Video icon 64
Build your creative skills with practical video courses from Tuts+. Start your free trial today.

Quick Tip: 6 Workflow and Organization Tips for All DAW Users

This post is part of a series called Creative Session: Productivity for Music Producers.
Quick Tip: Use a Practice Schedule
Quick Tip: Tips on How to Keep Organized in Ableton Live

If you're looking for some tips on ways to speed up your music production, this article covers six effective techniques that will make finding sounds, projects, and samples the easiest and quickest step of your workflow. Although it's not the most musical part of production, it is one of the most rewarding parts because it allows your creativity to flow freely.

Throughout the whole production process, your organization can either slow you down or speed you up. The goal of this article to identify six key areas and offer practical tips for preparing for those creative spurts of energy. Rather than using that energy for searching for sounds, you can use more of that energy for being creative. If you're advanced, you may currently feel bogged down by having to search in many places, and this tutorial is about ways to change that. If you're a beginner, it is to your advantage to implement these techniques as soon as possible. Let's begin.

Tip 1: Organize Projects by Month or Season

From the beginning, it helps when it takes less than second to find the project you want to work on, so it's important to organize your projects.The image shows projects organized by month, and note how you can use numbers at the beginning of the names to ensure that they appear in the right order.

Tip 2: Use Templates

If there are some things you always do when you open your DAW, such as loading an EQ for the first eight tracks in the mixer and placing a limiter on the Master Channel, you could benefit from using templates. Why not save yourself some setup time by doing this once, saving the project file, and loading it whenever you want to start a track? Even if your DAW does not formally support templates, you can still take advantage of this strategy and have several "template" project files available to start from.

It is worth it to check to see if your DAW supports templates. Here's how to take advantage of this feature in FL Studio:

After you have set up your template, navigate to FL Studio 9 \ Data \ Projects \ Templates \ Power User, and create a folder with the name of the template, and then save the project file inside that folder.

Restart FL Studio and it should show up under File > New from template. Also note that on startup, FL Studio automatically loads the template that was last used, so you won't have to manually load the template each time.

Tip 3: Save Plugin and Mixer Patches

At the end of a project, you may have a lot of sounds that had hours of tweaking put into them, and they have the added benefit of being sounds that you know work well in a song. Whether you made the sounds or simply found them, it's a great idea to save these patches for further use and tweaking in other songs, so that you continually benefit from your previous work, rather than having to start from the ground up for every sound in every track.

Saving patches will only be as useful as your folder structure, which brings us to the next tip:

Tip 4: Organize Sounds by their Sound

(not by plugin, company, or provider)

If you don't love having to open up all your plugins one-by-one to search for a certain sound, wasting creative energy trying to remember which plugins have that good sound, there is an alternative. Wouldn't it be better if you had your favorite sounds organized by instrument type? Even the most hardcore do-it-yourself sound designers will have their favorite sounds saved as good starting points for further manipulation.

I recommend designing a folder structure according to your tastes (i.e. do Organs really need their own folder, or should I put them with Keys? Do I want a section for World instruments, or should I mix them in with the other categories?) Under each instrument type, if you have enough sounds to warrant subfolders, make them. The image shows one possible way to organize Synth Lead sounds.

If your DAW does not have a file format that remembers the patch and the plugin, consider a third-party solution like Kore or BigTick's upcoming free Zen plugin. Both offer a way to save and organize sounds by type.

I also highly recommend applying the same type of organization to Drums. The image shows folders for Cymbals, Hats, Snares, and a possible way to organize Kicks.

When you want a pounding kick, you don't care whether it came from Loopmasters or Cyberworm's Sample Blog, so why would you keep them in separate folders? Perhaps in order to keep licenses straight. This next step will allow you to keep them sorted, yet still in the same folder.

Tip 5: Rename Files and use Prefixes

Renaming files is a fun way personalize your music-creating experience and it can help a lot with being able to remember what each file sounds like. I also recommend adding a prefix to each file's name, to help with quick organization and identification. The prefix will help because it sorts sounds together in the list, since they appear in alphabetical order.

For patches and presets, I use the prefix to indicate which plugin will load. In this situation I have he for Helix and ze for ZebraCM. If I know who created the sound I'll try to put the name at the end of the patch.

For samples, it helps to use the prefix to indicate the creator. For example, in this situation I know that ind means it came from a sample pack made by Industrial Strength, and mafz means it was made by Mafz. Rather than having separate folders for each sample creator, you can have all the best files for each type of sound together.

Most of the time, sample packs will come with a text or pdf file with information about the ways the samples can be used. You may want to keep these licenses in one folder. To make it useful, I recommend giving those license files the same prefix as the corresponding samples.

Tip 6: Desktop Shortcuts

Lastly, here's an example everyone should be familiar with. Chances are, you find yourself navigating to the same places every day... why not save some time by placing shortcuts on your desktop?