When working in your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and you need to quickly jot down ideas when inspiration strikes, you shouldn’t have to leave the session to do so — and you don’t have to! It’s much better to take notes directly in the program so everything is stored neatly in one project, and you don’t have to miss a beat.
DAWs are known for their power in audio mixing and editing, but each has a few other productivity features that creators of music, podcast, film, and all audio-editors alike, should be aware of.
Today, we’ll show you a few of the note-taking tools that are hidden in your DAW, and how to make the most of them. But before we do, here at Soundfly, we’ve got in-depth courses covering music production specifically in Logic Pro X and Ableton Live, and for some of the other applications appearing below, we’ve linked to useful videos to follow along.
Logic Pro X
Logic Pro has two types of markers: standard markers and arrangement markers, both of which can be found in the Global Tracks menu. If there is no marker track, open the Global Tracks Configuration to toggle it on, or convert one of the other Global Track options into a marker track using the drop-down menu found by clicking on the name of the track.
To add a marker, simply click the “+” symbol on the track, and a marker will be added wherever the playhead is located. You can relocate that marker by clicking on it, holding, and dragging. You can resize the marker by dragging it from the edges. You can rename specific markers by clicking on the name of the marker, highlighting it, and then typing in its new name.
Arrangement markers function a bit differently. They are added, moved, resized, and renamed the same as normal markers. However, arrangement markers are tied to the regions within their sections. When you move an arrangement marker, every region within that section moves with it.
For a closer look on how arrangement markers function in a session, check out this video.
Logic’s notepad is located in the top right corner of the DAW, and can be accessed by clicking on the notepad button, or by pressing [Opt+Cmd+P]. Within this menu there are two tabs, “Project” and “Track,” where users can take notes on either the whole project, or the selected track. This tool offers users a variety of fonts and text-sizes to take notes.
To add locators in Ableton Live, first enter the Arrangement View. Then, right-click the Scrub Area located underneath the Beat Time Ruler. Select “Add Locator” and a marker will be added to the playhead’s location. The Previous Locator and Next Locator buttons can be used to seamlessly jump between locators when playing back the project.
To rename a locator, select it by clicking its triangular marker, and choose “Rename Edit” from the menu. The keyboard shortcut for this is to press [Ctrl+R] (Windows) or [Cmd+R] (Mac) when the locator is selected.
For more on locators, check out this video by Ableton which covers Arrangement View.
Notes can be added to clips, tracks, and devices. To do so, hover over the clip, track, or device/groups of devices and right-click. Select “Edit Info Text” from the menu that pops up, and enter your notes. Once finished with note-taking, hovering over the item will allow you to see the notes in the bottom-right corner of the DAW.
There are many options for adding markers in FL Studio. First go to the “Time Marker” section in the playlist. To add one marker, select “Add Time Marker,” right click on the time-line and select “Add Marker,” or press [Alt+T] (Windows) or [Cmd+T] (Mac) on the keyboard.
Once a time marker is in the project, it can be right-clicked to add another, renamed, or deleted. Click and hold to drag the marker to its desired location. If you make a selection on the time-line before adding a marker and select “Add Two” from the “Time Marker” menu, two markers will be added on both ends of the selection. The option “Add one every” allows you to add a marker every Bar, 2 bars, 4 bars, or 8 bars after making a time-line selection.
Markers can also be assigned specific actions. The “Start” action causes playback to start from that marker. “Loop” will cause playback to return to that marker once the end of the Playlist is reached, and then continue to play. Once reached, a “Marker loop” will cause playback to return to the previous “Loop” marker, creating a loop. To skip from one marker to the next, use “Marker skip.” “Marker pause” causes the playback to pause once reaching the marker.
To automate recording using markers, select the “Punch in recording” and “Punch out recording” for two markers at the beginning and end of the desired recording range. Checkout the FL Studio manual for more info.
The notepad in FL Studio is called the Fruity NoteBook. This notepad is a plugin, and can be added to individual tracks or the master track. It comes with 100 pages available, with arrows at the bottom to turn between them. There is also a tab in the “Project Settings” titled “Info” where you can type notes into the “Comments” section.
