What's your workflow?

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PieterPenninckx
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What's your workflow?

Post by PieterPenninckx »

Since we're a very diverse group, I would like to hear from you what's the high-level workflow you use when writing music?

Some more detailed questions: Do you use the same workflow for each song? Where do you start: with chords, a drum rhythm, a melody, lyrics, a cool sample, ...? How do you add the other elements, in which order? Do you have distinct stages, or is it all blurred? Do you switch back and forward? What are the problems you typically encounter?
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Re: What's your workflow?

Post by PieterPenninckx »

I'll go first and answer my own question: I have multiple workflows and they pretty much determine the outcome.

Workflow one: the "classical" approach.
I improvise on the piano and when I find something nice, I write it down (with pen on paper). I usually have just a melody and chords, when I want to add a countermelody, it's like solving a hard jigsaw puzzle. (I haven't taken much lessons on music theory and some professional musicians advised against it, since it would make my compositions less original.) I also have trouble connecting different pieces. The end result is some sheet music that can be played.

Workflow two: the "computer" approach.
I try different improvisations (without click track) on the keyboard and make a midi recording of them. I typically use a piano sound from the keyboard (to avoid latency). I then choose a recording I like. If needed, I do some cleanup (fixing notes and timings). Then I add other voices either by copy-pasting from my recording or by drawing with the "piano roll" midi editor. I typically work "block by block", handling one melodic line after another from start to finish. However, I often switch back to previous blocks when I hear later that something's not quite right. I usually immediately "mix" the music by adjusting the note velocity and using the midi control channel 7 to adjust the volume (in case of crescendo/decrescendo). Near the end of the process, I add some effects, but I've noted that this doesn't really improve the end result that much, so I'm using less and less effects. I don't have a "mastering" stage.
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Re: What's your workflow?

Post by milo »

Every song is different. Sometimes it starts with a guitar riff, other times with a vocal hook or some other lyric idea. Sometimes it starts with a sketch my collaborator sends over for my input. Right now I have a song idea in the early stages that started with a story that I am turning into a folk ballad. Rarely do my songs start on a keyboard or on the computer.

There are four phases to the workflow:
1. composition
2. recording
3. mixing
4. mastering

These phases blend into one another, so that I'm still working out parts of the composition and already doing some provisional mixing while recording.
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Re: What's your workflow?

Post by d.healey »

I usually have an idea in mind of the kind of piece I want to write - the genre, action, or story, etc. that I want to convey. And then I just start noodling around on the piano with various ideas and I write down the ones that stick and try and develop them, if I can't get them to go anywhere I drop them and look for a new idea.

Once I've got something I think is workable I start creating variations on the idea and begin to put them down in a sequence. 99% of the time I'm doing this in Musescore but sometimes I'll do it in a DAW if I need to get it down really quickly.

I usually write on 4 - 8 piano staves. Once I'm happy with the piece (or sometimes as I'm still writing it) I'll begin orchestrating. I already know pretty much what instruments I'll use for the major parts as I'm writing it, but once I get to actually orchestrating I often come up with new ideas for some of the instruments, or add additional parts with other instruments.

Usually at this stage I'll start adding ornaments with percussion, unless the percussion was integral to the composition already, and I'll double certain parts on other instruments to shape the sounds the way I'd like.

Once that's done, if I'm going to make a mockup, I'll move over to a DAW and either play in the parts or bring in the MIDI exported from Musescore. Then lots more tweaking.

Then I'll do a little bit of mixing, I usually don't do much because I've balanced everything with the orchestration. Then perhaps some reverb and EQ and any similar adjustments. Then I'll render it as a single wave file and master it.
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Re: What's your workflow?

Post by vud1 »

I usually use several phases.

A first step in which I study the harmony that I want to use in the composition. Once I have very clear all the chords, modes, colors ... I begin the next step.

In this second step I write the first bass lines and drums in midi files on the daw, I record the first beta track for vocals and guitars.

At this point I decided the ... feeling I want in the song. I start to change the tempo, the structure (verse, 2 verses, chorus, etc.) and I think about the intensity of each part of the song.

In the next step I re-record the tracks with the sensations I am looking for. I modify the midi parts in coherence.

