In this 3 part series, I discuss ADHD friendly workflow strategies for audio engineers. But why the focus on ADHD? It’s been said that those with ADHD can be excellent at spotting ways to improve efficiency. As someone who lives with ADHD, I’ve often looked for ways to reducing the mental energy necessary to complete a given task. This has been a trend in all areas of my life, including in Audio.
In part 1, I discussed the importance of automating repetitive tasks so they happen on autopilot. In this part, we’ll discuss consolidation. But before I dive in, I recommend sticking around even if you don’t have ADHD. These strategies may be a necessity for someone like me, but they could be of great benefit to anyone looking for ways to speed up their workflow and become more efficient audio engineers.
What Is Consolidation?
Consolidating our workflow means boiling things down to the smallest number of working parts. This is what we do when we consolidate audio regions before archiving a session, or consolidating a large number of tracks down into a much smaller session. We’re combining things into smaller pieces that are easier to work with, reducing the number of steps it takes to complete a task. With fewer parts to keep track of, there’s less to get lost in the shuffle.
Below are several ways you can consolidate your tools and workflow. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments.
Use One DAW:
Every now and then, a newer and flashier DAW grabs our attention. For me, there were two. One was Bitwig, and the other was Harrison Mixbus. Both sat in my applications folder, and neither were used. I’d never put in the time or effort required to become familiar enough to be effective working with them. Every time I tried, I found myself getting frustrated because it takes so much longer to complete simple tasks that I can perform much faster in my main DAW. It doesn’t matter which DAW you’re using, you should stick with the one you know inside and out. After embracing this, I deleted Mixbus and Bitwig. I can always reinstall them later if I need to explore other DAW options, as I still own the licenses.
The problem is the learning curve. Those pesky curves suck for anyone, but they especially suck for someone with ADHD like me. When I’ve achieved flow, I’m not thinking. I’m automatic, and reactive. Getting to this point takes time and repetition, but once I’ve found my stride it’s like my mind is a speeding train. Adding an unanticipated variable can be like placing a sudden curve in the tracks while not giving the conductor appropriate warning. You’re not going to slow down well enough to take the curve effectively, and then you’re going to jump the tracks. The mental equivalence of the train jumping the tracks is the inability to think clearly and feeling overwhelmed. I can become frustrated if I don’t find what I’m looking for quickly, and it’s difficult to get back into the groove after that without deliberate effort (like 20 minutes meditating to shut down the flurry of activity I can’t shut off otherwise). I need to be able to anticipate the coming change in direction. This is like the conductor getting a map of the route so they can anticipate the dangerous curves in the track.
In order to be effective using a DAW, I need to spend the time and focus learning it inside and out until its use becomes almost second nature and automatic. I need to know what features I’m unclear on, and plan times to learn those features when I’m in the right head space to absorb it. As I become used to the new platform, movements are made with muscle memory. When we walk, we don’t have to consciously think about walking. Our brains are so good at it from experience that it does it without any conscious effort. You’re still guiding your body, but you aren’t telling your brain “Ok, take the left foot and place it in front of you.” Using a DAW can become effortless in the same manner. You know where you want to go, and your body just does it. This lets your brain consciously decide what steps need to be taken without also needing to tell your body how to execute those steps. Your unconscious mind is already on it!
All DAW’s can do the things you want. The playing field is pretty much level these days, so use the one that’s in your price range and has a workflow that makes sense to you. If you already know one inside and out, and are thinking about investing in a new one, ask yourself if that move is really necessary. If it is, then budget time to chart the course through the learning curve. If it’s not, then evaluate whether or not this DAW switch is really a good idea for you. While some are more specifically suited for certain functions than others, the things you may be missing can likely be accomplished in your current DAW using a 3rd party add on. More on that below, but there’s little need to invest in multiple DAW’s these days because you want a function that only one of them can do. If your DAW doesn’t do it natively, find a 3rd party utility that does it in your current DAW. You’ll have to learn the 3rd party utility, but the framework you’re hosting it in will be second nature. This keeps your slowdowns to a minimum.
