Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Have no time? Prepare!

I don't have a lot of time to play around in my studio; that's a shame, of course, but there are other minor things which sometimes require my attention, like kids, work, etc. But I digress. As a result, whenever I get a free hour, I need to make sure I do something with it. Moreover, the available time will most often than not be in small chunks - 4 hours of free time all in one bit are hard to come by for someone like me.

The secret is to be prepared, and that can happen in many ways.

First, I made four task lists: Research, Do, Test, Buy. "Research" has all the stuff I don't understand, like compression :-) "Do" has all the stuff I want to do, like retrack a song or change my studio layout. "Test" has all the plugins / gear / recording methods I need to test. "Buy" is obvious but gives me a nice overview of what I think I need to buy; I regularly review what's on there and delete whatever isn't really necessary; things which stay on the list long enough get bought depending on budget. This way, when I have a free hour to spend, I look at the list and I can make some progress in any of these areas.

Second, the layout of the studio needs to be tracking ready. If before I track, I need to move stuff around or change mics, nothing will get done. So everything needs to be ready: cables need to be labelled, mics need to be in place, levels need to be marked somehow, seating needs to be ready.

Third, whatever needs to be tracked needs to be decided upon and rehearsed before tracking starts. This ensures that when the "Record" button is clicked, I can concentrate on getting good sound instead of wondering if that G chord really shouldn't be an Em. Knowing the arrangement, the parts, how to play each instrument, making sure I know the words - all of that makes tracking much much easier.

Fourth, working with the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) should be smooth sailing - if I don't how to do parallel compression, I'm not gonna learn it as I'm mixing a new song. If it takes me 15 minutes to set up a few tracks, line up the recording channels, making sure I have the VST instruments I need, it's already 25% of my time gone by. Track templates and project templates are the key. Colors for instruments are important so that you can recognize who is who without losing time. Full project templates containing all the necessary tracks for a type of music, including some basic plugins, saves you a lot of time and gives you some basic sounds to work with.

Fifth, the workflow needs to be very clear - I need to work on that. I have some basic ideas but it's one of this year's goals to set up my workflow so that I don't even have to think about it. I also think that each workflow step needs to be time-boxed, i.e. x minutes to track, y minutes to premix before printing to stems, z minutes to mix, etc. Otherwise, the search for perfection coupled with my more than incomplete knowledge of my DAW can spell the end of any effort to record anything meaningful.

Other ideas to be more productive?

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