Things To Do (when you have nothing to do)
If you're an audio freelancer type like me there may be times when you find you have very little to do, perhaps waiting on a client to send over files or heaven forbid, there's some kind of global pandemic that gets in the way of your work. It's easy to use this downtime to catch up on a tv series, play games or simply ramble around in nature all day (which you should probably do anyway) and I'm certainly guilty of that, but there are some tasks you can get on with that are definitely worth while, and will no doubt help you down the line at some point. Here's a few suggestions that have got me through some quieter patches...
These have really saved the day for me on occasion, especially when you're feeling a little less than inspired. Most DAWs will let you create project templates (and often include a few of their own) which contain a mixture of tracks, instruments, fx, routing etc that can be the difference between starting, and not starting. I have a bunch of templates for different projects, most feature a few instruments I know I'll probably end up using, as well as some FX sends and favourite metering tools on the master channel. I have templates for film work, game music composition and mastering, but I also go a little further and create templates that feature different sets of instrumentation for different genres and moods. There's nothing worse than staring at an empty project file with zero ideas.
One thing I've been working on lately is creating custom kits using Native Instruments Battery (probably my go to drum sampler). Again, for the same reason as project templates, it can really save you time and get you started on ideas without having to mess around too much. Battery is excellent for this, but there are literally hundreds of samplers that will do the same thing - Logic's sampler (evolved from the old EXS-24) is really well featured, as are options in Reason (Kong), Cubase (Groove Agent) and Ableton (Drum Rack) for starters. In the same way that I use project templates, I create custom kits for different project types and styles, often incorporating some interesting percussion and FX samples too so it's not just the same old kick snare hat combo, you can also get really creative with pitch shifting, layering and assigning parameters to your MIDI controller if you've got one handy, for some quick hands-on action.
It goes without saying that loading up a new VST synth and playing around with it, twiddling knobs and noodling away until sunset is pretty fun, but whilst you're at it you might as well save some of those sounds for later use! Whilst nearly all software synthesisers come with banks of presets already created for you, there's something hugely satisfying about creating your own (not that there's anything wrong with presets at all) although presets can be a really useful starting point for crafting your own sounds. After a while, you'll have a vast array of custom designed patches to choose from for your projects, and these can easily be sorted into folders etc and named appropriately so you know what they might be useful for. I tend to split mine into fairly conventional categories like bass / keys /pads etc but whatever works, just as long as you can find them.
Backup yer Stuff!
If there's one thing I've learnt over the last few years, it's that backing up your important information is possibly the BEST thing you can do with your spare time. Whilst it's probably not the most glamorous part of life, it's our responsibility to make sure it happens, and you'll really kick yourself if you don't. There's no excuse to not backup your files anyway, a lot of us already have some kind of cloud storage service included in our mobile phone tariff, but if you don't there are plenty of options out there. I started by making sure I'd identified what it actually was I needed to backup, and then worked out how much space I might need for the next 5(ish) years. I work on a variety of different projects, and all require backing up regularly so I needed enough room for all these and more. Losing important information due to hard drive malfunctions or computer crashes is pretty heartbreaking, let alone the simple act of accidentally deleting something. If you've got a spare hard drive kicking around, create extra copies on this or if you feel like that's still not enough, get a RAID drive that has dedicated mirroring built in, which should keep your files super-safe along with a cloud storage option. Make backup a priority or suffer some kind of digital wrath.
Sort yer Stuff!
Having a good clear out is always a fairly practical use of your time, although I don't want to go down the Marie Kondo route most of the time, a little bit of sorting goes a long way. I think this is especially true of your workplace, desk, studio or whatever you call it. Having space to create and room to explore new ideas is really important to me, so having a cluttered desk would (and has) annoyed me. Take a bit of time to figure out what you use the most, and make that a priority in your space, be this a MIDI controller, microphone or stress ball. Get it plugged in and ready to go at a moments notice so you don't have to crawl around figuring out where the power lead is, and perhaps try new configurations of equipment and stuff if you feel you're ready for mixing things up a bit. On an even less exciting note, it's also a good opportunity to check your cables and make sure they're all noise-free, so you don't end up with any annoying sounds just as you're about to lay down some wild synth-noodling.
Whilst it's great to keep busy, I always think it's important to find a balance between work and life, even when you feel like you should be doing something, downtime can sometimes be exactly what you need to get going again. I hope that's been a useful read for folks, and if you've got any more downtime tips I'd love to hear them!