Once here ... I start the mixing phase, equalization, panning, etc. And I record some new tracks with "details".

Then I master everything ... and when it's finished I start again to record some parts and mix them ...

As last step, when all the song is finished, I record the voice track and the solos over the finished song.

Adjust the mastering parameters and the job is done.


I probably go back and forth a lot ... but until I have everything finished I am not very clear how I want to finish it ...
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Re: What's your workflow?

Post by LAM »

My workflow changed a lot lately when I switched from Ardour to BespokeSynth.

Difficult to describe it with words, a picture could be better:

Image

I became fascinated by the possibilities offered by modular environments.
The fact I have not to think about "tracks" and I can focus on evolving pieces that are more prone to be used "live".
While it's still possible to give these works a fixed structure, escaping the DAW paradigm can spark new ways of making "music".
Instead of focusing on writing notes and rythms myself, I'm having fun in controlling the randomness, trying to retain, more or less, musical characteristics.
I guess at one point the use of a DAW will be still useful to render these works in a "publishable" form.
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Re: What's your workflow?

Post by baconature »

In general, I try to avoid regimented methods for songwriting. I always want to allow the muse rather than applying an intentional force or direction. And then there are other times (personal moods) when I have a desire to write on a specific topic. Intended topical work however, is becoming more an exception to the rule, rather than, the way I roll. More often than not, I allow the song to enter, from a source that I don't rightly understand. Over the years, I have experienced what I think of as capturing what the muse brings, or can, enough to recognize its approach. When these moments come along, I want to halt all other activities, to sometimes run to the computer where I can write it out. I am referring to lyrics here. In the old days, before the computer, I tried to keep a notebook readily available, for quick access to a writing space, for these occasions. So yes, I am sort of a technological dinosaur, pushing 70 now. Before the arrival of computers, I had only a cassette tape player, or in other words not much.

Thus the methods reflected here are, and have been, shaped by experiences over time beside innovation of a given period and accessibility to hardware. Now with this hardware available at the flip of a switch, so to say, my process has evolved. I have different methods for different occasions. Is it an new idea that forms a song, or am I working to record something written long ago. The two require different methods, and then there is the muse which seems to have its own, mysterious nature.

First, the new stuff, an example from this past week. (I must now state that, I am not a pianist at all. I have a piano and use it only on occasion, but my level of ability would be termed as novice.) I was doodling around with the piano considering a theory I have been reading about (totally off topic). In that process I struck a G chord followed by a G7 chord that created an idea. It was the range of notes in the fingering that caused a curious notion, I soon found a pattern of chords that struck this pea brain, as quite interesting. So with this in mind, I opened My DAW and Ardour, routed the signal from the keyboard, then recorded it, straight out. As stated I am a novice with the instrument, and it sounded like crap, honestly, yet it captured the idea, sort of jazz in its nature. Step two, I opened Hydrogen (drumming sequencer) to develop a rough basic, simple but consistent supporting beat. I followed that by going through the midi recording to repair my clumsy finger's horror show. The piece is quite simple, with a basic blues structure. In this midi track, I had to adjust every note, through a single cycle of the progression. With that I replaced the entire remnant section of the recording. I followed that by expanding the drumming track. Last night I began working up a bass track with an electric bass. That is the extent of this project thus far. It remains incomplete.

A second example of new, began 2 days ago. Okay, I keep a mental list of ideas (topics) that I remain open to, as desirous for subjects for songs. I was doing some nonsense daily life stuff when a poetic thought, "came in." It was just one line of verse. I thought about it, while continuing my activity. Soon an additional line with equal rhyming came along. It was at this point that I recognized the potential of it being the muse, yet it was not one of those drop everything moments, where again I noted it, and these little things just remained in my mind for a couple of hours. I finally decided to at least write the words out, so opened a word processor to do that. I wrote it out, then sat there for a while, pondering a musical form, and jotted down some notes as to a possible musical shape. Nothing further came, save, close. The following day with one of those previously mentioned list items in mind, I recognized how these two ideas might mesh, came back to the "file," and I wrote more. I then took the new idea and added it to the previous. I wrote out a second verse a chorus and hook. This one is very atypical for me. When the muse comes to visit, I am usually granted a complete set of lyrics, with need for only a musical composition, and sometimes they form together as a single unit. This piece however, remains incomplete, without any inclination as to its future, other than the idea.

