For the uninitiated, a template is the basic setup that opens when you load a new track. It can be as complicated or simple as you like, and normally your DAW will give you a very simple one by default; perhaps just a handful of audio and MIDI channels.
You can create your own templates by setting up channels, virtual instruments, effects plugins and busses, and then in most DAW’s it’s just a case of hitting ‘Save As Template’. You can go as deep as you like – a simple template might involve setting up a few channels, a buss with a generic reverb and maybe a couple of empty samplers. A detailed option could go all the way up to a full arrangement with synth patches, sampler programs, drum machines, effects on each channel, and even compression busses and parallel processing.
The main advantage of a template is clear – it saves you time when starting up a track. This is especially handy if you’re a pro who needs to turn compositions around in time for tight deadlines, but it’s also useful for anyone whose music time is precious – if you’ve got a day job and struggle to find studio time, using templates can help you get into the swing of writing much quicker. Another benefit is that it can save you from that horrible feeling of just staring at a blank canvas and struggling for ideas – at least you’ve got some kind of structure to work with.
Using some form of template can also help the beginner gain a level of consistency in their work, too. One now-famous dubstep producer started out as an inexperienced novice who struggled with his drum sounds (a phase we all go through) – but upon finding a set of drums and processing that really worked well, saved it as a template and used them on all of his next tracks. His first releases therefore all had basically the same drums, but this allowed him to focus on writing more hooks and bigger basslines. With stellar results.
But what about those of us who aren’t a pro? For many who are still working on their sound, on their methods of production or their workflow, templates can seem restrictive. They are certainly best suited to people who know what they’re going to do, and how they’re going to do it. Others are more concerned with the end result of a track, rather than how long it takes to produce it.
This all brings us to the dark side of templates – making it easy to draw for the same sounds every time also makes it easier to get stuck in a rut! They can dissuade a producer from going for something completely new, since a decent option is conveniently to hand. Or to flip that argument on its head, they can nudge people into being lazy, and taking the easy option. And many artists prefer to avoid taking the easy option if possible; this is your art after all.
In addition, it is often good to allow a track to take shape of its own accord. Starting with an interesting sample and working around that will require certain synths and drums to fit in – these may not be part of your usual repertoire, in which case an overly prescriptive template would be a hinderance.
On this front, it can be worth considering using saved channel strips as a good compromise. A channel strip is like a template for a single channel; for instance a synth with a few plugins on it. You can save it whenever you make a really good sound, in case you want to use it later. It won’t pop up in templates, but if you find an occasion when it would fit, just load it up and away you go – you get the advantages of having readily prepared sounds, but without having them there in the first place to influence your artistic direction.
So, templates can have their benefits and their drawbacks, but on balance it’s definitely worth taking some time out to play around and set a few up – even if it’s as simple as setting up a few audio channels and busses for your drums. It might take a while, but those two or three hours on a Saturday afternoon could save you a lot more time in the long run! So next time you’re in the studio and not feeling fully musically inspired, why not try preparing the ground for when future inspiration hits?