Essential guide to getting started with Electronic Music Production
I love helping others reach their music production potential and express their ideas. I have been producing music for quite some time now, and i thought everyone could benefit from this post. It is my personal guide and experience and i hope you find some truth and usefulness in your own work.
What you will learn.
Choosing a DAW
Having a musical structure
Use feedback to get better
Collaboration with others
Crafting your sonic identity
What it takes to produce a track
Music is for all of us
In the beginning…
I confess. I did it, it was me, and i did it the hard way, so you don’t have to. When i started out back in 1999, the music tech world was completely new and options were quite limited; a good and a bad thing at the same time. What was the most challenging; how do you start producing music?
It wasn’t very clear to me at all. For the next 2-3 years i was shooting in the dark, but i guess looking back now, it was that roadmap that paved the way a blueprint that shaped me and my sonic frustrations.
I started testing various DAWs, Cubase, FL Studio, Reason 1, Sonar, i pretty much tried them all. Each DAW offered tools to essentially make some music. My misconception at the time was that if i knew more DAWs i’d be a better producer. And was i wrong? 100%. So it brings me to my first topic.
Learning your DAW
There are a bunch of solutions out there for computer artists. In general terms, they all do the same thing. Choose a DAW that is fitted to your style of music, thought process, what your friends may recommend.
You can’t go wrong, a DAW is just a tool that gives you the ability to express your self. It’s you that makes the music and not the software.
Experiment and explore music
How do you make music? Well the best answer i can come up with is: Just make music. Easier said than done, i know.
You need to first explore, and explore everything you can. Listen to more music, more styles, read books, watch videos, discuss with your friends, search, research and as you go along your exploration path, use that knowledge and experiment with your sound.
Put down some musical elements, some short ideas. Build a foundation on what it is that you want to produce.
Once you got the basics down, and you are on top of the world. Its time to take a step back, assess and analyse your progress, the path you took the last few weeks/months.
How has that translated into your music? What do you need to explore next to actually start creating a musical piece? Once i got the DAW down, which in 2001 was Ableton Live. The next phase of my musical journey was actually music, of the theory kind.
Music theory is essential, am talking about the basics here, we can’t all take 10 years to master the piano, but the piano is the one instrument you should poke at. A good MIDI keyboard goes a long way.
Learning the basics of major,minor, keys, chord progression, sad,happy, dissonant, diminished, time signature, count, tempo, all these basic topics would elevate your music creation to the next step. Now beeing able to create cohesiveness from your previous or future inspirations.
Arrangement and structure
Music by my definition and i could be wrong here, but do hear me out; Music is a collection of tones that harmoniously interact and play out in a predicted and sometimes not so predictable manner.
It took me a while to get it down on my canvas. Build a relationship between my numerous ideas that sounded well in a loop but how to i express that across a structure. Years of listening to music, Djing and clubbing, had formed my musical education.
I went back to square one. Took a couple of my favourite tracks. Dissected and analysed them, broke them down to beats bars and phrases. How the start, progress, drop/build and end. Did it a few times and i realised that there is a formula, a structure a logical path that every musical piece follows and deviates from. Just like everything else in life, structures, cities, etc. all are almost symmetrical and build from the ground up.
Less is more, at least most of the time. Today a bare setup would consist of a laptop, audio interface, DAW speakers, headphones, cables, MIDI Keyboard and a bunch of sample packs & VSts (not too many, don’t get carried away), choose and pick your favourite brands and specs.
Whats more important is set limitations to your self, when it comes to toys. The less toys the better you know how to use them, and thus make good music. As the years go by, add and remove toys at a slow pace to build a better production arsenal.
Be wise with time
Excitement and ambitions were high, there was one problem though; lack of discipline. I would go in and get some idea down, structure my way, lay down the foundations of what my next creation would be, and then a few days,weeks and months later, i would be stuck in a loop, lose focus and put off things i was supposed to do.
In that period of time, i remember clearly about having over 80 sessions in the making. Not a single track complete. Always zoning in and analysing and not being happy with the sonic form. That plays tricks with your mind, and may even discourage you. I had to somehow steer away.
Music that i was making had to be for others and perhaps not for my tasting in particular. That was the next breakthrough. I found a couple of friends with similar interests and shared our work. 16+ years later, we are still friends, helping out each other, sharing ideas, and always tracking and laughing about our progress.
Back then, we made a pact. It involved strict schedules, what we called the ‘2 day,4 day, 6 day production mend’. Get it out in 7 days. A track a week keeps as moving.
Getting feedback on your music
I cannot stress this enough, this should be done from day 1. Share your work, with people that know or don’t know much about music. People that you like or don’t like. It really doesn’t matter, the more people get involved and the more acceptive you are of their feedback the more your will progress as a producer.
As producers, we make our own music, we suffer from tunnel vision, we made it and are biased. But we make music for others to enjoy rather than us to listen to. Getting them into the production process as early as possible it removes a lot of the guesswork and complexity.
