The theme for this post is organisation. Wait! Don't go! 😃
I appreciate it's not the most exciting of topics, but when some simple tools can make you faster and better at writing music, it's at least worth taking them into consideration.
While I'll be discussing Logic Pro here, most of the organisation tips can be applied in any DAW, so it's good to be aware of some key concepts.
I won't even mention naming/labelling your tracks (see what I did there) as it's so fundamental to a functional project.
One of the other big advantages of doing this kind of organisation is that it makes your life much easier if you need to come back to projects later on, for example, if a client needs to recall, edit or remix a track.
I love Markers, they're pretty much essential to my workflow. Markers allow you to label sections of your arrangement e.g. Verse, Chorus, Bridge etc. for quick reference when working on a project.
To create a Marker, you'll first need to reveal Global Tracks. To do this, click the Global Tracks icon.
You'll see tracks for Arrangement, Marker, Signature and Tempo. To create a Marker, first locate the playhead where you'd like the Marker to display and click the '+' icon next to the title.
Now you can name it whatever you'd like. Here I've started with a 'Verse'.
Handily, you can also colour-code your Markers. Although this seems pretty superficial, it can be very valuable, especially when you're navigating quickly between sections, or you have a large project.
To choose a colour for your Marker, press Alt + C to reveal the colour palette (make sure the Marker is highlighted before you select the colour).
In addition, there are some nifty ways to navigate the arrangement with Markers.
2) Track Stacks
Track Stacks were introduced in Logic Pro X as a more effective way of grouping tracks and organising busses.
For example, if you have a set of drum tracks that would be easier to treat as a group, you can create a 'Drum' Track Stack.
Track Stack types
There are two forms of Stack: Folder Stack and Summing Stack.
A Folder Stack is purely for organisation purposes, such as grouping your drum tracks as above. It creates a handy dropdown so that you can hide and reveal all of the tracks within this stack when required - extremely useful if you have a large arrangement!
A Summing Stack works in the same way as a Folder Stack, only it also sums the outputs of all the tracks within the stack to a bus. The bus is created automatically, and you can process all of the tracks within it as a whole.
I use Summing Stacks all of the time to create stem sub-mixes for a much easier, more controlled, and more flexible mixing experience.
Create a Stack
To create a Track Stack, simply highlight all of the tracks that you want included within this stack in the Arrange. You can do this by selecting the first track, holding Shift and then selecting the last track.
Right-click one of the tracks and select Create Track Stack from the menu (or typing Shift + Cmd + D).
Then simply choose which Stack you'd prefer.
For more information on Track Stacks, click here.
NOTE: If Track Stacks don't seem to be available within the menu, make sure you've enabled 'Advanced Tools' in Logic's preferences. You can access this via Logic's application menu: Logic Pro X > Preferences > Advanced Tools.
3) Colour-coding tracks
If your arrangements are getting pretty large, or you have a lot of tracks to mix, it's a good idea to colour-code your parts for more optimised organisation. Although this can seem pretty OCD, this little bit of upfront effort can really speed up your workflow when you're dealing with lots of material.
I find 16 unorganised tracks perfectly manageable, 50 slow me down, and 100 will bring me to a halt every few minutes.
In the same way that you can colour Markers, you can also colour-code tracks and busses (including Track Stacks) using Alt + C. Once again, this reveals the colour palette where you can choose a preferred colour for your tracks.
My tip here would be to select a whole track by clicking on it in the Arrange area - this highlights all of the regions within that track - then choosing the appropriate colour. This way, all of the regions will become coloured too, which is great as a visual cue for organisation.
What's really nice when colouring Track Stacks, is that the whole Stack range will become highlighted with the chosen colour in the Arrange. You'll see this when you hit the Stack dropdown...useful!
To make things more efficient, I try to stick to a consistent colouring pattern where possible so that it's quicker and easier for me to pick things out within an arrangement. For example, I normally use the following colour structure where I can:
- Drums: Blue
- Percussion: Light Blue
- Bass: Purple
- Synths/Keys: Green
- Guitars: Orange
- FX: Yellow
- Lead Vocals: Red
- Backing Vocals: Pink
As mentioned, this isn't fixed, but I try to stick with it where possible so that I know where I am.
On a similarly visual note, I've found that using icons to highlight tracks can also be very useful.
I must admit, I used to think this seemed pretty childish and I found it difficult to justify any time spent colouring in or using pretty pictures. But, once again, that changed when my projects became larger. Icons act as another fast, visual cue so that you can work more efficiently and be on top of project organisation.
To change a track's icon, first select the track and then open up the Inspector on the left of the screen.
Next, make sure that the 'Track' dropdown is revealed. Here you'll see the configured icon - click on it to open the icon menu.
Here you can choose from a variety of stock icons. You can also do the same for busses, as well as tracks.
If you love to customise, you can even import your own icon sets, if you're so inclined! A quick Google search will bring up some neat hacks.
First of all let me admit that I don't often use the 'Notes' tool in Logic, but when I do, it's really useful and serves a specific purpose.
Rather than having notes in a separate application or notebook, you can jot them down right their within the Logic project itself. That means you don't have to worry about losing them, or not having your notebook with you. Organisation to the max.
It's also super useful if you're collaborating on a project, as your friend or client can see everything right there in the session file.
Notes works in two ways: you can make notes on an overall project, or on individual tracks. Why is it useful to have both of these options? I've provided some quick reference examples below to illustrate:
- Structure, arrangement or compositional points
- Mix notes for the overall project
- End of session pointers to revisit in the next session
- Song lyrics
- Feedback to a collaborator or client
- Mix notes for individual tracks e.g. turn up bass in chorus
- Issues with a particular track e.g. pops/glitches, tuning
- End of session notes on individual tracks to remember next time
- Feedback to a collaborator or client
To create a Note, select the Note button on the top-right of the screen.
You'll then be presented with both Project and Track options for your Note. To make a note on the whole project, type in the Project box.
To make a note on the selected track, choose the Track box. You can change the track by (you guessed it) selecting a different track.
You can also format notes if you wish.
Hopefully you get the idea with these tips. As I said, it takes a little bit of effort but it really is worth it, I promise! You'll be whizzing around large projects with optimal organisation in no time with these tricks. Why not try them out in your next project?
If you have any questions about any of these points, shoot me an email and I'll be happy to help. Alternatively, if you have an organisation tip that you'd like to share, please do let me know in the comments below - I'd love to hear!