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Music has gone through a wide range of stylistic changes throughout the centuries, but the most recent and perhaps groundbreaking innovation is that of electronic music. Electronic music has been through multiple changes during its short lifespan of just a century, but it has truly changed the way music is written and produced.
Originally it was mainly the focus of skilled professional composers with a lot of money, it has now become one of the most popular and easy-to-get-into types of music in the world.
If you are interested in learning how to make electronic music, the following guide will provide you one of the most comprehensive explanations of the art form you can find.
- 1 Article Outline
- 2 Products Mentioned In This Article
- 3 Introduction To Electronic Music
- 4 How To Make Electronic Music ?
- 4.1 Necessary Equipment
- 4.2 Take Time To Experiment
- 4.3 Making Your First Track
- 5 DJ vs. Producer: Choosing The Path That Is Right For You
- 6 Conclusion
You will learn about the history of the art form, learn some important artists and composers in the genre, get an insight into the equipment necessary for electronic music, get a look into how to produce it on your own, and you'll also understand the differences between a producer and a DJ.
So if you're ready to start producing electronic music or are simply interested in where to begin, dig into the following information and see what you're missing.
While an understanding of some musical theory will help you make better electronic music, anyone can jump right in and make intriguing and relevant music. That's one of the best aspects of this form: it has become one of the true amateur specialties as it allows anyone with a little talent and a lot of dedication to succeed.
Products Mentioned In This Article
Introduction To Electronic Music
Electronic music has a surprisingly lengthy history, one that stretches back into the earliest days of the 20th century. Certain classical composers, such as Varese, were using electronic components in compositions as early as the 1920's. He and others like Stockhausen used tone generators, sirens, arc generators, and other items to create very crude, but harsh electronic tones for their compositions. This is not at all like the kind of electronic music most people would understand today.
Electronic music as it is known today grew out of experiments in the early 60's by people like Wendy Carlos, Laurie Spiegel, Raymond Scott, Robert Moog, and many others.
Walter Carlos' popular “Switched On Bach” album was one of the first albums to rely solely on electronic music and featured electronic renditions of popular Bach pieces. Though somewhat gimmicky, Carlos' initial success fueled a career of constantly pushing the boundaries of electronic music.
Laurie Spiegel was an expert in Appalachian music who created a computer-based composition technique that created very rich and diverse electronic music. Other composers, like Raymond Scott, broke away from jazz to include electronic music elements in commercials and commercial recordings, slowly and subtly adding a new texture and sound world to pop music.
However, the inventor Robert Moog probably had more to do with popularizing electronic music than anyone else. His release of the Moog synthesizer in the late 60's made electronic music a popular front for many musicians.
How Electronic Music Grew
For the first time, musicians didn't have to build their own difficult-to-control synthesizers that relied on computer programs or changing punch cards. Instead, they could play a keyboard directly and control the tone with a variety of knobs, many of which remain in use today.
Though crude and limited to playing one note at a time, these oscillator-based synthesizers created a whole new range of tones. Stevie Wonder was an early adopter of such techniques, as was Pete Townshend of The Who.
Other memorable moments include the use of the Moog by popular group the Monkees and during the ending segment of “Abbey Road” by the Beatles.
This early use of electronic instruments was limited to textural or tonal coloring and was rarely, if ever, the true focus of the music. True electronic music was heavily popularized in the late 70's by German rock band Kraftwerk.
Originally a jazz-based improvisational band, they turned to sequencers (which allowed them to program electronic rhythms and melodies) as a totally new form of music, one focused on repetition and electronic tones.
Their totally electronic approach influenced thousands of musicians in the 80's, such as Depeche Mode, the Human League, and many more. These synthesizer-based bands became heavily popular during this period, as electronic music spread across the globe.
While these bands eventually fell out of fashion, synthesizer music did not. It just mutated into new genres that were exciting, fun, and which went in a variety of new and different directions.
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Ifluence Of Electronic Music
Through the 80's, 90's, and 2000's, electronic music continued to expand and embrace new styles. Dance-heavy music, such as techno, were pioneered by artists like Prodigy.