Use 3rd Party Tools
The beauty of 3rd party add ons is their portability. When I work at Sound Legend Studios or Oranjudio, I’m working with either Studio One or Pro Tools. I’m a REAPER user, and don’t have copies of Studio One or Pro Tools. If I wanted to create a version of my mix template on either studio’s DAW’s, but my template relied heavily on REAPER’s JS tools that aren’t available in other DAW’s, I’d have to find a 3rd party option that would deliver similar results and rebuild that part of my template. That takes time, focus, and creative energy away from the project at hand, and directs my finite level of focus to rebuilding something I’ve already built with a less familiar tool.
Instead, if I build my template using 3rd party tools that work in any DAW, there’s less chance of needing to spend mental energy on rebuilding something with an unfamiliar tool. After all, I can just show up with my licenses, install the tools, set them to the preset starting points I like, and save my template on the studio’s machine!
Let’s say I were working with Logic instead of REAPER. If I’m working for the day in Pro Tools, I won’t have access to my favorite stock tools from Logic. The key commands and workflow are unique in both DAW’s, so your muscle memory won’t have recall of the key commands in Pro Tools. That’s fine, as the basic functions should be similar. As long as you understand the signal flow, you should be able to get to work. Expect to be on the learning curve a bit while you become familiar, and have Groove 3 pulled up to an appropriate Pro Tools tutorial set in an idle browser window. This way when you hit a stumbling block, you’ll have a video tutorial ready to go with the information you need.
But you’ll run into fewer slow-downs if you’ve built your workflow around familiar 3rd party tools that can be used in any DAW. It doesn’t matter what the 3rd party tool is, it only matters that you can access it at the place where you’ll be working for the day. This is one place where the much loathed iLok actually shines. Any tools that use iLok allow you to use them wherever you are! Just bring your iLok and install the plugins when you get to the studio. Plug in the iLok and get to work. No authorization passwords, no call/recall codes, just plug and go. Regardless of the hate iLok gets, this is the ultimate simplification and is very ADHD friendly. There’s less to keep track of and less that can go wrong.
If the plugins don’t use iLok, but allow you to place the license on a flash drive that you can use like an iLok, then place them on a flash drive and take that drive to the studio for the day. But whatever the license method, the key benefit of using 3rd party tools is their portability. If I know I can save a re-built version of my exact template using Oranjudio’s Pro Tools system, and all of the plugins I use are there and set to my starting presets, then I can work like I do on my main machine with far fewer slow downs.
“Hold up, can’t you put REAPER on a portable install and take it with you?” Yes, you can. I know that as a REAPER user I can take my DAW and my configurations with me wherever I go. But not all DAW’s let people do this, and not all with ADHD use REAPER. So let’s cover our bases. That said, if you use REAPER and want to create a portable install to take with you to various studios, check out this video from The REAPER Blog.
If you’ve made custom presets for the 3rd party tools you use, place them on the flash drive with your licenses and install them when you get to the studio. This way you can set up your template to the exact starting points you typically use without worrying about remembering how things are set up. If you have ADHD, you likely have weak working memory, so why would you rely on your memory for the exact parameters of every tool in your template when there’s a way to recall your exact starting points in an instant? Saving your starting presets and bringing them with you will save you time, because the things you’re used to using on autopilot will be there just the way you like them. The DAW may be unfamiliar, but now everything is as close to your typical setup as you can make it. You’ll be able to reduce the number of times you need to stop working to refer to Groove 3 and research how to do this or that, because aside from editing and routing tasks, many of the tasks you’ll be performing will be very similar in operation.
Another example of 3rd party vs stock is with tuning and noise reduction utilities. REAPER has tuning tools, and noise reduction tools. But if I’m not using REAPER that day, and I don’t know how to use iZotope Rx effectively, I’m now unprepared if the only noise reduction utility available is Rx. Since Rx is the most common, odds are higher that I’ll run into it at a studio I’m working at that day. If I don’t know it, I’m going to be slow, ineffective, and place myself on the learning curve while I’m on the clients time. I don’t want to do that. Instead, I have Melodyne and Rx and I default to those tools when I need what they offer. If I start a tuning or repair job at the studio, I can then bring it home and continue working where I left off because I’ll have the same tools. Odds are high that a studio will have these tools, regardless of which DAW they use. If I’m familiar with them, I’ll be able to use them seamlessly while I’m on the client’s time and I won’t have to leave the creative zone.
