Strategies to review recorded material

After the last rearranging and reorganization of my system I started to do what is usually recommended to beginners in modular: record everything.
After a couple of weeks I have recorded around 20 hours of somehow coherent material that I would like to start to review but I realize I don’t have a clear idea about how to do this. My prior recordings have always been done trying to get a good take of a patch so it was easy to know which part was the good one.
How do you approach this task?


You need context. Something unifying for the material you’ll choose. An idea or a concept. If it’s not very clear yet, fear not. You can start from something vague and soon while exploring your recordings you’ll idea will get clearer. An idea for a title for the album could be a starting point.


That seems to me like troublesome advice for a beginner, a path towards being overwhelmed quickly. Is the suggestion for such advice to keep everything for a later date? Certainly having to review 20+ hours of audio to find a few good parts buried therein would be an energy-demanding labour.

Maybe modify it to: record everything as it happens, leave a little time afterward to review if anything there is worth keeping, then discard the rest (or at least consign it to some audio folder abyss). I think the intent of the advice is to be recording so that you’ve captured anything in the moment that you did that was cool but are unsure what it is you did.

Otherwise, reviewing big piles of audio, I’d recommend pencil and paper, keep notes/timestamps on sounds you like, maybe come up with some form of taxonomy to group sounds.


I record all sorts of stuff (modular, guitar noodling) into a handheld recorder which is great for portability and focus but tough to keep track of everything. I found that if I take notes as I go - a file number, a timestamp, a description (0211 - 45:12 - interesting delay modulation / 0322 - 08:11 - here come the cats) I’ll be able to find those things again.

I either jot this down on paper or put it in a spreadsheet that I keep open as I record.

If I make notes after the fact, even with an approximate timestamp, it’s way better than if I try to remember it. Even thirty minutes later I’ll forget all about those cats.

Another way to go is record everything and keep it around for when you need a surprise.


I’ve never thought of making a spreadsheet. I just go off of recordings. You’ve got the right head about it but maybe just “go for it” kind of thing.
Guess that doesn’t really help though.

I’ve just been releasing brain farts for the last 20 years. Now that I’m thinking about it.


I like using standalone recorders for this purpose, and a lot of them have the ability to set markers.

if you use a recorder like a Zoom H5 with 4 channels and built-in mics, you can record that as well and talk to your future self about how to edit it down. or if you snap/clap near the mics, that can act as a simple visual marker.


Perhaps listen for a while to locate your favorite piece, isolate it, then listen again to the rest of your material in reference to it.

Having that one piece of music that you like creates a primary reference point. Anything else that you like is automatically secondary, and either (a) compliments that piece on a second track, or (b) becomes it’s own reference point for another song.

Once you find two or three favorites, you’re already well on your way. Everything after that is just finding complimentary pieces that fit.


Oooh! Markers are a great idea. I hadn’t thought of that.

I keep a black Moleskine notebook and take notes of things as I record them, and even of the stuff I don’t record — the names or numbers of patches I like on the synths I use, ideas for what to do with the patches, what I’ve tried and has worked and hasn’t, and then when I release to Bandcamp what I released, the name, when I released, and the stuff that went in to it.

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If you’re recording into a DAW, some will let you assign a hot key or MIDI message to setting markers. I have the backslash key set up to do that in my default Ableton project and keep my (wireless) keyboard beside me as I’m messing with whatever gear. When I’m going through the session later, a marker means “something cool happened just before this.” Been thinking of getting a footswitch for this purpose so I don’t even have to interrupt whatever my hands are doing.


I like to use Reaper for this task. I will set up a few groups with a couple of tracks each and audition from the media browser. That way I can just highlight and drop parts of a file I’m auditioning - audition via different FX chains depending on the track I have selected, change the playback speed and volume - then delete and move on to the next one.

Then I can do further edits/fades and processing on the time line and export via regions - I think you can even add BWF descriptions from region names.