Difficult textures and harsh beats were heavily emphasized by creative gurus like Aphex Twin and Autechre during this same period. This more abstract style of music was balanced by dance-oriented musicians like deadMau5 and the harsh bass drops of Skrillex.
Breaking down the totality of electronic music genres and sub-genres is a topic that could take hundreds of pages. Just know that electronic music is a diverse and wildly popular form of music that was once incredibly difficult and expensive to make. Synthesizers often costed tens of thousands of dollars and recording studios were outside the range of most people's expenses.
However, breakthroughs in computer technology has made it easier than ever for people to break into the world of electronic music composition and performance. Now anybody with a laptop, a little musical knowledge, and a lot of patience can learn making electronic music that sounds as abstract as Autechre or as beat-heavy as Skrillex.
You can reach people's minds and make them think or get them out on the floor and get them dancing. The options are nearly truly endless when it comes to this form of music, especially if you have a strong understanding of the equipment that is available and how you can master it quickly and easily.
And here's how you can get started on your own. First of all, we'll take a look at the equipment that you need to make good electronic music, after talking briefly about old-school electronic musical instruments.
How To Make Electronic Music ?
If you want to make electronic music with a laptop or computer, you are going to need several pieces of equipment. The first is obviously a laptop: you're going to want one with the most powerful processor you can find.
This will help your software run smoothly and efficiently and avoid hiccups in performance that can ruin your track or your live performance. Processors to consider for your electronic music laptop include at least any of the following:
- AMD A8-7670K
- Intel Xeon E5-2670
- Intel Core i3-6100
- AMD Sempron 3850
- Pentium G4400
- Intel Core i7-6700K
- Intel Core i5-4690K
- AMD FX-8320E
Laptops are your best bet for electronic music because they allow you to take your laptop with you on-the-go. This allows you to produce beats and melodies when you're on trips, while at coffee shops, or live on stage. Desktop computers aren't a bad idea if you want a reliable place to store your music and already have a powerful desktop. You should still have a laptop which you can take with you when you need to perform or when you want to work elsewhere.If you do not hesitate investing in a value for money laptop, i will strongly suggest you to go for Apple Mac Book Pro,Trust me,it will be full worth for your money.
Beyond the laptop is the software you use to make your music. This software is typically known as a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW. There are hundreds of possible options for you to choose, each of which has its own benefits. The following programs are all available on PC.
“FL Studio 12” is a popular program because it includes hundreds of plug-ins, including programming synthesizers, drum machines, piano-roll software, the ability to record, scratching, and much more. You can arrange an entire song on this software without much difficulty.
Propellerhead Reason is another intriguing piece of software that is perfect for the beginner. It isn't as well known as software like "FL Studio," but it has a variety of synthesizer patches, sequencers, a decent mixing console, and even allows you to mix guitar and bass into your compositions. For a relatively low price of $400, it's a good investment.
Avid Pro Tools is a professional-level DAW that should only be purchased after you've mastered a few other pieces of software. It allows you to compose, record, mix, and edit your work. It also has up to 70 different effects and plug-ins, and an incredible ability to render your music. Not user-friendly, it requires a pretty big time commitment.
All of these programs are useful for both producing and live performances, but “Ableton Live 9” is likely the best for producing live work. It has a very clean interface and is a very useful way to manipulate beats and samples in a live environment.
For example, electronic artists “Daft Punk” have used “Ableton Live 9” to mix and remix their music in exciting new combinations. As a result, this program is likely more appropriate for those who are a little more advanced in electronic music making.
Once you've found a piece of software that you like and which you want to play around with, you need to get a great set of headphones. Relying on your computer speakers is not a good idea when it comes to making electronic music, as you'll miss a lot of the nuance in your production.
This is especially true if you are panning your melodies and effects from speaker-to-speaker. Headphones also give you an idea of how it will sound to the average listener, as many electronic music fans love to hear the intricacies of the beats and harmonies.
