Complete more songs using basic project management


#1

This post was triggered by a conversation I had with a musician friend of mine last night: how do you harness creativity into a more productive workflow?

He’s more of a one song at a time person, so he just forces himself to finish the track, things might be different as he’s a guitarist/singer so he never thought in a loop based way, but how about us, the more ‘electronic’ musicians?

I noticed that in the last six months I have been more productive musically and my songs (within my skills) are getting better. While this is partially due to my confidence with my tools, I believe how I approach my songs also helped.

So without further ado, here’s my version of Agile PM for the musician. Not a solution for everyone, but works for me, so I thought I’d share. This might also be obvious for many of you…

Starting the song
Block some time, like a hour or two and just play, use your favourite drum machine, synth, daw and just have fun. Either follow the idea in your mind or let the music and the tools guide you.
Everything is good, all ideas are valid, just have fun.
Now you should have a nice loop or something going.

Organising creativity
Now here’s where Project Management comes in and we move to a Kanban board.
I personally use Trello but anything will do, from sticky notes and notepads to Jira or even Outlook’s task list as long as you have a way of organising a list of tasks into sub list.

Start creating 3 lists: to-do, doing, done.
Press play on your song and start listening. While you do, take notes of what you think needs doing and add it to the to-do column.
Make sure they are easy-to-action tasks like ‘replace the sample for the hi hat’, ‘turn the intro to 4 bars’, ‘add a variation in the 4th bar’, ‘change the C to a G in the bass loop’. These are all
good tasks, clear and easy to action.
Examples of bad tasks are ‘finish the song’, ‘equalise everything’ and everything that is generic.
Last step, arrange the list in either priority order or based on how long you think each task would take. I prefer time, but that’s because my music time is limited.

Getting shit done
Now you have a loop and a list of chores, what’s next?
When you sit to work on your music, check how much time you have. Then pick a task from the to-do list accordingly, move it to the ‘doing’ list and get on with it. Do not deal with other tasks, try to focus, if you get another idea, write it down and add it to your to-do list.
Once you are finished with the task, move it to the done list and pick the next one!
You’re one step closer to having a finished track!

The Productive Loop
The above is an iterative process, ie you keep going until the ‘project’ is done.
In the initial part of the process you will notice that the to-do list keeps growing, but at the same time your tasks will get more and more focused. For example you’ll go from ‘change the hi hat sample’ to ‘eq the hh’ to ‘add a hi pass to the hh to remove the low noise’ and so forth.
Your track will get better and more complete and your ‘done’ list will be shorter.

Now you only have to stick to it and not get too sidetracked. You will surely start other songs in the meantime, use the same process for all of them, but try to complete the process and ‘discipline’ yourself into finishing songs and taking notes in the form of to-do.

Also learn when to drop a song. If it isn’t working and you totally lost the feel for it, move on!

If you really feel it, you can have a bigger project board for your release, be it an EP or a full album. There you can keep track of the overall status of each track and how they fit it in your vision.
Be careful, of the micro managing rabbit-hole!

Well, that was a long one, hope some of you will find it useful!


#2

Indeed. I do something similar as well.

Another somewhat related tip I can offer is to do an inventory of all your ideas. I’m sure that most people have 100s of 4-8 bar melodies/rhythms/ideas/whatever, but have a hard time moving beyond that. I did too. And then one day I decided to go through all of them and use Trello to record their keys and bpm (and whatever other observations popped into my head as I was going through them). Then I sat down and tried to see what I can mash together. Some pieces just fit together like a glove because they happened to be in the same key and same BPM. For others, things worked after changing the tempo or transposing the key. For others that I liked just as they are but thought they might go together, I’d put them in the same project and then put 4 bars in between (or whatever) in which I have to create a transition to go from one to another smoothly. Some of those worked out really well too.

Doing that was a pretty big turning point for me, as I was finally able to break free from loopitis and start developing tracks that actually took you on a jorney.


#3

In Ableton I use the locators in the arrange view as “to-do notes” (right-click locator and choose “rename”). That way I can place the “note” right next to the musical event it refers to: “more cowbell from here.”, “make a jazz noise here.” etc.


#4

Cool suggestion, keep them coming and we’ll make this thread a sticky dedicates to projects getting things done!


#5

A lot of the basic mixing stuff gets a lot faster when you have a template for it. And I don’t just mean a project template, I mean an EQ template too. I just got Neutron 3, and I have that set up to launch with a hipass filter at 100hz. I almost always need to turn that up, but it’s one mouse movement per channel, maybe 5 seconds of listening. I can do the hipass filters for my whole mix in a few minutes that way. I work mainly in 4 eq bands (an upper bass 200-500hz, a lower mids 500-1000, mid 1000-2000, and then basically everything above that). You better believe I have those bands preset to a reasonable Q setting near the center of each of those bands, and that I can quickly drag them up or down by 1-2 db. That’s an extra 20 seconds of listening and tweaking and then all my major EQ is done, for the whole mix. It should be intelligible in mono, it can get touch ups later, but for 20 minutes or so of work, you get a mix that is at least pleasant and a reasonable representation of your finished product to work in.


#6

At the beginning of every session, I do a Save As - increment the version number and put my intention in the title. It started back in the day as a way to guard against corrupted project file, which happened occasionally for me with early versions of Cubase. It doesn’t happen any more, but I still stick to that because it gives me the freedom to go completely off the rails and try anything, knowing that I can always easily get back to the previous version that made sense. It also forces me to have initial intent, as I start working. At the end of most sessions, I do a bounce to mp3 of what I have so far. Then I listen to it later somewhere away from the computer, like on a walk or a bike ride. That always provides me with clear ideas of what needs to change, so I make mental notes, which I later translate to the actual notes as per OP. Sometimes I keep some of these intermediate bounces and it’s always pretty interesting playing v9, then v27, then v42 back to back to hear the evolution.