If you have ever sat down at a DAW and thought, I am going to make the next big hit, but I don’t know how to start the track or what to make, then this tutorial is for you.
While you might be upset that ideas aren’t just flowing out of you into the DAW, know that this is a very common problem for producers. Thankfully, this is also a problem that can be fixed with a little creativity and preparation.
In this tutorial I'll share my list of ten production tips for you to start your new track and get it finished.
1. Limit the Tools Used
Today’s market for music production software has no shortage of tools. The new technological advancements have generated more and more plugins from new companies.
You can have a hundred different EQ’s, two-hundred different reverbs, and fifty different synths, and use all of them to start writing your next hit track.
This might seem like a good, although very expensive, idea.
Trying, however, to use a large number of different plugins will only distract you from the actual song writing process. You will be caught up in figuring out how the plugins function instead of trying to create the next song.
This is why I recommend that you pick a limited number of tools that you know well and stick to them through the creation process.
When you're in the early stages of the creation process, ideas come and go quickly and being able to capitalize on these spurts of creativity keeps the progression of the track moving forward.
Knowing exactly what the plugins can and can’t do allows you to create specific sounds that come into your head without having to think about it.
I recommend you start with five different plugins in the toolbox and stick to them. For reference, these are a list of the five plugins that I use to start my tracks:
- Xfer Serum
- Spectrasonics Omnisphere
- Fab Filter Pro Q2
- Output Signal, and
- Reveal Sound Spire
2. Create Sample Folders
When starting a track, if the idea, creativity, or excitement isn’t there, finishing that track can seem almost impossible. Your goal should be to eliminate any of the variables that slow down the creative process.
One surefire way to kill creativity and momentum is to scroll through endless samples and presets that you have on the computer. If there are too many samples and presets to choose from, you become overwhelmed and indecisive.
The simple solution is to create a folder of samples and presets before you start a new track.
Go through your sample and preset libraries and pull out sounds that will complement the style you're trying to create. Produce only with the selected sounds. You can go back and change them later when you're in the mixing phase.
For now you just want a collection of complimentary sounds that are ready to be put in the track without having to scroll though gigantic library. Having this limitation will also force you to be more resourceful and creative with the sounds.
3. Use Unconventional Sounds
Keeping sounds fresh and exciting is one of the many joys of producing music.
You don’t have to follow a set of strict rules and use the same recycled sounds over and over, so don't grab the same synth that you always use to make basses. Remove the kick drum from the sample, for example.
Using unconventional sounds for the different elements in tracks is one way to add sonic interest and to keep the creation process new and exciting, which in turn keeps you in the creative flow longer.
If you're making a lead, try processing a bass sample.
For a pluck sound, tune and layer up a bunch of percussion.
The possibilities are endless. You don’t have to always use the same synth or type of sample. With a little creativity and experimentation, you can create unique elements in your tracks that no one has ever heard before, so begin experimenting.
4. Create a Creativity Folder
Another way to supercharge creativity is to create a folder of favorite songs and inspirational videos. Listening to these will change your mood and inspiration will begin to surface.
The works because all producers are influenced by songs and artists that inspire them, so tapping into that initial inspiration before you start a new song gets you in the right mindset.
Watching a video of a favorite artist, someone skydiving, or whatever inspires you, plays a huge role in your creativity.
5. Jam Session
Nothing beats an old fashioned jam session for coming up with fresh new ideas.
Open up a DAW, load a favorite synth patch or instrument and hit record. All your little doodling is worth recording because you never know what little riff might inspire you.
Once you have recorded a jam session, take the midi and pick out the parts that you feel work and start building a song.
Use the creativity folder if you're struggling with ideas in the jam session.
6. Sound Design Session
This is similar to the jam session, but you start with designing sounds and recording results.
Lay down a couple of chords or notes that are in the key you want to be in, hit record, and start programming the sound.
A good tip here is to really exaggerate the sound so you get something dynamic and sonically interesting. To do this when you're programming, take the parameters that you're changing to their extremes, so you can hear the full effect.
Once you've recorded enough ideas, go back and chop up all the parts that sound interesting to you and begin the song.
7. Map Out Arrangement Markers
One big problem when starting a track is not keeping the arrangement moving forward. This is how you can get stuck in the dreaded 8-bar loop and not be able to break out of it.
To make sure you keep your tracks progressing, take a song that is in the style you want and map out all the different sections of the track with arrangement markers in a DAW.
This way, you know where each of the verses, breakdowns, drops, and so on will go and you don’t have to agonize over the arrangement and get caught in a rut.
These arrangement markers should be used as guidelines.
You don’t have to stick to this exact arrangement. If you feel certain sections should be changed, by all means do what you feel is best for the song.
8. Slice and Dice
Sample processing and rearranging are very powerful ways to kick start ideas.
When you're creating the sample folder for a new song, make sure to add in full sounding loops such as drum loops, melodies, chords, and vocals.
Then, open up the DAW’s sampler and slice these samples to midi. Most DAW’s have this function, reference the manual to find out how to do this.
Once the entire loop is sliced, start to rearrange the sample by writing in midi notes. Brand new ideas can be created out of existing ones this way.
Before you even start programming your notes, you can process the sound with favorite fx plugins to add even more of your own personal flavor to the sample.
9. Genre Blend
Every genre has its own set of sounds that make it unique. Taking note of these specific sounds and using them to design your own song, is a great way to start a song and create something unique.
Take three or four favorite songs from different genres and write down what you like about them. This could be anything from the type of snare that is used, the chords used in the progression, or the timbre of the bass line.
The key here is to get a list of the specific characteristics of that song. Then, when you begin to write, use this list to guide the sounds and techniques you use.
10. Recycle Unfinished Tunes
We all have unfinished tracks, recorded on hard drives, that are never going to see the light of day. But they can still be very useful in future productions.
Open up an unfinished tune and start to export sounds into stems. Then, open up a new project and begin processing your sounds with your favorite effects and rearranging.
Using Slice and Dice here is very effective.
Using any these tips or a combination of them is a great way to improve your mood, creativity, and productivity when you begin a song. This will ultimately help you finish more songs and avoid creative ruts.
I encourage you to try each one of these tips so you can see how effective they are. With a little practice and patience, you will no longer be stuck for ideas and will be able keep the momentum and excitement needed to start and finish songs.