How do you maximize your unfinished project files, and what can you do with them? There comes a time in the lifespan of many Ableton Live project files where we must face the fact that it is not worth finishing. Whether we have spent an hour on a loop, a day on a track, or weeks polishing a record that just did not hit the mark, admitting to yourself it's time to move on is difficult.
But just because that loop or arrangement will never see an official release does not mean that the hours spent shaping it are wasted.
Here are three great ways to use dead project files to your advantage and get the most out of them before you forget about them entirely.
1. Pick them apart for stems
Every project file will have several musical ideas you might have once been proud of. Not all will be good enough to win you a grammy single-handedly, but that does not mean they could not serve a purpose in a later project. These could be anything from effect or instrument racks, chords or melodies, and even entire channels filled with detailed automation.
Create a separate folder in your more extensive sample library for your MIDI files that you have created. Spend some time digging through those old Ableton files looking for basslines, chord progressions, and melodies before you send the entire project file to the trash.
By simply right-clicking on the file and clicking the 'Export MIDI File' tab, you can quickly render out the data to a file to use later. It will even include velocity, tempo, and time signature variations. Drop your own crafted MIDI over the top of one of many intuitive MIDI files to generate fresh new ideas within a different project with ease.
Take a similar approach to save the instrument racks you have created within your projects. Routing macro controls to synth parameters is a powerful tool that Ableton offers. However, it can quickly become tedious if you have to start from scratch on every project. Click the 'Save Instrument Rack' icon above the macro controls, and Ableton will save them directly to the default directory.
Go the extra mile by mapping more than just the master volume and filter cutoff parameters. If you need inspiration on sound-shaping settings to assign to your macro controls, head to our shop. We offer many racks, both sold separately and as part of our project templates in a wide variety of electronic music genres.
Pro Tip: Create a new folder in the 'User Library' under the Places tab in Ableton's file browser to store entire channels. This folder allows you to easily save not only the instrument rack but also all of the notes and automation of the original channel as well. Having quick access to all your ideas is great when you want to combine the musical ideas from one project with the ideas of another.
2. Use them to practice mixing
Our favorite songs often seem to produce themselves. Each step, from the initial composition to the final masters, is a fluid process. But the same is not true for the projects we abandon. These tracks fight with us every step of the way, which is likely why we left them in the first place. But they can provide the perfect platform to practice perfecting our mixdowns and mastering techniques.
These half-baked project files present to us unique mixing obstacles that we can force ourselves to solve creatively. A dark pad atop a rolling bassline might have ruined the vibe you were initially in when producing, but now forces you to explore different options in panning or EQing.
As with arranging music, there is also a proven structure for mixing your music. Our Mixing and Mastering courses go through the vital foundational steps that you must know, including special cases and other tips and tricks to reach your professional sound.
3. Collaborate With Friends
Working together with other like-minded producers is an excellent way to grow. You never know what stem, melody, drum pattern, or effect you spent hours shaping will inspire another producer to turn it into an entire song. Apply some of the methods mentioned above to save or render out specific elements of your project files, and send them over to another producer. If they get a creative spark and finish the track, that's another record you can both add to your growing discography.
Collaboration can help aspiring music producers in so many ways. It is a fantastic way to develop new tricks and techniques to use in your workflow. Working alongside other music producers also gets your name in front of a broad audience! Send project files to other producers instead of the trash bin. You won't regret it!
Remember that you're not wasting time doing anything deliberately, especially when producing music. If you spend a week making a track that doesn't work only to scrap it later without having learned or taken anything from it, that is how you waste time. Spend an extra few minutes with the techniques we have provided to ensure that no hours or days in the studio are ever truly lost.