If I told you there was a way to cut your session setup time in half, would you be interested in learning more? Of course you would! We waste wayyyyy to much time doing preparation for our music. It saps away at the creativity and artistry that goes into the recording and mixing process.
Yet every day, the majority of engineers and producers open up a new session with zero tracks, and start building from the ground up. This is the single biggest place audio professionals are wasting their time.
In A Songwriting Session
As a songwriter, starting from scratch might seem like a good thing on the surface. You might want to go into the writing session without a preconceived idea of what you’re going to create.
Right mentality. Wrong approach.
A songwriter’s session should be unencumbered by obstacles that get in the way of their creativity. You shouldn’t have anything pushing you in a certain direction, unless you’re 100% positive that’s the direction you’d like the song to go in (for example, if a label is telling you the style of song that’s needed to finish up an album).
A lot of songwriters misinterpret this to mean that they need to start with a blank canvas. The problem is, their blank canvas doesn’t come with the paint brushes & paint (in our case, tracks & plugins) needed to make a writing session work. It’s as if you’re running off to the store to buy supplies one at a time if you’re starting a session from scratch.
Instead, a songwriting session should have the bare minimum available. Have some tracks ready to record. Name them according to instrumentation you frequently use. If you’re a producer, add your favorite drum sampler or software synth to their own tracks ahead of time so they’re immediately available when you’re ready for them.
The overhead cost of your computer’s processor will be minimal versus what a final mix session would command, and you’re free to eliminate unused tracks as you go. The key is having them available so you’re not going through a New Track setup every 15 minutes.
In A Recording Session
The same kind of approach can be taken when tracking live instruments for the final mix. Have your common tracks available and ready to go the second you load up your session.
Think about the time that goes into setting up a drum session – a session that usually demands 8 to 12 tracks or more nearly every time you record them. You know what those tracks are going to be most of the time: your kick in, kick out, snare top, snare bottom, toms, overheads, room mics…
Set those tracks up ahead of time. Better yet, if you can set up the routing in advanced so your inputs are all mapped, even better.
Major studios save HOURS of session time every day by prepping their tracks in advance of the day’s session. It’s common to get a list of microphones to be used, and where they’re supposed to be routed, and it’s up to the assistant to make sure that Pro Tools session is ready to go as soon as the engineer is.
Think about the impact this could have across multiple songs being tracked in the same rooms. Your session only needs to be set up right once, and before you hit record you can save a half dozen copies or more if you need, all with fully mapped out tracks ready for your use. Setting each of those up manually is just repeating work, costing you your valuable time.
In The Mix
Are you someone that tends to use some similar plugins on a particular instrument each and every time? We all develop an ear for certain plugins in certain situations, and it almost becomes second nature to reach for them the next time you go to mix that instrument.
Take something like a rock/metal snare drum – I know I’m almost always going to use JST Clip on it to get just the right amount of bite, so a template allows me to have that ready to go without a second thought. It takes my “second nature” thoughts, and turns them into a habit. For me, this means skipping an unnecessary decision point and focusing more on creativity.
Dozens of plugins can be set up in mix templates, regardless of the DAW you’re working in. Just look at Fluff’s Logic Pro X mix template:
This template isn’t anything complicated, but it puts all of the tools that he needs right at his fingertips. Things like bus compression and limiting can be applied very quickly, allowing your focus to shift to the miniscule adjustments that really NEED your attention to achieve a full and complex sounding mix.
Are you ready to add templates to your mix?
If you’re a Logic Pro X user, be sure to snag Fluff’s Mix Template for yourself. If you’re using any other DAW, fear not. Setting up a template is as easy as building out your standard tracks, plugins & routing and saving it for later.
The next time you need to set up a quick acoustic session, don’t worry about starting from scratch – reach for the template with a vocal track & acoustic track ready to go.
Got a full band coming in to record in the same room you’ve used before? Go look at that session and mimic the routing, and then file it off as a Full Band template.
Everyone’s got his or her own workflow and preference, but once you find yours, save it off and use it over and over.
Looking for inspiration? Come see how other engineers are setting up their sessions in the Joey Sturgis Tones Forum on Facebook.
We’ll see you there!