How to create a highly productive music production workflow

We’re fortunate to live in a time where just about anyone can produce radio-ready music and Oscar-winning soundtracks from home. However, you must address several challenges to build a highly productive music production workflow: 

  • Your production setup has to cater to your individual needs. Your production process and structure may look completely different from other producers, and that’s fine. The umbrella of creating music and composing is vast, so you need to define your production priorities to find what works best for your music specialty. 
  • You have to consider both your hardware and software components. Some producers rely more heavily on hardware, while others build beats digitally. The interaction between several interfaces introduces plenty of room for inefficiencies. 
  • Making music has become more remote than ever. Today, you can create an entire album without stepping foot in a professional studio. While this offers plenty of flexibility to the average musician, it means producers must adapt to the challenges of remote collaboration with CPU-heavy software. 

Navigating these setbacks on your own can seem overwhelming, but there are tools to help you optimize your music production workflow for the modern age. 

Below, we teach you how to craft the perfect music production workflow so you can build beats when inspiration strikes with less stress and effort. 

What is a music production workflow? 

A music production workflow is the specialized way a producer or musician records music or composes, interacting with both hardware and software elements. Music production workflows vary by genre, project scope, and available resources. 

It’s conceivable that a music producer or composer may have a mobile workflow and a studio workflow to stay productive while on and off the road. 

Taking the time to define your process allows you to accomplish a few goals: 

  • You create music efficiently: Musicians frequently take to the road at a moment’s notice, so having a designated setup for travel is essential. Keeping up a regular release schedule without remote collaboration tools is hard, especially on the road. 
  • You better define your skill set: Ironing out your personalized workflow helps you determine your skill set and market yourself to other musicians. 

A hardware synthesizer enthusiast has a very different workflow from an electronic beatmaker, and that’s okay! Knowing these differences early on gives clients a more technical understanding of what you can provide them. 

  • You make more music: Even something as enjoyable as producing music or composing can feel like a slog from time to time. Proactively reducing resistance in your setup time can help you make more music with less stress. 

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The 7 elements of a highly effective music production workflow

Defining the components of individual beats varies based on the style of the song and the scope of collaboration with other artists. In any event, you need a combination of the tools listed below to create beats effectively. 

Digital audio workstation

A digital audio workstation (DAW) is the technical name for the software used to produce music. Some common DAWs include Avid’s Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Apple’s Logic Pro, and FL Studio. Each DAW more or less operates in the same fashion, but you might be more accustomed to one over the other, depending on your specialty as a producer.

For instance, EDM and hip-hop creators might gravitate to FL Studio due to the DAW’s robust step sequencer. Mixing engineers may prefer Pro Tools for its limitless audio bussing capabilities. 

Creating DAW templates for different scenarios helps you streamline your workflow. You can set up your DAW so these project files are the default upon opening your workstation. 

Audio interface

An audio interface is a device used to connect hardware instruments or microphones to your DAW. It converts recordings into files you can manipulate in your DAW. If you plan to record vocals on a standard condenser microphone or track instrument parts, you need one of these devices.

Audio interfaces typically provide a source for phantom power, which can power some microphones. They also have several outputs allowing you to hear your mix through studio monitors or headphones.

Collaboration tools 

Being a musician is naturally a collaborative experience. Even if you don’t plan on bringing in session songwriters, vocalists, or instrumentalists, showing your work to other musicians for a second opinion is part of building the strongest beat possible.

With something as dynamic as music, it’s best to optimize for real-time collaboration tools. Software like Evercast makes it easy to stream HD audio and video with ultra-low latency from any digital audio workstation. Send time-stamped notes, record sessions, and give live feedback to make the strongest song possible. 

Evercast doesn’t require any additional hardware, and participants can join sessions with a click of a button. It’s an invaluable tool for any producer, artist, or engineer who wants to recreate that “in-studio” experience while working remotely with collaborators

Note that no collaboration tool will allow you to play completely in-sync – the goal is to create an experience with the least amount of lag possible. Tools like Evercast, for instance, allow you to record individual tracks with ultra-low latency consistently so that the quality of your multitracks isn’t compromised. Evercast supports streaming in 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound so that you’re able to communicate seamlessly, regardless of whether you’re using mono or stereo. 

