Whether you’re a full-time music producer with a state-of-the-art studio, working with multiple musicians and assisting artists to help write and record their tracks, or a bedroom beat maker with aspirations to take your tracks to the top of the charts, workflow is arguably the most crucial part of the job of any producer.
Let’s talk about why that is and how you can start streamlining your workflow throughout your production process.
So, what does one mean by “workflow.” Workflow can be translated just like it is in other industries, as a process from start to finish in completing a project. If you do not have a comfortable workflow in place, it can be quite difficult to get into the zone and make your creations the best they can be.
This is especially the case in the arts where many of a musician’s projects start from some vague source of inspiration or idea in the mind that can be difficult to execute in the way the musician envisions it fully.
The more efficient your workflow is, the more likely it is to get the full idea out as seamlessly as possible. Zak Waters (a.k.a. Pretty Sister) talks about his personal system for prepping for cowriting and production sessions in the below interview, courtesy of Soundfly’s Songwriting for Producers course.
Phase 1: Pre-Production
The workflow process in music production can be subdivided into three phases: the first phase is pre-production, where the initial idea is planned out. The term “vibe” becomes crucial here. Whether it’s a full song you’re looking to create or you’re making a beat for an artist to potentially use, it really helps to have an idea of the feel in mind first and foremost. This will help dictate important elements like tempo, sound choices for melody and drums, and arrangement.
No matter which DAW you may be using, you should be able to save templates for various types of production styles you create. This allows you to skip the hassle of setting up a session from scratch with all the plugins you need for sounds and effects, track stacks and busses, etc. Without these templates at your disposal to get right into creating, you risk the possibility of the vibe or idea escaping you before you start.
On this note, another important aspect of workflow for music producers is having your samples organized. With the technology available today and access to endless incredible sample packs and subscription-based sample pack outlets, there is no excuse for using bad sounds or sounds that don’t fit your production.
If you take the time to organize the sounds you use often and take it a step further to organize by genre and type (whether it be melody loops, one-shots, drums, percussion, FX sounds, risers, etc.), you can go straight to the type of sounds you’re looking for so as not to lose the flow of your creation process.
Phase 2: Production
Once you have the beat or song idea — plus some of your sounds selected and tracks set up — it’s time for the second phase of music production which is the actual production part. Here is where you really can get into the zone. In this phase, it’s good to experiment with different techniques to constantly be improving your skills and make sure you’re not overthinking things.
One great way of accomplishing this is doing a speed run. Challenge yourself to make a beat or even a song in 10 minutes. It may not come out as a masterpiece, but it will teach you to push through with your initial idea to see how it comes out and force you to be organized. You may have to go through your saved hi-hat loops, as an example, so you don’t have to program them in and take up a lot of that precious time in your 10-minute window.
This should also help you to realize you can save melody, percussion, drum loops, or one shots you may have designed in prior projects so you can access them for potential use in a new project.
Another way to help you improve your skills, especially if you’re a beat maker, is to find a capellas you can drop into a session to hear how the vocal sounds on top of your beat. If you make this a part of your workflow, it’s going to seriously improve your skills in terms of making sure the instrumental leaves room for the artist and it can also help with arrangement ideas.
Phase 3: Post-Production
Once you have the production down and a basic arrangement, it’s time for the post-production work. This stage can range from fine tuning live drum and bass audio you’ve recorded to adding some parallel compression to your vocal to getting the master track right and beyond.
The mixing stage is oftentimes much less daunting when you have templates in place for your DAW as mentioned earlier, as you may have all your sidechain compression, EQ, and go-to effects laid out already so now you’re just tweaking parameters as needed.
You should also prepare yourself mentally to know when to take a break from any given project if you sense your ears burning out. This can be a critical part of your workflow as well. There are numerous opinions out there as to when you might typically get ear fatigued, but as you practice your craft more and more, you will get a sense of this naturally.
Don’t be afraid to take a break to clear your mind and rest your ears and even come back to the project another day if you have the luxury of time. Making sure you listen to your work on a fresh ear can really solidify how well the track may come out.
So, when it comes to workflow, here are my four quick, ultimate pieces of advice:
- Get organized,
- Challenge yourself in ways to get better at each part of the work process encompassing creating a track,
- Try not to overthink when you’re in the middle of creating,
- And most importantly, find moments to really enjoy what you’re doing.
Continue learning with hundreds of lessons on mixing, songwriting, DIY home recording, electronic music production, beat making, and much more, with Soundfly’s in-depth courses, like Music Production in Ableton Live, Modern Mix Techniques, and Kimbra: Vocal Creativity, Arranging, & Production.
Julie Schatz is a singer, songwriter, music producer and mutli-instrumentalist. Hailing all the way from Alaska, Julie started playing jazz piano in high school then continued her studies in jazz theory and performance at SUNY New Paltz. She has toured with various acts in the US and Europe and is a self-taught music producer and beatmaker. She is currently in the midst of completing her very first set of self-released singles written and produced in part by herself and in collaboration with other established producers and artists.