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Advice for music producers

The one piece of advice I give to all music producers

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I'm working on some songs that I wrote back in 2016. When I look back at the songs that I wrote in that year I'm really proud of them. I started producing songs in 2014[archived] after taking a 2-hour Ableton workshop at work, and a lot of my initial songs are EDM. It's a style I don't particularly like, but that was what the people making YouTube tutorials were doing, so I started doing the same, learning both about the genre(s) as well as the different techniques.

In 2015 I challenged myself to write a song every week, and I succeeded. The songs from 2015[archived] are all over the place, but as I wrote song after song practicing techniques and learning music production I also slowly started to develop my own style: hopeful, with guitars and simple melodies that build up to something more complex. I think Saudade[archived], the 50th song of the year, is the first song that I got right.

2016 was the year that I decided to do FAWM[archived] for the first time, a challenge to write 14 songs[archived] in 28 days. I decide to write songs with titles from different languages, each one a word that's hard to translate. For example, my favorite song is Gökotta[archived], a Swedish word that could be translated as "to wake up early in the morning with the purpose of going outside to hear the first birds sing". I tried to capture the spirit of each word, mostly without using lyrics — the exception is a song with the lyrics "love, love, a lot of love".

These songs are close to my heart because they felt like something I wanted to say. The quality is not the best of course, since I had on average little more than 2 days (2016 was a leap year) to compose, record, arrange, mix and master each one. But that was when I solidified my style.

Outside of FAWM I also wrote a dozen songs that still impress me when I listen to them, for other challenges. I was still trying to write a song per week, and even though I didn't succeed[archived] I have songs like Harmonics[archived] and Bay Trail[archived], with non-traditional drums and many layers. I also tried[archived] to write 50 songs during 90 days for the 50-90[archived] challenge, and the first five songs sound really good, with Genesis[archived] being my favorite.

My plan is to re-mix and re-master some of the songs from 2016, and re-record the guitar. Listening to the songs now I can hear many problems, so I can combine the experience I've acquired since then and apply it to the raw creativity I had at the time. Since I've "rediscovered" them I've been listening, writing down mistakes and things that could've been better, and making a selection for an album.

The biggest problem in working with these songs is that I produced them using a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) called Bitwig[archived]. I switched to Bitwig after using Ableton for 1-2 years because I wanted to learn something new, and Bitwig has an amazing workflow for connecting plugins and modulating parameters. But even though Bitwig is a great DAW, after another 1-2 years I switched to an open-source DAW called Ardour[archived], and started producing music on Linux with open-source plugins. This decision was mostly based on principles, but I think it did make me a better producer since it forced me to learn the more limited tools I had at hand.

I still have the project files from the songs I produced in 2016. But they are for Bitwig, and mostly use plugins that I no longer have (I gave away all the commercials plugins that I had, transferring their licenses) or that are no longer supported. To work on those projects I reinstalled on a Mac laptop the old version of Bitwig that I had, together with the old plugins that I had backups of. I had to buy a few commercial plugins again, but they were not expensive and I could benefit from Black Friday for one of them.

But there's more. Some of the projects are missing audio files that used to live in scattered directories in my old Mac Mini from 2016. Luckily I have backup of all the files, but I need to transfer them to my laptop and place each one in the right directory. It's a lot of work, but I think it's definitely worth it.

Now for my advice.

Whenever you finish a project, if your DAW has a button to collect all the samples, click it. This will ensure that all external audio files are saved together with the project. It will take more space in your computer, but space is cheap and your time is precious.

Once you've done that, bounce each track to an audio file. This is easier in some DAWs than others. Bouncing each track to audio will allow you to work on the song again in the future even if you are in a different operating system, or if the plugins are no longer supported. It gives you some flexibility in going back to the project to work on the mix. Plus, you can also use the bounce to sample yourself in other songs.


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