The modern music industry is very much modular in nature. We often find ourselves in dynamic, short-term work environments, and for the most part, the nature of what we do radically shifts week in and week out.
While working in a dynamic and constantly evolving environment is part and parcel to the reason a lot of us choose to work in the music industry, it is important for us to figure out the best practice for many of the processes we undertake. When I refer to workflow, however, I am not only referring to the literal Pro Tools / Logic session templates we establish for speed, but also and perhaps more importantly, the mental processes we apply to handle the industry as an individual. Having your sessions clean and concise is useless to you if you are over stretched, over worked and incompetent as a result of dealing with too many projects.
Below are a selection of tips on how to address some of the biggest issues we as producers come up against when trying to manage our affairs:
Before we attempt to address the various technical and audio related issues that appear in everybody’s daily production workflows, the first thing we need to address is the physical and mental well-being of the practitioner themselves. It is common knowledge that the life of a mixing engineer / music producer / songwriter is not a particularly active life in terms of physical exercise. The nature of most of the work demands a sedentary environment, and while this cannot be avoided, it can definitely be managed. A simple place to begin is with your diet. When you work in a sedentary environment, it is always important to reflect on the nutritional value of the food you eat, and the effects it has on your mood and well being. It has been shown that a consistent habitual routine of fast food and processed goods can cause major issues with the management of emotional dynamics. Mood and mental state massively affect those in the creative arts and their capacity to produce good work. Paying attention to the food we eat is a simple enough yet hugely effective way to stay focused and active for long periods of time.
On the other hand there is physical exercise. Penciling in 15 minutes a day to take a walk or a stroll around the block will do wonders for freeing your mind from the chains of your mixes. This will help improve your ability to maintain objectivity, especially during intensive mixing and production sessions. There is a reason that most countries legislate a mandatory lunch hour for all workers, because it has been proven that over working on a constant basis reduces the marginal benefit and efficiency of the worker in question. The same applies in production!
Switching and finishing
One of the easiest ways to keep your interest in a project alive is to allow yourself to alternate. After working on a long session for many hours with very few marginal improvements, injecting a fresh taste of music could be the best decision you ever make. It is important to note that success in one project will transfer, so if you allow yourself to refresh your state of mind, you are increasing the likelihood that your work gets done quicker.
That said, it is always important to remember that the need for finality is a massive part of what we do. Knowing when a mix is finished, or recognizing the need for finality is incredibly important.
The ear lies.
Resting and adjusting your ears is a critical part of mixing and production. A combination of fatigue and over mixing can destroy a track that would otherwise be very strong. I recently finished mastering a single, and luckily I realised a day after that I had completely over hyped the high end in the mix. I was quite tired at that particular time, and I had inadvertently allowed my ears to adjust incorrectly to the high end by playing the music at too high a level and not paying enough attention. I ended up redoing the same master in 40 minutes the next day and the difference was utterly astounding. The ear lies, so be careful. The lesson here is to know when to stop working on something. Sometimes a good nights sleep is better than 20 EQ adjustments.
Templates are an incredibly useful and practical way to improve workflow. If you find that there are reoccurring session configurations that you are rebuilding every time, then this might be something to explore. A clever tip shared by Russ in the past from a community member was the Pro Tools ’Track-Hack’. Other tricks like creating and saving an i/o template so that you don’t have to think about where you are sending signals is another way to speed things up. I personally always have my vocals on channel one on my Saffire 56, and I know that no matter what, I can send to this input and it will be good to go.
Is someone there?
Playing mixes with someone in the room is a beneficial way to identify mix issues. As soon as I place someone else in my studio and they listen to what I’ve done, I immediately subconsciously start super-analyzing my own work as if it wasn’t my own. The fear that the content might be inadequate, for me, is an effective wake up call to refocus my ears on the whole mix, especially ones that you have been working on for far too long. The traditional pratice of testing mixes on different systems and in mono for monophonic compatibility are also hugely importnt.
Defining your role
Finally, it is important to remember that the key to managing your workflow is to manage the expectations of clients. Defining your role ahead of the work, and explaining to a client what you can do for them and in how long a time period is a great way to put everyone on the same page. Being honest will establish a realistic time frame and help you to manage both schedules. Being transparent and firm in regards to invoicing is also critical for managing your projects. If you are like me, and never want to disappoint anyone in what you deliver, than make sure that the people you are working with understand the effort you are putting in and the time it takes. If there is little interest from someone in paying you for your services, then perhaps consider refusing the job. There is always more you can be doing, and the less stressful, good work will always come back around.
Have you found yourself suffering from any of the problems listen above? Leave a comment below and tell us what you think helps to improve your production workflow and state of mind.
Denis Kilty is an Irish music producer, songwriter and mixing engineer based in Dublin City. – www.deniskilty.com