Don't use a hammer to dig a hole: Thoughts on How To Approach Audio workflow

A note before reading: the intent of this article isn't to spawn a "which DAW is best" discussion. The idea is to encourage broader thought about the solution you use when presented with a problem in your creative work.

It's easy to settle for using a tool that's "good enough" if you're used to it, but often there's another solution to a task or problem that does the job to a higher standard of quality or more efficiently, I'd argue that solution is worth finding (case in point, I'm sure you could dig a hole with a hammer, but wouldn't a shovel do the job better?). This post is a little insight into how I changed aspects of my audio workflow after coming to the realisation that splitting my work among software best suited to each task would result in an easier and more efficient output.

For the longest time, I had a "one size fits all" mentality regarding audio software. By this, I mean that I wanted one DAW to cover everything I needed to satisfy my audio needs. My thoughts started to branch out when I stopped using Pro Tools for music. In University, we had a module on Logic Pro and it was far better suited to what I wanted to do musically at the time. I jumped ship entirely, selling Pro Tools, only to discover that Logic's audio editing was, for my needs, lacking somewhat. As a student with limited finances, I was only willing to spend the money on one bit of software to cover my needs, but it did open my eyes a little to realising that not all DAWs had the same strengths and weaknesses.

Fast forward a little and after graduating, I'd (finally) seen the potential in having different pieces of software for different tools. I was using Ableton Live for music making, and Pro Tools (and occasionally Cubase) for sound design/post/whatever wasn't music. This has been my approach for years now and although I think Ableton lends itself to a particular style of music composition over others, I've been doing just fine with it. It wasn't until very recently that I realised that this "divide and conquer" approach to the software you kit yourself out with could be taken even further.

The workflow and needs of a sound designer can vary hugely depending on a number of factors. The most obvious split is that between sound design for games and post production. Very broadly, you could say that in post-production, the goal is to create a single (or several similar) file(s) for linear playback e.g. music, a dialogue or SFX stem for film, etc. In games, sound designers are often creating sets of assets for implementation in an audio tool or middleware, often returning to the session to iterate on these assets after the fact. Things like the ability to do complex batch operations to every region/item on a track, of applying an EQ to a set of files are pretty run of the mill tasks for a game sound designer, whereas writing large volumes of complex automation is a task I'd argue is more likely to be found in post. The dialogue pipeline for games versus the pipeline for dialogue in film illustrates how much the tasks involved with an audio requirement can vary.

To this end, I've lately found myself using both Reaper and Pro Tools for different parts of my sound design work. Reaper's custom actions make things like creating loops with a single key press quick and easy in a way that Pro Tools can't. Similarly, batch processing quickly in Reaper is quicker and simpler than Pro Tools. However, Pro Tools has years of experience and feedback put into it's workflow for doing post-production and I still think it's quicker and easier for that aspect of sound design e.g. creating sound for video. I'm in the lucky position to have access to multiple tools now and I'm trying to work out if things I'd have done previously by habit in Pro Tools could be done faster/easier in Reaper or another tool now. This has really made an impact on my work and how efficient I can be, which in turn stops my tools getting in the way and allows me to work with fewer interruptions and stumbling blocks.

The community built around the #gameaudio tag on Twitter and the Game Audio Slack (run by Game Audio Hero @mattesque) are great resources in regard to learning which tasks are suited to which tools (as well as countless other topics). I'd encourage anyone reading this to take a look at some of the tasks you're doing daily and having a look around/asking to see if they can be done more efficiently. If you're tackling a task other people before you have done, there's a good chance those people will have some advice on how best to approach it.

 

Reaper's "Custom Actions" can be incredibly powerful when applied to particular tasks.

Reaper's "Custom Actions" can be incredibly powerful when applied to particular tasks.