The official website showcasing the music of Yellowgold, produced by Jason Howell.

Filtering by Category: Project management

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.

A small sample of Session File Backups

Enable Session File Auto Backup

Enable Session File Auto Backup

Options>Loop Record

Options>Loop Record

Playlists view

Playlists view

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.

A comp track with multiple playlist takes below it

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.

Creating a template for future projects

Do you have a template? If you don't, I'm going to share some things that I've done that REALLY help keep you on track with all of your projects.

Templates are important for a couple of reasons:

1. They allow you to save time getting into your new project when it really counts. Often the very start of my new track is when I'm most driven to start something new AND often that is also when the idea for something is freshest in my mind. A template allows me to get right to the production part without any hassle along the way.

2. When set up to my taste, a template allows me to define a standard approach to my song production. This saves me in the long run cause, for example, my guitar tracks are always color coded the way I expect. Or, as another example, I always have 4 vocal tracks dialed in since I almost always have two doubles for each vocal harmony. Those are just a few examples.

Creating a template might take some extra time in the beginning, but sometimes it's good to open up a few of your older projects and take a good look at how you structured them in the end. Is there a reverb that you always use in an auxiliary bus? Is there a master bus compression that is always there in every track? (You might keep it bypassed or deactivated in the template so it isn't ON by default but that still saves you time of looking for it later. It's already there.) Do you route similar instruments to a comp track for easy mixing later?

And as you use the template for projects after the fact, refine them. Sometimes I'll use a template a few times and realize I have this new thing that I do with new tracks. So the next time I load up the template to use it for a new song, I'll take the two minutes to add to it (or subtract from it) and re-save as the template file (or a brand new one if I have multiple approaches for different style tracks.)

So how do I set up my template file? I work in Pro Tools, so all of this happens there. Here are some of the main tweaks I've set up:

My template project

  • 1 Click track (bypassed)
  • 1 Aux bus for ALL all (basically, an aux stage before the master output)
  • 1 Aux bus for ALL vocals
  • 1 Aux bus for ALL drums/percussion
  • 1 Aux bus for ALL music (not already covered by previous aux busses)
  • 1 Aux bus for ALL effects busses
  • 1 Aux bus for ALL guitars (then routed into the ALL music bus)
  • 1 instrument track with Battery loaded up, favorite drum preset loaded (routed into ALL drums)
  • 1 Bass track (routed into ALL music bus)
  • 1 Piano track (MiniGrand, deactivated, routed into ALL music)
  • 1 Guitar track (mono, routed into ALL guitars)
  • 1 Guitar track (stereo, routed into ALL guitars)
  • 6 vocal tracks (for harmonies and layering, routed into ALL vocals)
  • 2 Aux busses for reverbs (routed into ALL effects bus)
  • 2 Aux busses for delays (routed into ALL effects bus)
  • 1 Aux bus for mic input
  • All Vocal tracks (not including aux bus) assigned to Vocals group
  • All Guitar tracks (not including aux bus) assigned to Guitars group

I've also color coded each type of instrument track, so I can easily tell at a glance what each track is.

The reason for all of the "ALL" aux busses is simply that I have finally stages at which I can mix the major components of my track easily. EVERYTHING is routed to one of those. Need more vocals across the board? Easy to do with the All Vocals bus. Interested in seeing what the project sounds dry without effects? Mute the ALL FX bus.

The ALL All bus is a last stage before hitting the master output. If I've messed up along the line and mixed everything a bit too hot, I can turn it down here before hitting the master output where I might have some bus compression staged. Ultimately, though, if I'm in the red at this point, I usually end up re-mixing the entire project before its competed anyways. But its nice to have this easy control while I'm CREATING music.

Over time, by using this template repeatedly, I spend less time worrying about setting things up, or understanding what I'm looking at, and more time actually creating. Important when you simply want to get that idea out as efficiently as possible.

Next, I'll discuss how I get started with a track using my template file.