What kind of headphones should you consider? Ear buds are okay if you don't want to invest a lot of money, but you'll be missing out on a lot of frequencies and won't have a truly accurate sound. These also tend to be uncomfortable after awhile and difficult to listen to for extended periods of time.
A more expensive set of headphones is your best bet here, particularly a set like the Sennheiser HD 280 Pro set. This is a relatively inexpensive set of headphones that provides you with an immersive sound experience. Other headphones to consider include:
- Ultrasone HFI-580 Professional Headphones
- Shure SRH840 Professional Monitoring Earphones
- Audio Technica ATH-A700 Headphones
- Bose Quietcomfort 25 Noise-Canceling Headphones
Studio speakers won't be as crucial to you at first, as you can do most of your work through headphones. However, studio speakers grant you a wide range of frequencies and really let you hear the bass in your mix. If you're working with bass-heavy music that you want to really impact the listener, studio speakers will be crucial. Great studio monitors to consider for your electronic music includes:
- Yamaha HS8
- Equator D5
- JBL LSR305
- Yamaha HS5
- KRK Rokit 8
Next you need to pick up a MIDI keyboard. When learning electronic music, a MIDI-input keyboard is a great way to master the art more quickly. Programming with beat makers, drum machines, and the key roll takes a little practice and can be confusing at first.
A MIDI-input keyboard can not only make it easier for you to program beats and melodies, but also creates a more “live” feel in your melodies that is hard to master with key rolls. Models to consider include:
- Novation Impulse
- Akai MkII
- M-Audio Keystation
- M-Audio Oxygen
- Novation Launchkey
- Behringer U-Control UMX
- Korg microKEY
Last, but not least, is a good audio interface or sound card for your system. This will help accurately render your music and make it sound as good as possible. It will also help create a richer depth of sound and avoid crashing your system by overtaxing your basic sound card.
While you can make electronic music without an updated sound card, it isn't a good idea because it can be very difficult. A few of your best options include:
- Focusrite Scarlett 2i4
- Steinberg UR44
- RME Babyface
- Apogee Duet 2
- Apogee Duet 2
Take Time To Experiment
After investing in all of this equipment, you should take some time to experiment with your software. Most will include a help guide that will guide you towards using it. Many will even include demo tracks that will show how to arrange a song successfully or how to program each synthesizer available with your system. After you've gotten a basic understanding of your software, you can start making your very first electronic music track!
Making Your First Track
Electronic music is like any other kind of art or skill: it takes time to practice and learn. You're going to fail a lot when you first start out and that is okay. Failure is the first step in learning anything new. You won't be blasting beats like Skrillex with your first track, so don't be afraid to try and try again. When you start your first track, make sure to see it through to the bitter end, even if it's not very good.
Finishing a piece of music like this is crucial as it will start you on the route of complete mastery. There are generally several phases that you'll take when learning how to make electronic music. These will include the following:
- Initiation to your program and your equipment
- Experiential learning that will help you master your skills
- Exponential growth followed by a slight dip in your progress
- Competency in using your software to create tracks
- Master of your art form on every level
Each of these periods will take several months to over a year to achieve. It all depends on how often you produce and the quality of your tracks. Again, you should take time to experiment with your equipment before diving into serious production. This will result in some rather weak electronic music at first, but will eventually help you become a master.
Using Your DAW
So let's get down to breaking down how to make your first track. We'll assume a basic competency and ability with your equipment at this point. You should know how to set the tempo, program the synthesizer tones, manage drum beats, and even layer tracks. When discussing this process, we'll describe how to use "FL Studio 12," as it remains a popular and easy to use track.
First of all, you need to decide if you want a fast or a slow song. A slow electronic song will have a beats per minute (or BPM) rate of about 50-80. A faster song will be about 100-150. Anything higher than that is basically not dance able, though it might be fun to experiment with hyper electronic music. Set it to about a medium pace (95 BPM) for now to simplify your choice.
Set your BPM by searching for the BPM meter on the top menu (a white pad that should be set to 130 by default), clicking on the the number, and either dragging your mouse up and down to increase or decrease the temp or typing in the exact BPM with your number pad.
