How do I set up a folder structure for my music projects and the mistakes I made along the way
I have been using digital audio workstations for over 17 years for now. It’s one of my hobbies that I use to escape from the everyday life and to create something that I could listen to years after. For a long time, I had no folder structure at all and all my project files were in a single default folder. But not anymore. What I have learned over the years is that a well-organised workspace is one of the most important prerequisite for great things to happen.
It all started with a Song folder
The first real step that I took towards more organised folder structure was when I started exporting audio stems of a project. Before that, I was just exporting a full mix and that was it, no post processing. But then I started thinking: What if I want to make a remix or adjust something later on. And then, my first audio stems were born. A stem is an individual track from the mix. All the stems mixed together make up a full song. At one point I started making backups because all those stems took so much space on my hard drive. That’s when I started using the Song folder. A folder with all the stems for a particular project or song.
The other folder that I had from early on was the Samples Folder. I have been collecting sound samples and individual hits, bits and instrument sounds since I started making music with a personal computer. I even bought a portable sound recorder that was using mini cassettes. Back then it was called mini-cassette recorder. Now they have those digital portable audio recorders that are from another planet compared to those old ones. Anyway, I had a separate folder for all those individual sound and effect files that I collected and recorded.
The next step from Song folders and Sample folders would be to make a separate folder for every project. No matter the file format or the DAW used. This is the main folder of the project that has some sub-folders in it. Those sub-folders being:
Most of the time I even don’t have an inspiration folder inside a project folder. But there are cases when I do. Like when I found a cool drum loop or heard an interesting rhythm that I’d like to use in my project by replicating it or creating something similar. The same goes if I want my final mix to sound as loud as the reference track or if I want to mix my song similarly to some other song.
In project samples folder
The latest addition to my folder structure is to add a samples folder to every project folder. One might ask why I need another sample folder if I already have an overall sample folder where all my samples are located. The reason is actually quite simple. Recently I was digging up my old songs and projects and discovered that those project files were all broken. They didn’t load many of the instruments in and sample files were completely lost.
Those things happen mainly because I have had more than 5 different PCs between first creating the project file and trying to open it 10 years later. The setup of the computer, the operating system, file system, folder structure and even the programs have changed by the time. If I had stored everything in a single project folder I would not have that problem today. So, if I want to revive those old projects I have to create those project folders retrospectively.
Stems and loops folder
In the stems and loops folder are only stems and loops needed for that particular project. Even those stems and loops that didn’t make it into the final mix of the song. I like to keep those just in case I’m going to make a remix or updated version of the piece. There are times when I start with creating a bunch of loops for the project and then later on choosing those that will make it to the final mix. But from now on I keep everything. Just in case. I don’t want to lose any of my works ever again.
Sheet music folder
I have to be honest. I never save my music on a sheet music format but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. If I had the right tools and way to import those later on without the problem I would do it. In fact, I’m looking for ways to store all my melodies also in sheet music format. This is where the midi format comes in handy. And maybe even print those out. As a substitute to the sheet music I have sometimes made some screenshots of the arrangements or written down the chord progression just as simple text.
If there is any artwork related to the song or sounds project then this is the folder where all of the design, drawings, sketches, images and photos are located.
As the song comes first and the video is just an addition to the song then there is also a video project folder inside a project folder. It can be inside an artwork folder or just by itself right in the project folder. Just as long as everything is in one place so you don’t have to go crazy by searching all the hard drives, old CDs, DVDs, blu-rays or external HDDs.
If there are some notes, comments or future ideas that you have related to the project then this is the place to locate them. The more I deal with storing the information and digging up the old projects the more I realize that you don’t always remember what and where and when did you think or write down. That’s why it’s necessary to keep everything related in one place. If your ideas about the project are in a separate part of the folder structure or in a documents folder or even worse, on a hand written paper, then there is a very little chance that you will ever remember where to find those or even remember that they exist.
Feels more special
If you give your projects their own folder with sub-folders then it feels more special. It’s like you respect your projects enough to keep them separate and not throw them all together into a pile of yet another random files. The outcome of your work is much more polished and refined if you treat it with respect and as if it has a meaning to you. If you have your files sitting randomly around unorganised folders then eventually you have to waste a lot of your time for just searching around.
Exported music folder
There is one folder that has files from every project folder in it. And that’s the exported music folder or just the music folder. That’s where I have all the song together in a single folder or folders filtered by an album, artist, style or year. I have separate folders for mp3, wma, wav, flac and other formats.
Mistakes that I made along the way:
- I didn’t always do backups so I lost many tracks, stems and project files
- I saved some of the songs only in mp3 or wma format, so they have no further use in mixes, mashups etc
- Some of the projects have incomplete resources like missing project files or missing stems
- I didn’t do backups for all of my software and plugins thus are impossible to get nowadays
Last update: 2018-09-12 (Y,M,D)
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