Better Living Through Documentation

Most of us don’t like to deal with housekeeping. But when it comes to recording and producing a project, documenting the creative process can save your butt after the session dust has settled — and help make your post-production life much easier (besides, you never know when something will be re-issued/remixed). So let’s discuss how to document the details that crop up before, during, and after the session. After all, the project you save might be your own!
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DOCUMENTING WITHIN THE DAW

One of the simplest ways to document and improve a session’s workflow is to name a track before you press the record button, as most DAWs will use that as a basis for the file name. For example, by naming a track “Jenny lead voc take 5,” most DAWs will automatically save and place the newly-recorded file into the session as “Jenny lead voc take 5.wav” (or .aif). Locating this track later would be a lot easier than rummaging through sound files only to find that the one that you want is “Audio018-05.” As some DAW track displays are limited to about 8 characters, consider putting the easily identifiable text first (i.e., “leadvoc-jenny take5,” which might display as leadvoc-j…).

Also, make use of your DAW’s notepad (Figure 1). Most programs offer a scratchpad function where you can fill in information relating to a track or project; use this to name a specific synth patch, note the mic used on a vocal, and include other info that might come in handy after the session’s specifics have been long forgotten.

Markers and marker tracks can also come in super-handy. These tracks can alert us to mix, tempo, and other kind of changes that might be useful to the production process. I’ll often place the lyrics into a marker track, so I can sing the track myself without the need for a lead sheet, or to help indicate phrasings to another singer. Also consider creating a “narration” track, where you describe details of the session verbally.

MAKE A DOCUMENTATION DIRECTORY

The next step towards keeping better track of details is to create a “MySong Documents” directory within the song’s session, and fill that folder with documents and files that relate to the session such as:

• Your contact info

• Song title and basic production notes (composer, lyricist, label, business and legal contacts)

• Producer, engineer, assistant, mastering engineer, duplication facility, etc. (with contact info)

• Original and altered tempos, tempo changes, song key, timecode settings, etc.

• Original lyrics, along with any changes (changed by who?)

• Additional production notes

• Artist and supporting cast notes (including their roles, musician costs, address info, etc.)

• List any software versions and plug-in types, as well as any pertinent settings (you never know if they’ll be available at a future time, and a description and screenshot might help you to duplicate it within another app)

• Listings of budget notes and production dates (billing hours, studio rates, and studio addresses . . . anything that can help you write off $$$)

• Scans of copyright forms, session contracts, studio contracts, and billings

• Anything else that’s even remotely important

In addition, I’ll often take screenshots of some of my more complicated plug-in settings and place these into this “time capsule” folder. If I have to redo the track later for some reason, I refer to the JPG screenshot and start reconstruction. Photos or movie clips can also be helpful in documenting which type of mic, instrument, and specific placements were used within a setup. You can even use pictures to document outboard hardware settings and patch arrangements. Composers can use the “Doc” folder to hold original scratchpad recordings that were captured on your PDA, cell phone, or message machine (I do this for copyright purposes).

Furthermore, a “MySong Graphics” directory can hold the elements, pictures, and layouts that relate to the project’s artwork . . . a “MySong Business” directory might also come in handy.

DAW GUIDELINES

The Producers and Engineers Wing of NARAS (the Grammy folks) are nailing down a wide range of guidelines that can help with aspects of documentation, session transfers, backups, and other techno issues. At present, the P&E is offering general DAW guidelines for Pro Tools; although a non-platform specific version is in the works, the information’s still general enough for everyone. It’s well worth downloading a copy (as well as the material on surround and mastering) from www.grammy.com.

David Miles Huber’s music can be seen and heard at www.MySpace/51bpm.