How to Boost your Workflow as a Composer

Hello Composers, Mike here! :smiley:

What are you favorite workflow tips that you can share with your fellow composers? Here are some of my personal ways of boosting my workflow. =)

Using a Story Folder

  • I have a folder in the top of my sequencer that I named “Story”. In this folder I have some main instruments and tracks that I use both for sketching, coming up with new ideas, and sometimes even recording the “Main Parts” of my music composition. The essential tracks I use are: Rhythm (short articulations on strings), Harmony (Piano + Strings) and Melody (Piano + Strings).

Writing the Chords in your DAW Project

  • I like to write down all the chords I use (except passing/leading chords), and most often I use the arrangement track or marker track for this in my DAW (Logic Pro). Sometimes I record the chords into my story folder on the harmony track, because then I can use it as building blocks for my full arrangement too. But mainly I love having the visual reference at the top of my sequencer of the current chords as I play, write and record new parts in my music.

Custom Key Commands + Controller

  • I love creating lots of custom key commands in my DAW, and I also use an external device called Stream Deck which I then map my most essential key commands to (both native and custom ones). I strongly feel that learning and developing an instinct for using as many key commands as possible it essential for a quick workflow in your DAW.

Creating a Master DAW Project Template

  • By master I mean one single project template that rules them all. I have done this with all my main track folders and mixing groups, all essential insert effects and send effects added, my own naming and coloring structure, all main instruments and sections added, and so on. This means I can start up my master template, and instantly get going with the creativity to make music, not set up technical things and load instruments and presets! =)

So let me hear your thoughts my fellow composers. What are you favorite workflow tips that you can share with your fellow composers? =)

Sincerely,
Mikael “Mike” Baggström
Founder of professionalcomposers.com

This list could be endless so these are the top 3 things I tend to do after having a basic template for the style I’m writing in. Emphasis on the word basic as your pallet should change with every piece, even if it’s only slightly.

  1. Have three levels of gain.
    My first level should be my individual track.
    The second my section bus with all associates instruments. These two levels can then be automatedin extreme detail as they will then be sent to a third channel which is a VCA channel strip. Then I have control over the overall volume of all of the tracks in that bus and I can make it louder or quieter without having to change the automation which is valuable time saved. Then this track is sent to the stereo out. It’s notable to say that on bigger projects that have 100+ stems you end up saving a ton of CPU using this method.

  2. Colour coding my tracks and using the toggle shortcuts. This takes a fair bit of time to get used to but wow it’s good once you’ve got it.

  3. Pitching up +12 an instrument, bouncing it down and then repitching it to the original octave. Works especially well with pianos but essentially you end up rejigging the harmonica of the sound, making the sample sound slightly different and unique. You can also pich it down and back up again which will give the sound a wobbly effect which can add tons of texture as an effect.

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That first tip is interesting. So you don’t “automate your levels into a corner”, I like it! =)
Personally I use a gain plugin at the top of every group bus. And honestly I mix 90% for the groups, meaning I focus on them almost entirely when mixing.

Color coding is gold! I have, again, groups as my focus. So all instrument groups have a separate color. I will show a video about this later, as I have a new system I am testing for mixing groups. :slight_smile:

That 3rd point I am intrigued about. I wouldn’t consider it a workflow technique as much as a sound design trick though, but it sounds very cool anyway! :stuck_out_tongue:

All my sessions are set like this so I don’t have to worry about slapping on gain plugins. Plus I was originally taught in the analog world so using VCAs comes natural to me. Another plus to this is it’s a lot more visual as your seeing another slider, not a gain knob… you also get a cleaner signal chain because your attenuating the voltage without affecting the previous channels settings.

As for the last tip, yeah I guess your right but I thought everyone’s going to be putting stuff on here hat I’d normally do, this technique is basically a part of my workflow because I do it all the time! :stuck_out_tongue:

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The colour coding I tend to use a lot, I also group the different sections together, like strings, drums etc for ease.

Though I have to learn a bit more about mixing for certain instruments

Hey Ben, I have new mixing system I am trying out…really original (at least I’ve not seen anyone else use it). I might make a YouTube Video about it because I think it might open up some ideas for fellow composers/producers :wink:

Essentially I have started grouping instruments ON RANGE, instead of instrument type. Low, Mid, High. It helps a lot with mixing of course, but also arranging and composing because I can get a clear overview over how the notes are arranged per range section.

I’ll give that a try and see how it goes. I already tend to put em in roughly those sections anyway, but ill make a clearer version and see how I get on

It’s an experiment. The bad part is that music libraries still want mixed out stems per instrument group. So I might shoot myself in the foot here haha