Modern music production software is brilliant stuff. It gives us the capability to do so much that was previously only possible in expensive studios and with the help of several musicians. There is even the potential to sync to picture and even some (pre-)mastering capability. In the words of Harold Macmillan, “[we have] never had it so good.”
Power brings responsibility though and one area where this capability can introduce friction is in writing music. The problem is that there is just so much to tinker with, synth patches, eq, effects, bussing, display colours… It just never ends.
Most of this capability has little to do with creating music. It falls firmly in the realms of editing. The problem for me is that writing can be a difficult process and the desire to procrastinate huge. There may never have been a better procrastination tool for me than ProTools.
At the other extreme when I was at music college in the 1980s there was an ongoing debate among the composition students as to whether one should even use a piano or other instrument while writing music. The idea was that the purity of the music was better served by creating it only in your head and jotting it down on paper immediately. There is a certain purity to this idea, but it was only taken seriously by us students. The professors, being more experienced, stayed well clear of such matters and just stuck with whatever worked for them.
The trick for me is to minimise the distractions and keep to the task in hand, getting the ideas out of my muddled head and recorded in some fashion so that they can be edited and refined later. I would suggest that writing is predominantly a right-brained task and editing a left-brained one.
Fortunately the flexibility of modern music software can be used to help by creating a set of music creation templates to suit you. For me in ProTools LE, when I’m working by myself, this means:
- Four mono and two stereo tracks only
- Edit and mix window both open
- Time ruler only
- Hiding all inserts and sends
- Comments open on the edit window to note anything to consider while editing (so I can forget it until then)
I certainly don’t claim this is the ultimate set up. It is just what works for me. The aim is to create a fairly simple space to create music in without having to many things pulling my attention elsewhere. This is just a starting point and depending on the idea I’m trying to capture I might pop Live or Reason on one of the stereo tracks.
Once I have a clear idea I can then bring out all the tools and start to sculpt the ideas I have created. The comments pane is useful here as if there is an idea of how to develop a sound, motif or idea I can jot it down and forget about it for a while rather than feel the need to make it so immediately.
Producing music in a small studio you have to fill many roles, composer, musician, engineer, producer and so on. It makes this complicated landscape much easier if you can stick to one role at a time. I wish I could.