Then there are the projects of, old songs not yet recorded. I am developing for myself a methodology that is somewhat fitting for me and my hardware. Maybe the bigger issue is picking which to put in priority, but that too is a different topic. I have found that it works much better when I begin by making a simple repeating drumming track to hold down the beat, as the best place to start, which begins by establishing a known tempo. From there I create a beat with Hydrogen, that is really just a temporary tool for making a rough first go recording of rhythm guitar and vocals. From that point I do what ever the song requires, usually beginning with bass. I generally record an electric bass track, but like piano, I am not really proficient so I then do the hard way of writing out a midi mimic of what I have recorded with the bass. I find that composing via midi is both cumbersome and worse yet, I can often loose focus on the song's intention, where as I can create something that fails to fully compliment the piece while in the process. I do much better with the instrument for composition, I simply can't capture it well. With a bass track complete, I may go back to Hydrogen to work up a fitting percussion track (still difficult, I'm not a drummer either). I then make isolated recordings of guitars, vocals and vocal harmonies (if wanted), followed by some other midi tracks if I want. The order in which I do these things is actually rather random. Along the way, I sort of adjust track levels according to my need to hear the rhythm section while recording the other instruments / vocals. When the recordings are complete I then add effects where needed, reverb for vocals, EQ on some instruments, sometimes I employ compression. This is followed by a final session of mixing to what I "think is right?" The subjective nature of that remains.

I suppose this is my work flow. It truly is dependent on the occasion and the song.
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Re: What's your workflow?

Post by Jam »

I have several ways to work. Sometimes I am playing with someone instrument (piano, guitar, bass or cello), and melody or cadence ideas come to me. Then I take paper and pencil for writing. Then I work over these musical ideas about harmonies, rythms, voices, and all around, and help me with computer and musical software.
At the end I try to record something, very basic, and then I arrange the final sound.

Other times, I start to work only with editor program in computer, and I create the whole music so. In this way, I can start with a melody, or some chords, or a rythm that make the fundament for the follow music development.

But in resume, I haven't an usual and solid methodology. :mrgreen:
Last edited by Jam on Sat Feb 05, 2022 3:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What's your workflow?

Post by kamiluni »

Hi,
I follow this kind of workflow (note that this can be right for me only!)
Let me describe some steps of my workflow as if I give some advice to someone...but these are not advice, only what I do and what works for me!
There are many factors that influences the result, they are strange sometimes:
0. I prepared my music location to be acoustically good, quiet, comfortable, beautiful (for me), clean and with the right lighting, atmosphere and scented(!)....for me it is very important for inspiration
1. I must be in the mood to play: if not it is better to do something else, because the result will be a waste of time and frustration :?
2. turn on the instruments, pc etc...
3. search some sounds on my synths or play the piano...casually listening my inside sensations
4. play play play...with no sense and try to play chords you don't usually play and listen it, add notes or subtract without theory in mind (NOTE: this doesn' not means you don't have to know the theory...but left you the possibility to ignore rules)
5. something good appear? if yes, start Ardour and record it immediately...if not...prepare a glass of good whisky wit 3 pieces of ice and slowly drink int while playing again. In this way the probability to find something good increase of the 90%. (but not more than 1 drink!!!!!!!) :lol:
6. record ALWAYS everything!
7. add drums searching the right rhythm
8. sing over some random words and check for the melody...If something is good...play it with a keyboard and record for the next steps. Mute the track and try another melody and other random words.
9. check if the language (Italian, English, French, etc.) is right for the music. Every language has 2 dominant frequency bands and should be "consonants" with the music.
10. add every pad you need, add, instruments, guitars and attempt some contrasts :o and unusual sounds
11. AAARGH....an enormity of tracks that when they all play one makes the other disappear :roll: ...I'll think about it tomorrow :mrgreen:
12. adjust music, substitute some tracks, re-play some...clean some others
13. Search for "variatio": cut, delete, quiet...search to the character of your music.
14. STOP for 3 o 4 days (and work to other music if you want)
15. open and listen...try to feel with your ear...and heart. Try to imagine a scene like in a film...an write something about...this will be the start point of lyrics
16. listen in loop while you write and refer to the magic potion described at point 5.
17. lyrics done---> sing it over! and find where words have to be, time and voice timbre!
18. record, re-record, rerere-cord, rererere-record......
19. STOP for 3-4 days
20. listen....and decide if somethings good, else goto 3.
21. mix!, re-mix, rere-mix, ...
22. STOP for 1 day or more
22. listen....and decide if somethings good, else goto 3.
23. listen your work, and remix if necessary
24. STOP
25. search some good friends and send it to them
26. can something be better? if yes, goto 3. or 21.
27. is it the time to say END? if not....STOP stop for at least a week else....
28. MASTER (if possible don't do it yourself!)
29. listen on you cell phone, in your car, on the smart TV, etc.
30. is it good? if not goto 23. else
31. SPAM IT!

