To continue with this whole theme of Time Management, I want to dive into techniques in Ableton live for fast songwriting. These tips and tricks will help you stay creative, bust out songs, and feel confident in how you are spending your time.
If you are not using Ableton Live or, what to read the article on taking your time, it will look at the bigger picture of how artists can better manage their time.
1. Good Old File Management
Nothing says “I am an artist” like spending a day going through your files. Every successful musician I know is ruthlessly efficient with their sample library. We each have our own way of managing our files as well. Here is what I do with my Sample Library:
They are separated by the type of sound it is. First if it is a drum kit, Percussion, and so on. If I pick the Drum Kits it brings up more separation by the category of hit. You can see how you can get more and more granular with this. If I only had 10 Drum Kit Sounds, like a few high hats and kicks, I would not need to get so granular with my organization. The basic rule for me is if I have enough samples, like over 15, to break it down to sub categories then I will. This makes it really quick for me to get any sound I am looking for.
2. Taking Good Notes
For years I would be writing a track and then after hours I would pass out. A few days later I would open up the project and have no idea what I was doing. Where was the composition going? What Key was it in? That is why now I take really detailed notes and keep them in the project.
One way you can do this is with the Locator. In Arrangement view if you right click at the very top you can “Add Locator” This is a great place to add notes. I personally like to keep notes on key changes, chord progressions, and so on.
If you are in Session View writing out your track I like to use Scene Name. Here I can leave the same type of notes for each section.
Another way you can take notes is by standardizing how you use colors for your clips. I wrote an article on how I use the Circle Of Fifths to color my clips to also help me know what Key the clips are in. This is more helpful for my Live Set and jamming. In production I like to color my clips by what type of part it is.
3. Start a Track From The Foundation Up
Just as there are many ways of building a track, there are countless ways of how to start a track. There is one way I found that is a lot quicker for me and leads to better results.
I like to start with the Drums. Since I am making dance music / groove based tunes I start there. After I like that I get a Bass Line. The Bass not only ties the groove, but it also brings in the first Harmonic Information. It can tell you what key you are in, or chord changes.
Then I build out a harmony. Then last I do the main lead / hook. If you build it this way from the drums on the bottom first you can easily stake the parts on top of each other. If you have a lead with no drums you might find it frustrating or redoing the lead to fit the new groove.
4. Fully Using Session View
The next step in fast songwriting for me is using session view. Here is a quote from ableton.com
“You can think of the Session View as a palette of sound possibilities. These possibilities can be MIDI or audio loops, sound effects, one-shots or even whole songs. Session View isn’t a traditional sequencer, but more of a sketch pad for creative ideas, or a performance tool.”
Session view lets you easily play through your parts of a song. You can easily add parts, take them out, manipulate them while playing, and so on. It’s a really great and easy way to start writing a track. Then a lot of times after I get the skeleton of a track I move over to the Arrangement. Something to keep in mind though is you can go back and forth. Later you can try writing a new part in Session view and bring it back to the Arrangement.
5. Mix it Up
Whenever you get stuck writing music there is a really simple way of switching things up, through opposites. Sometimes in writing a track I just don’t know what to do. When this happens, I like to play a little game with the track, by trying the exact opposite of what I am doing. So lets say the track is very percussive. It’s got lots of drums and rhythms going on. What I can do is cut out the rhythms for one section and go super melodic. Another one is what if have a track that is very bass heavy, like Dubstep. In this type of music the bass can also be considered the melody / lead. What happens if in a different section I turn the base into long notes and move the center of attention to a new synth lead.
Another one… Change the genera. If it was Future Garage try to move to dub. If its House tries moving over to Balkan swing… whatever. Feel free to mix things up. As a musician don’t feel trapped in the container of the song. As the creator you can move it in whole new directions.
These 5 tips will help you keep your parts organized for easy access and stay creative. As well as a few techniques to keep the music moving with Session view and song writing. A worthy thing to mention is I wrote an article on Song Composition and Arrangement that shows further techniques in writing out a track.