Now you need to decide on the type of track you'll make. Is this going to be for dancing or contemplation? Dance tracks should feature high levels of bass and prominent and complex drum beats. Contemplative tracks should have less prominent bass and more sustained notes. Staccato rhythms and beats are more common with fast songs, so keep that in mind when programming.
Creating Your Drum Beat
The best place to start with any piece of electronic music is with the drum beat. This will help set a structure for your music and inspire melodies and bass lines. Alternate bass and snare hits in a variety of ways to create interesting beats. For example, you could have one bass drum thump followed by two snare hits to punctuate the beat. Accentuate it with constant high-hat snaps to give it a drive and a swing.
Creating drum beats in "FL Studio 12" is fairly easy. Click on "Plugin Presents" on the left vertical menu, click on "FPC," and drag either "Acoustic" or "Electric" drums to the "Channel Rack" in the center of the screen. Now you should open the "Piano Roll" on the upper menu to get the opportunity to create intricate beats.
Typically you're going to want your bass drum and snare hits to fall on the quarter note at the beginning of each bar. In "FL Studio 12" this will be indicated by the numbers running along the top of the menu. Each square is is a sixteenth-note: click on one to input a beat. Click on the right edge of the square to drag it to the right to extend the beat length. There will be multiple drum instrument options here, so make sure you choose the right one.
For faster songs, though, you can make them eighth notes to add a quicker beat and make it more energetic. High-hat beats should fall on eighth or sixteenth notes, depending on your song. Create several beats that you want to use through the song and save them in the loops. Click on the "Loop" area and scroll up and down to select new loops.
Programming Your Bass Beats
Once you're finished with your drum beats, program your bass beats.Select a synthesizer setting from the "Plugin Preset" menu and place it beneath your drum on the "Channel Rack." Open up the "Piano Roll" and select your bass instrument. You can program melodies in the same way you did drum beats, though "FL Studio 12" has a nice option of showing you a "ghost" outline of where other beats lay in the track.
A good thick and heavy bass line is great for just about any piece of electronic music. Try to find a tone or plug-in for a “Moog” bass for a nice rich tone. The bass notes are similar to the drum beat in that they should drive the rhythm. Try to match your bass line to your drum beats for the best results.
However, you can also syncopate with your bass (play notes in between drum beats) to create a slightly more complex feel. This is a rhythm type typically used for reggae and ska-influenced electronic music. Make sure your bass line also plays a simple melody. This will create a simple base for your melody instruments and let you create intriguing and complex musical ideas.
After your rhythm is finished, start adding melodic lines on top of the beat. This should play along with the beat at certain points, stray from it, and interact with other synthesizers in a fun and playful way. This part will require the heaviest programming or playing skills. Like with your drum and bass beats, you need to select tones from the "Plugin Preset" menu. Try to find a tone that is high enough to break through the bass frequencies. Turn the volume up on this one to make it stand out.
Continue to add synthesizer melodies in this way to your loop section and add chords to each melody. These chords should vary depending on the effect you want to achieve. A major chord will make the song more open and happy while minor chords will make it mournful. Input all of this material in the same way you did the drums and bass melodies.
Arranging Your Song
By now you should have a lot of raw material to make your first track. Start arranging your loops in the section titled "Playlist" to set your beats, bass lines, and melodies together. This area allows you to lay extended sections of loop down, shorten or lengthening how long they play, and layering beats, bass lines, and melodies to create complex music.
Tweak these until you have a structure that sounds good to you. A good electronic song should go through multiple sections while retaining a common tone or beat. Add volume increases and decreases to make it more dynamic. This will take a lot of experimentation, so make sure to have fun with it.
After you're finished with your basic song, you can add special effects on top. This can include vocal samples, record scratches, heavily edited “twitch” sections, bass drops, live instrumentation, and even singing. When you've added all the content you can to the track, you need to mix its volume and stereo channel placement. Try to mix your instruments in the mix and tweak the volume slightly to create a full sound.
