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3 Tips to Super-charge Your Production Efficiency

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This post is part of a series called Creative Session: Productivity for Music Producers.
Managing Your Pro Tools Projects

Picture this: you've produced that epic song that is going to be the next top 40 radio hit. You've had it done for about two years when a label approaches you and wants to purchase the beat from you for one of their hot new artists. They love it, but there needs to be some changes... Unfortunately, you can't locate the file. Or the samples that you used. The deadline passes. With these 3 production efficiency and organization tips, this nightmare scenario will never happen to you.

This is a guest-post by Nic Bertino. Visit Nic's website, MeleeBeats.com.

Whether you're a new producer or a seasoned engineer, this is a problem that can come up at any time. I remember watching a video with hip hop megaproducer Just Blaze where he recounted what it was like to have the nightmare scenario above happen to him.

To avoid this, I've developed some organizational tips and tricks that will assist you in making all of your samples, files, studio projects and ideas easily accessible, at any time.

Tip 1 - Folders!

You should have two basic sample folders: one for percussive or "sample cd" samples, and one for "cuts" of other songs should you choose to incorporate them into your songs.

Your samples folder should be organized into the following elements:

  • kicks
  • claps
  • snares
  • hats
  • prefab (or percussion_loops)
  • fx
  • other_percussion

With this file tree setup, take the time to consolidate every sample on your computer into these categories. This makes auditioning samples (hearing what they sound like in a track) a breeze, and increases efficiency greatly. You won't have to look far to find a percussive element. Get into the habit of doing this often.

If you're a sampling producer, your "cuts" (again, that's samples from another song) folder is going to look a little different. We could drop the samples into categorized folders, but that can lead to a messy folder that is hard to decipher. So here is my standard for the "cuts" folder:

Month sample was pulled > Name of artist sampled-artist's song > Unique name.wav

For example, if I pulled a sample by Tim's Magical Band's song "The Fire" in March of 08, the file tree would look like this:

08 03 > tims_magical_band-the_fire > guitar_solo.wav

If you've had a busy month of sampling (10 or more different days of new samples), then add a day folder to the tree. If I pulled the sample from the last example on March 10th, the file tree would look like so:

08 03 > 10 > tims_magical_band-the_fire > guitar_solo.wav

Here's an even more precise file tree: if I sampled two songs of Tim's Magical Band on the same day in the same month, I would change the file tree to give each song its own folder, but retain an artist subfolder, like so:

08 03 > 10 > tims_magical_band > the_fire > guitar_solo.wav

08 03 > 10 > tims_magical_band > the_water > harp_run.wav

Using this method ensures that you absolutely will not lose or misidentify any samples. It is a little monotonous, but when you get into this habit, you will see the advantages. If all of your samples do not have a unique identifier, a DAW such as FL Studio stores the name of the sample and just matches the name, so if you have two "Sound 1.wav" files, there's a chance it could load the wrong one.

Using a date folder also has numerous advantages. If I created a song from that Tim's Magical Band sample on March 20th, and ten years later a label wants to sign that song, I could simply look at the song information to see that it was created on March 20th, 2008. I could then look through my sample archive to easily find the sample in the 08 03 folder. Extreme, I know, but it does happen and this is a good habit to get into.

Tip 2 - Saving Projects

Here's another method for saving projects so you can recall them quickly and easily. As producers, many times we will start by messing around with an idea before developing it fully. This is where it gets kind of tricky. If you're working on an idea, but it doesn't have a name, how do you know which beat is which?

Simple. Save it by the date. In this tutorial, we're stuck on March 20th, 2008. So I'd name the idea I'm messing around with 080320_hiphop, and always follow this format of year > month > date. When Windows or Mac OSX organizes the files in a list, they'll all come up sorted by year, so you can find newest to oldest (or vice versa) fairly easily.

I also make small renders (mp3s) of all of my ideas, which I keep in a root folder called "renders"--right between my "samples" and "cuts" folders. I made a subfolder called "ideas," and if I ever want to work on that one beat I made years ago, I can access it quickly and easily. Just drop them in an "ideas" folder with a name that matches the saved project name. You'll never lose a saved project file again.

What do you do when you've developed an idea into a full song?

Save it as the complete song title, e.g. "melee_beats-distraction.flp"

Tip 3 - Project Bones

Everytime I complete a song, I make sure to export all of the "bones" of that project. The bones are the scores, samples, plugins, plugin settings, automation, mixer, and sequencing data for your project. As you can probably tell, I like making sure that you absolutely will not lose any of your data, ever. But there are some other distinct advantages to this; if you've got a nice vocal patch, say an autotuned vocal from a previous AUDIOTUTS tutorial, it is very easy to load that specific patch data to reuse it in your song.

Got a nice reverse reverb you'd like to load into a mixer channel? You can do it much quicker if you've saved what you have done before.

All of this goes into a "bones" folder.

Wrapping it up

Here is what your root folder should look like after reading this tutorial:

  • bones
  • cuts
  • renders
  • samples

Stick to this standard and you will be more efficient than ever!

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