TL01 - Work Flow 101
I will be starting off the Techno Logic article series by talking about a subject that is, to me, one of the most important - improving one's work flow. No matter which DAW you use, or which style of music you produce, one thing is sure to help you create better music - and that is going from idea to finished track more smoothly and efficiently. Nothing can kill your groove more than not being organized! Although these tips are Ableton-biased, I assure you that most of the advice will translate well to other DAWs. Let me explain by elaborating on a few main points.
1. Load up your Samplers - It took a while for me to see the light with this one, but I can honestly say that using the native sampler in your DAW more often will do more to improve your immediate creative flow than anything else. In Ableton specifically, I use a method called '128s'. This is a technique whereby I load 128 individual samples of a given sample bank into an empty audio track (ie. the entire 'crashes' and 'hits' folders), do a shift-click to highlight them, and drag them into a blank instance of Sampler (Ableton's native sample player). The number 128 is derived from the fact that MIDI values can go from 0-127, so that if you were to spread all of the samples equally among the notes of a keyboard, you would end up with one sample per note. (NOTE: In Ableton Live, this is accomplished by going to the 'zone' tab of Sampler, selecting 'Key' in the Zone box, right clicking on the sample ranges section, and choosing "distribute ranges equally")
This has the immediate benefit of allowing you to audition samples within the context of your track, without having to press stop to browse for another one. I have found this particularly useful with atmospheres, crashes/hits, and longer fx sweeps. Although this would also work for your drum kits, I personally use a different method in Ableton - drum racks. Which brings me to...
2. Drum Racks - The same technique can be applied with your drum hits, only this time using Ableton's Drum Rack instrment. This allows for more control over each hit, because it essentially houses an individual instance of Simpler in each drum slot. When the Rack is unfolded, each sample has it's own channel: effects can be applied to one individual hit instead of being applied to all 128 samples. Since I only end up using one kick, and maybe 2 snares at most per track, I use a combination of my favorite kicks, snares and hats for my main kit, with a second rack loaded with various percussion elements. This way, if a kick or another hit isn't sitting quite right in the mix anymore, you can quickly move the MIDI note to another location.
3. Templates - Building a basic track template can help improve workflow for a number of reasons. Firstly, it will allow you to get into a groove quickly when inspiration strikes. It's much easier to bang out a riff if you have some drums handy to provide a kick/snare beat for context. Also, for organizational purposes, it may be wise to have a few empty, named MIDI tracks for bass, lead, pad etc. Having regularly-used plug-ins on some tracks may be desired, for instance you may want to include a pre-loaded eq, set to high-pass filter, on all of your 'Loops' tracks, or having your best delay and reverbs pre-loaded on the Return A and B tracks. This will all be up to you and your individual work flow, so you may end up changing your templates as you progress with your production abilities. I will go into further detail on creating the ideal template in a future article.
4. Track Organization - In Ableton, there are several ways to help keep your workspace organized. The most obvious of them all is to name your tracks. As mentioned in the previous section, using track template is a great way to help initiate this process (you can always change the names afterwards). In Ableton 8, the 'group' (ctrl/cmd+g) function was introduced, allowing you to create an instant sub-mix for a particular set of individual tracks. This function will 'fold up' the grouping of tracks when you do not immediately need to tweak them, keeping your workspace cleaner. Grouping also is an easy way to get a drum bus happening, since all audio from the grouping will route to the one group 'master' track. Also, if your DAW supports it, selecting different colors for individual tracks, or similar shades for each track in a group, is an effective organizational aid.
5. Use Locators - This follows the organizational aspect of your workflow, only in the arrangement setting. Ableton Live has a 'locators' function within the arrangement view. This allows you divide up your track and name each section, giving you a better visual representation of your arrangement. The location markers also serve as a reset point, if you were to stop and restart the arrangement within that given section.
I will be talking about various other methods of saving time and improving workflow efficiency in future articles, but thought it would be a good idea to start with a few basics. It is our hope that this article series will provide an outlet for all of the Area709 artists to pool thier knowledge, with each providing some insight on his or her specialty. Look for more writeups in the near future on Ableton live specific techniques from yours truly, as well as some Logic oriented articles from 709 head honcho, Wes Straub.