Don't worry if your first track isn't quite up to snuff: it's an important first step in becoming the electronic music champion of your dreams. Once you've create a few tracks in this way, you'll start noticing things coming easier to you. It won't be so hard to create melodies and beats or arrange them in interesting ways. You'll have achieved a competency with the music.
Competency is simply not enough if you want to be a true electronic music wizard. Keep experimenting with your setup, try new pieces of software, integrate different samples and beats into your music, and continually improve your craft until you've achieved mastery. This will make your electronic music process nearly flawless.
DJ vs. Producer: Choosing The Path That Is Right For You
If you're making electronic music, you have friends that might call you a great producer. By contrast, you might also have friends who say you are a great DJ. This might cause you and your friends confusion, especially as the terms seem to be so interchangeable these days. However, they aren't exactly the same thing, which is why you need to make a careful choice as to who you want to be.
While producers can be DJs and vice versa, their roles are actually somewhat different. Both can be powerful and intriguing creators of music. Deciding which route you want to take with your electronic music is crucial to ensuring that you make the right decision and are happy with your potential music career. Only worry about this when you've really mastered making great tracks.
What Is A DJ?
The term “DJ” is specific to someone who plays recorded music for an audience or someone who can manipulate recorded music in an intriguing way. For example, a good DJ can make a mix that uses tracks and elements of other tracks to create a constantly shifting piece of music. The actual music they perform isn't actually written or recorded by them, however, but can be manipulated by them.
For example, a DJ in a rap setting typically takes two turntables and makes scratches to accentuate the music. They are taking pre-recorded music (on the record) and using the turntable to create intriguing new sounds. This type of DJ work isn't as popular as it once was, but there are still a large number of experts who can create great tracks. One example is Mix Master Mike, who's work with the Beastie Boys is legendary.
However, a DJ could also take recorded music and change it around to make a whole new style. For example, a musician like DJ Shadow actually takes recorded music and creates entire new compositions from them. His groundbreaking work created a whole new field of instrumental hip hop and featured a heavy use of samples, manipulated drum beats, and much more.
In this fashion, DJ Shadow was definitely a producer because he actually creates this work on his own. However, he cannot be called a true electronic music producer, as the major difference between the two is where their music originates. While DJs of all stripes use recorded music as the primary base for their compositions, producers will make their own music.
What Is A Producer?
As mentioned above, a producer is someone who writes and performs their own electronic music. While producers may use some recorded music in their compositions via samples, these are not the base for their compositions. Instead, they are mere decorations for their compositions and used to punctuate them, rather than serve as the main attraction.
Producers will actually sit down at their computer and play with their hardware and software instrument and write their own beats, melodies, harmonies, and arrangements. Unlike a DJ, they have a strong understanding of how to write and arrange music and are skilled at crafting their own musical ideas. This doesn't mean that a DJ can't know music or produce musical work: but they will primarily work with recorded medium.
A good producer will have control over every aspect of their tracks and will identify problems with them either by ear or through production. It is often a more time-consuming process and one that does require some basic music understanding. For example, you'll be writing melodies, beats, and bass lines and will need to know how to stay in tune, change key, and much more.
Choosing Between DJ & Producer
There's nothing wrong with being a DJ, as they often create fascinating and very worthwhile electronic music. However, producers can do everything that a DJ can and may even have a musical ear that makes it more palpable for the masses. If you are interested in truly becoming a master electronic musician when learning how to make electronic music, aim to become a producer.
However, if you're primarily interested in making beat-heavy music, don't know much musical theory (and don't have the time or desire to learn), becoming a DJ is a great idea. You'll still be making some awesome music that will entertain people. Just make sure to always look for ways to improve your craft.
Becoming A Truly Great Electronic Musician
Now that you know how to make electronic music, have created one or more tracks, and understand the difference between a DJ and a producer, you are on the track to become a true master electronic musician. There are many different ways that you can maximize your skills and branch out to get as skilled as possible. Just a few of them include:
- Branching out
- Starting a group
- Networking with other electronic musicians
- Collaborating on new projects
To better help you understand how these aspects will help your abilities as an electronic musician, let's take a deeper look at each and how they operate. While any one of these activities will improve your skills, being willing to do them all will make you a truly great electronic musician.
