass – Orange
Main parts or melodic instruments – Blue
Pads or Atmospheres – Purple
Vocals – Beigey skin colour
One shots or FX – Pink
Sends, Returns, Parallel channels – Yellow
Master Channel – Red
When I started to do this it took me a while to remember to do this each time, but once I got used to it it became second nature, but now finding a track takes 2 seconds, and I save time and brainpower each time. It also looks legit and helps you get an idea of what's actually going on in your tracks.
Make your own library
Start making your own library of sounds that you use all the time. The simplest way to do this is to go back through all of the projects that you have worked on and save any of the sounds that you like into a folder on your drive. If your working in Ableton, just group any sounds native or third party and any relative effects into a rack and save it into your user library. Don't worry about meticulous organisation straight away. Just keep dragging sounds in until you've got too many to navigate and then start making sub folders to put them in. Again just go as simple as you need. IE. start with “My sounds”. When you've got to many, make a “Drums” folder. Whack all your drums in there. Then when you've got too many drums, make a “Kicks” folder and stick your kicks in. Just do as much as you need to right now. This will help you to build your own signature sound in time, and you'll spend less time finding the sounds that you like so that when inspiration strikes you can get your ideas out quickly.
… and keep it clean!
No one cares where your bass came from. What you DO care about is what kinda sound it is. Calling something “Moog Square envelope bass” means nothing to your creative self - “Gully Grime Growl” on the other hand is going to be much more useful and recognizable to you when you quickly need to get a bass sound in. While your at it, make sure you can easily access the different folders and libraries that you have on your computer. Got a bunch of a capella's that you use all the time? Drag that folder into your DAW's browser or make a short cut to it so you can get there in one click and not spend 5 minutes clicking through folders while your ideas fade away.
Get your gear in order
This is another biggie. I remember I used to go to a friends place to make music all the time and he had a mouse with a cable that was really short. I used to constantly try to move the mouse around outside of the cables length and would snag it on the keyboard all the time. These little things would bother me all the time I would become less focused and more distracted. So with that in mind – Make sure your gear is all working properly, get those couple of extra cables you've been needing since you got that new synth, and make sure everything that you use regularly is in easy reach. You don't need to spring clean your studio every week (in fact being overly tidy could be less creative http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/09/messy-work-space-creativity-desk-tidy-healthy_n_3721818.html) but just make sure you're not wasting time trying to fix things when you could be making music.
Get your DAW in order
Dodgy plugins? Soundcard drivers out of date? Computer crashing all the time? Do yourself a favour and spend a few hours sorting all this stuff out. An unreliable computer is not only annoying but really unproductive. Make sure that everything is running smoothly so you can make music for hours on end without crashes and interruptions
Have a template
This is something that I will be dedicating a single article to as there is a fair bit to go through, but its worth doing a bit of research your self around this. Many companies sell or give away templates for different DAW's and genre's. These can be great learning tools but I highly recommend that you make your own.
So I hope this article has given you some motivation to get your self organized. Take half an hour and start getting organized. You'll save a heap of time and energy and you'll be that one step closer to being a better producer.