Do you have a ton of unfinished projects just sitting in Ableton or Logic? Are they stuck in loop mode? Developing a production workflow is an important part of building a routine that helps you complete (and improve) your tracks. Here are a few production workflow tips to help you develop your own routine.
Work Fast and Get the Idea Down
Some advice I have heard and read a lot about recently is to get your ideas down quickly. This is why a lot of producers recommend developing a DAW template and set of favorite sounds and plug ins, so you don’t lose ideas to set up and library searches. Like sketching in art or outlining in writing, try to jot down a simple idea and add, remove, and refine from there.
Take a Quick Listening Break
Even the best studio monitors and headphones can’t save your ears from the stress of sound exposure. Giving your ears a break is not only healthy, but it’ll help you take a step back and revisit your track with fresh ideas. When you listen to something over and over, it’s easy to start over-processing or focusing too much on a tiny piece of the puzzle. Take a listening break when you find yourself overthinking and come back after you’ve done something other than music for a while.
Prep & Learn Sessions
This is an idea I do naturally, but heard articulated in a YouTube video about workflow. We all want to constantly write music, but it’s important to set aside time to prep and learn. Sit down to read an article (like this!) or spend time building your DAW template (see above!). These sessions will not only expand your knowledge and tools, but improve your efficiency and efficacy during writing sessions.
When I asked an accomplished producer friend what I could do to improve my music he said, “Subscribe to Future Music immediately.” Now it’s a weekly reading habit during my morning visit to the local coffee shop.
Schedule writing sessions to get into the zone and spend time building on your initial sketch. The format and flow of these are of course different for everyone, but I think it helps to block the time and stick to it. Even if you think you “don’t have enough time,” you can probably squeeze in a writing session. Don’t succumb to that excuse! 60 – 90 minutes of solid, focused work will help you accomplish a lot.
One you feel like the general idea is pretty complete, you can focus on fine-tuning the track. You may want to send the rough version out for feedback first and then spend time fine-tuning; depends on how you prefer to work with feedback. I find getting the rough version out reveals other things I need to work on before “fine-tuning.”
This probably seems pretty obvious, but it’s one of the hardest things to do (I’m still working on it…) Send your tracks out for feedback! We’re all scared to get hurt by poor feedback, but it can actually be the most valuable. There’s no faster way to learn than have other, more experienced people point out how you can improve.
I’m still in the process of figuring this out myself! I think it’s always evolving. Sometimes I sit in front of the computer and have no idea what to do, paralyzed by fear and confusion. Other days I can jump in and riff.
There’s a great book out there called The War of Art that demonstrates how common this is. Author Steven Pressfield says that the difference between an amateur and a professional is that fear governs the amateur. He or she thinks they need to overcome many barriers before they start working. The professional, on the other hand, knows fear can never be fully conquered and works every day no matter what. Develop that workflow and start working every day.