This is my algorithm ... I hope someone find it useful :roll: :wink:

KL
Last edited by kamiluni on Thu Apr 14, 2022 3:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What's your workflow?

Post by OccinticLady »

Hi,
I'm the beginner here and have learned a ton in this forum (*gratefull bow*)
For the time being, I start with silence. No music from monday morning and on...
The setup us lit, ready for use. I'd go for a piano, but I have no space to put it :lol:
A motief comes up, a few notes, I play these, and usually record that in the DAW...
I build up from there.
If, however, I plan to go "one shot" (as in "live")...I lay out the sounds on the set and play the sequence until I'm confident enough to record or stream...
This is becomming insufficient. So I need to write things down, musicwise...
I dove into music theory...just for that...
My workflow will change ;)
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Re: What's your workflow?

Post by digitsun »

LAM wrote: Thu Nov 18, 2021 4:39 pm My workflow changed a lot lately when I switched from Ardour to BespokeSynth.

Difficult to describe it with words, a picture could be better:

Image
I can detect two softwares here: Bespoke and JackMixer. What is the other?
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Re: What's your workflow?

Post by Largos »

Looks like RaySession.
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LAM
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Re: What's your workflow?

Post by LAM »

digitsun wrote: Tue Apr 05, 2022 1:32 am
LAM wrote: Thu Nov 18, 2021 4:39 pm My workflow changed a lot lately when I switched from Ardour to BespokeSynth.

Difficult to describe it with words, a picture could be better:

Image
I can detect two softwares here: Bespoke and JackMixer. What is the other?
Largos wrote: Tue Apr 05, 2022 9:26 am Looks like RaySession.
Right. :D
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Re: What's your workflow?

Post by OccinticLady »

LAM wrote: Tue Apr 05, 2022 9:56 am
digitsun wrote: Tue Apr 05, 2022 1:32 am
LAM wrote: Thu Nov 18, 2021 4:39 pm My workflow changed a lot lately when I switched from Ardour to BespokeSynth.

Difficult to describe it with words, a picture could be better:

Image
I can detect two softwares here: Bespoke and JackMixer. What is the other?
Largos wrote: Tue Apr 05, 2022 9:26 am Looks like RaySession.
Right. :D
Wow! Talking about a picture telling a thousand words...this hops right over the one thousand... :o
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Avoid too many ostinatos.

Post by tapenade »

When I was deep in a routine of constant music-making, I made it a specific point to always reconfigure my entire home studio before making or working on each tune. I was trying to teach myself new techniques and increase the probability that I'd accidentally discover other nice techniques.

I think that turned out to be true.

Even for arrangement techniques, I did that too.
But a part of the variety for me was having almost a modular synthesizer or patchbay technique, even though I was just using rackmount effects modules and daisy chained MIDI gear and a few fledgeling hard disk recorders.

One game changer was when a teacher taught me and my classmates to analyse the song structure of our favorite tunes.
That's when I discovered and kinda proved to myself that a few of my favorite bands and their best tunes were tied to less common arrangement structure.

VERSE / CHORUS / VERSE / CHORUS, etc. is not exactly a workflow, but it sure does imply one. And anything that kinda gets further away from that without devolving into "progressive" trance i think is a good thing. Too many ostinatos is a problem.
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