Filling out the track and protecting yourself
At this point, I've spent a lot of time churning an idea through my head, I've created a project from a template that keeps everything organized, and I've laid down some basic scratch tracks and added markers denoting the various movements of my song.
From this point on, I rarely follow one distinct path to filling everything out. I simply follow my inspiration as to which parts speak to me at any given time. Am I particularly in the mood to lay down some guitar tracks? Do I feel like spending some time focused on adding variety and subtlety to the drum track? Should I play around with some keyboard or piano parts to see if something jumps out? Are my vocal chords feeling loose?
So in future posts, I'll try to focus on a piece of the puzzle, not necessarily intending for them to be done in any particular order. Before I do that, let's talk about how you fill out your track while ensuring you don't screw things up for yourself down the line.
First, backups. I have my Pro Tools projects set to backup every 5 minutes, keeping the last 99 backup saves. I can't even begin to tell you how many times I've needed to go back in time to an old project for one reason or another. Sometimes you follow down a path of inspiration only to arrive at a dead end, and wish you could revert to an earlier state to restart again. Keeping old backups enables that. And besides, it happens in the background. Rarely are you even aware that it's happening, so WHY NOT. I keep the interval set at 5 minutes because then, at any point, if something really messes up, all I've lost is 5 minutes of my time. 10 minutes might be ok too, but depending on the work you lost within that 10 minutes, sometimes it can be quite disheartening to step backwards and recreate (or remember) all that you did during that time. So, activate backups NOW.
Next, something I use all the time when I record new parts is Loop Recording. This allows me to highlight the section I'm currently working on, and loop it in record mode. Each time it loops back to the start of the loop during record, it creates a brand new region of recorded audio. So, for example, if you are having a hard time nailing that lead, you can highlight the section, activate loop recording, and repeat the part over and over and over again, recording your part until you get it right. Every pass has been saved as its own region.
If you then turn your track view into Playlist mode, you are shown the current active track at the top, and all of the alternate takes immediately below. With those alternate takes, you can solo them in order to play them in the context of your project, allowing you to pick the best take. Or, alternately, you can take the best parts of each take and comp together a perfect take with a combination of them all.
This is also incredibly handy if you only have certain times during which to record loud things, like your vocals, or amped guitar, or whatever. My time for recording these parts is very limited, so if I utilize loop recording during these stages, I have a wealth of backup recordings to lean on when I'm editing the projects during quiet times in the house. I don't find myself in a situation where an edit or alternate is needed, and my only recourse is to re-record it. I'm SOL in that case, unless I have a ton of backup takes which Loop Recording easily allows.