Properly archiving your finished projects is vital. Here’s how to do it in Studio One.
Saving your work is always crucial, but documenting your work is equally important at the end of a production phase. Whether a project is complete and ready to be archived, or you’re preparing to hand off sessions for someone to mix, success in doing so will depend on how well you have arranged and organised the original sessions. Each audio program has different ways and means, and here’s how to approach archiving/hand–off preparation in Studio One.
Studio One has the powerful ability to save multiple versions of the same session in a single document. Choosing the File / Save a New Version command is the first step in preparing your session.
Give the new version a name indicating its status, such as ‘final mix, before archive prep’. The Versions dialogue shows the date the version is saved, but putting it in the file name as well will help when you are trying to identify different versions as files in the Mac Finder or Windows Explorer, rather than from within Studio One.
Next, we clean up the session, getting rid of chaff and organising everything visually. Here are some good housekeeping hints to follow now, if you have not done them all along:
- Lay out tracks in a logical order. For instance, you could put drums at one end of the mixer, then bass, rhythm instruments, leads and finally vocals.
- Folders can be very useful in collecting tracks together and when submixing and/or grouping tracks. I do lots of submixing and use a fair number of folder tracks to keep things straight.
- Mixer channel layout in Studio One is related to, but not exactly the same as, track layout, which occasionally can be vexing. For example, bus channels used for submixing or effects do not appear as tracks, only in the mixer. I group submixes at the right end near the Main Out fader and the output channels.
- Colour–coding is tremendously helpful, especially if it correlates with the ways in which tracks are grouped. Drum channels and tracks are one colour, rhythm tracks another colour, and so on for leads and vocals.
- Give tracks good, descriptive names. Short is nice, but track names become file names when you record or export, and I prefer long file names with greater clarity easier to look at than less informative short names. I sometimes add the date to the end of each track name, as well.
With tracks and channels laid out logically and colour–coded, your session is easy to interpret, but there is more to do.
- Hide tracks that are not being used. I might add ‘_xxx’ to a track name to indicate it’s not being used.
- If you saved a version at the beginning, you can fearlessly remove tracks you feel won’t be needed for anything. If needed, they can be retrieved from the earlier version you saved.
- Remove unused files from the Pool by right–clicking on any file and selecting Remove Unused Files. Be slow to use the Delete File Permanently command, because you might discover that a file you’ve deleted is used elsewhere.
- Right–click in the Pool again and choose Copy External Files. This will make copies of files that are used in the project but not stored in the Media folder.
- Now that things are nice and clean, save another version with a name indicating it is the cleaned up version.
You are trying to preserve your session exactly as it is. If absolutely everything is ‘in the box’, this is pretty easy, but if you are using an outboard instrument or processor, record its output as an audio file now. You might want to sell that piece of hardware further down the line, or open the file in another studio which doesn’t have the same outboard.
- To capture the output from virtual instruments, go to each Instrument track, right–click on its header and chose the Transform to Audio Track command.
- It can be worth bouncing in place any tracks that use third–party plug–ins as, again, other studios might not have the same ones installed. Go to each audio track whose mixer channel has plug–ins, right–click in its header and choose the Transform to Rendered Audio command. (If you don’t see the command, there are no plug–ins to capture.) If you have used the Pipeline command to insert an outboard processor, it will capture audio through the outboard piece in real–time.
- If an outboard processor is used in a send configuration, you need an audio track to capture its return. Returning the processor directly into an audio track is simplest, but if you’ve returned it into a bus channel, create an audio channel and select the bus as its input. Putting Studio One into record and letting it roll plays the track and captures the return to the audio track you’ve created.
These last two steps are kind of redundant — but redundancy is an important aspect of data security, so I like doing them anyway.
- Choose the Song / Export Stems command to save each track as a file in an appropriately named folder. Again, a date in the folder name is a good idea. These files are often the same as the transformed tracks, but not always, and Export Stems generates a separate collection of files that could even be imported into another DAW, though all automation and processing is ‘baked in’. If you are handing off files for someone else to mix in a different DAW, this may be the most important step.
- You may also choose to export actual stems (submixes). Create a mono or stereo output channel for each submix you want captured as a stem and assign the output of the submix bus channel to the output channel. Then, do a separate bounce (Export to Mixdown) for each stem, being sure to select the appropriate output in the dialogue. Save the to their own folder. These also can be handed off for mixing or mastering.
In the context of archiving a session, documenting largely consists of saving presets for everything. A song document itself preserves settings, but there is more security and flexibility in saving presets.
- Save a preset for each and every plug–in. It won’t take as long as you think, unless you have a truly hairy mix going on, in which case it is doubly important.
- Create a Presets folder in the same folder as the song document and save all presets there.
- Create subfolders any time you have several presets for the same plug–in. In the name of each preset include: the project, the instrument or track it is used on, and some version of the plug–in name. Don’t rely on file extensions to identify preset files. An example preset name might be: ‘Housetrained_Hammond_voc–compress_UADNeve33609’. Yes, it’s long and it tells you everything you need to know to correctly reuse it, except for the order of multiple plug–ins. For that
- Make a spreadsheet showing the signal chain for each and every channel with a plug–in. If you ever use it even once, it will more than justify the time spent. I have on several occasions been very glad I had this. The spreadsheet is also a good place to capture settings from outboard units. Alternatively, take photos with your phone and offload them to your project folder. Be sure to rename the photo files!
- I generally find plug–ins’ onboard preset systems the most reliable. If I think a preset may have value in other projects, I save it again with a more generic (non–project–related) name in the default preset location.
- With outboard instruments or processors, save presets to their onboard memories. If you have a means of offloading presets to a librarian program or other capture method on your computer, do that, too.
- Chains of plug–ins are saved as FX Chains by dragging from the top of a channel’s inserts section to the Effects / FX Chains folder in the Browser. Now save another version.
Almost there. But there are just two or three more steps:
- Bypass processing on all channels and save another version (‘all fx bypassed’).
- Now Export Stems again to a different folder (‘tracks_NoFX’). If anyone wants clean tracks to work with, give these to him or her. Note that all volume and pan automation will still be present, unless you also disable automation before exporting.
- Choose File / Save to a New Folder. This saves a copy of the song document and all the audio material it uses to a new folder. To compact, delete unused tracks and layers before saving.
There are numerous steps you can take to archive a song or prepare it for someone else to work on it. In many cases, there is more than one way of capturing the same information. Keep in mind that redundancy, in this environment, is not to be avoided, it is to be embraced; the more the merrier.
Capture and document everything, and then make multiple backups of the data. The peace of mind is really nice, and assiduous and comprehensive backups have more than once saved my buttocks from certain roasting on a spit.