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Four Easy Time Management Tips For Making Music

Recently a number of producers in our community have gotten in touch with me asking about how they can manage their time more effectively and be more productive for making music, so I decided to put together these tips for you – 4 easy time management tips for making music

For many of us, time is a luxury that we can’t afford to waste. You might be trying to juggle a busy social life, exams, a career, relationship, kids, and other activities that take you away from what you want to be doing – producing music. Trust me, I know that feel, bro. Gimme a hug!

So let’s look at what we can do to make the most use of our time as producers.

1. Split Your Tasks Up And Do Each One When Your Brain Is In That Gear

The way I see it, making electronic music consists of three main activities:

  1. Sound design
  2. composition
  3. mixing and mastering

Your mind goes through different phases – some times you are feeling really inspired and full of musical ideas. These are the times when you should be writing & composing – getting those ideas into your DAW. If you’re not able to do this at the time when an idea comes to you, record it into your phone’s dictaphone (get a dictaphone if your phone doesn’t have one). Sing in the melodies, harmonies, basslines, rhythms, etc. to remember them later when you have time in the studio.

What to do if you’re not feeling inspired?

At times like these, if you have time to work on your music but ideas aren’t flowing, you have three options:

  1. Work on the sound design and mix of a work in progress
  2. Design new sounds – kicks, snares, basses, synth patches, etc. For your next project or to build up your sound folders
  3. Change your mindset to get the creative juices flowing

It is a fact that many producers spend far too much time on sound design and mixing and mastering, and very little time on composition – both trying to write great music and learning how to write great music. Make sure you are spending the time to improve your composition skills too. As K+Lab said to me on Podcast #8 “Anyone can make a great wobble, but not everyone can write a great piece of music.”

 

2. Get The Creative Juices Flowing

For many of us, the problem is that once you have some time to work on your music, your brain isn’t coming up with new ideas very easily. You may go through phases of writers’ block. So what can you do in this situation?

How can you change your state of mind so that you can access loads of new music ideas for your next track? There are a couple of ways that I will share with you here:

Problem #1

Not a single musical idea is coming to you. You want to compose something, but don’t know where to begin.

Solution:

Step 1: Start tapping out a beat on your desk with your hands. Keep going for 10+ minutes.

Step 2: When you have a rhythm that you like, record it into your DAW. The easiest way is to use a mic (your laptop’s built-in mic will be fine) and record that loop into your DAW.

Step 3: In a new midi track, start mapping out that rhythm in a midi clip, using the piano roll. All of the notes you draw in will be in the same key initially.

Step 4: Choose a key for your song (I find keys E to A# work well for bass heavy music because the sub bass sits at a good frequency on the root note when your song is in one of these keys). Transpose all of your notes from your midi rhythm to that key in your midi clip

Step 5: Choose a scale for your song. Play around and improvise with that scale on your keyboard. Get familiar with it, and as you play it, keep an ear out for possible melodies or parts of melodies (‘motives’) that you can use  in your song.

Step 6: Start transposing notes in your rhythm midi clip up and down so that they land on notes within your chosen scale. You will eventually have a melody. From here you can start working on harmonies, chord progressions, etc.

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Problem #2

You have an idea for a hook / riff / melody / bassline / chord progression in your mind, but you don’t know where to go with it.

Solution:

Step 1: get that riff / chord sequence / bassline idea into your DAW and make it loop many times. If it is a 2 bar loop, drag it out or duplicate it a bunch of times so that you have 5 to 10 minutes of that one loop playing over and over (you will be in arrangement view for this if you are using Ableton Live).

Step 2: Play that 5 to 10 minute track and start humming and singing over the top of it. Keep doing this until you come up with new harmonies and riffs / chord progressions / arpeggios / basslines / rhythms that will work well with this initial idea. Record yourself singing into your DAW in a new audio track. Next, listen back to yourself singing and select the best 2 or 3 ideas, then get those into your DAW as midi loops with a different instrument. You can keep repeating this process until you have lots of ideas to play with. It doesn’t matter if your mic is low quality, because you won’t be recording your voice to use in your song – it is just a way to get ideas down.

 

Problem #3

You want to get a certain vibe down that evokes a certain feeling / emotion in your listeners’ minds, but don’t know how to.

Solution:

Getting a specific vibe in your music depends on a lot of things – the scale, the melodies, the choice of instrumentation, the mix. It can be hard to accurately define that vibe you are going for, and requires a lot of practice and musical knowledge. But aside from spending some time to learn more about scales and other music theory, there is a technique that you can use immediately, and it all relates to your state of mind.

Step 1: pick a vibe that you want to evoke in your listeners minds – an emotion that you want your next piece of music to convey.

Step 2: Think about times in your past when you felt these emotions – they may be moments when you felt excited, determined, playful, or sad, lonely, angry, etc. It helps if you do this when you are alone, in your studio room, so you can think about it for about 20 minutes or as long as you need to conjure up those emotions inside yourself. Try to remember those memories as vividly as possible, and explore how they made you feel in your mind.

Step 3: Once you’re feeling the emotion that you want to evoke in your listeners’ minds strongly, you’re in a good state of mind to start writing melodies that convey this emotion effectively. You can improvise on your midi keyboard to come up with melodies relating to this emotion. It also helps if you know which key and scale to use, which is why some music theory knowledge is very beneficial and goes a long, long way. You can also try to just sing into your DAW with a mic, as explained above in Problem #2.

 

3. Save Time By Using A Well Thought-Out Default Template

If you don’t use a pre-made default template, you should. This will save you a lot of time. Here is a video I made showing you some time-saving ideas for making your default template:

If you’re an Ableton Live user, It is not just your default template that you can make to save time, but you can also build a lot of audio effect racks, instrument racks, channel strips, return track audio effect racks and other tools that you commonly use, which will save you a ton of time. Here are some common ones that I use:

1. Channel strip:

This is used on almost every single track / channel in my songs. It looks like this:

EQ –> Compressor –> Reverb

2. Frequency Splitter

This is used if you make bass heavy music and want to process different frequency bands to process them in parallel (not in series like the above example). It looks like this:

Ableton Multiband Dynamics (low band soloed)

Ableton Multiband Dynamics (mid band soloed)

Ableton Multiband Dynamics (high band soloed) 

These three plugins are running in parallel and are dropped inside the audio effect rack’s chain list:

Screen Shot 2014-01-27 at 1.02.28 PM

 

4. Save Your Most Common Default Settings For Your Most Common Plug-Ins

If you use Ableton Live, you can save default settings for each Ableton-native plug-in. This saves a ton of time. For example, you can set pole 1 of your EQ8 plug-in to be a lot cut, at 40 Hz. This saves you time.

To do this, just set the settings in any Ableton plugin to your preferred way, then right click on that device’s title bar and click on ‘save as default’.

This especially helps with reverb, which has a lot of controls in it.

 

So there we have it – 4 tips on how to make the most of your time as a music producer. If you have any other ideas, leave a comment below and let me and the rest of our community know – share the knowledge! 

 

 Join The Early Bird List For My New Course – Composition Masterclass With Haywyre

 If you’re keen to learn more about composing great music and improving your productivity,you might be interested to know that I’m teaming up with Haywyre and we’re making a new course at the moment called Composition Masterclass for Electronic Music Producers. If you want to get the full scoop as Haywyre and I develop this course, join the Early Bird list using the form below. You’ll get updates once every two or three weeks.

 

 

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