Collaborating with other producers
I got my first remix gig quite early into my production education. It significantly accelerated my learning process. There I was with stems, MIDI clips, audio loops, effected sounds etc… The bones and meat of some other producer’s creation. That helped in many ways:
1. You reverse engineer his thought and production process, learn new techniques in structure, sound generation, sonic layering etc.
2. Now you are not making an original piece of music anymore, but a new variation of an existing piece of music.
A remix is like a reinterpretation of where you see or want this original piece to go to. Working on my first remix, it was fun, easier than creating a track from scratch, it boosted my confidence and showed me a different way to approach music and its production.
Create your theme, sonic mission
In my last 10 years as a creative educator i heard this more times than i would like to remeber. “I want to sound like”, “is thing original…”, “this is tech” “this is house with minimal elements”, “i want to produce the same as”, “i want to be the next”… you get my point.
This is all well and good, and any one that goes into music production or DJing, needless to say is inspired by some bigger, branded EDM superstar. Thats a fact of life. We all do what we are intrigued, inspired, pushed/pulled into and unfortunately sometimes forced to go along situations.
I’d like to share something very important, there is nothing wrong to sound like your favourite EDM producer, copying down every possible sonic attribute. If you can actually do that, you are an amazing producer your self. You can pretty much do anything.
Also there is nothing wrong to creating your ‘original’ sound. O.K. I LIED, lets be clear here, there is no such thing as original, everything has been done, redone, repacked, repurposed and relabelled (thanks to Beatport). There are only so many finite keys on a keyboard, presets in a synth, oscillators, synthesis types, genres and sub-genres of music etc….
Some people intentionally or not call it ‘original’. My advice is to keep it simple, derive inspiration from everything and everyone. Build your personal sound, your musical theme, your sonic palette, and stop worrying if it sounds or doesn’t sound like X,Y,Z.
What should you be focused as a music producer is how you can make an impact; impact on a dance floor, art gallery, radio station, in film, etc… Creating impact, which in turn creates impressions, impressions create followers, when you have followers you become a leader. Let that sink in. One more time. You should be focusing on creating impact, which in turn creates impressions, impressions create followers, when you have followers you become a leader.
Overcome creative roadblocks
Life happens, and sometimes we get stuck, maybe its time, maybe its resources, maybe its creativity, or all of the above. Its cool to take a break, hey i took a 3 year break, i didn’t miss a thing, i came back fresh with a new sound, organically crafted and no one or thing was hurt in the process. It was good for me to step away, give me time to put my priorities down, do and try something new, and come back to music with a positive outlook.
I don’t recommend prolonged breaks but if you can afford them, go crazy. In the process i found my self, running labels, being responsible for artists and talent, learned a bunch of things about intellectual rights and IP. Learned new crafts and reskilled, which helped me deepen my outlook on music and music business.
If you can’t afford to take a break, i can’t recommend it highly enough this book. Its the ultimate book for us. It saves time and it makes the whole creative process effortless. I use it every time i make music now, or when i have a few hours spare and unwind in some hipster coffeeshop.
Production is not over.
Producing electronic music is great. Some producers take it a step further, and mix and master their own productions. Some others send it off to mix and mastering engineers. It all depends really how you like to go about it.
Can you afford to pay some one else who is a professional mixing and mastering engineer? If so then do it, as you free up more time to focus on production.
If you can’t afford to, then you will need to invest more time into finishing your product. From experience having a ‘project team’ makes the whole process more streamlined and enjoyable. You get to produce more music, and increase your chances in creating even more impact.
Be consistent and innovate
As days go by, new techniques and old techniques are revisited, toys, softwares and tools spring back into fashion and trends. You never stop learning, when you stop learning, you stop innovating.
It is important to stay updated with the global and local trends, musical sounds, producers, DJs, labels, festivals, conferences etc. In this way you stay competitive as more and more new producers enter the EDM world.
We are entering a global EDM frenzy, which will bring even more talent, more sound, more music and more noise. Consistently innovate to stay afloat, move and progress.
The latest trend is ‘underground’ music breaking through pop culture (it always has been like that, but i guess now with the whole social media, the global village we live in, is pretty much connected us and brought us even closer on every aspect, including underground music).
Can anyone make electronic music?
In short YES. Anyone that wants to make electronic music can learn and produce it, regardless the age, profession, location etc. Music has been around us since the beginning of time, and every one has every right to produce it and consume it.
Entering the music production world is an amazing avenue to become a creator, learn a kick ass skill, turn it into a hobby or a full time job, take it to the next level and build an empire. There are really no limits. Just make music.
Wrapping it up
Making music is serious fun, if you just started delving in, then hit it hard, learn fast, produce more, collaborate, be open to feedback, learn and then learn some more, produce even more and get your sound out there. I hope you found some useful tips and advice. Let me know your thoughts. You can get in touch with me here.