Rinse Repeat - Finalizing Arrangement Workflow
If you take a step back and look at the time and work involved in finishing any given project in Ableton live, it might seem a bit daunting. On average, I likely spend between 10 to 50 hours hours from song idea to a completed mix. I've had projects that have reached 100 even 200 hours. One way or another this pursuit takes a LOT of time and a LOT of work, and if you look at it this way it can seem really overwhelming.
Having been using Ableton since Live 4 in 2004, I've completed this process countless times. Its crazy to think how many hours I've spent doing this. But over all these years, I had to figure out a way to stay on task, to organize and strategize my approach to the software. I had watched lots of tutorials and read books on writing and mixing but none of them felt applicable to me and none we're specific to Ableton Live.
I realized, thinking about how long it would take to complete the project I was on wasn't getting me anywhere. Listening to a song and saying something super broad like "man I gotta make this tune more interesting", or "I need to make the mix have more clarity", wasn't helping at all. Those thoughts weren't specific enough to have a clear direction and I couldn't hold that much information in my head at once.
I ended up coming up with is a strategy that hasn't changed for over a decade. What I'm about to show you is a proven method in my own process and it works wonders. Lets dive in. Take a look at arrangement view. At the top this area is what is called the "scrub area". This is where the loop bracket resides and where you can take your mouse and play your song instantly from. What this section also contains are locators! These are super useful little playheads that you can create at key moments in your song. You can click on their little triangle and the play position will snap to them. AND you can name them whatever you want. Neat right?
We this is actually where all the magic can happen. If you recall the movie What About Bob, Bob goes to Dr. Leo Marvin for psychiatric help. The hilariously egotistical Dr. Marvin suggests to Bob his own book, "Baby Steps". And explains that "It means setting small, reasonable goals for yourself. One day at a time, one tiny step at a time—do-able, accomplishable goals." Bob takes this very seriously and uses it throughout the rest of the movie. If you catch my drift, we can use this same philosophy in our own work with Ableton. Instead of stating only very broad goals that seem huge and daunting, we can break down this process into well baby steps. Or in our case locator steps.
Here is my workflow for finalizing any project in Ableton Live. Whenever I sit down to work on a set I do this process first. With Fresh Ears, I'll listen to the song and let it play all the way through. Each time I get to an area where something stands out to me as needing to be fixed, I'll create a locator. I will title the locator the simple task that needs to be done. Due to the lack of space to write something out, this forces me to create short abbreviated titles which basically translate to baby steps.
When I have reached the end of the tune, I'll have a nice list of little tasks to complete. Each one of these little tasks are simple and easily achievable. What I've essentially created is an easy to follow path to completion for the day. Like any list, this list is a self guided path for completion. I don't need to think about the whole song, or worry about big topics, just complete each tiny little task one by one, always remembering to save my progress between each little step. When I've reached the end of the list, I'll save the tune and close it.
The next day, or the next time I can sit down with Fresh Ears. I'll do the whole process again. You will notice, each time you listen with fresh ears, new little fixes will come to you and you will create different locators. Complete those little tasks, save and close. Rinse repeat. With each session you will tweak and improve your project incrementally with efficiency, staying focused on work that really matters. Sooner or later, you will find that it becomes harder and harder to come up with things that need to be done to your project, and what does that mean? You're getting closer to completion!
If you look at your composition in full, all the work involved will seem like a massive mountain to climb. But if you take each little step you've laid out for yourself, you will have climbed the mountain without even knowing it. If you look at any one of my sets that I'm presently working on right now, you will find locators with little tasks on them. I've been doing this for years and I do this simply because it works. Even if this seems silly or unnatural to you, I implore you to try this method out. In the next lesson we are going to explore how to know when a composition is finished.