Every musician wants to be able to get to work as quickly and easily as possible when they’re making music. While it might seem like a hassle to take some time to organise your setup and tweak fiddly settings, there are a lot of things you can do to speed up your workflow and ultimately make music in a more efficient and frictionless way.
Follow our tips for getting organised and you’ll reap rewards in the long run.
Back up! And back up the back up…
While DAWs have come on a long way in terms of safeguarding your work as you go, Auto-Save functions are not always 100% reliable. Besides, you should always save your work to multiple sources in case your main drive goes missing or gets damaged.
First of all, get a portable hard drive – ideally an SSD (Solid State Drive) for maximum durability and stability. Get into the habit of saving a copy of your session onto that as well as on your main hard drive.
Then buy a subscription to a cloud-based automated backup service like iDrive. For a small yearly fee, it will automatically backup whichever folders and files you tell it to on a periodic basis. As well as ensuring you’re protected without having to think about it, the other advantage is that you can access backed-up files remotely via any web browser. For producers who also DJ, this can be particularly helpful last minute if you forget to download something onto your USBs.
Tidying up your sample library
Searching for something like ‘kick’ in your DAW’s media browser will serve you up a whole load of kicks, but unless every single kick in your collection is labelled thus and not ‘kd’ or ‘808’ etc., it might not show you everything. Sometimes you just need to go through folders and see what’s there.
If your sample library is a mess, you can waste a lot of time rooting through endless folders. Organise your sample library however makes the best sense to you for your way of working. You might create a folder of drums and sub-divide it by different hits, or maybe you are more eclectic and want to groups sounds by genre. However you do it, take a little time to organise your library and help yourself to navigate easier in the future. It can also double up as a good point to declutter your library and delete those crappy samples you never use (we all have them!)
“Organising is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up”
– A. A. Milne
Reorganise your plugins
Similar to the previous tip, organising your third-party plugins into relevant categories or pre-existing folders will help you navigate around them much easier. Most DAWs simply put third-party plugins in a separate menu for external / non-native plugins, and most also let you reorder them to your heart’s content. Sorting my effect type makes the most sense, but create whatever folders are most suitable for your creative way of working.
If you tend to use a lot of the same plugins on every project or have a few different setups you regularly use, project templates are an absolute must. You can create different templates with pre-loaded combinations of whichever plugins, instruments, channel strips, busses and sends you like, meaning it’s much quicker to get started when you want to make something new. You could have different templates for different styles of music, one specially made for live recording, one for electronic production, one for recordings vocals… the possibilities are endless, and you can customise your template to the finest degree.
There’s more to life the copy and paste! Your DAW is packed with useful keyboard shortcuts that can save you a whole load of time while making music. Scour your keyboard shortcut preferences for ones that could be useful to you and setup customised ones for your most used actions. It takes a bit of getting used to if you want to remember where they all are, but once you’re in the flow it makes for a much more efficient way of navigating around your projects.
A short-term investment of your time can mean high returns in terms of saving you loads of time in the future and leave you freer to concentrate on the important bits: the creative stuff. Next time you want to be productive but aren’t feeling creative or feel a bit too tired to concentrate on musical finessing, put your organisation cap on and get busy improving your workflow.