Avid Pro Tools
In Pro Tools, place your playhead where you want the marker to be located. Click the “+” sign next to Markers, located in the dropdown menu below Bars/Beats. A faster way to do this is to click in the marker track where you want a new marker while holding [Ctrl] on your keyboard. A New Memory Location window will pop up, allowing you to input information about the marker, such as its order number, name, and reference.
To color code markers, open preferences and select “Always Display Marker Colors.”
To delete the markers, first open the memory location menu from the Window menu. In the memory location window, select the marker you wish to delete. Then, select “delete marker” from the drop-down menu in the top-right corner of the memory location window, or hold [Alt] (Windows) / [Option] (Mac), and click on the desired marker to delete it.
At the moment, there are no built-in note taking features for Pro Tools. At the bottom of this post are a few helpful recommendations on plugins that allow you to take notes on individual tracks, as well as the project as a whole.
To add markers in Cubase, select Project > Add Track > Marker. Click on a marker to see its properties, and rename it by typing into the description box. In this marker track, you can now add multiple new markers by clicking the single marker icon. To add marker cycles, or areas to zoom in on, click the button with two markers after making a timeline selection. From the marker track, there are menus to locate single markers, locate cycle markers, or locate zoom markers.
The Notepad is located in the track inspector. If it’s not there, right click in the inspector and select “Notepad” from the drop-down menu, ensuring that there is now a checkmark next to it. The Notepad is used to take notes on individual tracks, and will only display notes from the selected track. It can also be accessed from the Mix Console by enabling it in the window layout. This will make each tracks’ notes visible above their faders all at once, and they are able to be edited there as well.
To create a global notepad for the whole project, select “Notepad” from the “Project” menu to have a dedicated window for taking notes.
For more information on the notepad, watch this quick video by Cubase.
In Audacity, click the mouse where you want to add a single label. To mark a longer segment, highlight the section you want and press [Ctrl+B] (Windows) or [Cmd+B] (Mac) to label that selection. To add labels in Ableton during playback, press [Ctrl/Cmd+M]. Labels can be renamed and have any other descriptions added to them, not exceeding 260 characters. These Labels function as Audacity’s built-in note taking feature.
The Audacity Manual provides a picture-by-picture tutorial for adding labels into your project.
To add markers in Reaper, position the playhead where you want the marker to be, and select Marker from the Insert menu, or by pressing [M] on the keyboard. Markers can be moved around by holding and dragging. Right-clicking a marker will bring up a menu where you can edit the marker’s attributes, such as its name and color, or delete the marker. Deleting markers can also be accomplished by clicking on the marker while holding [Alt] (Windows) or [Option] (Mac).
Each marker has a number-id. The number keys on your keyboard can be used to jump directly to the corresponding marker. Clicking on the space in between markers will also allow you to make a region selection between those two markers.
For more on using markers in Reaper, refer to this video.
The Notepad can be accessed by going to File > Project Settings. If you want the notes to show up on screen every time you load the project, select the box titled “Show notes on project load.” If you want to take notes on individual tracks, you can download any one of the notepad plugins listed at the bottom of this article.
To enter song section markers in Reason, first enter the Block view. Add a block, and rename it by double-clicking. Right clicking on the blocks will also allow you to change their color. Add as many blocks as you want while in this screen. Moving back to Song view, click and drag on the timeline from the beginning to end of the section you want to define. The size of this marker can be adjusted by dragging it from the edge.
Click the down-arrow next to the name of the block to change it to the block you designed earlier.
Click here for a step-by-step video tutorial on how to do this.
As for note taking capabilities, Reason offers a free plugin for that. ReMark offers the ability to take notes on top of instrument windows. It also functions as a virtual sticky note for audio tracks.
To add markers in Studio One, open the marker track in the arrangement view. In the track column, there is a music-note image, which indicates that the markers will adhere to specific bars and beats. Clicking on that symbol switches it to a clock, which means the markers are set to an absolute time. To insert a new marker, click the “+” button in the track column, or press [Y] on the keyboard. To rename the markers, double click on them in the arrangement view. Right clicking on the markers brings up a window.
