I’m not sure if you’re like me, but it’s possible that your hard drive, after a while, becomes a total mess. There will be a few folders with some projects in them, and other folders with random samples. Not to mention all those projects named New project…
There are ways to organize folders and all your work that allows you to easily navigate it. The way I classify projects is also aimed at having a quick scope of which one I will work with next, which songs should go in an album, and those that need specific actions.
Before I explain myself, let’s talk about the different stages a project will go through and also, the different tasks related to that.
Note: If you’re new to this blog and aren’t familiar with my production technique, I would encourage you to read a few articles about this, which will give more sense to what I’m about to describe.
The different stages of music production (and labeling your projects so)
The way I work to maximize the results is to take each step in making music and call it a phase, or a stage.
The different stages I label with are these:
1- Ideas digging, concept, testing techniques, hook finding, etc.
2- Preliminary loop made from stage 1 that could be the heart of the song. Basic structure of the song.
5- Song at 90% done and needs last minor tweaks.
The main reason why I give high priority to the state of the song is based on the idea that when I want to work on music, I might be in a specific mindset. Perhaps one day I’ll want to just have fun doing some sound design or another time, I need to work on an EP and will be checking for the few songs incubating. As you might know my approach for when I do music, when I reopen projects, I want to quickly know where that one is at. In an hour of work that I do on music, I hop from one song to another, while I also like to revisit projects that have been sleeping for weeks because what I want is to always have the freshest perspective on my work. If you work on something for hours, trust me, by the end of it, you might have lost all perspective and the work will suffer for it.
Stages 1 and 2 can overlap
I’ll give you a study case of mine so we can have a clear understanding of how I can use a project and its evolution toward a finished song. But we’ll start with the 2 first stages.
Projects that are in stage 1 are your pool for fishing ideas.
So the idea of a project in stage 1 is really about ideas, not much more than that. It could be more if you want, it’s up to you.
Stage 2 is where we’re working on a precise hook or main idea. There are multiple ways to work and find hooks, we have talked about that in previous articles. I usually drop a very simple percussive loop to define what will be the rhythm of the song, its groove, and its accents, and then place what would be the hook on top. We often overthink the hook. It’s often very simple.
Usually, in stage 2, I find that I should have:
- A root key
- A scale
- A hook, not longer than 1 bar
- Rhythmic groove, time signature
If I have all of that, then I know the project has passed to that new stage and will rename it. Usually, when I rename a project, I make sure to save it, and do a “collect all and save” to make sure I copy all the needed files from its previous form. When you rename a project, it’s better you do “Save project as…” in the File Menu of Ableton and its original stage 1 will still exist. You can later decide if you archive the original project or keep it as an incubator. Usually, when I’m finding an idea from an incubator, I will make sure I save the different effect chains as macros so that they can be reused. I also will color code my channels, and name them as well so I can harvest them later from the right side browser of Ableton.
However, you might have an incubator at stage 1 that will never grow because you could mutate the original incubator to stage 2 but it’s completely different, but still came from a father project. For instance, I have projects that are sorely made for making sounds, where they never have evolved from there and tons of songs or even live sets have come from them.
Arrangements, the full story of Stage 3
I find that arrangements should start by working on the middle part of the song and then deconstruct that idea to the start of the song. So the early part of Stage 3 would consist of working in the middle part, roughly 1 minute long.
As you can see, you basically shift your initial Stage 2 loop and drag it to arrangements, then stretch it. Some people build their initial loop in arrangement mode so you can just move it from the start to the middle. When I work on arrangements, I usually love to make a quick draft of the song, where I’ll split it in 3 sections: intro, heart, outro. That draft is made quickly, sometimes in a surprising time of 20 minutes alone. I will come back later with a fresh look and listen from the beginning and will readjust the arrangements so it makes more sense.
In stage 3, the mixing isn’t important. You can level it for pleasant listening but I wouldn’t worry much about it.
Mixing as 4th stage
This doesn’t need much explanation here but one thing to clarify is that it’s not something rigid either. You might notice some arrangement problems in mixing that will make you redo them. As I always say to clients, if your sound design and arrangements are solid, there will be basically almost no mixing, or just touch-up.
Stage 5 is when your song is 90% done
To me, 90% done is my definition of done. I know it sounds weird but it is like that. First off, when you first accept that a song is never done, it’s easier to accept its imperfections and to move on. Second, you want to bring as many songs as possible to 90% because the day you want to do a release, you’ll take those and then wrap them all at once to 100%. This might sound confusing but letting your songs sleep at 90% and then wrap multiple songs at once means that the last stretch for all of them is your chance to unify them to make them coherent as a release.
So what’s the difference between Stage 4 and 5?
Well, it’s kinda when you’re done arranging, you shift it to stage 5. It’s sort of like, I’m done with this one. Once in a while, I might reopen 5 to maybe do a little tweak but to me, when it gets to 5, it’s sort of saying that it’s ready.
When I open my folder with all my projects, I will see from 1 to 5, all songs being in order. With the file browser, I can also classify them from 5 to 1 as well. I like in mac OS to be able to put some tags as well. That can be for genre, if it’s signed or whatever is useful.