Physical organization of handwritten or printed files is something I suck at. I never remember where I put something, and sifting through physical documents can be mind numbing for me. When I’m unfocused, even my long articles are unreadable to me. And I’m the one writing them! Trying to find one physical recall sheet might be like finding a needle in a haystack, no matter how well I organized it and filed it away. By the time the long day of studio work is over, I’ve little mental power left to devote to the task of filing away the recall sheets and track sheets.
After working with Trevor Boggs at Sound Legend Studios for the first time in 2016, I took note of how he organized the session information. He sent me the audio files through a shared dropbox folder, and inside was a .pdf that listed the project tempo, the instruments and amps used, the mics used, a photo of the mics on the guitar cab and on the drums, and photos of the guitar amp settings. It was all right there on dropbox, allowing me to view it from my phone if I needed to, and I didn’t have to keep track of a physical document that took up space and might get lost! I realized the genius of this approach, as I could simply move the .pdf into the project file with the session in my archives and know where it is anytime I need to reference it!
Even though I tend to make notes during a session by hand, archiving those notes digitally instead of on paper makes a lot more sense. I could access it anywhere, sort it with ease, and I’d never have to devote physical space to storing the documents. At the end of a long session, I often don’t have the brain power to address the documents from the session. I can make a digital copy of it by taking a quality picture of it on my phone or using a scanner. I then upload that to dropbox to be sorted later, which I can do whenever my mind is focused again…like after a good night’s sleep or a meal. And since it’s in Dropbox, it’s waiting for me on my iMac and on my iPhone. Now I can address it whenever the moment is right, instead of hoping I’m able to focus when I’m near the files.
I have a documents folder in my dropbox archive where I upload documents that need to be sorted and filed away. Once I’ve sorted them into their appropriate folders, if I need to send the files to anyone I can just grab the link and send it via email or text. I’m doing this with my session data as well, allowing me to not worry about bringing files with me to a new studio if I’m going to be mixing. If they have a decent internet connection, I can download the session and get to work where I left off. Which brings me to Fab DuPont.
Cloud Backup And Archiving:
This one’s gonna scare people, but if you have ADHD like me then you should really be embracing the power of the cloud. Cyber Security is a concern, but dropbox does a pretty good job of keeping data safe. It’s encrypted, highly redundant, and gives me access to my data anywhere I am in the world in an instant. I really liked Fab DuPont’s approach to using Dropbox for his backups, because it seems very automatic and very ADHD friendly. Andrew Scheps and Fab DuPont discuss this in depth in this free video from PureMix, and I highly recommend checking it out!
ADHD is challenging, but it doesn’t have to derail your career. You need to understand that your brain doesn’t function the way other people’s brains do, and you can’t work against your own wiring. While the strategies in these posts are conceived from my vantage point as an adult working with his ADHD brain, I encourage you to consider these tips regardless of the way your mind works. Consider other ways you’ve simplified the way you approach audio, and please leave a comment below with suggestions that I maybe didn’t have room to cover in this article!
As with last time, here’s a quick shoutout to Alan Brown at ADD Crusher. I’ve been following his curriculum in an attempt to manage my own ADHD, and I have to say that it is both well thought out and had immediate impacts on my ability to focus and manage my ADHD symptoms. Alan has been gracious enough to give The Noise Floor readers a discount of 10% off of the course, just use the coupon code: NOISE10. More on that at the bottom.
I bring up ADD Crusher here because the concepts of Automating, Consolidating, and Delegating are key principles discussed in one of his 10 ways to crush your ADHD. Those principles were the inspiration for this 3 part series. Click here to read “Task Automation“, and stay tuned for “Task Delegation” coming soon!
Living with ADHD? Check out ADD Crusher. I wouldn’t endorse it if it weren’t working for me, and I’ve spent half of a year applying this method to make sure it would get my seal of approval.