Once you've learned how to make a track and feel comfortable with a working method and with certain sounds, throw them away and focus on a whole new different style. Experimentation with production and writing methods is crucial for learning new skills and becoming a better electronic musician. For example, you could try using actual real-world synthesizers with your setup to get a better feel for how to program.
Experimenting is likely to produce some work of which you aren't exactly proud. That's okay: nobody ever has to hear those weird attempts at mixing sitar in with dub step beats. However, the skills you'll gain trying out new methods will make you a better creator in no time.
Have you made some great high-energy dance tracks that friends and family members love? Don't get stuck in a rut slow things down and make more thought and contemplative music. Branching out will make your music inherently more interesting and will also teach you new composition methods. Try out unique instrument combinations or even integrating real-world playing into your songs to add a whole new level to them.
Branching out also helps keep you from stagnating artistically or repeating yourself. When artists come out with an exciting record that has something new to offer, they often get quickly bored when the next one sounds the same. This is especially true in electronic music due to the high volume of available artists. Don't get lost in the dust bin of history by refusing to change.
Starting A Group
Reach out to other electronic musicians or even live musicians in your area and start a band. Bringing your ideas to a band and serving as a leader will give you a better idea of how to musically communicate. It can also help you take your music out on the road and to perform it to appreciative audiences. Expanding to include live instrumentation will also make your music more exciting and organic.
It will also help teach you how to work with other musicians in a positive way. Being the boss may lead you to getting bossy, but it could also help you understand how other electronic musicians near you work. It can give you better communication skills and make you an overall better musician, whether electronic or otherwise.
Networking With Other Electronic Musicians
Do you know any other electronic musicians near you? Talk to them and learn more about their production techniques, the software they use, different artists they may have heard, and tips on performing live. Networking like this is a great way to meet like-minded musicians, find inexpensive gear, and even create a fun tour that can take you through various clubs in your city, state, or even around the country.
Meeting other electronic musicians is also just a fun way to make new friends and have a good time playing music. While it's a little harder for electronic musicians to "jam" than it is with rock or jazz bands, it is still possible and it offers you a wide variety of fun and exciting new musical possibilities.
Collaborate On New Projects
Once you've met some electronic musicians that you trust and respect, create new collaborations with them to truly expand your reach as a musician. This is different than a band situation as neither one of you will be in total control. Instead, you will share ideas and work on material together. This will allow you to understand how other electronic musicians work and give you an insight into their working methods.
Collaborating also lets you produce new work that you can share online and with friends. This can expand your brand name and intrigue other musicians to work with you. As a result, this will expand your musical knowledge and teach you more about your art.
Bringing It Together
Try out each of these methods and you'll find yourself turning into a great electronic musician. No matter how skilled you've become, collaborating and working with others is essential. Think of electronic artist Moby and the way his career has stagnated over the last few years.
While his music isn't bad, it is totally self-contained, making it less effective than if he was working with other people more regularly, rather than producing music just for himself. Those who produce for a specific audience and who try new things regularly are the most successful musicians on the market.
As you can see, there is a lot of interesting and intricate things involved in learning electronic music. There was simply no room to go in-depth into every possible subject here.But hopefully this gives you a unique and insightful look into how to get started in making electronic music and how you can master the art of creating fun and exciting music that everyone will enjoy.
The critical hurdle in getting into electronic music is the cost. While software is still a less expensive way to produce electronic music when compared to large digital and analog synthesizers, a good program can still cost about $200 to $500. Some premium pieces of software can cost as much as $700 to $1,000, including purchasing various plug-ins that can increase your sound palate.
However, most pieces of software include free "lifetime updates" or discounted purchases when a new version drops. For example, "FL Studio 12" can be purchased for under $45 by those who already owned a previous version of the software. As a result, computer software is still the cheapest and least expensive way to get into electronic music.