I have a bass-producer friend who is blowing up right now. Whenever I talk to other producers about him, something about workflow comes up. “Damn, he just has such a fast DAW workflow. I could release tunes more often if I had a workflow like that.”
That got me thinking: how can I help producers speed up their workflows?
Making Smaller Circles
In his masterpiece, The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin describes a process of internalization that one must master in order to operate at a high-level of skill. Waitzkin explains that when we begin in a new art, we think more, but see less. The beginner must consciously process the basics of their craft, such as the key commands in their DAW, or the basic forms of sound design and synthesis. There is so much information coming to the beginner that must be processed consciously. He is overwhelmed by data overload.
With time and practice however, what was conscious becomes unconscious. The beginner is able to executive the basics without thinking, and now can focus on more challenging aspects of the art. The higher the level of performance, the less is thought, and the more is seen, or felt. He goes from struggling to insert MIDI-clips into Ableton to contemplating the energy of a track, and whether it has the character that he would like it to be. Thinking and excellence become more abstract as he makes smaller, and smaller circles.
This said, practice is key in increasing your DAW workflow speed. The more familiar you are with the interface, the faster you will be able to fly. There is no substitute from going in and doing the work, learning the basics, and practicing them until they are deeply internalized.
Neuroscience of Creation vs Critique
I was listening to an interview with Team Supreme, when I heard something magical: “I feel like the thing with production is getting your ideas down in [your DAW] as fast as you possibly can. If you’re able to spit out all of your greatest ideas in a relatively short amount of time, odds are your tracks will sound a lot better.”
The parts of our brains that are engaged in creative flow and critical editing are fundamentally different. Switching between the creation and editing portion of our minds dulls our creative flow, hampers our ideas. We need to constantly get warmed up again and reorient ourselves once the switch has happened. Multiply this over hundreds of times during the creation of a track, it is no wonder why many producers do not finish as many tracks as they start.
Writers are often encouraged to type without stopping, fixing errors before the final drat is released. As I am typing this, there’s a sea of red squiggly lines, not because I am not a good typist, but because I recognize that creation and and refinement are fundamentally opposed. I’ll go in at the finish of the article and fix up the spelling errors.
When we sit to down to create, we must allow as much inspiration to be channeled as possible. Whether you believe in a muse, or creative flow states, or mindfulness, there is definitely something beyond us when we create. By removing the tendency to edit ourselves while we create, we allow for an unblocked sense of flow, pushing our tracks further to completion.
For producers, this often means laying off mixing to the very end of a track. I know many producers who mix as they go, and it takes them forever to complete a track. Remove the urge to expertly EQ each sound as you go. Focus on the music, then the engineering. Make quick EQ cuts or filtering, but focus your energy on creating the song from beginning to finish. This also can mean cueing a song as you go. Avoid listening to the same parts over and over again until inspiration is drowned in a wave of noise.
Creating Time Constraints
Ever had a school paper that was due in 2 weeks, and took 1.9 weeks to finish it? Ever had a paper due in 4 hours, and finished it in time? This is the power of deadlines.
Deadlines create positive constraints on our time. In productivity research, a concept called Parkinson’s Law states that a task will take up as much time as we allow it. That paper that was due in 2 weeks was completed in 2 weeks. The paper due in 4 hours was completed in 4 hours. We can use this to our advantage while creating music by setting time limits on our studio sessions. Creating a track in 4 hours or less is a challenge, and will force you to exponentially grow your workflow.
Checklist for Improving DAW Workflow
- Practice. Get in your DAW every day and sesh something out. You will make smaller circles as you internalize the basics, and can approach the advanced.
- Don’t switch between creation and editing. Reserve heavy EQ & compression work for the mixdown. Resist the urge to cue and listen to the track in progress over and over again.
- Put down ideas as fast as possible. Create deadlines or limits on your studio time to encourage yourself to work faster. Improvement is always uncomfortable, and you need to push yourself to achieve greater flow.