Great question. As someone that will do EVERYTHING in my power to not finish tracks the Play helps me focus and finish but I have to set a goal, or I’ll just noodle. My best tracks have usually been spontaneous ideas that happen in 10-15 min. Identifying which of these ideas are worth putting more time into is the difficult part for me. I am also guilty of making songs in Ableton with 100 tracks, overworking them and abandoning them 98% finished. So I have a few ideas on how to finish tracks on the Play.
I just record the stereo output into the DAW. Sit on it and come back to it. Does it sound like something worth putting hours into mixing and mastering when I revisit it weeks later? If not then is it worth just recording as a stereo out? If both questions are a no I try just delete it. I’m an unfinished song hoarder so this is hard.
If I’m attached to the song enough to record something but don’t want to put a lot of time into it I’ll record the stereo out of the Play into the DAW and then master it with Bitwig’s spectral suite. I find the spectral suite useful for mastering these kind of tracks. Some songs I finish are almost entirely performance mode jams, but sound good enough to me to not worry about mixing in a DAW -
If I like the song enough and feel like it needs mixed and mastered I render the tracks to the SD card. I usually have a rough sequence of patterns I will export. I recording the track live, having a couple takes and improve a bit and then picking my favorite, and use that as the roadmap for the SD card renders. So I use the live improvisation as a sketch of how I want the track to flow, usually I allow patterns to playback for a longer time than the song mode sequence that I rendered.
When using the rendered tracks I also like to mix in the performance mode effects from the improvised stereo track take. Usually I just mute the renders and add the performance mode recording but sometimes I’ll bounce the renders as a stereo track, bounce the improvised track using the same mastering chain and then blend them together.
For me the main stumbling block (if we can call it that) I hit with the Play is just getting a jam into a fixed structure and then rendering it out. Unlike the Tracker where its dead easy to arrange beats into a song, I find the Play just that bit harder, mainly because there’s no visual way to manage that. You can chain together patterns, but with no means to easily identify the pattern, it can get a bit tricky.
Doubtless there’s a way, hence me asking the original question really. As ever with all music kit, half the battle is just learning the quirks of that particular device and how to get the best from it.
Tracks, variations and patterns offer a lot of flexibility, and this may come at the expense of getting distracted or lost. I know it happens to me, but this is fine because I’m not trying to complete songs (most of the times).
I guess it also takes hours of practice and the development of a stable structure in your own workflow, so you get your own conventions, and you know that the 2nd track will be most of the times a snare, that variations 1-4 are used to build up a drop, that patterns in certain rows are bridges or whatever…
On top of this, I wonder whether the display could be used to identify not only para meter values but also user submitted information about tracks, variations, patterns…
Yeah I think both of those suggestions would be great. I really love the Play; the sheer amount of FUN it injects into things shouldn’t be underestimated if we presume that we do this because it brings happiness into our lives.
However, I will confess that whilst I’m finding it a cinch to create jams and generally lose myself in the Play for hours at a time, I’m finding that it lacks the relevant direction to really let you get a track over the line, for the reasons I mentioned above.
I do also wonder if there could be a specific Song Mode, wherein the display could then speak to patterns being used and how they’re chained. Right now you just chain tracks up, but it’s awkward, particularly when you cannot tell which patterns are which. So allowing more robust use of patterns (rather than chaining them) and also colouring some differently would help, but so - IMO anyway - would a more visual approach as seen on the Tracker.
I suppose that’s the irony here: the Tracker has a fantastic system for constructing songs, only bettered by the Octatrack IMO. Applying a similar logic to the Play makes sense; it would bring a consistency to things at least.
As a Tracker owner too, I did ask previously about how people are using them together for exactly this reason. I’m curious whether people are using the Tracker to control the Play, for example. I’m still not 100% sure that’s possible, but if you think about it, using the Tracker’s Song Mode to control the Play’s pattern output would be amazing.
I finish a lot of tracks/songs, and find the Play helpful. There’s two or three main ways that I use it:
To compose individual elements of a bigger composition. e.g. the drums.
For live performance style arrangements.
If I want to take an idea and progress/refine it further, I’ll synch Play up to Logic so the bars etc are in time, and then record the patterns/performance in there. That means I catch the performance FX and variations as well (as opposed to exporting the stems). Then it’s a case of re-arranging them to taste within the DAW/adding other synthesizers or whatever.
The other thing is to embrace the fact that the Play is more of a ‘feel’ based instrument as opposed to a song creation one - in the sense that you have patterns and variations and performance FX that are designed to help you… play around… and find what works at a particular time. I’m not really bothered about a Song mode for that reason. I would probably never use it. Play helps bring the vibe to create the patterns, and then I can make a ‘final’ production with those if need be in my DAW.
Well that’s what I’m wondering here - i.e. am I better off just viewing this as a thing to create killer percussive loops on and stuff like that, which I’d then export to something like my Octatrack to then work into an actual song…
What works best for you is probably a question that only you can answer!
I can definitely finish tracks on Play, and I make good use of variations etc to record performances ‘live’ which are then the final thing - but I also like to finish all of my tracks in Logic for mixing/adding VST plugins etc.
If you are struggling with finishing tracks completely, then shifting your perspective and viewing it as a tool to create melodies and loops that you then finalise elsewhere might help!
To be completely honest, right now I’m spending all of my time on the Octatrack that a mate has lent me (most likely indefinitely in return for my MPC One) as that’s almost feeling like the best aspects of a Play and the Tracker. And the song/Arranger mode on that just ensures you can easily create whole tracks and get stuff over the line.
So who knows, maybe I’m just trying too hard to make the Play fit into my setup. Or maybe I just need to (scuse pun) play with it a bit more and see if it finds its place. Right now though, where the Tracker is something I wouldn’t part with for love nor money (er, unless you wave a Tracker Mini at me anyway, LOL), the Play is just struggling a little bit.
I feel impostor syndrome in this discussion because I am no song composer or advanced producer at all. Still, I have put a bunch of hours in different platforms, and there is this feeling I’ve got…
Bitwig was my first DAW and collection of soft instruments. Then I got an MPC One, which eventually turned into a Maschine MK3, which I’m about to retire as well. While the MPC and the Maschine kind of drove me away from the DAW by trying to push their own DAWs / platforms / workflows… I am finding the Play more congenial. I got the Play in a DAWless mood and I have it “at the center” with other gear connected to it. BUT since I got the Play I have come back to Bitwig as well, and I think they do a pretty good combination. I’ll still go DAWless by default or when I’m lazy and just want to play around with knobs and pads (most of the times), but I will not hesitate to add the DAW to the mix to have either more fun (Bitwig’s convolution, and other “+” effects are lots of fun). And once I’m there, recording the Play’s output is just a click or two away (pity that there is no USB audio per track but then again I’m not into recording songs or anything serious).