I’m currently in the midst of a heavy writing deadline for a 4-part TV series, having to write a lot of music as quickly as possible. I wanted to share with you two techniques I’m using to help me write and produce more efficiently within my DAW, (Digital Audio Workstation.) They are useful for any type of media composing, or really any music you are creating on your DAW.
These methods help to keep your music making when inside your DAW on track, and not ruin your creative flow by getting sucked into processes that should really be done later! The methods we’ll touch on here are firstly using markers, then also the way I leave myself notes within my DAW when scoring TV shows on a tight timeline. It helps me work quicker and actually get tracks finished in time!
Method 1: Markers
You may already be familiar with markers in your DAW.
Markers are useful ways of marking up a certain point in a track. They are visual written words that you can leave yourself at a specific point in a bar. People often use “Verse” or “Chorus” so they can jump to that section quickly, or see where it is in relation to the parts of the track they are working on. Score composers often use markers for footage references. For example, if you know you need to musically hit a certain point in the film at bar 52, use a marker to write “stop here”/“car brakes”/“monkey jumps”, or whatever it is.
In the example below, a marker is used to remember to end the cue on the shot of the clouds at bar 60:
An effective order to approach this when scoring to picture is to first watch the part of the film you are scoring a few times. Then map out the tempo: stick the metronome function on and make sure the tempo(s) of the sequence are set. (Often, this is matching up your tempo to sync up with that of the temp track.) At that point, create your markers with the important moments you need to hit.
If you’re writing library music where there is no picture, you may be starting with a guide piano or guitar track, or chaining some loops together to form the backbone of what will be your track. Then figure out where your sections will be, including any “gearshifts” or “moments”, (check out the 3 free videos from the Library Music That Sells course to find out about these.) Highlight these points with markers in your DAW so that as you are composing you can clearly see the visual structure you are working towards. It will keep your writing more concise to have these parameters in place ahead of time.
Method 2: Leaving Notes to Yourself Inside of Your DAW
I do this all the time when I’m writing and it’s invaluable to me. Let me explain how and why I do it.
I find that composing and producing happen simultaneously a lot of the time in media music work. I usually write a melodic or harmonic part, (composing), record it in on my samples and then often start sculpting that sound (producing), before I subsequently start to decide what else may work with it.
However, I’m also aware that spending too much time starting to produce and mix (adjusting volumes) at this stage can pull me away from the writing part and consume energy in refining, rather than progressing. That’s when you end up not finishing a track and going down various production rabbit holes!
So I am constantly using the little text tool to write myself notes on the MIDI blocks for later. My most common ones are “Louder” and “Quieter”, or “Automate” when I need to come back and add expression or keyswitching to a part. (Keyswitching, for example, might include going back to make the short notes be played by a dedicated staccato patch, and the long notes by a long note patch, for essential added realism. But I don’t want to do that boring music admin stuff right then and there, and interrupt the creative flow.)
I also write myself these messages if I’m not sure of something I’ve done, but can’t find a better alternative right at that point. I might write “too high?” or “wrong instrument?” or “too thin?”. You get the idea. When I listen back after taking a break, I’ll either agree or disagree with my notes and also that’s often when solutions come to mind.
These are just some of the ways to leave yourself notes and not break the all important creative flow with mundane tasks that can be done later.
What are your ways of working efficiently as you go? Do you have any good tips to share on the front? Feel free to leave them for others to read in the comments below.