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I’m doing this (ie, grappling with it) right now, and a few things that have helped me in the process of wrangling raw recordings:

  • Agree w/ what Andrew mentioned, markers are great. I have the ‘M’ key in my sample editor which I drop liberally when listening back to sessions
  • When listening back, if there is a loop or sample that gives you a strong feeling—drop a marker, and also take a minute and export it to the session folder if you can. Having little moments as WAV loops or segments is really useful to recall and use for fodder later.
  • This episode of Why We Bleep with Sunroof describes their ‘record some stuff for 6 minutes’ approach, which (for them) works well. The basic idea is that you try to perform the track and get the arc of the track set to some degree, because it can be harder to ‘fix it in post’ than we realize
  • Make file recall easier with a simple folder structure. Organizing by ‘year’, ‘month’, and ‘session’ works best for me. A session folder contains all of the recordings and raw material used during a specific patch / song effort etc. Makes it easier to get going + refer back to ideas.
  • Add a working title or basic text description to the files and folders, and have a place for key notes etc when it is fresh. I use basics like ‘beats’, ‘drones’, ‘alien textures’, and even the names of modules or instruments if that makes sense. Like, ‘microfreak acid arp’ and then I know what I’m dealing with.
  • Leave a digital bread crumb trail while you’re reviewing, sifting, narrowing, editing—whatever that means to you. For me it is a Dropbox folder with mixdowns, then adding * to tracks that are bubbling up. And then using subfolders for ‘edit’, ‘archive’, ‘sample fodder’ etc.

Just to clarify, I was referring to dropping markers during the recording process to help your future self. :slight_smile: But you did remind me of a friend who told me he sort of “rides” his marker shortcut during review - tap tap tap tap tapping with greater frequency as he’s hearing things he likes more, the end result being like a heat map for the best parts of the session. Sounds similar to what you describe - I haven’t tried it yet!


Thanks everyone for the suggestions, I need to find the courage to start the reviewing process but is good to have a few ideas about how to approach it.

Great advice, I started recording more than my usual because I was feeling like an idea was there but not yet formed and I didn’t want to let it fade away. I’ll try to focus on the unifying theme, if I can find one…

I think this might be a good strategy, focusing on a few key pieces and find what can go along with them within the same source material.

This is the only thing I’m already doing to help myself navigate the recordings, I need to look into using a midi message as I don’t always have my keyboard at hand when I’m recording as my desk is on the smallish size.

I also use Reaper but in a very basic way (groups? regions??), I probably should look more into workflow strategies to make things easier once the recording is done.

This is basically how I always used to record modular: start building a patch, expand on it and play it for a while, then start recording and try to get a good take. At the moment I’m trying to focus on improvising on a smaller system so I record more in order to capture all the “performance”.

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I work DAW-less, so markers are not an option here. Couple of things to share from my experience:

  • I have a 4MS Wave Recorder permanently patched end-of-chain to record anything I like. This allows me to focus on the performance, not the rec tech stuff. It is also ‘just’ a stereo recorder. So I am forcing myself to get it right from the start, as there is no option to fix things in post.
  • I generally record every patch I make, yet I rarely leave a patch overnight. So once it is recorded all patch cables are removed and it is gone. Kill your darlings.
  • To me recording equals performing a patch. I approach and perform a patch as a composition: I usually start my recording from silence and build up a track/performance, go through various transitions and bring it to some sort of conclusion/ending. After which the recording is stopped.
  • I generally record a few variations and versions and decide later (when auditioning) which one to use for a release. I usually do not record more than 5 versions. Also the duration is never predetermined.
  • I do not listen back/audition directly after recording. I let stuff ripen at least 6 weeks before I listen back.
  • Apart from getting the start and endpoint/fades right, I resist fixing anything in the DAW. I leave mastering to a few excellent engineers that I trust.
  • Selecting tracks for a release is messy, but usually goes something like this:
  1. With headphones on my Macbook I go over all tracks recorded over the past X months and drop the ones I like in a folder. If there are multiple versions of a patch I force myself to select only one. I usually end up with about 20-40 pieces.
  2. Musically these 20-40 pieces are all over the place, as my taste (and mood expression via the instrument) goes from drone ambient to rhythmical noise. However, usually 10-15 pieces share some sort of ‘common ground’ that could become a varied yet cohesive release. This is where the ‘theme / concept’ of the album reveals itself to me.
  3. I drop these 10-15 waves in a DAW, normalize them for easy listening and export them to Dropbox.
  4. Over the course of a few weeks I listen to them casually in my car, kitchen, while taking a walk, before I go to sleep, etc. I give my fav tracks a star and delete the tracks I don’t like. Star or kill your darlings some more.
  5. Now that the selection of tracks has surfaced, I decide on a tracklist and the track titles. I audition the tracklist a few times. Usually I am down to 6-10 tracks here. These get mastered. This can take a few weeks, during which I do not listen to the tracks.
  6. After mastering I audition the mastered tracks on various audio systems and make the final decision on the tracklist. I am down to the definitive 6-8 tracks here.
  7. Release time. Point of no return. :slight_smile:

Here’s my 2022 album that followed this route:


Not everything is worth recording. To me is sounds like FOMO.

