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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Napier

Old Songs for the New Year...

So with everything going on - the holidays, dodging Omicron, helping aging parents, family life, learning new software and hardware, work - I just don't feel "in the mood" for writing new music.

This "mood" thing has always been a preoccupation of mine...if one is trying to make a living with this stuff, what happens if the muse is somewhere else?

Friends that I consider to be "really good" musicians have a number of go to strategies to jumpstart a creative solution when they are stuck. But they have these things at the ready because they are trained and experienced musos with a lifetime of study, gigging, and composing behind them.

That ain't me.

So I want to figure out how to find my muse when my muse is somewhere else. If I sit around "waiting for lightening to strike," I'll be sitting around a lot.

I have a hard drive full of almost a decade and a half of project files and folders that were saved (or abandoned) in various stages of completion. They were created using the half dozen or more different DAWs that I've used during that time. Maybe - just maybe - it is worth exploring this cache to find something interesting...

Now this is NOT a new idea. I've made prior attempts to go into this back catalogue to figure out what is worth finishing. Those attempts, however, were half-hearted. I've never gone through methodically to listen to EVERY old project, find the interesting ones, and note their genre/style, percent complete, etc.

So that's what I did over the last few days.

Turns out there are fifty-six projects that are worth developing further. FIFTY-SIX! They span genres from ambient to neoclassical to EDM to glitchy, experimental stuff. Some are little more than a really interesting VSTi preset that I designed or a drone or soundscape that I created that has some potential in it. Others are short 8 bar loops or slightly longer sketches. Still others are pretty much complete songs and compositions that I just never bothered declaring as "finished."

Turns out there are fifty-six projects that are worth developing further...

This time through, I made note of the file/folder names, paths, and added short descriptions of each of the keepers in a 'Notes' document. I transferred this data to a spreadsheet. (That smacks of OCD, but hear me out: I can easily sort on 'genre' or 'style' or DAW or even '% complete to find a candidate to work on.)

Here is a little info on my most popular genres, the DAWs used, and origin years of the projects:

(click for larger image gallery)

There are a couple of DAWs that are not in the above list, most notably Digital Performer. FLStudio, and ReNoise are missing also. I have a few unfinished projects in those DAWs - particularly DP - but I just don't have the energy to wrestle with them right now. Maybe one day...

For what it's worth, I discovered a few "gotchas" along the way...

  1. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS render your project out as stems if you have finished it or are going to put it away for awhile. I've seen this advice everywhere, but it is everywhere because it is true. There were numerous projects that I couldn't recover because either some plugin no longer existed, or the current version of the plugin did not recognize the old version used in the piece. In the latter case, I could replace the unrecognized plugin with the current version, but I would lose the original settings. Unfortunately in some cases, those sounds were central to the piece. Rendering the final stems for the project takes away some flexibility, but it will at least ensure that you can recreate the piece exactly as envisioned at the time.

  2. Consolidate all media files into the project folder. Amazingly enough, I still had all of the audio files referenced in all of the projects - even the ones from 2006. However, the folder structure of my HDs have changed over the years and I had to relocate the audio files (and Kontakt libraries). That was a major time suck in this process. If I had simply consolidated the project files into the project's folder, I could have saved a lot of time.

  3. Most DAWs are very forgiving when opening old projects. Ableton Live 11 opened files from 2006 without blinking an eye (third party plugin issues excluded). Logic was much the same. I really expected more issues, but was pleasantly surprised by how well the DAWs dealt with projects created in much earlier versions.

Armed with these "kickstarters", I should be more productive this year musically. If you have a similar treasure trove of old projects, I strongly encourage you to set aside an afternoon or two or three and go through them. You've already invested time into the pieces, it's only fair that you realize a return...

Well, that's about it! Until next time, peace and success!

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