Here’s Zac Green from popular music blog ZingInstruments.com walks us through 7 simple steps to make electronic music.
In the minds of consumers, creating electronic music is as simple as pressing a “make music” button on a laptop, stealing snippets of other people’s work and then having it played in nightclubs.
Now, the reality is that creating electronic music is just complex as any other type of music. If you’re just starting out writing electronic music in your home studio, here are seven simple steps you can take to help get you started on the right path.
Step 1: Find a DAW and stick to it!
A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is like your instrument. If you were learning to play guitar, you’d stick to one. However, because there are so many different software out there with so many trial versions floating around, it’s easy to get stuck in the game of always wondering if there is a better one out there, especially if you spend time on EDM production forums and such.
I don’t care which one you pick, just pick one. If it helps, I started with FL Studio and didn’t change to another one until many years later.
Step 2: Learn music theory
I know, you probably just want to create some crazy ass stuff like Skrillex or whatever, so how does music theory come into it?
Just because the sounds are synthetic and seemingly chaotic, it doesn’t mean they don’t need to fit together. Learning the basics of music theory like scales, chord construction and perhaps even going further into advanced topics can give you a whole new set of tools to help you write awesome electronic music.
There are some people out there renowned for not knowing a single thing about music theory who are still able to write great music, electronic and otherwise. However, the fact is that these people do know a lot about music theory, but they simply never learned it formally from a book or teacher.
Step 3: Invest in quality hardware
If you think you can make great sounding music with nothing more than a laptop and pair of Beats headphones, you’re in for a rude awakening. Sure, it might sound good to you, but when somebody else plays your music through an entirely different audio setup, it’s going to sound bad.
If you can’t afford a good pair of studio monitors (speakers with very clean EQ) then reference level headphones are your next best bet.
There’s also the ‘car test’. It’s a simple way of testing whether your track sounds good or not, and it’s nothing more than playing your track through your car’s speaker system. If it sounds good on those, then you’re on the right track.
Step 4: Move beyond presets
The virtual instruments that come with most DAWs are pretty good, but they’re very generic. If you stick exclusively to using the presets, you’ll end up sounding the same as every other amateur producer in your particular sub-genre of electronic music. This goes for third-party VSTs like Massive as well. Learn how to adjust the parameters and how they interact, and you’ll be able to create recognizable sounds, like a musical signature.
Step 5: Work with others
Most bands will write music together one way or another, each of the members combining their musical skill, knowledge, and creativity for something far more interesting than any one person would come up with alone.
Sometimes it’s nice to have a solo project, but quite often you can benefit from having the input of others. Electronic music producers are more likely to work alone, excepting in the mastering stage. If you feel like your music is getting stale, it’s time to bring in a fresh perspective.
Step 6: Write more
Have you been working on the same track for three months? Put it aside and start something fresh.
If you’ve got the opposite problem, and you never finish anything, take a different approach. Instead of giving up, force yourself to create a one minute track, and keep working on making lots of them, one at a time. Eventually progress to two-minute tracks and so on.
The more writing you do, the better you get at your craft. Of course, this doesn’t happen automatically. You have to invest some conscious effort into learning what sounds better, finding weak spots and areas for improvement.
Step 7: Use a MIDI controller
Rather than trying to input every sequence with a mouse (or heaven forbid your laptop touchpad) invest in a decent MIDI controller, preferably with both keys and pads. There are a lot of good choices, and most of them will automap the hardware functions to those of the DAW.
Not only do they make inputting notes much quicker, but they can give you a new way of writing. Rather than programming in advance and then listening back to the result, you can record live. The layout of a musical keyboard also changes the way you approach chords and sequences.
Using MIDI controllers isn’t inherently better in every respect. Sometimes you can surprise yourself when inputting using the cursor by coming up with crazy ideas that would be completely impossible to perform otherwise. A combination of the two is the best way to go.
Now that you’ve had a chance to read through these tips, it’s time to start applying them. Don’t feel pressured to put them all into practice at once. Trying one out at a time over the course of a few weeks is fine. Likewise, don’t treat them as gospel. Rules are made to be broken, but it helps to know when to stay in the lines so that when you do go outside, it’s even better.