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Need workflow suggestions: Why my projects never get finished

Blooming Late
Blooming Late Member Posts: 3 Member
edited August 2023 in Social Club

Hello community!

I'd like to get some advice on workflow, because my projects tend to bog down and I'd like to finish something for once...

Here's how my current production process generally goes:

  1. Getting an idea - usually in head, behind the piano or while playing around in my DAW.
  2. Exploration and expanding on idea - behind piano or in DAW
  3. Attempt to codify idea - usually by recording piano or writing notes in Notation software.
  4. Converting to professional sound - moving composition to DAW, work out instrumentation, new recording takes, applying 'humanization' on MIDI notes.
  5. Mixing process - get instruments to work well together
  6. Mastering process - making things loud

So, things tend to break down between point 4 and 5. I rarely get past de mixing stage, because:

  • lacking endurance / getting discouraged
  • rhythms conflict
  • composition problems
  • not satisfied with sound
  • missing key knowledge with regards to mixing

Eventually things get so overwhelming that I have to give up. When I come back to a project later I just don't know where to pick it up again.

My main issue is with mixing, perhaps setting up a good starting point. Some VSTs are very soft by default, while others are very loud. I don't know how to begin setting the levels. I found online mixing tutorials to be generally useless. I need someone to walk me through the basics step by step, really.

How can I improve my workflow and where can I find the knowledge I'm looking for?

Regards,

-- RM

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Comments

  • JesterMgee
    JesterMgee Member Posts: 2,467 Expert

    It's an all to common question i've seen on forums for the last 20 years and, well, there is no simple answer i've seen, just a plethora of suggestions and I personally suffer the same, in fact at the moment for the last few years i've been struggling just to even get started in anything for various reasons.

    One thing to keep in mind is that the roles of writing, composing, mixing and mastering are all different roles and in times gone by, these were usually done by different people working together. In a band environment or in a studio you have others to bounce ideas off, offer input and guidance so it can be a little easier to accomplish things but nowadays, solo artists want to do it all and most of us just do not have the appropriate skills and disciplines' to attack all areas so at some stage you end up struggling to progress or achieve the desired sound and this is often where people get stuck and start to lose interest.

    It sounds like your skills are in writing and composition, not in the fine nuances of mixing which can be a difficult area to get around without training and some experience. Consider maybe if this is more than a hobby to look into working with a producer on that side of things, ideally someone you can take the work to that is happy to sit and work through it. It's gonna cost some money but it will also teach you some of those skills.

    If you don't have skills in that area beyond simply adding some plugins and trying to make the bass sound good, consider stepping back and instead doing a small course on mixing. I did one years ago on Production Music Live years ago that used Ableton (my DAW) as the training tool and demonstrated things using just stock plugins with examples to follow along with and I found it quite useful to understand some of the basics and build on that. There are loads more resources out there nowadays, Youtube has loads but of varying degrees of quality and you have the risk of falling into just watching tutorials all night without actually absorbing much.

    Set time for mixing sessions that is separate from production and writing. One tip I have heard people use is when doing mixing to export all your tracks as stems and use another program to mix in so you are less tempted to adjust your composition and can focus on the actual mixing. If you need to adjust composition, make notes then do that in a different session and re-import the new stems in your mixing template. Something like Harrison Mix Bus can be a good and cost effective tool for that.

    You can even set sub-tasks for mixing like "today I will get that bass track and the kicks to actually fit correctly" and a good trick I picked up is to always save EVERY mix session out as a new render to compare mixes. What I would do if I was unsure if things were getting better or not is to save all these to USB then in my car while I drive I would random play the versions and try figure out what sounded better than something else then look at what file number was playing to see if it was getting better or worse.

    There is no one that can offer you a simple step-by-step guide to mixing your songs because every project will need different attentioon and this is what separates a pro from the rest of us. They will hear a mix and know where it needs attention, what may need to be added and sometimes, what should be removed completely. The only way you get to know that is by a LOT of time spent doing it but in this day, people are in the "results, NOW!" era and want to fast track time for success.

  • Blooming Late
    Blooming Late Member Posts: 3 Member

    Thank you for your thoughtful and helpful response, JesterMgee!

    To kind of summarize what you're saying:

    • I may be trying to do what is normally done by a group of people, each person having their own expertise. I can't expect to be able to do everything by myself.
    • It may be worth it to pay an expert, if I intend my music to go beyond hobby level. That gets the result, and I may learn a thing or two in the process.
    • There are paid courses that can teach me the basics, using my own DAW and stock plugins in their examples.
    • I can separate composition from mixing tasks and devote different sessions to different aspects of the music making process.
    • I can render different mixing takes and listen to them in another setting to hear differences and determine which I like best.
    • There are no easy shortcuts to success, because every project is different and requires its own level of attention.

    There are several things in there that I think I can start applying. For one thing, I think I'll look into one of those mixing courses that you linked to. There is one for FL Studio and its stock plugins, which I think will be helpful enough. I'm not necessarily aiming for top level productions to release with some label. At this point I just want to not get stuck because I can't even get two or three instruments to work well together. So basics will be enough for now. :)

    When the time is right for me to think about releasing music “for reals” I'll consider your suggestion of simply hiring a pro.

    I'll definitely try to separate different tasks into different sessions. That way I can keep it focused and avoid doing three things at a time and not doing any of the three well. Listening to results is probably best saved for a different session when the ears have rested.

    As to the last point: I guess I need to adjust my expectations when it comes to music making. I like general principles, rules and laws that always apply, but with music production there's no one-size-fits-all solution. This may explain why I don't like most online (free) tutorials: they're either too specific or too vague to be of much use in my own situation (I do multiple genres / styles.)

    I'll see what I can get out of that paid course and consider next steps after that.

  • JesterMgee
    JesterMgee Member Posts: 2,467 Expert

    It's really like any artform, without that training you can only get so far. Like someone that picks up a welder, you can learn how to weld and do a decent job 95% of the time but that experienced and dedicated welder will be able to do that last 5% that you just cannot achieve.

    The other thing is that without the right equipment and listening environment you can only get so far. If you don't have decent monitor speakers and audio interface, setup correct with a decently treated room it's difficult to get a full idea of the overall sound. Again, that last 5% is what can make something sound great instead of just good so don't expect to be mixing like a pro after a course, it may just help you get a little further (or make you realise there is way more you didn't know).

    I'm one that can only get to that 80-90% odd mark, if I wanted to go further i'd just send it to a pro but in this day and age, I have no dreams of making much from what I create.

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