The recording studio can be a fast paced and exciting place to create. Working quickly and efficiently can really energize a session, and bring about mounds of creativity that yield musical results. It's the way you organize sessions, personalize your processes, and even the way you back up your sessions. On the other hand, nothing frustrates musicians worse than waiting for an engineer to find a track within the session because it is mislabeled or find a missing microphone cable. Things like this can ruin the momentum of a session. If you are a musician, engineer, or producer and want to take your studio organization to the next level, you've come to the right place!
In this article I want to touch on file management and general session organization. These types of principles, once habitual, will allow you to forget about the minutia and get on to real music making!
INSIDE YOUR SESSION
Here are some tips for organization and speed while working inside of your session. You'll love these tips while working on your own, and your clients will love you even more when they notice how quickly you move around your session!
TRACK LABELING - Be sure to label every track before you record onto it. This way the files that are created while you record will be labeled with the appropriate name. Instead of "Audio File.01.wav" your file would read "Kick.01.wav." This helps keep your files organized behind the scenes within your Audio Files folder.
COLOR CODING - Color coding your tracks is one of the easiest thing you can do to organize your recording sessions. By organizing your instrument groups by color you'll be able to quickly locate the track you want to work on. The trick is to ALWAYS use the same colors for each instrument group so you learn to quickly associate the color with the instrument. Listed below you'll see my preferences for track colors. Feel free to use them or come up with your own system...
Drums - RED
Percussion/Drum Programming - PURPLE
Bass - ORANGE
Guitars - LIGHT GREEN
Keys/Synth Programming - LIGHT BLUE
Vocals - YELLOW (Intentionally the brightest color, so the vocal is easily located)
TRACK ORDER - The list above also indicates the order in which I organize my tracks. I keep drums on the top left, and vocals on the bottom right. This is a typical way of laying out a recording console. I choose to organize my tracks the same way inside of Pro Tools (my DAW of choice.)
It is absolutely critical that you learn to effectively organize, backup, and label your files! Few things will waste as much time and money as mismanaged sessions. Each engineer has their own methods. Here are a few of mine...
FILE LABELING - It is very common (and recommended) that an engineer would save alternate session files as they're working. I save alternate session files whenever I complete a significant part of the recording process. For instance, once I have finished recording the guitars for a song, I would duplicate the session using the "save session copy" function within Pro Tools and label it "Song Title-Guitar Tracking.ptf." This creates a timeline of progress in the session that you can always return to at a later date. Very handy when you've accidentally deleted your background vocal track! Oops! That's ok. Just head to the "Song Title-Background Vocals.ptf" file and re-import the file! BAM!!!
FOLDERS - Your DAW automatically creates some necessary folders to handle your audio files, fade files, and auto backups. I add two additional folders called "old sessions" and "00 Bounce" to help my personal organization style.
The "00 Bounce" folder is where I place all my printed mixes so they are easily accessible and separate from the audio files folder. I prepend "00" to the folder so that this folder appears at the top of the directory when placed in alphabetical order.
The "old sessions" folder is exactly what you think it is. I place all unused session files in this folder so they do not clutter up the main directory. My main directory houses only the MASTER session file as well as any frequented alternate session files.
BACKING UP YOUR WORK - Here's a little test for you?
Do you like to lose money?
Do you like to waste time?
Do you enjoy delivering bad news?
Do you enjoy weeping tears of sorrow?
If you answered "no" to any of the questions listed above, I implore you, BACK UP YOUR WORK DAILY!! I can't stress this enough. I always purchase duplicate drives and label one "MASTER" and the other "BACKUP." Try to get in the habit of backing up the drive every night. Programs like Qdea's "Synchronize Pro" are wonderful backup programs and allow you to synchronize your drives quickly, backing up only new and updated file information.
Similarly, most DAW's will perform auto session backups every 5 minutes or so. This is extremely handy. DAW's utilize plugins and other third party software programs which can cause compatibility problems, leaving you more susceptible to crashes. By utilizing a 5 minute auto backup, the most work you'll ever lose is 5 minutes!! That's a no brainer, right? If I were you, I'd go do that right now! (No, really. Go ahead. I'll wait.)
As someone who struggles with organization like the next musician, I am telling you, "You can do it!" Organizing your studio is one of the best things you can do for your music. You'll be able to keep your mind in a creative headspace and that, my friend will help you make better music. Do yourself a favor and build some organizational discipline into your studio workflow. Try it for a week and you'll be hooked. Your creative side will thank you. I'm sure your clients will too!
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Keith Everette Smith is a musician/producer/songwriter in the popular Nashville suburb of Franklin. He's worked with some amazing artists over the past few years including Chicago, the Jonas Brothers, Jack White and the Memphis Horns. You can follow Keith on twitter @producerkeith1.