Tips for an Efficient Workflow

Here are some semi-random tips to help streamline your composition and production workflow.

Use Templates

Create project templates that load a setup that is common to your style of music. Create different templates for different types of compositions. The templates can contain tracks for each instrument and articulation, loaded or unloaded VSTis, buss and effects routing, starting values for things like CCs or keyswitches. If your DAW allows it you can also create track templates that let you quickly add a fully configured track to your score.

Set Up and/or Learn Keyboard Shortcuts

Your DAW has a bunch of shortcut keys - learn the ones most useful to you. Customize them to meet your needs. I bought a macro keyboard that allows me to create macros to perform multiple keystrokes with one key. For example I set up a macro that moves to the next / previous marker and then move one measure backwards. This allows me to quickly navigate between markers and start playback at a spot that will initialize the right keyswitches, etc.

That same keyboard also has a feature that allows me to set the keys to different colors and to save sets of colors as templates. I have my most used shortcuts highlighted in different colors and have sets of colored keys arranged by task. For example when I am recording parts, the common recording shortcuts are highlighted. The "R" for record is red for example/ This allows me to quickly find the keys I need most.

Learn Your Tools

Spend time learning about your DAW, libraries and production tools. Watch videos and/or take online courses. Use the time between compositions to educate yourself. The more familiar you are with your tools, the more efficient you will be when working. Not only will you gain efficiency but you will become more effective. The quality of your work will increase proportionally. Those manuals can be huge and quite daunting, but take the time to go through them. It is vital to know exactly what the articulation name "2nd Violins NV NV VB VB RR" means in order to effectively use the library.

Have a Plan

A plan is a plan not a contract. Take some time to think through your process and try to approach each project in an ordered manner. Having a plan doesn't have to kill inspiration. It can provide room for inspiration to occur. Plan to spend the required time in each phase of the project. With orchestral work, I know that I will spend as much time "performing" (adding CCs, tweaking note timing, etc.) as I do in composition.

Finish a Goal Before Moving On

Try not to jump around too much when recording / composing. Try to get a section 80% complete before moving on. This will allow you move to the next section with a relatively complete picture of what precedes it.

Place Boundaries on Yourself

If you are like me you have a lot of samples and instruments. Before I begin the real work of a composition, I try to limit my choices. In days gone by I would sit down to "compose" and spend hours just looking for the "right" patch. It made it very difficult to get work done. Even Rimsky-Korsakov placed limits on himself from time to time when composing.

Get a Death Grip

OK, maybe that is a bit dramatic but be like a bulldog. Put your head down and make it happen. Don't allow distractions to interrupt you when you are on a creative roll. You can't manufacture a creative "roll" or at least I can't When it happens I have to take advantage of it. My wife will attest to the late night sessions :-)


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