Production Central: Save Time With Templates

As a professional music producer, it''s critical for me to be able to complete projects quickly. One technique that helps me greatly increase studio efficiency is to use custom DAW templates, preconfigured to suit my workflow and gear setup.
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As a professional music producer, it''s critical for me to be able to complete projects quickly. One technique that helps me greatly increase studio efficiency is to use custom DAW templates, preconfigured to suit my workflow and gear setup.

Creating such templates not only provides me with the tools I''ll use within each project, but also forces me to visualize what needs I may have during the production and mixing process. Just as you would load a bank of your favorite sounds for programming a drum track into your drum machine, I use templates filled with the input channels, aux channels, effect sends, output sends, instruments, and channel routing that I typically use.

In this column, I''ll describe how I put my templates together to give you some ideas on how to construct your own. I use Apple Logic, but any major DAW allows you to save session templates.

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FIG 1: A session opened up using the author''s standard template. On the right are preconfigured aux channels for the lead and background vocals, with plug-ins pre-assigned.

Most of the templates I use are based on a standard model that I created after analyzing the DAW elements that are similar across many of my productions. A good place to start this analysis is your DAW''s output section, which is defined by your desired mixing process. For mixing, I have two modes: in-the-box (bouncing to disk) or analog summed. For the latter, I use a Dangerous Music 2-Bus summing mixer and an Apogee DA-16X converter.

It takes less time to switch the outputs of my DAW channels, auxes, and master to one stereo pair for in-the-box mixing than to create the eight different stereo outputs I use for the 2-Bus. As a result, all of my templates are configured for my summing setup, which requires stereo pairs to the 2-Bus, with the 2-Bus returning one stereo pair through channels 15 and 16 on the Apogee, and back into Logic through a stereo return.

The output from the 2-Bus creates the stereo master for my session, so I have mastering channel effects, EQ, and a limiter on the return channel it''s routed to in case I need to do some premastering. Obviously, if you create your mixes by bouncing to disk, your template''s output section will simply comprise a master fader with any bus effects you regularly use.

None of the tracks are panned in my templates. I prefer to create the stereo field during the tracking process. I color-code my input sets and aux channels so that it''s easy to keep track of the different input and output groups. By including color-coding in your template, it helps you be consistent in how you apply colors to tracks, which makes it a lot easier to keep your sessions organized.

If I am working off of one of my templates and I''m not going to be using a particular set of tracks, I use Logic''s Hide Tracks feature to free up screen real estate. (Most DAWs implement one form or another of track hiding.) If I need the tracks later, I can just un-hide them.

Next, think about input. I like to have tracks set up for live bass and guitar because I often write on those instruments, even if I''m going to replace those tracks with programmed versions later. I have two mono inputs for live bass because I''m either recording into the DAW through a preamp or my Line 6 Bass PODxt Pro. One channel is set to the input of my preamp and the other to the Bass PODxt Pro''s input. That way, I can start with either and not have to do any input switching. I bus these to a bass aux with a compressor, EQ, and limiter on the aux channel.

For guitar, I have three input groups, with three channels in each group, providing me with a total of nine guitar inputs. The inputs are assigned to my Guitar PODxt Pro. I don''t always use the POD for recording, but it''s good for quickly tracking ideas.

I prefer to decide during a session whether I''m going to use external amps or software amp emulations. Each of the guitar groups gets bused to its own aux channel, creating Guitar Aux 1, Guitar Aux 2, and Guitar Aux 3. The guitar aux channels each have a reverb send, and the guitar reverb is on its own aux channel. I like to include a stereo output channel just for effects. The outputs of the three guitar aux channels all go to one output channel for the DAW. I can change this later if I have unused output channels to the 2-Bus.

I have three sets of inputs for vocals, labeled Lead, Background, and Chorus, respectively. I create six channels per set, and each set is bused to its own aux channel (lead aux, background aux, and chorus aux). The vocal aux channels have a compressor, EQ, de-esser, and limiter inserted (see Fig. 1). I also have effect sends on the aux channels for reverb and slap delay. The vocal aux channels are sent to their own stereo output pairs for a total of six channels because I like to have lots of headroom on the vocal buses.

The final aspect of my standard template is two aux inputs for ReWired instruments such as Propellerhead Reason/Record, Ableton Live, or Native Instruments Komplete.

After configuring my standard template, I used it as a foundation for making a series of additional templates, specially designed for specific genres and recording situations.

My Electronic template has a number of elements that I use to get tracks rolling quickly. I have drum machines loaded with my favorite soundbanks, with channels for kick, snare, hi-hats, and reverse hi-hats. There are a couple of channels with synths for creating baselines or melody lines, and a dedicated sidechain channel with a sampler using kick drums to output eighth notes to be used for sidechain compressors. I also included a sampler set up with white-noise samples for sidechaining and a couple of tracks containing white-noise audio that have been prepped for sidechaining with EQ and filter sweeps. The Marker pane has 8-bar and 16-bar sections noted.

My Live Drums template has basic input channels for kick, snare top, snare bottom, tom 1, tom 2, hi-hat, overhead left, and overhead right. The full kit is bused to its own drum aux that has compression, EQ, and overdrive inserts on it.

For commercials or scoring work, I have a Scoring template that has the Movie and Marker windows active.

My Song template has instruments set up and preconfigured for bass synth, Rhodes, and strings. The Marker window has a basic song format (V1, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, V2 Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus). And I have the Notes pane set up for typing in lyrics or other production notes.

Constructing thorough DAW templates takes some doing, but they will make your sessions more efficient and save you lots of time in the long run.

Ming is a New York City-based artist, producer, and DJ. He owns Hood Famous Music and co-owns Habitat Music.