Probably the most undervalued factor in becoming a professional songwriter is speed. Being able to write a song in a day or two dramatically increases your output and therefore possibilities.
- The more songs you write, the more artists you can write for.
- The more songs you write, the more you can upload for your fans.
- The more songs you write, the more you can sell (hey, we all gotta make a living, right?)
- It simply feels great to be able to write a song quickly.
- There’s no overthinking things, you have to rely on your intuition, meaning your songs don’t mutate
- You are always the first to be heard in pitches if you can send in your songs first.
All in all, being an efficient writer is something to aspire to, and here are my 7 pro tips for becoming one:
1. Turn Off The Internet
Let’s start with the big one. This may sound obvious, but then why aren’t you doing it?
I can guarantee you that it’s one of your main distractions when you’re trying to work. Having your computer go *blop* and *oh-oh* (yes, this is an outdated ICQ reference) every 15 seconds will KILL your workflow, so stop!
For example, I know my biggest enemies in productivity are Youtube and Facebook, and its newsfeed in particular.
So what I do is I use a combination of a plugin called LeechBlock (to completely block any site whenever I want) and another called Facebook Purity to just block the Newsfeed.
My productivity has tripled since I did this – I recommend you do the same.
2. Turn Off Your Phone
I don’t even HAVE a phone. I use Skype to call people, but they don’t call me. If someone wants to talk to me they leave me a message on Facebook and I get back to them when I have time.
If you NEED a phone (do you really?), turn it off while you’re working. Introduce fixed work hours to your day and make sure all your clients & friends know about this. Let them know when you’re available for a chat and when you’re not.
Not being available all the time might seem like a scary thing at first but you get used to it very quickly, and your productivity will thank you later.
3. Use Shortcuts
Yes, another obvious one, and you’re probably rolling your eyes, but again: Are you really doing this?
Do you know the shortcut for everything you do inside your DAW?
I used to think I did, but then I worked with Jeff Rona (God of War III, Traffic) and I have since learned about 40 new shortcuts.
Every DAW has a huge array of shortcuts that is WORTH LEARNING! Learn at least 40. Think about every move you make inside your DAW and how you could replace it with a shortcut. Open mixer, quantise, open Kontakt, skip to next bar, cut at locator, set locators, … you need to know the shortcut for all of these and more.
It is well worth spending a day or two just learning new shortcuts. Write the important ones on a piece of paper and try to write a song while barely using your mouse.
Next, learn all the Mac/Windows shortcuts. Navigating around your computer is just as useful as knowing your DAW. Just google “Useful shortcuts for Mac/Windows”.
4. Use Templates
…and I mean use templates for EVERYTHING.
I have several different templates that all do slightly different things for me. For example, I have one that is set to 48KHz, that hides all of the Icons I don’t need (due to my knowledge of shortcuts), has selected the right tools and has enabled certain custom key commands.
Some templates have already some instruments and plug-ins preloaded. This is extremely useful if you need to jot down an idea quickly. You don’t want to waste time searching through bass drums. Just have a session that has all the basic instruments and a finished drum groove that you just need to edit slightly to get what you want.
I always use the same basic vocal chain for my own voice, so why not make that a channel strip? Saves me huge amounts of time I would otherwise spend on opening and tweaking plugins. I also have channel strip presets for clean guitar, rock guitar, voice-overs, etc.
Did you know that you can change the default preset of your plugins? For example, my EQ has a default low-cut at 80Hz and a little 3db dip at 300-500Hz. This saves me a couple of seconds every time I use it.
I have a couple of different instrument stacks that I can open at the click of a button.
So for instance, my “Legato Strings” preset opens up 5 instances of Kontakt, all named correctly with the correct library already loaded. I have another that’s called “Funky Keys”, which includes everything from Rhodes to Organs.
Get creative: Which instruments do you always use together anyways?
5. Automate Everything Part 1
Next time you work on a song try to make out parts of the process that are always the same. Maybe you always start with the drums, then you wonder what to do next and try out a couple of different things but always end up recording some piano.
If you can find those inevitable things you do every single time, become aware of them!
If you KNOW that you will end up using the same plugin every time, then don’t waste time thinking about other plugins – get going!
I had this realization with vocal processing. I used to think that it’s better to start a new vocal chain from scratch every single time. But after thinking about what I could do more efficiently in my workflow I realized that I’m actually always using the same plugins, in the same order.
Yes, I might tweak them differently and add different effects, but the basic vocal chain is always the same.
When I realized this, I created a custom channel strip just for my vocals. Now I save about 20 minutes each time I process vocals.
Now you: Which parts of your workflow could you strip down to its essentials? What could you do to cut down on YOUR er-I-don’t-know-I-guess-let’s-try-this time (yes, this is the medical term)?
6. Automate Everything Part 2
Once you’ve used your DAW for a long time you will realize that you basically do the same things over and over.
For example, I use Logic’s MIDI Transformer ALL THE TIME to quantize note lengths, set velocities, make crescendos, etc.
Problem is: Logic only has a shortcut for opening the transformer, not for quantising the note lengths.
So I use a program called Keyboard Maestro that is worth its weight in gold. This is easily the best 40 bucks I’ve ever spent.
KM is a program that allows you to assign shortcuts to ANYTHING and – here’s the kicker – it even allows you to assign shortcuts to entire SERIES of actions.
So for example, I could tell KM to “Open up Midi Transformer”, “Select Quantize Note Lengths”, “Select Value = 1 eighth note”, “Press ‘Process’” just by hitting ctrl – L.
I use KM to open up websites, folders, tell it to export documents as PDFs, let it convert or rename samples for me…
All in all, KM has saved me A TON of time. Highly recommended.
7. Stop Multitasking
Yes, it is scientifically proven: Multitasking is a myth.
It is literally impossible for your brain to do more than one thing at once, so when you’re “multitasking”, you’re actually just switching between different tasks very quickly.
Thing is: The brain isn’t made for this. The truth is:
You don’t save time! There have been studies showing that people who multitask effectively lower their IQ more than if they were to smoke pot (no kidding!) – a 40% LOSS IN PRODUCTIVITY!
Says Guy Winch, PhD: “What tends to save the most time is to do things in batches. Pay your bills all at once, then send your emails all at once. Each task requires a specific mindset, and once you get in a groove you should stay there and finish.”
Other reasons not to do this are getting stressed, missing out on life, your error rate increasing dramatically and dampening your creativity.
Make a decision to stop multitasking NOW.
So here they are, my 7 productivity secrets. Enjoy!
Songwriting Coach & Composer
With recommendations from industry heavyweights Erwin Steijlen (Pink, Shakira), Conrad Pope (John William’s orchestrator), Jeff Rona (God of War III, Traffic) and Rene Merkelbach (Within Temptation), Friedemann started his songwriting/producing school Holistic Songwriting in November 2015.