Studio headphones and monitors

Studio headphones (not traditional headphones or AirPods) are vital to producing or composing music properly. You can connect studio headphones or monitors to your computer with an audio interface.

Commercially produced headphones and speakers for the average listener tend to have boosted frequencies. While this can help enhance the average listening experience, it can also distort your sense of perception while producing or composing. 

Microphones, instruments, and additional hardware 

Even if you build most of your music inside your DAW, you may want to record some live tracks from a vocalist or instrumentalist. To do so, have a reliable microphone and XLR cables handy, along with instrument cables and power for any additional hardware in your production workflow. 

You can record these sounds directly into your audio interface, which transmits the recordings to your DAW of choice. 

Samples, plugins, and VSTs 

Within your DAW lies a sample library, plugins, and virtual instruments (VSTs) to help you build beats and sound design. Keep these organized so you have easy access to your preferred tools. 

Most DAWs allow you to favorite specific effects, samples, and instruments to access them efficiently. You can also create presets on several virtual tools and plugins to streamline your process. 

File storage and backups 

As much as we like to think we won’t ever need to access our old project files, there are far too many scenarios in which we do. You never know when you might have to export stems for a remix, synchronization placement, or live performance, and you may need your project files to inspire new pieces. 

That said, file storage and backups are critical. Producers are often on the hook to hold on to session files for vocalists or other musicians, so invest in a cloud-based platform and make a point to incorporate adequate data management into your production workflow. 

A sample workflow: recording and producing music in Ableton Live

Let’s put these essential tools to good use! Here’s how all the production elements above combine to create an effective music production workflow. 

1. Create a project in your DAW

To start, create a new project in your digital audio workstation. Give it a temporary name and open up any preferred presets based on the future stages in your process. 

For instance, if you’re recording vocals, you might add a new audio track and load it with audio effects like a compressor, EQ, and reverb tailored to your voice. 

You can start with programmed production and then move to live recording or vice versa. There isn’t one right way to record music; it comes down to anticipating your needs for each track and proactively taking steps to reduce friction at each stage of the process. 

2. Record live instruments

Set up your audio interface, microphones, and any other equipment you need as you record. Use studio headphones to monitor your own or other musicians’ performances while recording directly into your DAW. 

Make sure you’re providing enough phantom power to support your hardware gear. You might skip this step with fully electronic compositions. 

3. Build out your beat

Now that you’ve laid down your live tracks, all that’s left to do is build your beats. You might have to comp and clean up some of the live audio tracks with basic editing, effects, and automation. 

Continue adding instrumentation, samples, and anything else until you reach a good stopping point for your current session. 

Note that most producers don’t finish songs in a single session. Breaking down your music production workflow into several days or months is normal. Cater your process to your specific schedule. 

4. Save and save again

Avoid having a plugin or VST push your CPU over the edge, leading your DAW to crash and effectively losing some, if not all, of your work. Get familiar with your “Save” quick key. 

Save your sessions as often as possible, especially after finishing an important section or making significant headway in your project. Also, save multiple versions each time you sit down and rework a project. Upload these files to a solid-state drive, cloud-based storage platform, or both to ensure you have significant backups. 

5. Collaborate with other artists and composers

Once you finish the first version of your prospective beat, it’s time to bring in other artists. It’s easy to become accustomed to your own creations. Bringing in other trusted musicians can give you the perspective you need to finish or rework your beat. 

Sometimes, you might work with a vocalist or instrumentalist to record additional parts. Regardless, it’s a good idea to seek feedback from other musicians on different aspects of your song, like songwriting, production, or the mix balance, if applicable. 

Need a way to collaborate on your music production workflows?

Evercast makes it easy to power your songwriting, recording, production, composing, or mixing sessions from anywhere. Collaborate in real-time, streaming across any DAW with ultra-low latency to keep the creativity flowing without interruption. 

This software-only solution allows you to stream HD audio, video chat, send time-stamped notes, and share your screen with less than 200 ms of latency. Build the closest thing to an in-studio experience, whether you’re on the road or working from opposite sides of the world. 

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