Music Production: Ten Methods for Increasing Productivity in the Studio w/ Curl Up

Have you ever had a session that just didn’t go anywhere? We’ve all been there, and that’s quite alright! It’s all part of the process. However, there are a few things we can do to keep these types of sessions to a minimum or turn ‘em around into something useful. In this article, Dubspot’s Dan Salvaggio (aka Curl Up) explores ten methods for increasing productivity in the studio.

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1. Environment

This tip is an easy one. Your studio should be a place where you can focus and aim to enter what is known as a Flow State. A common misconception here is that cleanliness is an automatic boost to productivity. However, as Albert Einstein once said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?” As a fairly messy person, this statement has always stuck with me. The point is that your studio environment should be a positive, comfortable, inviting, inspiring space.

2. Minimize Time Away from the Studio

The best weapon you have to combat this is solid preparation. Instead of starting your day by rushing to the computer and trying to force out a song, consider taking care of anything that’ll surely pull you from your project. Have to feed the cat? Take the dog out? Go grocery shopping? Do your laundry? Taking care of these tasks before entering the studio eliminates many potential distractions. Are you a coffee addict? I sure am! Purchasing my own coffee maker and absolutely massive coffee mugs has removed the need for hourly deli trips.

3. Take Breaks

While maximizing the amount of work completed in a session is key, taking small breaks is a healthy necessity and will actually help support that goal in the long run. Frustrated with a project that just won’t come together? Take a break, but keep it brief! You want to break long enough to feel refreshed when you return to the project, but not so long that you lose any inspiration or momentum. I utilize something akin to the Pomodoro Technique. I set a timer on my phone for 55 minutes and when it goes off (*dogs barking.wav*), I take a 3-5 minute break to stretch, pet the cat, grab a snack, or maybe even pop outside for some fresh air. How you spend your breaks is important as well. You don’t want to get pulled into a compelling YouTube video or engage in a heated Facebook debate when there’s work to be done!

4. Structure

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and speak with many producers I am fond of. When speaking of production, one thing seems to be common amongst all of them. Many say that while in the studio, they almost always go in with a game plan or goal they hope to achieve by the end of the session. This approach could be as simple as, “I’m going to make a Garage track today.” I’m sure we’ve all had those moments when we stare at a blank session in our DAW, and the first move to make eludes us. Having a plan of action is excellent for avoiding that whole mess. Mind you, this doesn’t exclusively pertain to genres or even full songs; set goals for designing sounds or deconstructing your favorite tunes. There’s never nothing to do in the studio. Setting goals is not only a great way to get the ball rolling, but it also feels good. In many ways validating to achieve them, no matter how small they may seem.

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5. Set up Templates

If you aren’t utilizing templates within your DAW, prepare for a HUGE boost in productivity! Inspiration often hits us at very inconvenient times. Even when we’re able to act on these ideas immediately, there’s that whole step of finding workable sounds to use to get said ideas down into the software. This method can be detrimental, as it pulls you away from your idea, running the risk of losing it forever. Having a template already set up removes this step entirely. Simply create one or several new project files loaded with kits and sounds you’ve made or just enjoy. When that great idea manifests itself in your brain, pop open a template and get to work! That’s all there is to it! You can always come back later and edit/replace sounds as you see fit. The most important thing here is that you’re able to get your ideas down quickly so that you can immediately begin developing them into full songs.

6. Stay Organized

Organization is by far easiest thing to lose sight of, especially these days when we’ve got terabytes of sample libraries and synths at our disposal. Knowing where your best, favorite, go-to sounds are can quickly become a valuable producer skill for a number of reasons. For one, being able to keep your momentum up is a beautiful thing. Second, less time spent browsing folders and fiddling around with synths leads to more time spent focusing on composing robust content. By no means am I suggesting foregoing any experimentation in a general sense. When your goal is to complete a project in question in a timely fashion, it’s very easy to get caught up playing around with new things and losing sight of the true task at hand.

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7. Less is More

A long time ago when I was just beginning to transition from instrumentalist to producer, I made the very common rookie mistake of investing in far too much gear and software without knowing what I actually needed. This mistake led to countless months of toying with gear and my output (in terms of actual songs) suffered greatly because of it. Over time, I learned that less is more. By that, I mean having fewer tools at your disposal, ones that you know like the back of your hand, is far more beneficial than having every hot new device on the market. As with many of the points made in this article, the less there is to think about outside of producing quality songs, the better. When you’re in the middle of composing a new work, throwing your momentum out the window to learn a new synth is going to throw off your whole flow. Use fewer tools and use them well.

8. Finish Your Songs

One of the most common things I’ve heard budding producers say is “I have a folder of loops I made, but when I come back to them, I can never turn them into full, finished songs.” A method I picked up at a lecture from super-producer ill.Gates a while back was aim to finish your composition in one session. As I’d mentioned before, you can always come back and edit/replace sounds. When it comes to the writing stage, ‘striking while the iron’s hot’ is crucial. This approach leads to more songs written, more ideas explored and, as a result, more progress made! Additionally (a bit of advice I picked up from my friend and awesome house producer, Alex Burkat), finish ALL your works whenever possible, even the songs that aren’t very serious. Developing ideas is a skill in itself and practice makes progress, especially if it’s outside of your comfort zone.

9. Make a LOT of Songs!

I am a firm believer in that every artist needs to produce hundreds, maybe even thousands of terrible pieces before getting to ‘the good stuff.’ “It takes 10,000 hours to become an overnight success.” As any successful person will tell you, failure leads to new perspectives (i.e., seeing what works and what doesn’t) which leads to future successes. As long as you’re learning from them, making mistakes is one of the most beneficial things you can do. The creative portion of your brain is a muscle, and you should exercise it like any other. Eyal Levi, an accomplished metal producer, wrote a fantastic article about just this for the metal blog, MetalSucks.net. I highly recommend reading it. Eyal makes a compelling argument for working whether you’re inspired or not. The more often you work at your craft, the more likely you are to see a return on your investment in the form of quality work.

10. Put Yourself out There

Full disclosure: this is and has always been my greatest struggle. If I could, I’d spend months in the studio toiling away at all kinds of weird songs I’d never show anyone. As Mr. Carmack, “make music like nobody’s listening,” and that’s very true when it comes to the creation aspect of making music. Beyond that, there are immense benefits to be reaped from allowing others to hear your work, be it privately or on a larger scale. Feedback from producers and fans alike is a valuable resource. Not only is it extremely validating and inspiring when people respond positively to something you posted, but putting your work out there brings a sense of closure. The project is complete, it’s out there. There’s no need to go back and change anything. It’s time to work on new music, grow, and explore new ideas!


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