How to stay Organized for Music Producers
Screenshot from my new track in Ableton, Kick Like a Ninja

How to stay Organized for Music Producers

What?! A post on organization?  Zzzzzzzz…….

Wait!  I’ve wasted a lot of time by not staying organized, so these tips may give you more time for the stuff you want to be doing!

Staying organized has several benefits:

  1. It will speed up your workflow as you spend less time fumbling through tracks.
  2. If you set a project aside for a while and then pick it back up it will help you remember where you left off.
  3. It will help your collaborators understand what you’re doing.
  4. It can save CPU power.
  5. It will help protect you from a hard-drive failure.

 Here are a few tips from my workflow:

  1. Come up with a color scheme and consistently use it.  See the screenshot in the post.  I use red, green, yellow, purple, and white. Red is for clips I don’t like and want to replace. Yellow is for clips I’m still trying to decide about. Green means I like that particular clip.  Purple I use later during mixdown: every section of your song should highlight one specific sound. Purple is the color of royalty, so I  go back through the track and highlight each clip that I want to stand out at any particular moment.  White is for tracks that aren’t making any noise but are doing something in the background, such as reference tracks, ghost tracks for sidechaining, buses, etc.
  2. Name your tracks descriptively. In Ableton if you’ll lead off with a # it will automatically number and re-number your tracks as you move them about.  Then, give it a short descriptive name that is meaningful and clear such as: “Crunchy high-hat,” “Wobble bass,”  or the infamous “DJ air-horn.”
  3. Group your tracks by common sonic qualities. In Ableton the hotkey is CTRL+G (Windows). I like a group for my drums, my lead instruments, my special effects, my bass and my vocals. I also like to label my grouped tracks in ALL CAPS to make it clear it’s a group of tracks and not an individual track.  If you add devices to the group track it will also affect all of tracks in that grouping.  This can help simplify the number of devices you’re using and can also save you CPU power if you’re on an older computer.  Finally, in Ableton 10, you can also create sub-groups which gives you even more flexibility.
  4. Name your devices.  Sometimes, when you have complex groups of devices on a track naming them can help you remember why you put them there or what they are doing, especially if you’ve got automation involved.  For example, you might have an EQ device that only turns on to low-pass filter a synth during the chorus.  I might name it “EQ: low-pass  during Chorus”  That way I can see what is going on without having to toggle the automation back on and look under the hood.
  5. Name your clips descriptively.  In the picture, I’ve got “Topline v4 Counterpoint” for example.  Save everything you’re doing in Session View (click TAB) to toggle back and forth, or, if you have a second monitor, View->Second Window which will allow you to see both Arrangement and Session view simultaneously.  I use Session view in Ableton much like a painter would use their palette of paint.
  6. Use Song Locators.  In Arrangement view (Ableton) you can add locators that remind you (or help you plan out!) when various sections of the song start. This might include the chorus, the breakdown, the drum solo, etc.   This is really helpful especially as a project balloons to 30 or more tracks and it’s hard to see them all on the screen at once.
  7. Name our files so you can find them.  Consider “Save as…” and save multiple versions of your Live Set (.als) as you go.  Keep them all in the same Ableton Project folder (.alp).   I use that project folder for everything that applies to that song, to include album artwork, notes on vocals, or anything else related to the song.
  8. Have a backup system.  Box or Dropbox work well: put your working director in your Box folder and everything is backed up automatically. Or use Splice which will back up and save versions of your project.  Splice has the added benefit of allowing you to make detailed notes on each version of the song.   Or if you’re really paranoid put your Splice folders in your Box sync folder and get double the backup love!  External hard drives work fine too.

What do you do to stay organized?

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