Blog: How Many Summers Have You Got Left?

How to use your time effectively in the studio      31/07/13

Tactic 2: Make stir fries, not stews

The Beatles famously recorded Please Please Me in an exhausting 12-hour session. These days it's not unusual to spend longer than that on a single drum track. However, I've found that if I spend too long on something I tend to suck the life out of it. So, rather than approach a piece of music as a hearty, slow-cooking stew, I try to think of it as a stir fry. I do my best to record quickly, with gusto. I grab a few simple, fresh ingredients (to extend the metaphor), slice them thinly and quickly sizzle with a little oil and a dash of soya sauce. What I hope to end up with are bright colours, crisp vegetables and a zinging taste on my tongue. And if it tastes bad? 

Your bin - well my binTactic 3: Make friends with your bin

The great think about not spending too long on a track is that you won't mind so much if it's awful. 'It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing,' was Duke Ellington's advice. And if it ain't swinging in the first couple of hours, the chances are it still won't be swinging in two days' time. I've lost track of the precious hours I've wasted on music that's going nowhere. My hard drive is full of half-finished tracks and sketched ideas that I occasionally load up (another time-wasting dead end). My advice to myself is to make friends with my virtual bin. These days, if it isn't working, I give up, bin it, and start on something new. I'm finding I have more fun and, hopefully, am ending up with better music as a result.

Sometimes, though, I listen to 'the voices', who tell me that everything I do, everything... is rubbish. 'Bin it all!' they say.


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7 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
Al    Said...

Good post. Here's one tip I can add:

A while back I experimented with getting up early - like 5am early. Weirdly, I found it's actually quite easy to wake up that early (somehow giving yourself more time in bed makes you sleepier when you get up, ironically).

The benefit is I ended up with at least two peaceful, responsibility-free hours with nobody else up - so you have time to make music, write, whatever.

It's like the kind of time you have late at night, but without the danger of overdoing it, staying up till 2am, and ending up very tired the next day.

You then go to work with stuff already achieved before the very day is begun, using time you were just sleeping through before.

Recommended! This post has reminded me to try it again.

31-Jul-13 05:35 AM

Mattsynth    Said...

True statement and a very interesting solution. How about the times when you have an idea in your mind and when you go to record it you cannot get the sound or mix just the way it was in your head. Music today is so buried in technology, computers, DAW & plugins I don't not know which thing to adjust first. Guitar tracks have always been difficult for me and I waste a lot of time trying to get then just right.

31-Jul-13 12:44 PM

Connor    Said...

When I want to make music, I usually plug my synth into my computer's external audio input, turn on a DAW, and start with what it is that the track needs, so I might say, "ok, I need a percussion track first" and then start programming that and then getting a good bpm to work with. The rest is a cluttered mess of adding bass and leads and rhythms and vocals, but hey, it works for me. Nonetheless, the article definitely had some good tips and I plan on implementing some, if not all, of them into my music sessions.

31-Jul-13 01:06 PM

Ted    Said...

Profound advice!

I rarely come up with anything worth a fig if I sit down at my DAW and just expect lightning.

A decent idea or hummed riff is probably worth 10 hours of random noodling.

31-Jul-13 07:55 PM

Matthew Tanner    Said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

Hi Al, I've also tried getting up early - I wrote a (very bad) novel after getting up at 4:30 every morning for six months. Ended up pretty tired though, which is why I decided to go down to three days a week.

Hi Matt, thanks - I'm not too bad with guitars and bass, but struggle getting a rhythm track to swing with any genuine sense of conviction. Maybe we should team up!

Hi Connor - good luck trying out my tactics - hope they work for you.

Hi Ted - totally agree with you - the idea has to come first.

And I wanted to write about steering clear of loops - they're one of the biggest time wasters in my book. We're musicians - we should make loops, not assemble them. They're as evil as presets in my opinion - and every bit as tempting...

01-Aug-13 10:48 AM

5SN    Said...

Good article. It's something I've been thinking about a lot. I think one of the problems is that electronic music (which I make) can be expected to be polished to perfection. Also, DAWs allow endless tinkering of incredibly fine details. And then, there's that little voice that says, "I just need to do this, that or the other to make the track better". I definitely think it's a good tip to keep writing and recording, mixing and mastering, all separate. My two cents.

01-Aug-13 11:26 AM

Dan    Said...

Great advice. Unfortunately, in the US if you stop working or go part time you lose health care (if you had it in the first place). Complicates the decision.

02-Aug-13 02:58 PM

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