As a writer and producer, I find that I accumulate a lot of stuff over time. Gear, cables, scratch vocals, lyrics, song ideas, stories becoming song ideas, backing tracks, synthesizer patches, custom sample kits, and so on. Every aspect of where you work physically (your room) and digitally (your hard drive) is bound to become cluttered. It will slowly drag down your creative process until your days become spurts of creativity punctuated by moments of frustration. This is why I think it’s important to have a system in place for how you’re going to keep all your stuff organized over time.
Let’s go through some organization ideas. A few of these will be obvious but just because something is obvious doesn’t mean you’re actually doing it. I’m just a guilty as most people, so let’s go over everything…
Physical items like gear and cables should have a cupboard, shelf, or closet to go into when not in use. There’s nothing worse than having a session when your writing / recording area looks like an electronics surplus store. Even worse, you can waste time in a session because you can’t find cables or equipment in the mess that is everywhere. I find if I keep my work area clean, sessions run smoother and that in turn greases the wheels of the creative process.
Patches (synth patches + samples kits): I suggest having a regular appointment in your calendar (bi-weekly or monthly) to go through your patches and delete/archive the ones you aren’t using. For the patches you do think you will continue to use, organize them somewhere where they are easy to access. For example, put your frequently used samples in the Kontakt quick loader. I also like to go through my completed projects and save any special instrument patches that I’ve designed so that they can be easily reused in another project. Having all your patches within easy reach, in an organized directory structure, makes it SO much faster to find what that you need, when you need it.
Projects: Have you archived those projects that are no longer in use? You can also do a little project housecleaning by deleting any unused audio recordings within your projects. The amount of space that’s wasted on my hard drive for unused takes is obscene. How am I going to make space for my next mega-sample library purchase, probably eating no less than 60GB of hard drive space. And that’s just to have Taiko Drums on standby.
Instrumental/backing tracks: Do you really need every backing track for the past 5 years for your next songwriting project? I usually keep the more contemporary tracks on hand in iTunes and the rest get archived away.
Finally…we have ideas, which like gear and patches need organizing too. I use a journal app (MacJournal) to store all my ideas in a structured format. The app syncs between my Mac and iPhone so that I can take down an idea wherever I am. I have a folder for lyrics, concept ideas, catchy titles, relevant stories / movies, example music, musical ideas etc. Anywhere I am, I have the ability to write down an idea (digitally) and recall it later at the touch of a button. Every so often, I go through my journal and delete or archive entries that are no longer relevant.
Early in your career it may seem unnecessary to have all these systems in place because you don’t have that much material lying around. Some people don’t see the need at all. But I can guarantee for everyone there will be a moment when you know you have the perfect idea/lyric for a project but it’s buried somewhere with your old projects. If you didn’t organize your stuff over time, you’ll end up breaking your creative flow digging around for it, and in the worst case you may have lost it.
But if instead you are able to recall your idea/lyric/patch/etc. with just a few mouse clicks, you’ll wonder how you could possibly live without keeping a tidy workspace.