For me the rule is: “follow through with the idea the best you can, then record the idea the best you can”.


I am reminded of someone who kept a minidisc recorder that would constantly record the last five minutes in a circular buffer and would dump that buffer and continue recording until several seconds of silence whenever he hit a button.

That way, whenever he made something he liked he could just hit the button and record what he’d done without having to record everything or decide ahead of time. Not to mention that every recording done this way was of something interesting.

There may be software to do this nowadays though.


I did that using a Raspberry Pi: GitHub - betodealmeida/jellyjampreserve: JellyJamPreserve is a Raspberry Pi project using Jack Timemachine ( to record audio in a studio.


20 characters of “very cool” :slight_smile:

  • everything i render from the DAW goes into a “renders” folder.
  • the renders folder is synced to my site
  • that’s it

this means everything on my sute is normalized and has had at least one listen-pass to make sure it’s decent

that’s plenty for me. i have a shitload of music on there, and i’ve never found it particularly overwhelming. i can usually remember how/where/when i made a recording from listening to a few seconds of it.

not sure how helpful this is, but i thought i’d share in case it was.


For 25 years I’ve had this same challenge. I have a way to do that that may only be appropriate for me, but here goes.

Every project that I’ve worked with has been improvisational. And every project has over time developed a natural duration for a “set” of material. For one it was 25 minutes, another 40, etc. When I play with groups I try to set things up so we play a set, take a break for 30 minutes then discuss if we’re up for another set, repeat. This seems to work well for most people and it eliminates the five hour long multitrack recording, which is impossible to deal with (for me.)

I monitor the time while playing recording and have a pen and small pad nearby. When I feel that something really cool has happened and is complete I note the time.

My goal in reviewing material is to get it done before the next time I record. When I sit down I go through the sets, finding the timestamps that I recorded and work backwards from there. If there is something good I excerpt it, make a datestampted project out of it and do a rough bounce. I poke around the rest of the set and see if there’s anything there that I like but I only listen to the set start to finish if I have an intuition that something special is happening in it. Listening to what was just recorded is incredibly important to me… I feel like this is where my passion for the work comes from (it is EXCITING to listen to something great that you just made) and I feel like this is where a lot of ideas for improvements come from… and are actionable the next time you record.

Then I put the rough mixes in a folder on dropbox so everyone can take a listen. If it is a solo project then it is just me. I listen to them a couple times. If I really like something I sit down and make a solid but not creative mix asap. If nothing inspires me I put those mixes in a dated folder. The goal is to have at least one track but probably not more than three from any session.

When it comes time to compile a release I go through the segments that I did a real mix on first and think about what they are saying and how and if they hold together. Then I re-listen to every rough mix once and see if anything pops out to me as a track or (more often) something that can be an interstitial, or a transition, or fuel for a creative mix.

I have a NAS with 7TB of audio sessions on it from projects that I have worked on since I started using protools back in 1997. I have a binder with about 250 CDs and DVDs of sessions and rips from DAT and cassette that go back to 1989. I can’t even open a lot of the projects anymore because they are from dead DAWs or OSes. But in each project is a folder of excerpted stems, rough mixes and bounces and maybe final mixes that I can review… and I can rebuild these sessions from those excerpts and reference bounces. The sessions that are 4 hours of 7 track Logic 3.5 multitrack without any bounces or excerpts are sadly useless because I can’t find my way back into them. I’ll be honest and say that I can’t even remember recording maybe 95% of these sessions… without a window into them that I made within days of the recording I can’t really bear to listen to them. And the reality is that by the numbers a lot of what I’ve recorded is shit. Without the discipline to have some kind of workflow like this the problem is that as time passes the gems get lost in the shit, never to be found.

I guess I’m just working solo these days as my collaborators are spread far and wide and some are buried. Working solo these days I do something different. I mess around with a set up for no more than a day or two and then do a 30 or 60 minute sprint. The idea is that I hit a timer and get my ideas down and bounced and mastered and named before the bell rings and then that is the track. More often then not I then delete the session and all related files. Poof! Using this method I find that when I hit a really good productive spot I can bang out 10-20 tracks in 4-6 weeks. That’s a release. When I’m not in a great place I still get 1-2 tracks a month ot listen to in the car.

More information than you desired, I’m sure.