From there, you have the option to assign a marker to stop playback, create arrangement sections, or delete the marker.
To access notes in Studio One, open the options menu, indicated by the wrench-icon located above the track column. Then, check the box that enables “Show track notes.” This will cause an area to the left of each track in the track column to appear, where you can take notes. Notes can also be viewed in the mix console by clicking the wrench-icon in that window and selecting “Show channel notes.”
The notes will then appear below each channel fader.
For more info, refer to this video.
To access markers in GarageBand, go to Track > Show Arrangement Track. Click the “+” sign next to the track to add new arrangement sections. Clicking on the name of the section will allow you to designate which section it is marking, or give it a custom name.
To add notes, click on the notepad symbol in the top-right corner of the DAW. This is a global notepad only, for taking notes on the whole project. It does not have the same ability to take individual track notes that Logic does.
However, a variety of text sizes, fonts, and colors are available to help you stay organized.
To add markers in Adobe Audition, move your cursor to the desired position on the timeline, and press [M] on your keyboard. Go to Window > Markers to enable a panel on the side of the DAW which displays all markers. Markers can be moved to new timestamps, renamed, and deleted from this window. To change the default name of new markers every time they are added, go to Adobe Audition > Preferences > Markers & Metadata.
You can now change the name for new markers in the box next to “Default Names for New Cue Markers.” For more on markers in Adobe Audition, check out this video.
Adobe Audition does not come with note-taking capabilities. However, Adobe offers a free extension called Notes Panel for Adobe Audition. It appears in the DAW as a panel on the left side of the screen, and functions as a notepad for the whole project.
To add markers in Hindenburg, double-click in the area below the timeline and select Add Marker. The shortcut for this is placing your cursor in the area where you want the marker and pressing [Cmd/Return] (Mac) or [Ctrl/Enter] (Windows) on your keyboard. To open a window displaying all markers go to View > Markers. To set in/out markers to make a loop, make a selection on a region, and the green in-marker and red out-marker will automatically be added.
There is no notepad feature in Hindenburg at the moment. The most users can do is use the Clipboard to rename specific clips, and title them in ways that express changes you wish to make. Check out this video for more on markers and other organizational tools in Hindenburg.
If your DAW wasn’t listed above, or you’re running on an older version that doesn’t have note-taking capabilities, check out these notepad plugins below.
The VSTNotepad by CodeFN42 is a powerful tool to have. It grants users the ability to take notes on individual tracks. VSTNotepad is currently only available on Windows. You can download it for free here.
MNotepad by MeldaProduction is another free notepad plugin. It is a simple text editor used for storing lyrics, track settings, and other ideas. It can be applied to individual tracks as a plugin, or opened as a project notepad. You can download it for free here.
Track Notes by Final Mix
Track Notes by Final Mix is a $7 plug-in for taking notes in your DAW. It offers the ability to take notes on individual tracks, as well as the project as a whole. To buy Track Notes by Final Mix, visit this site.
With all of that being said, one major limitation of these built-in note-taking functions is that they stay within the DAW, and function primarily to benefit solo work. If you’re looking to share your audio projects with other collaborators remotely, and receive feedback in real time, check out Notetracks.
Notetracks is a platform for audio/music creators and collaborators to review, share, and complete their projects. It combines powerful audio, commenting and documentation tools to streamline a creator’s workflow (One can think of it as a mix between SoundCloud and GoogleDocs). Users can take liner notes for their music in the form of text, symbols, or drawings across an audio timeline. The notes are displayed and synced along an audio waveform that makes it different from any other note-taking Apps, being a first of its kind.
Don’t stop here!
Continue learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, mixing, DIY home recording and production, composing, beat making, and much more, with Soundfly’s artist-led courses, like: RJD2: From Samples to Songs, Kimbra: Vocal Creativity, Arranging, & Production, and Com Truise: Mid-Fi Synthwave Slow-Motion Funk.
Kam Lal is the founder and CEO of Notetracks. He is based in Montreal and has a passion for music and tech.