Think you know your DAW inside out? Worried that you don’t know it at all? The chances are you sit somewhere in between and are maybe not the most efficient DAW producer – so follow these tips to become a DAW power user…
1. Consider multiple monitors
We don’t mean studio monitors, we mean screen monitors. Computer screens have become so cheap now that you really should consider having two to really open up your DAW world. You can then, for example, have your song arrangement shown on one screen and your entire DAW mixer shown on the other.
It’s all about making in-the-box production feel, well, more ‘out of the box’… And if you have it all laid out on multiple screens, you’ll be amazed at just how speedy your production process becomes when you’re not constantly flicking between screen sets or different DAW features trying to see what’s going on. (Plus the fact that it makes your studio look like something out of NASA.)
2. Get in control
While we’re on the subject of separate screens for the main DAW tasks, consider an external controller for each one, too. Okay, this might be extravagant, but if you have a hardware controller just for mixing, maybe placed close to that mixing screen, you’ll suddenly find yourself mixing more, mixing with pleasure and with more control over your songs. Nothing beats having tactile feedback from proper hardware – and it will beat dragging a fader with a mouse every time…
3. Try a new DAW
We all know how hard it is to change and break out of habits, but there are more great DAWs around now than at any other time and many have a wealth of features for much less outlay than you might think. Software such as Acoustica’s Mixcraft Pro and Tracktion’s Waveform have developed well, while the more established Reason from Propellerhead now runs VST plug-ins and has plenty of pro features. Download some demos…
4. Get busy with the old one
If you don’t want to risk trying a new DAW – and we can understand why you might think that way – then it might be that you just need to break out of some bad habits with your existing one. Sometimes just sitting in on a fellow producer’s recording session can give you a whole new perspective on using (or reusing) your existing sequencer.
Watch videos, copy other methods, steal ideas. Heavens, even read the bloody manual to learn something new about your DAW each day. Put the extra effort in today to learn a new key command here or shortcut there and it will pay dividends for your music production.
5. Don’t use your DAW!
Okay, we’re not quite saying that here, but what your sequencer does very well is that it allows you to visualise your music – to have it laid out with all the notes and beats for you to see. However, what this had led to is a situation where modern producers are too reliant on looking at their music and less reliant on actually listening to it. So at one point in each of your productions, turn the screen off, look away and simply listen. You might be amazed at just how reliant you’ve become on looking at it… and you might just hear something you’ve never heard before.
6. Make the habit
Before turning this one on its head, DAWs are perfect for creating efficient starting points to music production. So get into some good habits when using your DAW and you’ll at least be approaching your music productions from a good starting point.
Use custom templates in your DAW to store effects on each track (an EQ and compressor is always good), or your favourite instruments and loops. Have a different template set up for different genres if you like, but get into some good habits before losing some of the bad ones. Talking of which…
7. Break the habit
If you’re anything like us, you might well have fallen into bad habits while using your DAW. This might mean that you start a track in exactly the same way, cycling around eight bars every time and composing more by-the-numbers, or just randomly adding stuff as you go.
If this is you, then in order to become a more efficient DAW user, you need to break these habits. So rather than reaching for that same template each time, load up a completely new project, lay it out in a different way, use different screen sets, start a piece of music with, say, bass rather than beats. Find new routes and you might find different ways of using your DAW, which could prove more creative or efficient.
8. Have a clear out
We’ve talked before about pruning your plug-ins so you can concentrate on the best ones, but this time around, we’ll expand that to pruning all of your options. Sometimes, too many options can detract you from the task at hand, so get control over what you have – your sample collection, your instruments, and your effects – and really go through them with a fine-tooth comb, weeding out the weak and promoting the strong. Be ruthless, it will feel great!
9. Get comfortable
Being hunched over a laptop making music is not great for the mind, body or soul. You can expand outwards with Tips 1 and 2 above, but on a very basic level, make sure you are comfortable, have a decent studio chair, get on the right level with your speakers and have everything you need within reach. A happy back makes for a happy DAW producer.
10. Bring your mobile world in
Your mobile music-making world is your scratchpad, your music-ideas machine. So find an efficient way to bring that world into your desktop studio. Have them working in perfect harmony by mirroring desktop and iOS setups, or plug in your tablet directly with a physical input, or use Dropbox to transfer files. Join both worlds up and you’ll expand your DAW horizons.