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Let's discuss Workflow

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I'm curious as to what different techniques people use to make their work flow faster and more productive. I know for orchestral works it seems to be common practice for people to start with a template of Strings/woodwinds/etc...export that to a template with choirs...export that to a template for percussion, or go percussion -> choirs instead and so on. For the past year since I've been attempting to get better at making music it seems I'll get a pretty solid idea down and end up wasting time listening to it repeatedly. Though I'm beginning to get better at this since I've started to force a deadline on myself and that always seems to help me keep the creative juices flowing.

I'm just wondering what people do to maintain a good work flow, what kind of templates you use for different styles of music, any programs that you feel really help your work flow, and anything that comes to your mind that you think is pertinent to this topic!

If there's a topic on this, sorry :P.

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Good question. I find that as I'm getting more comfortable with how to use a DAW (FLStudio in my case), I'm becoming more aware of how long it takes me to do a lot of things. I have EXACTLY the same problem with listening to my mix too much to make sure I arranged things properly. Since I'm so early in the learning process, I really don't have much advice to offer, sorry! At this point, I'm focusing on how to speed up event editing and automation, learning keyboard shortcuts, and honing my ear so I do less fiddling to get the sound I want.

My big question -- relevant mostly to FLStudio -- that I think would be helpful in addition to yours:

How do you arrange your arrangement? Do you tend to rely heavily on patterns or do you more just create one big pattern containing your whole song that you plop in the playlist?

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Templates are possibly the best time saver out there. Every time I finish a song that I think sounds good, I'll delete all the MIDI/audio data and create a template out of it, that way when I want to sit down and write new music I already have a pre-mixed track that will sound good right from the start. After I get a little bit of track recorded I'll go in and start tweaking to make the mix fit the song.

That's just takes care of the setup though (which would usually take a good hour anyway considering everything I need to sync up and prep for recording). For the actual music and recording I find that regular practice on my guitars, basses, and keyboards makes the songwriting process MUCH easier.

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So, for me, the way I usually work is I get some sort of spec detailing the kind of music I have to write. Detailing is an exaggerated term as some specs are pretty stripped down--sometimes it's like "forest music, needs to sound foresty." Sometimes it'll be overly specific and they'll reference some pop song from the 1970s but want it to fit in the context of the orchestral palette that has already been established in the game.

Whatever the spec, I will spend a lot of time just listening to that kind of music. Analyzing instruments, statements, form, playing style, mix, etc. Sometimes I'll do this as I'm discussing the spec with the client, sometimes I'll do it while I put together a new template or adapt an existing one, but I always do it. I try to immerse myself into a certain kind of music to prepare me for writing, so to speak, and I try to do as much of that kind of music as possible so I don't get a certain theme stuck in my head or anything like that.

Then I'll try to knock out some ideas sketching, piano or some kind of strings pad, etc.

If I get stuck, I take a break--I'll work out, I'll take a walk, take a shower, whatever I can do to isolate myself and just think or blank out for a bit. Something to get the blood flowing through the head.

When I'm in the zone, I'll stay with it, I'll try not to leave for any reason. You don't want to break the zone.

When I have a sketch I think is good or I get to the point in my sketch where I have such a distinct idea of what the orchestration will sound like that I might as well be writing it out with those instruments, I will start arranging it out as I write.

So most of my sketches stop once I have that idea or are only improvised meditations around a single theme because once I have the idea in my head on how to branch out or expand on a theme, I just start doing it proper.

Again, if I get stuck....

It is not uncommon for me to have a false start. Sometimes I'll get half a minute to a minute in and hate everything I've done, and start over. Sometimes this is good, sometimes it's not, I think this happens more often when I have less developed sketches to start out with (the implementation then becomes a sketch where I've started to discard ideas).

Usually, I try to bring the client in on the progress as I go to avoid rewrites, but sometimes it's not avoidable (like I said, I don't stop when I'm in the zone, and I will sometimes nearly finish a track before my client has had a chance to hear it).

Here are some very old examples of me going from sketch to final product:

Wonderland Adventures II "Wonderfalls" Piano Sketch

So, there's like a little counter melody playing over the main melody, and while I didn't keep that particular one, I did keep that idea for the final:

Wonderland Adventures II "Wonderfalls"

At 0:06 is theme A, at 0:48 starts theme B, at 2:00 they play together.

Here's an example of a false start, the spec was village music for these creatures called the Kabooms who were friendly little bomb people who lived in island beach huts and stuff. So the client is like, think tropical, and I'm like okay, island music...

So I don't have any great ideas at first, and so I just start writing some island music:

Kaboom Village False Start Sketch

It's like... the cheesiest island music ever. And I'm thinkin', yeah, I need a better idea. The client on the other hand likes it. But I insist on making it better.

So I start thinking about this island-y situation, the fact that it's islandy is actually kind of boring when you think of it, it's a cliche'd pastiche, so I was like, well, I can keep touches of the island feel, but the village theme should touch on the people... who are goofy bombs people.

So I imagine that these bomb people are only bomb people because they have the tendency to explode. So then an image of a very kooky village appeared in my head, one where little quirky friendly bomb people wander around occasionally exploding. So, I put together a village theme that occasionally explodes, with a ticking sort of build-up, but with the occasional breath of island music.

Wonderland Adventures II "Relax, KABOOM!"

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It was a bad habit of mine to listen to something repeatedly while I tried to think of where to take it. This was bad for several reasons but the worst of it was that once you have listened to it over and over again your mind would have adapted to hearing it and you would be less inclined to make the necessary changes and anything new wouldn't sound right.

My new method for getting out an idea is to blast out entire sections at a time as soon as I know what I want. Then, when I hit a block, go back and fix/articulate until I get something more.

Like one of my instructors said, you can't be worried about one spot on a window when you still have your entire room to clean.

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Yes repeatedly listening to a song will make it "safe", and you won't make changes as easily to break out of this "comfort zone" if you are there already. This mechanic applies to other things as well, not only music. It's just how humans work :-P

Nice quote from your instructor, I will try to remember that one :-)

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