Is creating music fun? Does it bring you joy? Are you proud to share music that you've produced? Is it very fulfilling to create something unique that only exists in that form because of you? If you can answer 'No' to any of those questions, then there is at least a small chance that technology may be severely hampering your creativity, which would really be a shame because art resides in your soul and not in computer chips or plug-ins or routing or those kind of things.
In it's purest form, the pursuit of art is free of all roadblocks and the artist is left to allow his soul to speak through his or her music without being overwhelmed by technology. One way to do that is to deal with technological roadblocks up front.
This will not be specific to any workstation. On the contrary, this will be an examination of how to keep some of those digital tools out of your way until you actually need them, and later, learning to recognize when you do need some of them and when you don't. So let's get started down the path to joy. The first thing is, well, the very first thing; what your DAW host is prepared to do for you as soon as it finishes launching. So let's start there.
Depending on what you create, you should have templates for everything. Reason being, if inspiration strikes you suddenly, you can go to your host, fire up a shortcut icon from your desktop, and be playing a melody as soon as it finishes launching. So create templates for those things.
- If you create a certain style of music, make a template with 2-3 of your favorite bass sounds already loaded with monitors on, 2 or 3 nice drum kits, a nice piano sound or 2, and a few choices of strings, along with some other things you typically may use, and save them as a template.
- When you fire up the host, the only thing you should have to do is start playing your MIDI keyboard and maybe switch to another MIDI channel to hit a different sound or drum kit.
- If you sing or play guitar, make sure to include audio tracks for those things in your template.
- If your genre of choice uses certain plug-ins, send reverbs, amp simulators for guitar, or other things which you may consider typical, load those into your template as well so you're much closer to the sound you want from the start.
- If you have MIDI drum patterns in certain styles that can facilitate your early creative process, load a few of them on tracks so they're immediately available.
- Put shortcuts to your most used templates on your desktop. This way, you get into the habit of launching a template instead of launching the host and then loading a template.
This should expedite the initial creative flow because it removes the immediate distraction of prepping the host to get your ideas down. Launch the host and you can immediately start banging out the drum pattern that's been swirling around in your head all day or playing that hot bass line you've been humming before you forget it. You can always change the sounds later of course.
Even some DAW manufacturers have caught on to this basic idea and are including preset templates for different styles of music, with certain instruments and plugs already loaded along with a generic drum pattern. Additionally, if you have a certain way to monitor during your creative process, include that in the template as well so launching of your host is as “launch and play” as it can be.
Here is a graphic example of the “Jazz” factory production template from Cubase 5.
Of particular note in this template is that it has a basic MIDI jazz drum pattern loaded, and the project loop cycle has already been set, which means that you can start composing right away by going into monitor on any MIDI track and starting the transport. Additionally, there are midi tracks for Bass, Guitar, and Piano, along with audio tracks for those same sources, and a vocal track, so you can start making music right away.
Finally, there are plug-ins already loaded with presets which are familiar to the genre, like the amp simulator with a “Clean Jazz” preset loaded on the guitar tracks.
Even though this is a very good factory production template, you should feel free to modify any factory templates to your specific needs. If your DAW doesn't include any production templates, you'll have to build your own from scratch. The time spent doing that will be well worth it.
Hopefully, by reducing the initial roadblocks toward creativity, you will be in a better position to get your ideas down without distraction. Later in part 2 of this series, we'll talk about my personal theory of how mixing during the creative process can sometimes enhance and/or inspire creativity. Stay tuned.