From your initial inspiration, to finishing and creating your master track, here are some essential ways to speed up your music production workflow
1. When inspiration strikes
The last thing you need when that musical idea comes your way, is to have to wait for your computer and DAW to boot up. And, let’s face it, this will be at the most awkward time possible, like when you are in a meeting or just as you are waking up! You will literally feel your creative juices drain away as you watch your Mac or PC churn into action, awaiting your commands to turn your ideas into music. The solution? Use any free recording app on your mobile device to literally record your idea as soon as you have it. Sing it, beat it, get that idea down… fast!
The Android platform comes with a stock voice recorder or consider the highly-rated and free Easy Voice Recorder, Voice Recorder and ASR Voice Recorder. iPhone users also have many options including the free Recorder Plus, Voice Memos and Voice Recorder & Audio Editor (some with in-app purchases). Or try the more musician-focussed $3.99 AudioShare. If you’re old school, consider a digital dictaphone – they’re even faster!
2. Pair down your tools
Having every plugin under the sun might seem, on the face of it, the ideal scenario for any composer. A huge range of tools and solutions to choose from must be great, right? Not always. Some call a hard drive stuffed full of plugins ‘the tyranny of choice’. It can invoke that gut-wrenching feeling of ‘more is less’ when you open your plugins folder to find so many options. You end up feeling that the one you choose could never possibly be the best or right one!
Getting to know a smaller set of tools better can give you more focus and definition. You’ll get to know which of this smaller set of options is best for the job, and won’t feel that there is something better, just around the corner. Knowing what each and every one of your plugins really can do will allow you to reach for the right one quicker and speed up your music production workflow
3. The path of least resistance will speed up your music production workflow
Taking this philosophy one step further, consider your computer music system as a whole. Is it really focussed on music production? Can you really get to your music making as fast as you need to? Is your computer concentrating more on booting up background programs, startup files and linking to too many online resources when all you want to do is make music?
Consider, then, a music-focussed computer setup where you know exactly where your samples, libraries and music apps are, and there are no distractions. Games are great, keeping on top of the news is worthy, but will these non musical activities kill your creative ambitions? The ultimate path to music production nirvana? A computer focussed just on music. And as it’s the tool at the centre of your studio, make sure it’s a fast one. Surely the ultimate way to speed up your music production workflow is to speed up your computer! Maximum RAM, biggest processor, SSD hard drives a-plenty and a computer that takes you to the heart of your production… fast. Which leads to…
4. Templates? Auto speed up your music production workflow
Templates are available for most Digital Audio Workstations. These simple workflow tools are the most useful – but underused – features for the time-saving desktop musician. They automatically load up your favourite instruments, effects, channels settings, even your samples. This means that when your DAW boots up, your instruments are ready to perform, your plugins are ready to play and your processors are ready to, well, process.
If you really must have so many plugins, then consider setting them up into different genre-based templates. Working on a new-jazz track on Friday and a sci-fi film score on Sunday? No problem, get a template per task. Templates are literally what you make of them, but they will take you to the center of your music making quickly. No setup, no problem! (And while we’re talking DAW shortcuts, it’s an obvious bonus piece of advice: learn your key commands!)
5. Listen to the news (but don’t be led by it)
A more general one here and some advice to simply step back from your music production and consider the music making world as a whole. Many of the most successful composers we have spoken to focus on their own styles and goals and don’t get swayed by trends or fads. It’s so easy to be sidetracked and tempted by new developments in MIDI controller technology or software upgrades, or the many trends and styles in popular music, that you are forever trying to keep up.
Realistically, unless you have a team of composers and an endless budget at your command you will never be fully up to speed. Accept this, concentrate on your own goals and music and you will not only be less distracted but gain far more satisfaction from your craft. Having focus is the number one workflow advantage – focus on focus!
6. Consider AI – you’ll be back!
Ok, here’s where we get controversial. Artificial Intelligence is already making an impact throughout the tech world, not least for the desktop producer. There are software applications out there that will help you compose (Mixed In Keys Captain Plugins), mix (iZotope’s Neutron) and even help you master (Ozone). So are we recommending these over doing the processes yourself? Is it wise to get AI to speed up your music production workflow? Yes, we still have qualms about using any piece of software to help us compose – this should surely come from the heart and mind, right? However, your DAW is already taking a lot of the compositional strain away from you, so these tools are really just an extension of that, right?
Ok, we hear you when you say ‘no’! But we do at least admire any tool that offers you a glimpse at how the professionals work. Giving you a presets for a certain style of music will at least help you to learn how the pros might mix and master. And today’s producer is under so many time constraints with so many streaming options, that mastering tools must surely be a great answer when you are composing for so many platforms. So don’t discount them as they will save you time. Just don’t blame us when Skynet comes knocking…
7. Know when to stop
There’s an entire feature on knowing when a piece of music is finished. Just about every composer and producer we speak to has a different idea (or indeed, no idea) of knowing when they have reached that point. Many tell us that when they get to mastering, or playing the song out for a critique, then a track is done. Others will tell us that when they bounce a track – or rip it to CD – the song is done. Others say a song will never be quite complete – there will always be improvements that can be made. Your process might well be different again – do let us know.
Whatever your end point though, stick to it and make that process part of the plan. Finishing a song and moving on to the next is almost as important as getting inspired in the first place. It’s like knowing when a feature on speeding up your workflow should end. Oh, here we are…
The path to your production masterpiece should be smooth, creative and, most of all, fun. But accepting that there might be hiccups is also part of that process. The message is clear: technology is there to help, not hinder, so use it wisely for the most efficient workflow. Happy producing!