What to freshen up your working practice? – Here are some ways to revolutionise your studio work…
Inspiration is an elusive thing, and one that certain bad practices can chase away. For example, routine is good in terms of providing discipline in the creative world (ideas don’t come to you- you have to go out and get them), but too much routine can result in the same ideas being reproduced again and again. In addition, if your studio doesn’t make it easy to capture these moments of inspiration, than you’ll quickly find that the initial ‘spark’ is extinguished. ‘Convenience is the mother of invention’, as the phrase goes.
However, there some things that you can do to take your music in different directions, and revolutionise your studio work.
1. Work outside of the box
Before you all turn-off, fearing you’ve accidentally ended up at a corporate sales event, I mean ‘outside of the box’ in the literal sense. In this age of incredible computer power, software synths, effects and other instruments, it’s easy to rely on your PC and Mac for everything. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this, and the creative possibilities now offered by modest computer-based recording studios are insane.
However, staring at screen and clicking things with a mouse is sometimes not the most inspiring approach, feeling less like making music and more like checking emails… Having some physical bits of equipment to work with can be very inspiring, in this regard. Tweaking real, physical controls on synths, or other equipment creates a sense of connectedness with the resulting music that working ‘in the box’ cannot match.
There are a surprising number of affordable synths with lots of hands on control available right now, or you could even add some external effects by pushing your synths through effects pedals usually used for guitars – the results can really change your sound. Alternatively, you can add some real knobs and faders to your software via MIDI controllers.
2. Use keyboard shortcuts
This might not sound very exciting, but believe me, when you master a few keyboard shortcuts, your workflow will move at light speed. The vast majority of DAW packages have lots and lots of functions that can be used by pressing combinations of keys. The whole idea is make working faster.
It takes a while to learn them, but once mastered, you become a DAW ninja. Windows open and close in a blur, and audio/ MIDI parts are diced and edited with razor precision, without even touching a mouse. Plus, it impresses any peers who happen to see… It frees up more of your mental resources and time to work on the important creative decisions, too.
3. Don’t ‘fix it in the mix’ – get it right at source!
Though it might not seem like a ‘work flow’ related point, this is one of the most important changes to make to your recordings, if you don’t already do it. If you record with microphones, make sure that you get the sound right at the microphone, before recording. Don’t think ‘close enough- I’ll fix it in the mix’.
If your source material is nearly perfect, mixing is so much easier. Often, you’ll simply adjust the fader levels and it will sound ‘right’ without doing anything else.
This applies to performances, too. If you’re playing a MIDI performance into a DAW, try to get it right at performance level rather than quantise it. It will retain a far more ‘human’ feel.
4. Have a ‘spring clean’
When working with computers in the studio, the amount of data generated is vast. There are project files, audio files, samples, effects and instrument settings to contend with, along with associated sample libraries for any plug-in instruments. As a result, when you’ve used a computer for a while, things can get messy…
In addition, with so many free plug-ins available, it’s easy to become a plug-in ‘collector’, with hundreds of synths and effects that are not used.
For these reasons, it’s worth having a hard drive ‘spring clean’. When clearing out plug-ins, be brutal- if you’ve never used it get rid of it. In fact, if you haven’t used it for 12-months, and never used it in a significant, finished project, get rid of it. It’s better to have a smaller number of great plug-ins that you know inside out, than endless choices at every single step of your creative process. You’ll spend more time getting the right sound, and less time deciding which ‘tool’ to use.
With regard to projects, audio files and samples- organise them in a way that is intuitive. There is nothing more frustrating than spending hours and hours looking for a single sample that you know exists on your hard drive somewhere, only to have forgotten what you intended to do with it by the time you’ve located it…
There are many other things you can do to improve your working processes, but the above should make things faster, and more inspiring, with more time making music, and less time ‘faffing’ around… 😉
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.